As the chuckwagon cook yells, “Chuck’s on, com an’ get it,” the scene around the wagon looks a lot like it did back in 1866 when Charles Goodnight set out with Oliver Loving with their chuck wagon. Heritage of the trail drives long lives in the small country town of Helotes, Texas as they certainly returned traditions of the cowboys during their forth annual Chuck Wagon cook-off held March 2nd.
Helotes has long been the scene of Texas cowboys who stage cattle in the area coming up from Bandera moving herds of Texas Longhorns over towards San Antonio before heading the cattle to northern markets. The area was first settle by early Anglo immigrants for farm and ranching before the Texas Revolution.
Prior to the cowboys, Indians had lived in the region since 5,000 BC. In the 17th century, the Lipan Apache Indians moved to the area occupying it throughout the 18th century when the Comanches forced the Apaches out of Texas by 1820. The Comanche Indians were exceptional horsemen who dominated the Southern Plains, playing a prominent role in the Texas frontier history throughout much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ranching would occasional suffered attacks by the Comanches until the 1870s as the trail drives were in full swing.
Sharon Pinnell, a committee member for the annual event states, "We wanted to bring the chuck wagons to our town educating the school children and adults about the great Texas heritage of the American Cowboy and those cooks “cookie” who work on the trail drives. Folks can actually see a wagon set up in a camp atmosphere. Along with the fire going, they get to watch cooks preparing food using cast iron Dutch ovens, cooking just just as they did on a trail drive moving Texas cattle as far off to places like Kansas and Montana."
Sharon and her husband Bruce Pinnell got involved with chuck wagon cooking about 13 years ago while living in Arizona. "We had already competed in chili cook-offs so why not try chuck wagon cooking; little did I know that my husband Bruce always wanted a chuck wagon" commented Shannon. They purchased a 1903 John Deere wagon and made a chuck box for it. After moving to Texas ten years ago, the Pinnell's got involved with Helotes community. Often asked to assist heading up various cook-offs, Sharon enjoys volunteering. First starting with chili, then Barbecue until four years ago when the town of Heloles through their many sponsors brought in the Chuck Wagon cooking competitions.
The town name is derived from the Spanish word elote, which means "green maize," but exactly how the town came to be called Helotes is still a subject of debate. Today, the town has become a suburb of San Antonio as residence seek the Texas Hill Country life style.
One of the first settlers, Scottish immigrant, Dr. George Marnoch, purchased the land that would later become the site of the town in 1858. His home served as a stagecoach stop and a post office for the cowboys driving herds from Bandera to San Antonio. In 1880, a portion of his lands were sold to a Swiss immigrant, Arnold Gugger, who built a home and the first mercantile store. The town began growing with the new store.
At the turn of the 20th century, Gugger would sale his property to Bert Hileman who was instrumental in getting the Bandera road paved. In 1908, with the purchase of the property, Hileman opened the first dance hall and service-filling station. Although, as the town's population declined, Hileman sold off his property in 1919.
Today, Helotes is home to one of the worlds most famous Honky Tonks, "Floore's Country Store." John T. Floores, who was manager of the Majestic Theater in San Antonio open the dance hall in 1946. Through the years, the popularity of the Honky Tonk has grown featuring top country western music artists. Great legends, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan have all performed at John T Floores while folks could enjoy sipping on long neck beers while others danced across the concrete floor.
Willie Nelson, who returned to Texas in the late 1960's after little success in Nashville, mentions John T. in one of his recordings. Some say, Nelson was snubbed by Nashville, although Nelson who continues to occasionally perform at John T. Floores took his music creating "Texas OUTLAW Country" becoming a legend in his on right, much too his many performances at the Texas landmark of Helotes, Floore's Country Store.
Students from surrounding schools enjoyed the opportunity visiting with the participating chuck wagon teams. Wagon teams each prepared meals for both Friday and Saturday and pleased to share their knowledge of camp life of the early cowboys with the students. Hosted by the Elks Club, the following Sponsors contributed to the successful program; H.E.B. grocery, Frost Bank, Braundera, Helotes Collision Center, Helotes Echo, E-Motive Business Concepts, Jefferson Ban, Mander Automotive, Forty Creek, Woodbridge, Republic Tequila, Field Construction Inc. each contributed to make the cook off a success providing this educational opportunity for the Helotes students.
After Fridays school visits, chuck wagon judging was underway conducted by Dennis Moore and Curtis Ethridge of Blanco, Texas. Each judge inspects for the authenticity of the wagons and camp display.
Rick Facker of San Antonio, happen to stroll out on Friday to visit with an old class mate he had not seen in twenty years when he met Sharon Pinnell. Sharon invited Rick to sit in as one of several Food judges assigning him to the bread category. Excited, Rick did not know what to expect as this was the first time to judge such an event. "There was several judges for each category and each wagon made some tremendously delicious food," Rick said. "The day was filled with other points of interest with a large number of vendors selling homemade crafts, a farmers market, antique wares in addition to visiting with the chuck wagons viewing all their cowboy gear," as Rick further explained.
The participating wagon teams included;
Rocking B II Chuckwagon, owned by Coy Barr of Saint Hedwig, Texas.
Three Heart Ranch, owned by Ed Parsons of Frederickburgs, Texas operating an 1886 Bain manufactured wagon.
Diamond S, owned by John Stuart of Spring Branch, Texas
Texas Stampede, owned by Eric Williams of Watauga, Texas operating his wagon manufactured by Southern Rock Island Plow Company, Dallas, Texas.
After Saturday's meal, awards where present:
Meats: 1st place to 3 Heart Ranch, 2nd place Texas Stampede, 3rd place Rocking B II
Beans: 1st place- Rocking B II, 2nd place-3 Hearts Ranch, 3rd place-Texas Stampede
Breads: 1st place-Texas Stampede, 2nd place-3 Heart Ranch, 3rd place-Diamond S
Dessert: 1st place-Rocking B II, 2nd place-3Heart Ranch, 3rd place-Texas Stampede
Wagon: 1st place-Texas Stampede, 2nd place-3 Hearts Ranch, 3rd place-Diamond S
There was 3 ties in best bread, stew and best over all awarding the tie breeaker to the best wagon, and winner of Overall - Texas Stampede.
TEXAS STAMPEDE Hetoles Chuck Wagon Cook - Off 2013 Champions