"We are going to get the new roof," said Becky Bonine of the Hartley County Historical Committee Saturday evening as the last couple left the dance area and the musicians of Eloy Gonzales' band began packing up. The second annual Cowboy Christmas in July was over. "This has been a success."
A substantial crowd of people from Channing, Hartley, Dalhart, Dumas, Amarillo, and elsewhere showed up in Channing Saturday to celebrate western heritage and help preserve the Victorian era building that served as the general office of the famed XIT Ranch. Their contributions combined with those of various donors from around the Texas Panhandle were enough to allow the committee to have Valdez Roofing replace the roof on the old building. The roof had been irreparably damaged by hail and wind this spring, and the building could not be fully insured with the old, damaged roof. Complicating matters was the fact that the building, which is listed on both the state and national registers of historic places, has to have a roof that is historically accurate to the style and time of its original construction 120 years ago.
Bonine, who had been the primary organizer of Saturday's event -- and who has helped spearhead the most recent effort to preserve one of the most significant relics of Texas Panhandle history -- was pleased with the way the event had turned out. "We had a bigger crowd than last year. More people from Channing turned out," she said.
Bonine and the committee hope to be able to turn the building into a museum and education center to highlight the area's ranching heritage. Many of the people attending Saturday had a personal history with the building. With the breakup of the XIT Ranch, the general office became a private residence for decades. "This used to be the Stockman house. We used to stay here in Jr. High," said Louise Lovato Burch, who lives in Channing but grew up on the Bivins Ranch and lived on other ranches around the area. "We had a lot of fun here. It was a neat place." She was happy Saturday. "It was a neat life that we had. Wonderful, wonderful. Look at all the people that came. We are blessed with all the people here. It is a big family," she said.
Barbara Dawkins drove over from Dalhart to attend. She had a relative who worked on the XIT in its heyday.
Cowgirl Hall of Fame member Sue Cunningham was helping her nephew, renowned chuck wagon cook Skip Shepherd, and other relatives cook and serve the free chuck wagon supper to a steady line of visitors. Cunningham, who herself is a four-time world champion chuck wagon cook, has known the XIT general office building since 1944. "A friend of mine lived there. I have been there many a time." She too was happy with the evening's events. "Well, I thought it went over real well."
Western Music Association Hall of Fame member R.W. Hampton along with Eloy Gonzales provided music for the evening. "I play music now and travel all over. Back in the late 1970's and early 1980's, I lived around here and worked for these big ranches, so it is like coming home," he said. When Bonine reached out to him about performing, he told her, "Yeah, I would love to come over and help you with that deal." Asked what he thought of the event, he replied, "I think it is beautiful. As always, I wish there were about 2500 people here."
Saturday was the 89th birthday of Bob Cates, the man who led the effort to prevent the building from being moved to the Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock. He received a birthday cake.
Last year's event featured a silent auction. This year, auctioneer Ward Alford conducted a live auction, the highlight of which was a pair of spurs, handcrafted in the style of the old XIT Ranch. Bonine said she thought the live auction was more entertaining for the crowd.
Bonine, who teaches Texas history and tennis at Dumas Jr. High School, says a majority of the support for the effort to preserve the building comes from Moore County. Members of the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District came from the Dumas office to serve tea and water to the crowd Saturday. In keeping with the rules of the old XIT, the event was strictly non-alcoholic.
Bonine, who gave up competing in rodeos to become an educator, says she is very grateful for the support that has come from Moore County and the rest of the Panhandle. She loves Texas history; Saturday, she told the crowd the story of the XIT Ranch, the general office building, and the ranching heritage of the Texas Panhandle. She has a dream for the old building in Channing. With the same determination she used to be successful in the rodeo arena, she says she intends to make that dream a reality. She is already planning next year's Cowboy Christmas in July.