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Cowpokes, cattle, and a county seat Bandera — Cowboy Capital of the World

 
Cowpokes, cattle, and a county seat Bandera — Cowboy Capital of the World
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ — Browse the intriguing collection of oddities, fossils, arrowheads, and more at the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera.

Bandera, Texas, wasn’t always known as the Cowboy Capital of the World. It was first surveyed in 1853, and because of the century-old cypress trees along the river, a horse-powered sawmill was built to make cypress shingles. The sawmill’s biggest customer was the U.S. government; the shingles were used in the construction of new forts and outposts in the West.

In 1854, a group of Mormons formed a settlement close by and a year later, 16 Polish families arrived and found work at the sawmill. The town grew; the first store and a post office were opened. In 1856, 798 square miles were marked off from Bexar County, and Bandera County was established. The town of Bandera became the county seat.

In 1890, the original courthouse was replaced by the magnificent Spanish Renaissance Revival-style building, using architectural plans drawn up by B.F. Trester of San Antonio for a mere $5. The exterior is native rusticated limestone. What we found very curious is that the four clock faces on the cupola are not clocks at all; they looked real to us. They were simply painted on and show a perpetual time of 10:10. No one seems to know why. This magnificent courthouse is on Main Street and bounded by Hackberry and Pecan streets.

When did Bandera get its designation of Cowboy Capital of the World? It could have been as early as 1874, when the Great Western Cattle Trail, also known as the Old Texas Trail, began in Bandera and ended in Dodge City, Kansas, moving herds of cattle to market. With Bandera as the staging area of the drive, it also was an important supply point for goods needed for the long trail drive.

Thriving today

Bandera never grew into a metroplex, thank goodness, and with a permanent population at just under 1,000, was able to maintain its authentic Western-town atmosphere. It also has developed a rather popular biker culture with the Sunday Morning Bandera Breakfast Run.

Along Main Street you will find the OST (Old Spanish Trail) Restaurant. Not only will you find good food here, but also a tribute to the No. 1 cowboy of all time -- John Wayne. Spend a few minutes looking at all the pictures on the walls, or you can belly up to the bar, sitting on saddles as bar stools. Since 1921, the OST has been serving up some of the best cooking around these parts. Be sure to try their chicken fried steak.

Right next door is the Fickle Pickle, featuring antique home décor and pickles. Just inside the front door, we eyed a large bowl of cold, sweet spicy pickles. “Help yourself,” the kind lady at the register said to us, so we did. They were delicious!

Also along Main Street, you will find Busbee’s Bar-B-Que, The General Store, and the Gingerbread House, selling souvenirs, cards, gifts, and flowers. But probably one of the most popular places is the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, just a block north of Main Street. You can’t miss it -- just listen and follow the live music.

The Frontier Times Museum, founded by J. Marvin Hunter, is a collection of treasures from around the world, unexplained oddities, fossils, petrified wood, and arrowheads. Open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission ranges from $2 to $5.

And a river runs through it

Right in the heart of the town is the 77-acre city park along the banks of the Medina River. Here you can have a picnic, or fish and swim the lazy Medina River. Admission is free during the week and a small fee on Saturdays and Sundays. This park is for day use only and closes at sunset. Throw a blanket or quilt in your car before leaving home, because once you see this beautiful tree-lined river, you will want to stay for a bit.

Take a tour

Stop by the Bandera Convention and Visitors Bureau at 126 S.H. 16 South, just 1/2 block south of Main Street, and pick up a brochure for a self-guided walking tour of the town; see the original jail and some of the oldest buildings in Bandera County.

There are many spectacular driving tours as well:

•Texas 173 North winds through scenic vistas to Camp Verde and Kerrville

•Texas 173 South takes you to the southern edge of the Hill Country and enters the lower South Texas Plains, specifically Hondo and other small towns along U.S. 90

•Texas 46 East explores Pipe Creek to Boerne

•Texas 16 and F.M. 470 West provide one of the most dramatic drives.

Bandera has played an important role in keeping the unique American traditions of the Texas cowboy alive for all of us to enjoy.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

Tidbits
Bandera is Spanish for “flag.”
Rodeos are held at least twice weekly from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Bandera was incorporated in 1964, the only incorporated city in Bandera County.

Find out more
•Old Spanish Trail Restaurant (OST), 307 Main St., Bandera; 830-796-3836
•Frontier Times Museum, 510 13th Street; 830-796-3864
•Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-364-3833; cowpoke@banderacowboycapital.com

 
 
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