Cheyenne Frontier Days Chuck Wagon Cook Off
Wisps of steam swirled out the spout of the ever present coffee pot hanging over the coals as the cowboy passed out cups to early morning stragglers to sample the brew. The sun just crested the trees and the golden glow lit up the dozen chuck wagon camps as the cooking crews drifted about…it was Cook Off Day at Cheyenne Frontier Days…and on this damp, cool morning, the heat was on. Literally.
Within five hours, the cooks would transform a standard issue of groceries into mouthwatering chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, beans, biscuits, and cherry cobbler vying for bragging rights of winning the “grand-daddy of ‘em all” – and wearing that CFD Belt Buckle proudly home to one of the six states represented at the 2013 event.
In its 11th year, Cheyenne Frontier Days is one of the premier chuck wagon competitions.
More than a dozen years ago, a small group of Old West enthusiasts and wagon masters talked about creating a chuck wagon association that would preserve the heritage of the chuck wagon and its use in the short, but significant, era of the cattle drives. The ACWA (http://americanchuckwagon.org/) was born, and today, there are members in nearly every state, Canada, Germany and Switzerland.
Debbie Watson gets the credit for bringing a chuck wagon competition to CFD…and Debbie Russi has been assisting her for five years. They are part of the incredible volunteer base of over 2,500 individuals that bring CFD to life, as members of the 500+ strong, very busy, Parade Committee. A dozen chuck wagons are invited to compete each year, and those wagons have the option of re-upping for the following year – if they choose not to, a waiting list exists of wagon owners who dream of an invitation to Cheyenne!
After years of creating and running my own chuck wagon events, I was invited to attend CFD and help cook on the South Dakota “DT” chuck wagon. It was thrilling to meet the 2013 wagons – included the Pampa, Texas, “Honey-Do Spoiler” wagon…this congenial crew kept the coffee on and invited us down for an incredible supper after an unexpected July hailstorm had us all running for cover! Next in line was Jack Ramey’s “Crosstimber “ wagon from Mustang, Oklahoma. Jack cooked with Todd and Heath Limke, and the fabulous ‘real’ American Icon of a cowboy, Eulan E. Peters – better known as just “Pete.” Dan MacCaffree and his “Musselshell” wagon cooked up some fine grub as well. Dan and his wife, Carol, along with Chris and Julie Munson, hauled in from Round Up, Mont. – my old stomping grounds! We have had the privilege of being around Dan and Carol at several events these last few years, and a finer batch of folks has not been created. Ned and Terry Larson hauled their “Creekhouse” chuck wagon from Stevensville, Mont., and cooked with Mike and Kathy Warren, and Dennis and Julie Moffe. Frank and Georgianna Lipus were our closest neighbors with their “Gold Creek” wagon from Hamilton, Mont. They cooked with the hilarious Mario and Yvonne Torres whose name we could never keep straight. We had the privilege of cooking on the number one winning wagon at CFD – the Patrick’s “DT” wagon of Watertown, S.D. Jim and Susan compete and show their beautifully restored Peter Schuttler Wagon throughout the year. Jim claims “DT” stands for Dakota Territory, but Susan insists it stands for Delerium Tremens – which is what all the wagon cooks suffer from during a cook off!
Donnie and Joe Daniels were our other ‘neighbors’ with their “Running D” wagon from Harrison, Ark. Donnie had an adorable short, two-man saw that Mr. Patrick was seriously in love with. Brenda Thomas cooked at their camp with them. The “(HO” owned by Cindy and Ray Gullion from Worland, Wyo., was next in line, with Heidi Hernandez and Charlotte Brown assisting, and next to them was the 2012 Champions, the “Wishbone” wagon of Axtell, Texas. My two oldest sons, Clell and Caleb, had the honor of participating in the 2012 Kid’s cook off with this wagon, and Caleb won the meat championship, and wears his beautiful buckle proudly. The Wishbone is owned by Brian and Sue Frankum, and they cook with the Soupbone Cattle Company, Butch and Sue Dohmann, also of Texas. Dr. T.C. Glenn of Arlington, Texas owns the “Broken T” chuck wagon, and J. Aubry Lenamon from Victoria slung pots for them. The “3 Lazy R” wagon owned by Fred and June Woods of Pine Bluffs, Wyo., cooked with Beth and Kathy and the 2013 CFD Champions were the “Curly Cue” wagon owned by Clint Combs of Las Vegas, Nev. Clint’s sister, Tina Stallard, of Albuquerque, N.M., and her family cooked on the wagon and cleaned house in the food division.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is a week long chuck wagon cooking experience, with some amazing, historic rodeo fun thrown in for good measure. It would not be CFD if you did not attend one of the fabulous parades held every other day, or the Pancake Feed offered a couple times a week – where else can you eat pancakes where the batter is mixed in a cement mixer truck and flipped off the griddle high thru the air by Rodeo Queens from across the country? I have to thank the delightful gate guards who fitted me with a cowboy hat so that I could go behind the chutes daily to enjoy some close up rodeo action. I will also hand it to CFD – no other city gets behind an event and supports it as thoroughly as Cheyenne believes in this rodeo week. Every business and the majority of the community play a part in making this show work – especially since the approximately 60,000 population is inundated with over 500,000 visitors from around the world who trek to this historic town not only to see history, but to be a part of it. CFD (http://www.cfdrodeo.com/home) should be on your bucket list…it truly is a once in a lifetime experience, but make your reservations early, the hotels book quickly. While there, be sure to mosey by the chuck wagons and have a cup of cowboy joe…and if you are lucky enough – be there on sampling day – and you will know why chuck wagon cooking is more of a historical passion than a passing hobby.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News