The Meriwether Historical Society met at QC Arena at Quercus Farms in Gay on Sunday, September 9th, 2012 for a special program on the history of ranching and rodeoing. Eddie and Melanie Paul and Susan Pritchett manage the farm and arena which is a 125’ by 250’ covered arena that hosts clinics and rodeos and a variety of equine events. The farm has a cottage, cabin and bunkhouse ranch accommodations that are handy when they host large events at the arena or for many riders on the trails.
Program narrator Winston Neal explained to the group that rodeo events all evolved from the day to day activities on a ranch. Whether moving a herd to a rail line or doctoring the cow out on the range, the cowboy and his horse had to be handy and versatile. Calf roping, team roping, sorting, and cutting were the fours areas demonstrated by local cowboys John and Austin Gordon, Clay Chapman, Link Mitchem, and Rob Singleton. Bob Perkerson and Georgia State Cowboy Poet Jerry Warren entertained as well with cowboy poetry and storytelling between the demonstrations.
Neal began by telling the development of the quarter horse with its thoroughbred background and bloodlines of native horses shown to have the talents needed for working cows. The American Quarter Horse Association began in 1940 and today encompasses horses known for their racing speed at the short quarter mile distance, as well as roping, cutting, and pleasure riding.
The cowboy we think of today as the American cowboy evolved from the western vaqueros who taught men who migrated west to work on ranches after the Civil War. At that time thousands of feral cattle called mavericks roamed the US. Worth $4 a head at the ranch, they became worth $40 a head if brought to the rail line in Kansas-so the cattle drives began. The cattle drive era lasted only about twenty years, Neal said, as train travel expanded throughout the U.S. and connected the larger towns.
Neal pointed out the cowboys’ working clothes such as chaps and a hat and explained how useful chaps were for riding through the brush and a hat for feeding or watering your horse, but in the early years cowboys were as likely to wear a toboggan or sailor’s hat-it was all in what was available. Trivia about Charles Goodnight for whom the chuck wagon was named, Lonesome Dove, the Chisholm Trail and more were sprinkled through the program.
John and Austin Gordon roped several calves to demonstrate calf roping and it was easy for the crowd to see how this afforded the ranch hand the opportunity to doctor or brand a calf. After dismounting to run down the rope and tie up the calf, the cowboy leaves his horse alone to hold the rope taunt. The need for a good horse cannot be overstated. Team ropers Clay Chapman and Link Mitchem showed how the header roped the horns and the healer caught the back feet to stretch out the larger steer or cow in order to be doctored.
Moving the cows around the arena and sorting through them showed how a good horse makes the job easy. Cows gravitate toward a herd so the next competition that evolved was cutting. Rob Singleton worked several heifers showing the horse’s cattle sense and quick footed “dance” as his stallion kept the singled out cow from going back to the herd.
Bob Perkerson who has a deep appreciation for cowboy poetry introduced special guest Jerry Warren who founded the Georgia Cowboy Poets Association and who was named the official Cowboy Poet of Georgia by the legislature. Warren delighted the audience with humorous poems filled with cowboy wit and sayings.
The historical society program ended with a superb chuck wagon meal prepared by Eddie and Melanie Paul featuring barbecued briskets, homemade potato salad, cowboy beans made with seven different types of beans seasoned by ground beef, bacon, peppers and inions-all served alongside biscuits and finished with peach cobbler. The meal was served from large and heavy cast iron cookware and eaten from old fashioned blue tin enamelware plates. Red and white checkered linens decorated the many wooden picnic tables at the arena. Those dining were charmed by the authenticity of the setting and accoutrements plus they enjoyed the delicious meal.