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2012-12-20

Burell - honoring cowboy heritage

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

For working tirelessly to "keep Bandera - both city and county - western," David Burell has received the 2012 Preservation Award from the Bandera County Historical Commission. He was honored Thursday, Dec. 6, during the Christmas celebration at the Frontier Times Museum.
"I was absolutely flabbergasted when I received the award," Burell said in an interview from New Mexico. "I didn't think I deserved it because all the projects were things I wanted to do and thought needed to be done. I just did them and didn't think anymore about them. I was very surprised to have received the award."
A member of the historical commission from 2003 to 2012, in 2004, Burell helped organize the first Western Trail Ride from Bandera to Dodge City, Kansas. More recently, he spearheaded the relocation of Western Trail commemorative plaque in the aptly named Western Trail Heritage Park.
Mounted on a limestone pedestal, the bronze plaque explains the significance of the cattle trail immortalized in the iconic mini-series "Lonesome Dove."
In part, the plaque reads: "Though not as well known as the Chisholm Trail, more cattle and horses were driven up the Western Trail, and it was much longer. It was the main cattle trail to Dodge City, Kansas, but eventually went to Ogallala, Nebraska, with branches that went to Canada and all of the northwestern states."
During the plaque dedication, Burell said, "Longhorns were staged south and southwest of Bandera, allowing this area to become a major passing point for cattle being driven to railheads in the north." By the end of the great cattle drives north, more than 7 million head of Longhorn cattle and thousands of horses were driven up the Western Trail.
"We're proud of this park and the plaque," Burell continued. "This was a particular project of Rudy Robbins, who wrote an article about it before he went to that big cattle drive in the sky."
Calling the Western Trail "an integral part of Bandera's history," County Judge Richard Evans noted that his great-grandfather "at the age of 17 or 18 years," participated in a cattle drive on the Western Trail. "This [dedication] is very good for the city and county. It's part of our heritage. We need to know where we came from in order to know who we are," Evans said.
Burell had worked for three years to have the bronze plaque moved to a visible position in the Western Trail Heritage Park. "For a long time, it was just stuck in the ground (under a periodically cloudy plexiglass shield)," he said. The plaque and stone pedestal are now located adjacent to an in-ground polymer map that traces the Western Trail from Bandera to Dodge City, Kansas. Burell worked on the map and the late Robbins collected examples of Bandera County cattle brands that accompany it.
Parenthetically, the park project itself, overseen by Burell and his great friend, the late Robbins, transformed the former Bandera City Plaza to a park honoring Bandera cowboys who traversed the Western Trail.
Not surprisingly, Burell also served as prime mover behind the installation of the first Bandera County Western Trail marker, which is located just off Main Street behind the Western Trail Heritage Park. The inaugural marker was installed on Labor Day 2004, as part of Celebrate Bandera. It became the first of four five-foot high concrete pylons markers that Burell helped install in Bandera County. As part of a national project, the markers trace the route of the Western Trail from Mexico to Canada.
The dedication of the last trail marker took place in November 2009 at the "Flats at Lower Mason Road," five miles north of the city at the intersection of the Lower Mason Road and Highway 173 North. Previously, other trail markers had been installed at Bandera Pass and Quihi Pass.
Under Burell's direction, Bandera County became the first county in Texas to complete the installation of trail markers. The first Western Trail marker in Texas was placed at Doans Crossing at the Red River on the Texas and Oklahoma border.
Burell also made significant contributions to the Pictorial History of Bandera County, published in 2005. Two years later, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) recognized the book at the annual Historic Preservation Conference. The pictorial book and other endeavors contributed to the Bandera County Historical Commission receiving the coveted THC Distinguished Service Award "for outstanding preservation work accomplished in 2006."
For this and his other distinguished volunteer service that has helped preserve the history of Bandera County, Burell received the 2012 Preservation Award.
When asked about his favorite project, he named the trail drive to Dodge City. Acting as an advance team, for three months prior to beginning of the drive, Burell and his wife sussed out water requirements, physicians and vets, farriers and hay and feed for cattle and horses, and more in every city along the way. Then Burell unexpectedly took over promotion duties. "I had to go out in front of the ride and set up interviews with television, newspapers and radio in each city," he said. "It was a lot of work; more than I had anticipated."
However, clearly relishing the experience, Burell recalled, "The worst thing about the trail drive was that it finally had to come to an end. By that time, we were like a family and it was very emotional."