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Celebrating the longhorn at Heritage Park

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

During his visit to Bandera over the Labor Day weekend, Congressman Lamar Smith looked as happy as a kid on Christmas morning.
Prior to a 10 am unveiling ceremony, participants in the Great Western Trail historical marker dedication had assembled at Wells Fargo Bank, 900 Main Street. After boarding the by-now famous red and yellow stagecoach, the entourage clip-clopped down Bandera's main drag to Heritage Park. Smith was given the singular honor of riding shotgun for driver Georgia Cartwright of Benbrook - who was equally as thrilled. "This was the first time I ever drove a stagecoach down a main street in town," she explained.
The historical marker dedication took place at Western Trail Heritage Park, 415 Main Street. After the Civil War, Bandera's plentiful water and grass apparently made this area an ideal staging area and feeder trail for what was to become the longest of all the trails from Texas to markets in the north. Markers and plaques now dot the route, which began in the Lone Star State then meandered through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and well into Regina Saskatchewan, Canada.
In 1874, Capt. John T. Lytle and others led 3,500 head of cattle from South Texas to Fort Robinson, Nebraska on what later became the Great Western Trail. Between the 1870s and 1893, close to 10 million longhorns, a million horses and 30,000 wranglers traveled north on the dusty trail, according to conservative estimates.
The elected officials who spoke at the Saturday, August 29, dedication ceremony paid homage not only to the cattle and the trail that revitalized Texas' post-Civil War economy, but also to the man whose research and tenacity had made the moment possible - Dave Burell.
Burell founded and served as first president of the Great Western Cattle Trail Association. In addition, he and his wife, Heather, spearheaded installation of a quartet of Great Western Cattle Trail posts that mark the route in Bandera County. In 2010, the Bandera County Historical Commission - of which Burell has been a member since 2002 - completed the installation of the trail markers in the county.
Burell and his family sponsored the first post marker in Western Trail Heritage Park. The second marker, donated by the late Don and Peggy Tobin, was placed at Bandera Pass on Highway 173 North of the Bandera. The third Western Cattle Trail Marker was placed at Quihi Pass on Highway 173 South. The descendants of Polish immigrant, Jan Dlugosz, donated this marker. The fourth and final trail marker, donated by the descendants of Polish Immigrant, Franz Anderwald, is in place six miles north of Bandera at the intersection of Highway 173 North and Old Upper Mason Creek Road.
As Burell explained, the preliminary work he and his wife - the couple recently celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary - did to gather information for the 2002 trail ride to Dodge City, Kansas eventually morphed into the Great Western Cattle Trail Association. When he became president, there were only two chapters, one in South Texas and the other serving North Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Researching the Great Western Cattle Trail clearly became a labor of love for Burell. He said, "The importance of Texas cattle cannot be overstated because of those longhorns. The north got its badly needed beef supply. Cattle not destined for slaughter at Dodge City were driven further north for proposed breeding stock for ranches in the Dakotas and eventually Canada."
Burell also noted that the book "Lonesome Dove," by Texas author Larry McMurtry was based on exploits that took place along the Great Western Trail.
Continuing with the theme, Smith described Bandera as "where the West begins. It's like no other city in Texas." He relayed a story about a set of longhorns that are currently mounted on the wall of his Congressional office in the United States Capitol.
"When I graduated from high school, I was given two longhorn steer calves. Twenty-five years later both died the same year. I had the best set of horns mounted for my office," Smith said.
Years later, the family tradition continues. When Smith's son graduated from high school, he received a longhorn steer calf, too.
After the dedication and unveiling of the historical marker commemorating Bandera's place in bovine history, it was only fitting that a small herd of longhorns, accompanied by drovers and wranglers, ambled up Main Street to kickoff the Celebrate Bandera Parade.