HISTORY OF THE ASSOCIATION
The modern era of the Cowboys’ Christmas Ball began in 1934 when 2 local school teachers and historians recognized its historic and cultural significance, and, its uniqueness to Anson. Guided by their convictions and desire to preserve history, they organized the first reenactment. Possibly due to the surge in the interest of folklore created by John Lomax’s publications and lectures, and certainly because of their pride in the area’s heritage, Miss Leonora Barrett and Miss Hybernia Grace began a project that would ensure the event’s place in history. They understood the Original Ball’s (and the poem it inspired) importance in documenting the culture and lifestyle of the hardy men and women that settled Anson and Jones County. Accordingly, these ladies organized a reenactment to preserve its place in history. The 1934 edition was as well received as the original and the “Ball kept rollin’. Public interest and support surged in the depression era when people truly needed a cheerful break from their mundane lifestyles, just as the original attendees welcomed a social event to break the monotony and solitude of their harsh lives in 1885.
Barrett and Grace meticulously researched the conditions surrounding the original ball and worked diligently to preserve as much local history as possible. Miss Barrett insisted the reincarnation of the ball retained the original dances, music, and customs of the first ball. This tradition, which includes men removing their hats on the dance floor and women only being allowed to dance in dresses or skirts, is kept to the present day. Another tradition kept to this date is one suggested by Mrs. Ophelia Rhodes Keen, whose father owned the Star Hotel in the 1880s. She wrote a letter to Barrett that was then published in the Anson newspaper Western Enterprise of December 19, 1935. Keen remembered that one of the early Christmas balls celebrated a wedding. In homage to that historical element, a newly-wed couple was selected to lead the Grand March. The Grand March is conducted to the song, The Eyes of Texas and is immediately followed by the couples waltzing to Home On The Range. The tradition continues today, a newly-wed couple is invited and honored in the traditional manner each night of the Ball at precisely 9:00 pm.
Due to the success of the 1934 Ball, support for Barrett’s and Grace’s project grew. The Anson Women’s Club sponsored the event in 1935 and 1936. Word of Anson’s Ball, its homage to history and unique dances began to spread. In 1936, a group from Anson was invited and presented the Ball at the Texas Folklore Festival held in conjunction with the Texas Centennial Celebration at Fair Park in Dallas. Little did they know, but this was only the beginning.
By 1937, the Christmas Ball was an eagerly anticipated event in Anson and the surrounding area. It had received the full support of the small town. It was Anson’s event. In order to support and produce the event, a new organization was born.
The Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball Association of Anson, Texas was founded and chartered (Charter Number 71625) with the State of Texas on June 12, 1937. Original charter members of the Association included 22 men from Anson, 4 from Abilene and 1 each from Albany, Hamlin, Roby, Rotan and Stamford. These men were each recognized and respected as community leaders and set the standards the Association follows today. One notable charter member who also served on the committee that drafted the original by-laws for the Association was former US Congressman, Omar Burleson.
The original by-laws addressed Miss Barrett’s concerns regarding maintaining the authenticity of the original event in Article VI, section 5 which states, No person shall be eligible to membership in this organization who seeks to promote modern dancing or who desires to thwart the purposes of this organization. These by-laws were so well crafted; there have been very few revisions since their adoption. Additionally, in 1937, with the assistance of Miss Barrett, the organization received the copyright to, The Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball.
The original Association members were busy actively promoting their new organization. Because the Anson group performed dances not done by any other group in the National Folk Festival, they were invited to the festival in Chicago in 1937. Gertrude Knox, Washington folklorist, invited them to the festival in 1938 in Washington. The group travelled to and from Washington on a special train; while there, they performed the traditional Christmas Ball dances on the White House lawn. In 1947, they performed the Ball at the American Folklore Festival in St. Louis, Missouri. On later dates, they performed their folk dances in St. Petersburg, Florida, Denver, Colorado and returned to Washington in 1961 to perform the Ball on the Capitol lawn. The Anson dancers have and continue to share their unique piece of their heritage in various cities in Texas.
Membership in the Association has changed little from 1937. Association members serve as the organization’s directors. Membership is limited to couples and is obtained by invitation or application and requires an affirmative vote of the directors. In 2009, the Association’s by-laws were revised to allow the organization to become recognized as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit corporation. Revisions were also made to the membership policies. Membership is normally lifetime. Some long serving members were finding it physically difficult to attend meetings and work days, therefore a Sustaining Member classification was adopted. Members who have provided long and selfless service may at their request become sustaining members. They retain all rights and privileges of membership. However, they are exempted from attending meetings and workdays, and are not eligible to hold office. Accordingly, their absence is not reflected in the number of members present required to establish a quorum in order to conduct meetings. The Association also adopted a provision to recognize individuals who have significant contributions to the Ball as Honorary Members. They are welcomed at all Association functions and meetings; however, they are exempted from wearing the official attire and are not afforded voting privileges.
Association members still dress in the style established in 1935 and serve as hosts and hostesses for the annual gala. They are also the administrative staff, historians, custodians, maintenance crew and the decorating committee.
In 2011, the Association implemented a Ranch Supper on the night of Michael Martin Murphy’s performance. Tickets to the supper are limited by available seating capacity and normally sell out very early. Those that are quick, or, lucky enough to get tickets are treated to a smorgasbord of authentic ranch dishes that are home cooked by the Association members, dinner with Mr. Murphy and tickets to the Ball.
In another nod to history, Association members prepare homemade cookies, candies and other goodies to fill decorated boxes. The boxes are auctioned each night at the ball and provide the winners an opportunity to enjoy an old fashioned box social.
Recently, to encourage young people to learn their heritage, the Association members committed their personal funds to establish a scholarship to a college or trade school. The application process was simple, submit an essay on any element of the Ball.
The members of the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball, of Anson, Texas understand they are custodians of history and are committed to keeping our heritage alive. Beginning in 1934 when Miss Barrett and Miss Grace brought the Ball to life, the importance of a dance, a poem and the history they reflect were understood. More importantly, members know they are obligated to share it and educate others. One of life’s truths is, “If you do not know from where you came, you cannot fully know where you are going”. From that first performance in Dallas in 1936, to appearances across the nation, to 3 nights per year for 81 years, the Association members share their culture and teach the history of from where they came. Following the example of Miss Barrett and Miss Grace, the Association members are collaborating with historians at the Southwest Collection Archive within the Special Collections Library at Texas Tech University to document and preserve the history of the Ball. They also provided Dr. Paul Carlson, History Professor Emeritus, Texas Tech University, research material and documentation for his recent book entitled Dancin in Anson, a History of the Cowboys’ Christmas Ball.
Most importantly, they have always been great ambassadors of Anson. They have promoted the small town, its history and its heritage by producing an annual reenactment of the historic Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball each year in December since 1934.