Yep, saddle up! This time we are riding over to Bandera, Texas, the Cowboy Capital of the World. And I’d add “Cowgirl” too for a good reason explained later!
This historic town was a staging area for some of the last cattle drives in the late 1800s. Bandera is located about 50 miles northwest of San Antonio in what is called the Hill Country. Dude ranches offer weekend cowboy fun, including trail rides and chuckwagon meals. I bet they have campfires with s’mores too. Yum!
Bandera means banner or flag in Spanish. The story goes a red “bandera” was flown to mark the boundary between Spanish and Native American land. Unfortunately, that didn’t prevent some bloody battles about 12 miles north of town.
Cypress trees along the Medina River brought settlers, a mill, and some Polish families and workers in the mid-1800s. Today, the town is a mix of Mexican, Native American, Polish, and Western cultures. The Renaissance Revival-style courthouse dates from 1891 and was built from locally quarried limestone.
A monument honoring local cowboys and a statue is on the courthouse lawn. The most recent addition, at the bottom of the list, is Callie duPerier who grew up in Bandera. She was the World Champion Barrel Racer in 2015 on her buckskin horse named Rare Dillion.
The Huffmeyer General Store, originally built in 1873 using native limestone, is the oldest building in town. But it was damaged in a fire in 1936. Besides strolling along historic Main Street, a huge indoor flea market, filled with individual booths, sells a little bit of everything.
Formerly a grocery store, the OST restaurant stands for Old Spanish Trail. The old route, now including Main Street, was used by the Spanish conquistadors, leveraging early Native American paths. Opened in 1921, this restaurant is the oldest in town, and I highly recommend it for the food too! The salad bar is built into an old wild west style wagon. Down-home cooking specialties include chicken fried steak and Tex-Mex dishes in a ranch-house atmosphere with real saddles on the bar stools. The backroom of OST, now devoted to memorabilia related to the True Grit actor John Wayne, was once was a horse corral. After all, how far would a cowboy want to walk? And horses have to eat too!
The Bandera County Public Library is a short walk down Main Street from the OST and the grocery and resides in a landmarked 1934 fieldstone building. The construction was part of the New Deal Civil Works Project following the Great Depression. Albert and Bessie Mae Kronkosky, possible descendants of those original Polish settlers, financed a library expansion.
Unfortunately, Bandera has some cowboy competition. Oakdale, California, in the valley west of Yosemite, also claims to be the Cowboy Capital of the World. An annual rodeo started there in 1954 and looks like they rode through 2020 in April. Lots of professional rodeo cowboys live there as they do in Bandera. If they need to settle the matter, I’d suggest a long-distance rodeo competition. Send in Callie riding Dillion, our barrel racing champion!
Karen Stensgaard is a novelist and former Texan cowgirl who grew up in suburban San Antonio. Back in the day, she was pretty good at barrel racing. Karen was lucky enough to visit Bandera in January 2020, before the COVID-19 travel restrictions. She still loves being around horses and misses gentle, old Nellie and even spirited, true-to-his-name Rebel.