"We want to have families come out to enjoy the afternoon, to see the building, hear the history of the ranch and listen to some good music," said Becky Bonine of the Hartley County Historical Committee, chief organizer of the second annual Cowboy Christmas in July that will take place in Channing beginning at 3 p.m. on July 13. Bonine says the first Cowboy Christmas in July last year was a success. The committee was able to meet its goal of raising money to help restore and preserve the 119 year-old building in Channing that once served as the general office for the XIT Ranch.
This year, Bonine says, the goal is more focused: a new roof for the building. As she explains, the roof was damaged severely in a big hail storm in May. A few years back, before the reconstitution of the Hartley County Historical Committee, insurance on the building lapsed, and though the committee has been able to insure the building again, no one would insure the roof. "Every time the wind blows, we lose more shingles. The big thing we are working on is raising enough funds for a new roof. All the proceeds this year are going for the roof. But, we want to share the building and welcome everyone, so we don't sell tickets ... it is a give what you can type of thing," she said. With a new roof in place, the committee can fully insure the building and continue the work of preserving it and turning it into a museum and education center. Bonine says they have already built a stage and completed much of the painting that the building needed.
Like last year, this year's event celebrates the western and ranching heritage of the area. It features the western music of R.W. Hampton, a four-time winner of the Academy of Western Artists' Male Vocalist of the Year award and member of the Western Music Association Hall of Fame, among other awards. Also on the bill is Eloy Gonzales from New Mexico, whose band Eloy Gonzales and the Troubadours played dances around the area for many years, including the XIT Rodeo and Reunion in Dalhart. "People have told me, 'I have danced miles to Eloy,' " said Bonine. "He is coming out of retirement to play for us. We are very excited about both of our entertainments."
There will also be a free chuck wagon supper cooked by Skip Shepherd, chuck wagon cook for two prominent ranches, and his family, a "kids rodeo," and a live auction. Also like last year, Kirk Welch and others from the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District will be on hand serving tea and water. In keeping with the rules the management of the old ranch imposed on cowboys, the Cowboy Christmas in July will be alcohol free.
The action starts at 3 p.m. with the "kids rodeo." Bonine says three age divisions, three and four, five and six, and seven and eight, will compete in events such as a stick horse barrel race, dummy team roping, and a boot race. While the rodeo is going on, Bonine, a history teacher and tennis coach at Dumas Jr. High School, will be on the stage next to the building talking about the history of the XIT and the role the general office played in the administration of the legendary million-acre ranch.
At 4 p.m., Hampton kicks off the entertainment with his western music. At 5:30 p.m., someone will ring the dinner bell, grace will be said, and people will line up cowboy-style at the chuck wagon for supper.
At 6 p.m., Ward Alford will begin the live auction. Among the items up for bid will be spurs made in the original style of the old XIT, a bronze sculpture by Pat Moore, several sets of knives, and some other things, including a few surprises.
At 7 p.m., Eloy Gonzales will take the stage to play and get the dancing started on the newly-donated permanent outdoor dance floor.
Last year, Bonine picked July to have the event to commemorate the first herd of cattle to arrive at the ranch in 1885. This year, July 13 happened to be the 89th birthday of Bob Cates, the man who takes care of the building and, according to Bonine, has done more than anyone to preserve it and keep it in Channing. "Bob is the reason we do everything. Whenever the building was almost moved to the Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Bob was the one that really said, 'I don't think that is right,' and he is the one that really fought to keep it in Channing in its 'natural habitat.' Since then, he has maintained it. He mows and waters the lawn and does any maintenance work that he is able to do."
Bonine is hoping for a big turnout this year; the event is on a Saturday. She says she welcomes donations, help with the event, or any ideas and suggestions. When it comes to donations and attendance, "Moore county is the biggest supporter of our events," she said. She can be contacted at 806-282-6425 or www.xitgeneraloffice.com. The building stands on Main Street facing the railroad tracks and is clearly visible from US 385, which cuts through Channing.
The building had fallen into disrepair by the early 1980's, when Bill and Patricia Kirkeminde bought it and restored it to its former beauty. They got it placed on the state and national registries of historic places. Bonine and the other members of the Hartley County Historical Committee are hoping to maintain the building as a resource for the community.
Bonine wants to get the descendants of famous XIT figures involved. Last year, she found the grandson of ranch manager A.G. Boyce. She is looking, so far without success, to find descendants of Ab Blocker, the first trail boss to arrive at the XIT and the man who designed the XIT brand. She points out that the brand was designed to be rustler proof, not to carry a message. The idea that it meant "10 in Texas" was something people came up with later.
Bonine gave up competing in rodeos to become an educator. She is working on a PhD in history at Texas Tech. Ever the teacher, she is enthusiastic about the possibilities of using the XIT general office to educate children about the heritage of this area. "My seventh grade history class does a week looking at ranches and things like that ... the cattle business ... prices. They really get excited by that, because it is something they see still." She would like to create a "living history" that would collect the stories of those people who, over the years, have had a relationship to the building. "I think what we are doing trying to save that building is more meaningful when you think of the memories people have. That building has been a house to numerous families that are still around. A lot of school children went to the house on field trips. It meant something to people." She is determined to make sure the building keeps making memories well into the future.