The Photographer and the Boy Who Wanted a Horse

Brandon StantonMy stories do not usually begin anywhere East of the Mississippi, but this one does, oddly enough. This story begins in New York City, which is probably the last place I would expect to find a good horse story. But here we find a twenty-nine-year-old photographer, Brandon Stanton, doing what he does quite naturally; he was walking the streets of NYC looking for interesting subjects. You see, Stanton has an ongoing photo project called Humans of New York. The project has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and on CBS. When Stanton began that project, he had the goal of taking 10,000 portraits. And, I would imagine he also had the goal of reassuring his mother that he wasn’t wasting his life. It’s incredibly interesting, but it’s still not something you would expect to find featured on a blog dedicated to the West. But. . .just stick with me; I’m getting to the point.

Washington Square ParkRecently Stanton was walking through Washington Square Park when he noticed a young boy and his mother. He might have walked right past them if not for one thing. . . they were selling cowboy supplies. That’s right. On that day, you could have purchased everything you needed to be a cowboy right from a street vendor in a NYC park! Well, almost everything. The boy and his mother weren’t selling horses. Instead, the boy was hoping to raise enough money to buy a horse! And that, my friends, is what I think of as The Cowboy Way. It represents the sort of cowboy initiative that merits a blog post about a photographer and the boy who wanted a horse.

The Urban Cowboy and His Mother

RumiThe thing that separates Brandon Stanton from many photographers is that he cares deeply about the story behind each photograph.  When Stanton happened upon the boy, whose name is Rumi, and his mother, he wanted to know the story behind the makeshift cowboy store, which looked a lot like a blanket spread with cowboy toys. He discovered that Rumi loves horses. I mean, he LOVES them! Apparently, young Rumi had done some research, crunched some numbers and determined that he could buy a horse for $1,000.00.  His first day in the cowboy store business netted him $1. It seemed there weren’t enough horse lovers in Washington Square Park to make a go of it, but Rumi was committed to his goal of horse ownership.

Stanton went home and made a few calls to some horse experts. They confirmed what he already suspected. Horses are expensive. They are also expensive to maintain. In fact, boarding a horse is financially out of reach for most families living in a small NYC apartment and many NYC apartments don’t even allow pets. But, Rumi didn’t have to give up on his horse dreams. Not by a long shot! Stanton hatched a plan!

The Heart of the Matter

Rumi's Wild West AdventureAfter getting the okay from Rumi’s parents, Stanton set out to send Rumi on a “Wild West Adventure”. He contacted Drowsy Water Ranch, a dude ranch in Granby, Colorado. It sounded great! Since he had reached the ripe ol’ age of six, Rumi would get to have his own horse for his entire stay at Drowsy Water Ranch. So, Stanton did some number crunching of his own. He calculated that it would take $7,000.00 to send Rumi and his parents to Drowsy Water Ranch for a week of Wild West fun. That includes airfare, lodging, meals and a week of rootin’ tootin’ activities!

Stanton asked about availability and discovered that Drowsy Water Ranch only had one room available for one week for the duration of the summer season. Thinking fast, Stanton said, “HOLD THAT ROOM!” Then he just needed to raise some funds. He knew for a fact that it was difficult to raise money by selling cowboy paraphernalia, so he decided to trust in the kindness of strangers.

The Kindness of Strangers

Humans of New York - FacebookStanton’s project, Humans of New York (HONY) has developed quite a Facebook following, so that seemed like an obvious place to start. Stanton posted a picture of Rumi and his mother at their cowboy store. He explained the dilemma. And, then, he made his appeal for funding. There wasn’t much time, but he had faith in humanity—faith that people would react like they had been personally called to action. Surely, no one could hear the story of Rumi and not want to help!

The fundraising campaign was set up to last for two days—July 31-August 1. Stanton set up perks for different levels of giving. A donation of just $5.00 qualified the giver to be a part of the “Top Secret Buckaroo Club.” Stanton, himself, became a member of the “John Wayne Super Elite Club” by donating the first $300.00 to the cause. But could they raise the needed $7,000.00?

Well, it took all of fifteen minutes to raise $7,000.00! Seriously! Fifteen minutes! The campaign ended up raising a grand total of $32,167.00.  So, what is happening with the surplus funds? (Aw, shucks! Pass the Kleenex, please!) More than $20,000 will be donated to Equestria, a New York therapeutic riding center.

Horses and the Big Apple

EquestriaLike other therapeutic riding centers, Equestria provides horseback riding for children and adults with disabilities. Of course, lovers of horses already know the impact horses can have on a person’s well-being. And Rumi and his parents wholeheartedly support the idea of other New Yorkers getting the opportunity to ride the range. They know that horses in the Big Apple are not something to take for granted. And neither are photographers with big hearts.

You can follow the story of Rumi and Stanton here, on Facebook!

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

Texas Axis Deer: Terms of En-deer-ment

DeerTo quote a popular bumper sticker, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” That could have been the motto of the Texas axis deer. Axis deer, also known as chital deer or spotted deer, are indigenous to areas of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. Now, I’m no geography whiz, but it seems to me that those places are a “fer piece” from the hill country of Texas. So, how the heck did the axis deer get to Texas? Did the earth fall off its axis??!!

The axis deer was first introduced to Texas in 1932. I can’t find a lot of information on how that occurred, so let’s just imagine it went something like this: “Axis deer, this is Texas. Texas, this is the axis deer.” It seems like it was a good match because the relationship between the axis deer and Texas has continued to blossom.

Elementary, My Deer!

Axis deer

The axis deer has a reputation for being the world’s most beautiful deer specimen. Bucks and does have the same golden-brown coats dappled with white spots. They really have an ability to pull off the polka dots, and not everyone can wear them well, you know! The patterning of the species is also the reason Stargazer Mercantile’s axis deer pillows are among my favorite products. (Shhh… A mother shouldn’t admit to having favorites.)

Most of the axis deer in Texas live on private land, although some are free-ranging. In 1988, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department found free-ranging herds in 27 counties of Central and Southern Texas. The same survey found the axis deer confined on ranches in 92 counties. At that point, the axis deer was identified as the most numerous exotic species in Texas. The term “exotic” only refers to medium to large non-native mammals or birds that have been introduced onto Texas ranches.

Deer Me!

Axis deerWhile Texas Parks and Wildlife acknowledges that axis deer can be beneficial to ranchers, their first priority is to the preservation of species native to the Lone Star State. Remember, the axis deer are relative newcomers to Texas. I’m not even sure if they speak with a Texas accent yet!

You could say that the axis deer competes with the native white-tailed deer for resources, but in reality, it’s not much of a competition! Overall, the axis deer is less susceptible to disease and they breed like rabbits, which is highly unusual for non-rabbits. Axis deer don’t require large amounts of water and are able to thrive as long as they have a steady source of fresh water and food. The axis deer is known for eating the same green plants as its white-tailed cousin. Unlike the white-tailed deer, the axis deer can also graze on grass. But they eat the white-tailed deer’s food FIRST. Yikes. It reminds me of a childhood argument about chocolate and vanilla pudding cups. If you like vanilla, please eat it and save the chocolate for someone who doesn’t like vanilla! Is that so difficult?! I mean, REALLY!

Terms of En-deer-ment

Texas SafariJust like it was impossible for me to reason with a greedy pudding cup hoarder, it has proven impossible to reason with the axis deer. So, what’s the solution? For starters, the axis deer aren’t really regulated by game laws. You do need a hunting license, but it’s open season and there is no bag limit. Axis deer are the property of the landowners—allowing for the year-round buying, selling and hunting of the species. And about that hunting…

Hunting for exotics, particularly axis deer, is big business, in Texas. It’s sort of like Texas’ version of a safari. Throughout Texas Hill Country, you can find lodges that offer a hunting experience with the aid of a guide. Trophy hunting experiences can range from bare bones to pretty darn high falutin’ and there are a variety of package options to reflect that. While hunting the axis deer is permissible all year, the peak season is May through October.

Axis deerBucks can weigh in at 250 pounds and stand about three feet tall at the shoulders. Trophy antlers are generally between 30 and 36 inches and curve in a lyre shape. Axis males can be in hard horn any time of the year. Typically, the axis’ antlers are three pronged, but four pronged are not unheard of.

Axis deerDoes are typically under 100 pounds and can reproduce year-round. Some ranches specialize in doe hunts. The species tends to travel in small groups or larger herds, with an older doe serving as leader. (I’m biting my tongue to avoid saying, “As nature intended!”)

Meat from the axis deer is widely considered to be the world’s best tasting game meat. It was, in fact, judged to be the best exotic game meat by the Exotic Wildlife Association. The meat contains less than 1% fat. Wow! Red meat that can be marketed as fat free? It’s a carnivore’s dream! Just for kicks, I checked it out and learned that tofu has a 9% fat content! Hmm… Venison or bean curd? Decisions, decisions! (Excuse me while I laugh at my own joke.) It’s no wonder that axis venison is a highly sought after meat.

Going stag!

However the axis deer were introduced to Texas, I’m glad they were. Texas should be pretty happy with the relationship, as well. The axis deer provide Texans with beauty, sport, revenue, and a tofu alternative!

Happy Trails, y’all!

Anita Lequoia

An American Cowboy: Haynes Kueckelhan

Haynes KueckelhanThe quiet heroes of the West—the men and women who have shaped the West in ways we don’t always recognize—intrigue me. We have lost one of those quiet heroes. Haynes Kueckelhan has died. What? You’ve never heard of Haynes Kueckelhan? Well, I’m here to tell you, the man was a hero. He was definitely one of my heroes. By the time you finish reading, I trust he will have become one of yours as well. So, who was he and why should you care? The man with the funny last name started the longest running family owned rodeo in history—the Kueckelhan Rodeo, in the small town of Bonham, Texas.

His Heroes Had Always Been Cowboys

Haynes with horseLike most boys, Haynes Kueckelhan grew up with heroes of his own, role models for a life he aspired to. And, like most boys growing up in Texas during the 30s and 40s, his heroes rode horses and wore cowboy hats. Men like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger filled his childhood musings, and he never quite got over that.

Kueckelhan emulated his silver-screen heroes by learning to rope and by competing in rodeos. He tried all of the rodeo events before discovering that his true gift was in steer wrestling. Growing up on a 300-acre ranch allowed him a lot of room for dreaming. And, what he dreamed of was building his own rodeo arena.

Kueckelhan RodeoDreams can come true when you aren’t afraid to back them up with a little sweat equity. Kueckelhan was still in college when he found himself sketching plans for a rodeo arena. Following his freshman year at East Texas State Teachers’ College, he returned home for the summer and, with the help of his parents, built himself a rodeo arena! It was the summer of 1955. That first arena consisted mainly of mesh hog wire. With no bleachers, the resourceful Kueckelhan borrowed pews from the nearby Corinth Baptist Church and loaded them in the back of a semi float trailer. Those not fortunate enough to get a place on a pew were welcome to stand along the fence.

In a 2008 interview with Country World newspaper, Kueckelhan recalled that first rodeo. He said, “Our first rodeo was very small. We only had one bucking chute and a little rough stock. That year we collected $86 to pay off the livestock fees and to offer a little money for the jackpot. We also had an advertising budget of $10, [with] which we bought some posters and flags.”

Kueckelhan Ranch Rodeo 2011The following July, the rodeo returned. That time there were six bucking chutes and a large roping arena. I think parents today would do well to follow the example of the Kueckelhan family. Haynes’ parents helped him build the new and improved arena, just like they had helped with the arena made of hog wire.

Not His First Rodeo

Kueckelhan and Wife MaldaKueckelhan married his wife Malda, in 1958. It is fitting that they had met at one of Hayne’s early rodeos. Then Kueckelhan, the man who had received most of his education in a one-room schoolhouse, received his Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Agriculture from East Texas State Teachers’ College. For twenty-eight years, Kueckelhan was a high school agriculture teacher. And, in the summers, the rodeos continued. Children arrived. Grandchildren arrived. Even one great-grandchild arrived. And, still, the rodeos continued. You might say that the rodeos continued right in Kueckelhan’s own back yard, since they are always held on the Kueckelhan Ranch.

Kueckelhan Ranch Rodeo 2011Over the years, the rodeos got bigger and better, but they always maintained that intimate feel. Thousands of people have flocked to the three-night event and enjoyed watching competitors, top-notch musical guests and other performers. To the people of Fannin County, attending the rodeo in July has come to be as much of a tradition as fireworks on the 4th. Also a tradition was the fact that Haynes invited children from two nearby orphanages and a school for girls to attend each year.

Kueckelhan was one of the founders of the Cowboys’ Regional Rodeo Association, and also served as its president. The United Professional Rodeo Association, Central States Rodeo Association and International Professional Rodeo Association also sanctioned the Kueckelhan Rodeo. The rodeo has won awards such as Best Produced Rodeo, Best Southern Region Rodeo and Best Promotional Rodeo. While he was probably too modest to tell you about it, Haynes Kueckelhan himself was inducted into the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame.

The Rodeo Must Go On

Kueckelhan Ranch Rodeo 2011This year, the 58th annual Kueckelhan Rodeo was held during the last weekend in July. And there, a special tribute was paid to the man who started it all. The audience sat in the current arena bleachers with seating for over 5,000, instead of on borrowed church pews as in years before, but it was still a time for reverence. A funeral service for Haynes Kueckelhan had been held earlier that week, with close to 1000 people in attendance. But the rodeo was an opportunity to remember him exactly as he would have wanted to be remembered. On opening night, a lone horse walked the arena as spectators reflected on the life of Haynes Kueckelhan, an American cowboy.

Big Boots to Fill

Marty KueckelhanIn case you’re wondering if the death of Haynes may be the end of the Kueckelhan Rodeo, don’t give it another thought. There are two more generations of Kueckelhans who have rodeo in their blood! Son, Marty has spent years working alongside his dad and has already taken over. And grandson Quincy is a cardholder in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys’ Association who plans to stay in the family business. They’ve got big boots to fill, but they’ll do their best to live up to the legacy Haynes started. Something tells me there are more quiet Kueckelhan heroes in the making.

Happy Trails, y’all!

Anita Lequoia

The Texas Cattle Barons

Texas Cattle BaronsIn the mid-1800s, waves of people were heading West. Some had emigrated from other countries. Some had been born in the United States. Some were seeking to make their fortunes. Some were simply seeking a better life and some breathing room. But they were all headed in the same general direction. Westward, ho! Knowing that man cannot live on cornpone alone, a new sort of businessman entered the scene—the Texas cattle baron.

Texas Cattle BaronsCattle barons have long been immortalized in movie and television Westerns. The images of grizzled men driving massive herds of cattle across the countryside are as ingrained in our minds as . . . as ingrained in our minds as . . . well, as something that’s really ingrained in our minds! (Sometimes the analogies come to me and sometimes they don’t!) That grand history is one of the reasons why we here at Stargazer Mercantile are so proud of our Cattle Baron Collection of home décor!

Cattle Call

Cattle CallBut, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. To understand the history of the Texas cattle baron, you must first understand the history of Texas cattle! When Mexico controlled Texas, the Mexican government would give land to settlers who promised to raise cattle. Land grants included 4,428 acres for cattle ranchers! Of course, Mexicans referred to the land as the “desert of the dead”. Still, there were many people willing to accept the offer. And, as it turned out, the Texas climate and geographical features made much of the land particularly suited to raising cattle, as the cattle could graze on prairie grass.

Texas Cattle Industry in the Civil WarThe Civil War threw a kink into the Texas cattle industry. While many cattle ranchers were off fighting for the Confederacy, Confederate soldiers were starving. There was beef to be had, but there was no way of getting it to the soldiers. That’s because the Union soldiers controlled the Mississippi River. Meanwhile, the number of cattle was increasing because the herds were roaming free and grazing to their hearts’ content. That’s where the law of supply and demand entered the picture. Supply was up. Cattle prices plummeted. In 1861, the price of cattle dropped to $2.00 a head! Unfortunately, few people had the money to afford beef, even at bargain basement prices. Ah, but the Civil War ended and it seemed that Scarlett O’Hara wasn’t the only one who had said, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”

The Cattle Driving Force

The Cattle Driving ForceFollowing the Civil War, demand for beef was at an all-time high. The timing couldn’t have been better. When the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, east and west were irrevocably joined. For all of their differences, people in the East and people in the West had one thing in common. They all had to eat!

As railroads expanded, so did the Texas cattle market. Texas ranchers drove cattle to railroads to be shipped to market. Between 1867 and 1887, an estimated six million head of cattle were driven from Texas to Abilene, Kansas via the Chisholm Trail. As more railroads were built, more cattle trails were developed.

Give Me Land, Lots of Land…

James Taylor WhiteWhen it came to Texas cattlemen, there were ranchers and there were BARONS. It was sort of the difference between owning a fun size candy bar and owning Hershey, PA. James Taylor White has the honor of being known as the first Texas cattle baron in East Texas. He was ahead of the curve, as he began driving cattle to market in Louisiana in the 1830s. While his operation was small potatoes when compared to those of future cattle barons, Taylor still earned his nickname of Cattle King of Southeast Texas.

Richard KingIt would be impossible to talk about Texas cattle barons without spending some time talking about the real King of the cattle barons, Richard King. King began buying up land in the Santa Gertrudis valley of Texas, in 1853. At the encouragement of his closest friend, Robert E. Lee, Richard King continued to buy up land in South Texas. What was once barren land became baron land! King’s motto was, “Buy land and never sell.”

King's RanchIn the early years, King wasn’t becoming wealthy, but he was accumulating the land that would forever make him the King of ranching. King’s motto paid off. While he built his ranch, he also worked hard to improve the quality of his breeding stock. He was the first person to crossbreed Brahman with English Shorthorns. That breed became known as Santa Gertrudis and was specific to the King Ranch. His work with cross breeding horses gave us the Western quarter horse. He survived a Union Army attack, during the Civil War. He fought off cattle rustlers. And he built a 600,000-acre ranch that made him a multi-millionaire, even in those days. King Ranch continues to be a Texas institution of epic proportions, even today. And, here’s your daily dose of trivia: The King family is said to have been the basis of the television show, “Dallas”.

Coleman-Fulton Pasture CompanyMany other cattle barons pooled their resources and went into business together. That was the case of five men who formed the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company. They were also the men responsible for some of the first fences in South Texas.

J.A. RanchThe J.A. Ranch, founded by the legendary Charles Goodnight and his partner, John Adair, in 1876, is the oldest privately owned cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle. It covered portions of six counties! The J.A. Ranch remains a working ranch, operated by Adair heirs.

Herd it Through the Grapevine

Whew! This really is a topic too big to be contained in one blog post. The stories of Texas cattle barons seem as endless as the herds of cattle they drove across the land. They were the men who provided employment for countless cowhands and provided food for countless families—all while establishing their place in Western history.

Happy Trails, y’all!

Anita Lequoia