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2015-07-16

Museum honoring three men for Texas Heroes Hall of Honor

By Rebecca Norton Frontier Times Museum

The Frontier Times Museum kicks off their annual National Day of the American Cowboy celebration this year by inducting two local legends and a well-known Texas photographer into their Texas Heroes Hall of Honor. Texas Highways magazine distinguished photo editor, J. Griffis (Griff) Smith, and longtime Bandera residents Kelly Scott and Clay Conoly will receive their place among great Texans at a reception and ceremony on Friday, July 24. Starting at 6 pm, the ceremony is open to the public. The Drugstore Cowboys will perform and a chuck wagon dinner with beer and wine will be available for $20 a plate. Griff will also be at the museum Friday afternoon from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm to sign his book, On the Road with Texas Highways.

Kelly Scott
Kelly Scott and his chuck wagon have been an icon on Bandera's Main Street. Kelly learned to ride and how to herd goats as a kid spending summers on his sister's ranch in Utopia. He bought his first horse as a teenager and, "I was riding around Baytown and Copano Bay on the pavement looking good, but the horse stopped," Kelly remembered. He asked an old cowboy, Ira Russell, why. Russell picked up the horse's hooves and told Kelly he needed to shoe the horse. Taking Kelly to his blacksmith shop, he gave him the tools and some rusty nails. It took Kelly all day, but he learned how to shoe horses, and he has been shoeing horses ever since.
Kelly was already a successful rodeo clown in South Texas named Coontail Kelly when he quit school at a young age. Wanting to work on a ranch, he took a bus to Hondo and hitched-hiked the rest of the way to Bandera. He walked into the Purple Cow Saloon and asked if anyone knew of a job opening. Unfortunately, it was after September when the Dude Ranches had closed for the season. The old-timers, enjoying their afternoon libations, declared there were no jobs. The bartender, taking pity on him, offered him a Coke. A few minutes later Billie Crowell of the Dixie Dude Ranch walked in and asked if anyone would like to work for three days. She had a group of Peruvian tourists coming and she needed someone to take them on trail rides. Kelly's long career of working ranches had started.
After he was finished with Dixie Dude he went back on the road as a rodeo clown. When March came around, Kelly was back in Bandera and worked most of that summer at the Flying L. When he heard about movies being made at the Mayan Dude Ranch's Old West Town, he thought being in the movies would be a good way to make a living.
Before being hired at the Mayan, Kelly first had to prove himself worthy of the job. The ranch's stagecoach driver told owners, Don and Judy Hicks, if Kelly could hitch their team of palominos to the wagon, they should hire him. Taking up the challenge, Kelly was able to hitch the horses up correctly and was hired.
In a few days, a Bob Hope television show came to film and Kelly got his first acting job. Unfortunately, the job involved pretending to be dead. After running out of a saloon after a group of Banditos, Kelly's character was shot and had to drop dead to the ground. The scene took several takes. Kelly knew he was dying right, but others things kept the scene from being perfect, including one where a gum wrapper appeared next to his dying cheek.
It was while working at the Mayan that Kelly met his wife Lo-Rena Hager. When his father-in-law worried he would get hurt as a dude wrangler and rodeo clown, Kelly went to work for the Texas Highway Department. While the pay was good, he missed the western way of life. When he was offered a better paying job at the Purple Sage Ranch, he was able to go back to his love of driving wagons. Kelly drove an old-fashioned kerosene wagon to promote the company and to ferry guests around the ranch owned by Conoco Oil Company.
Knowing the need for authentic wagons and western gear from his days at the Mayan, Kelly began to buy old wagons and buggies. He provided movie companies, special events, and parades with the vehicles. He and his equipment have been involved in numerous movies, television shows, and commercials including the Great Waldo Pepper with Robert Redford and the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas with Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton.

Clay Conoly
Clay Conoly's Texas roots go back to the Alamo where an ancestor died fighting for Texas Independence. His great-great grandfather, Sharp Whitley, was neighbors with famed Indian scout, Big Foot Wallace. Wallace was the godfather to Clay's great-grandfather who was named William Wallace, after Big Foot. In 1878, Big Foot gave William a horse with the brand 7-UK, which has remained their family brand since. William began his own ranch in 1901 in Bandera County.
In 1937, his daughter Billie and husband, Dee Crowell, took over and transformed the ranch into a working guest ranch, the Dixie Dude Ranch. While Clay was raised in Beeville, he spent idyllic summers at the ranch learning to ride and how the ranch operated. When Billie needed help running the ranch, it was Clay who was chosen to carry on the family business.
Leaving a job in the oil industry, Clay moved here in 1988 and brought his then girlfriend, and soon, wife, Diane to help run the ranch. He dedicated himself to operating the ranch as his grandmother had, making sure it continued its original purpose of being a real working ranch with livestock, working cowboys, and home-cooked meals.
Today, the ranch remains a successful guest ranch where many of visitors return each year, passing the tradition of staying on the ranch down through the generations. Several families are such regulars they just go to their regular cabin and don't even bother registering when they arrive.
In the 1990s, Clay began a spiritual journey upon meeting a Hopi medicine man. Traveling to Arizona, Clay participated in several sweat lodges. In 1997, the medicine man traveled to Texas and Clay built a sweat lodge at the Dixie Dude. Holding the healing ritual several times for many years, Clay immersed himself in Native American culture. He was honored to receive his own Native American name, Bringer of Bears, bestowed upon him by the medicine man. The name was extra special because it was the name of the medicine man's father and meant one who brings healers.
Clay feels his spiritual quest opened a new purpose for the ranch - one where the ranch is used to heal others. Today, the Lone Survivor Foundation and Make a Wish Foundation benefit from that mission.
For Clay, operating his family's ranch and providing a home away from home for their many guests has been a privilege and a blessing.

Griff Smith
If there was ever anyone who had captured the spirit of Texas on film, it's famed Texas photographer, J. Griffis Smith. After attending the Art Institute of Atlanta in Georgia, Griff began his career at Texas A&M University as a photographer assigned to take photographs of everything at the university from student life to visiting VIPs. Hired by the Texas State Highway Department, Griff expanded his horizon to include all of Texas as the photographer for the department's official travel magazine, Texas Highways. Traveling wherever the magazine's assignments took him, Griff photographed the landmarks of Texas, the landscape, the people, and even dramatic weather events. For thirty years at the magazine, Griff's photographs inspired readers to hop into their cars and travel the highways of Texas. Individually, each photograph is a work of art, transcending the documentary to become images of great beauty.
His work reflects his keen sense of aesthetics as well as his humor, kinetic energy, and quirkiness. After retiring as the magazine's photo editor, Griff worked with the Texas Highways staff in assembling a collection of his signature images which have been published in his book, On the Road with Texas Highways: A Tribute to True Texas. The book's forward says it best, "These [images] include Texas icons, from Willie Nelson to chicken-fried steak; landscapes, from Big Bend to Brazos Bend; people, from magicians to cowboys; and historical and cultural destinations, from the Alamo to the Broken Spoke... Griff Smith's quirky, creative nature has helped to shape the magazine's style and message. It is a testament to the enduring fascination of Texans for the destinations and attributes of their state that the publication of the Texas Department of Transportation has maintained a loyal following for forty years. The photography in the magazine has been a major reason why."