February, 2012. Bandera, Texas. The Cowboy Capital of the World

Posted on February 22, 2012


Frontier Times Museum

They say the music is lively, the dance floor full, and the beverages cold in Bandera, Texas.

This small town of around 1,000 inhabitants is located less than an hour – but feels like a million miles – from San Antonio.

It was, and still is, a cowboy town.  There are hitching posts on the main drag, and the hilly area surrounding the little burg is full of ranches of both the dude and working variety.

Though Bandera was founded by Catholic immigrants from Poland, it’s believed the town’s name came from the Spanish.

One story says back in the 19th century a flag was placed at the top of a path that became known as “Bandera Pass” due to “bandera” being the Spanish word for “flag”.

In 1874 Bandera was the staging point for a huge cattle drive along the Western Trail.  It is estimated as many as 6 million cattle traveled the trail to rail heads in Kansas and Nebraska, making Bandera a booming cattle town for the next 20 years.

By the early 1900’s, however, cattle were taking it a little easier. Ever-expanding railroads meant cows rode the rails instead of traveling on the hoof to northern markets. But the cowpoke’s daily life stayed about the same – he just stayed closer to home.

The early 1900’s saw the sport of rodeo developing as recreation for Bandera cowboys – an opportunity to show off the skills used in everyday life and just plain have a little fun. Interest grew, and town’s first large “official” rodeo was held in 1924. Bandera soon became the training ground for many future rodeo champions, further enhancing the town’s cowboy reputation.

Old jail, now used for town offices

Because of its authentic look, a visitor’s brochure tells us, Bandera has been the setting for “several” Western movies, though I could locate only one – a 1980’s made-for-TV movie entitled “Jake’s Way” starring, among others, Slim Pickens.

However, I think it’s safe to assume numerous now-famous riders, ropers and gunslingers have galloped down the streets of Bandera.

What is known for sure (we were there) is that Bandera is home to the Frontier Times Museum, which offers a wonderful look at the town’s history as a cow town, as well as its lengthy history of producing rodeo champions.

Then of course there’s the music in the honky tonks. A long list of Country music stars including Ray Price, Jim Reeves and Willie Nelson have all played in Bandera’s music halls, fitting entertainment for the Cowboy Capital of the World.