The Texas Cowboy Reunion, founded in 1930 as a tribute to the Texas cowboy, is held each year for three days around July 4 in Stamford. It is a gathering of working cowhands, not professional rodeo cowboys, aimed at honoring their traditions. Held in conjunction with the rodeo are the Texas Old-Timers Reunion, the Texas Quarter Horse Show, and the John Selmon Memorial Art Show. In February 1930 a group of thirteen Stamford businessmen met to discuss establishing some type of local celebration to counteract the depression morale. Since Stamford was central to several large ranches, a rodeo seemed appropriate, and, in order to make it unique, the founders named it the Texas Cowboy Reunion and dedicated it to preserving the heritage of the typical West Texas cowboy. That first year was a success in every way. Ninety-eight cowboys participated in four events. Calf roping was the most popular, but was followed closely by wild-cow milking, steer riding, and bronc riding. A total of 12,000 persons attended the rodeo in three days. In the following years the event grew. By 1937 crowds totaling 70,000 attended, with people coming from all over the Southwest. To accommodate them, reunion officials provided permanent grandstands, new lighting, a small lake, a two-story pavilion, and a bandstand. Attendance dropped sharply with World War II but rose to between 50,000 and 65,000 by 1955. In the years after that it dropped until it leveled off at 10,000 to 12,000.
The Texas Cowboy Reunion has significantly enlarged the rodeo repertoire. Wild-cow milking, which originated in Stamford, was held until 1957, when it was discontinued due to lack of suitable cows. The cutting-horse contest was also a first in Stamford. "Sponsors," young women invited from surrounding areas, participated in barrel racing, which originated at the reunion in 1931; the girls were judged on appearance as well as riding ability. Today, however, they are judged strictly on the time it takes them to run the cloverleaf pattern. Although all of these events spread nationwide, the old-timers' calf roping, one of the most popular events, did not.
The Texas Cowboy Reunion has succeeded because of the wisdom and foresight of its leaders. They include the original thirteen Stamford businessmen who were founders: Andrew John Swenson, William G. Swenson, Ray Rector, Rudolph Swenson, John Selmon, A. C. Cooper, F. Harley Goble, R. B. Bryant, W. G. Owsley, Charles E. Coombes, R. V. Colbert, Louie M. Hardy, and Roy Arledge. Bill Swenson was elected president and served until 1959, when he was succeeded by his son Eugene. The other first officers were R. R. Robertson, treasurer; C. L. Widney, director; and J. C. Watson, secretary. Selmon was arena director from 1930 to 1955 and led the grand entry from 1930 to 1968. Other leaders have included George Humphreys, foreman at the Four Sixes Ranch, who served as rodeo judge for forty-eight years, and Roy Craig, who served as rodeo chairman for thirty years. Also the entire Swenson family and the SMS Ranches organization have provided leadership and guidance to the reunion.
Three events, although not directly a part of the reunion, are held in conjunction with it. In 1930 the Texas Cowboy Reunion Old-Timers Association was formed as a social organization to reunite and entertain the pioneers in the cattle business in Texas. Membership was restricted to cowboys who had worked on a ranch before 1895 and were at least fifty-five years of age. Today's members must have worked cattle and be at least forty-five years old. The newly formed American Quarter Horse Show was first held in 1940. Currently there are three divisions of competition held each year. The most recent addition to the reunion is the Stamford Art Foundation Exhibit and Sale. Its purpose is to record the history of the American West in art, and many prominent western artists exhibit in Stamford each year.
The Texas Cowboy Reunion has established its own style. A visitor to Stamford for the rodeo is met by the yells of the Hardin-Simmons University Cowboy Band leading off the parade, invited to eat at a chuck wagon, and entertained by local cowboys trying to best some of the meanest rodeo stock around. If that is not enough, there is always an old-timer at the bunkhouse who is eager to describe his version of life on the Texas range; it is his heritage that the Texas Cowboy Reunion celebrates each year on its fifty-five acres of land just west of Stamford.