A Cowboy Christmas

The simplicity and wonder of Christmas is so easy to miss, and so important to remember.

Matador Dugout

The Matador Half-Dugout at the NRHC.

This past weekend (the first weekend of December, 2012), Brazos West had the opportunity to play at the National Ranching Heritage Center Candlelight Christmas event. If you’re not familiar with the Ranching Heritage Center, I would highly suggest taking a look at their website.  The NRHC is a sprawling 27-acre indoor/outdoor museum dedicated to preserving the history of ranching, pioneer life and the development of the livestock industry in North America. The NRHC is home to nearly four dozen historic structures ranging from school houses to windmills to a train depot. It’s truly an amazing place.

For two nights during the Christmas season, the park is open, free of charge, to anyone who would like to experience the yuletide celebrations that took place on the open prairie more than 100 years ago. The pathway through the park is lit by luminarias and most of the buildings are “staffed” by volunteers in period dress, going about life as it might have been a century ago. This year, over 9000 people came through the park in two nights.

We set up, as we have in years past, in the Matador Half-Dugout. There were no sound system or stages. Just a small building, half underground, with a old desk, a few handmade chairs, a beat up dresser and an old feather bed. We lit a few lanterns, stoked up the fireplace and settled in to play nonstop Christmas carols for the next 3 hours. In the dugout with us were a couple of older gentlemen, volunteers from local ranches, dressed in their range gear. We, as usual, we’re wearing our cowboy duds. It had a very authentic feel to it and we quickly settled in and began making Christmas music the cowboy way.

There was only one way to see into the dugout, and that was through the front door which had a small half-gate. It was like looking into a live museum. The weather was beautiful (in the mid-50’s) and the crowd came through the park non-stop. As they did, a line quickly formed outside the dugout. Most people wanted to linger in the door as we played. Since there was so much to see in the park, no one stayed longer than 30 seconds, but this still caused a lengthy line of people down the path, all of whom could hear us playing as they waited for their turn to look into the door.

Everyone who stopped was happy and full of cheer. We received and gave many well wishes throughout both nights, but it was the kids we loved most. Almost without fail, every young child who finally had a chance to poke their head around the corner and see the sight that awaited them, see where the music had been coming from, responded in the same manner. Their mouth would drop open and their eyes would seem to pop so wide it looked painful. They would break out in a massive smile, followed either by them singing along, waving at us or turning to their parents to see if they saw what he or she was seeing.

The whole thing was worth it just to see the wonder in the eyes of the children. It was Christmas without all the pomp and glitter. No tree (other than the tumbleweed in the corner). No Christmas lights. Just the simplicity of an old bunkhouse dimly lit by lantern light and a fireplace. No choir or orchestra. Just four old guys sitting around playing acoustic instruments singing Christmas songs they all knew and loved. And I suppose, at least for the kids, the western gear and the two cowboys at the door made it a bit more magical.

It was a good reminder that the meaning of Christmas is not about the lights and glitter. It’s the simple idea of family, love and the gift of grace through the birth of the Savior.

Merry Christmas everyone. Merry Christmas.


  1. What a wonderful story of the event! So proud to have my brother (Tom)involved with this group. You guys are giving in a remarkable way!

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