- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

STAMFORD, Texas (AP) - Guessing the function is easy enough with most of the stuff in the Cowboy Country Museum. But every once in a while, you run into a stumper.

Sandra Rhea, the curator, pointed to a rusty contraption on the carpet about the size of fat cat. It was even sort of shaped like a fat cat, if you used your imagination. Big gears at the back end, smaller ones in the front, both connected with a gear chain. A large wooden handle stuck up from back; the front end featured pincers set perpendicular to the floor.

Sandra told the Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/1b0Ha4D) she’d found it in her daddy’s barn and was told it came from her grandfather. She still didn’t know what it was, so she included a photograph of it in the column she writes for a local newspaper.

“I came back at lunch and there were three men laying here on the floor,” she recalled, pointing down at it. “They said, ‘We’ve figured it out.’”

She took a rusty horse’s shoe from another display and showed how it fit into the pincers.

“It is a horseshoe-sizer,” she said, laying a hand on the lever. “You would mash it down and it would compress them.”

Other items, like a small statuette provided by former District 17 U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, are a little more intuitive. On the base, a small plaque reads “To: Charlie”, the line below, “From: Tip.” That would be former House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

What does the figure depict in faux shiny gold? The rear half of a horse. Or maybe it’s a donkey. Being Democrats, you can’t be entirely sure, but safe to say, the message probably the same.

“I think he’s calling him a horse’s butt,” confirmed Rhea with a laugh.

It’s only a fraction of the collection honoring Stenholm’s service. Stenholm served 13 terms, from 1979 to 2005, but lost his seat after redistricting put him up against Lubbock’s Randy Neugebauer. Among other things, Stenholm, whose roots are in Jones County, now teaches at Tarleton State University in Stephenville.

Some of the mementos are pictures of Stenholm rubbing elbows with presidents and other famous people.

“I point that out when I do a tour,” Rhea said. “That he was a local farmer and he decided to run for congress.”

She laughed again.

“I say to them, ‘See what you can do if you leave Stamford?’” she joked.

The Stenholm exhibit only takes up the end of the latest addition to the museum, a large room that nearly doubles the amount of display space on hand. Glass cabinets line the walls. One features Stamford Bulldog memorabilia while on the opposing wall another case shows off weaponry, including an ancient arrow quiver made from a hollowed-out pecan limb and hardened raw hide.

“I had another curator come in and she thought it was at least 200 years old,” Rhea said, holding it up. Alongside it in the case were arrows, bows and a heavy spear just under three feet long. The items were donated by a man who said he’d bought it all one day at a storage auction in Dallas.

“He had all these in the back of his pickup bouncing around when he drove up here, to go out and see if I wanted them,” she recalled.

There’s something for everyone. If boys enjoy looking at the guns and spear, girls enjoy sizing up the old clothing.

“The girls like the boots back there and the wedding dress,” Rhea said. “Every one of them will sit down on the floor and measure their foot up against that little-bitty narrow boot.”

Inevitably the question comes, why were ladies feet so small a century or more ago?

“I’ll say, ‘Well they didn’t walk on concrete and they didn’t play basketball, I don’t think. Everything spread out,” Rhea said.

“Oh, mercy. Is it too late for us?” comes the reply.

“I say, ‘Yep, your foot is not going to shrink up,’” laughed Rhea.

The museum is located on the east side of the square, Rhea said she keeps regular hours Monday through Thursday. She opens at 9 a.m., closes for lunch, and then reopens until 3:30. Even though the sign says the museum is closed Friday to Sunday, Rhea said she’s happy to lead private tours for people visiting from out of town. A lot of times she’s up at the museum anyway.

“I had a family come in here from Iowa during the summer. The little boy was about 8 and the little girl was about 5, I think, and they were on their way to see Grandma in Texas,” Rhea said.

Balancing on an old tripod that used to belong to Tommy Rector was a metal figure with a long rod coming off it. Rhea balanced it on her finger for the boy who proceeded to doubt what his lyin’ eyes were showing him.

“That is impossible, that cannot be doing that,” he declared. When she gave the figure to him and it did the same thing, he still couldn’t believe it.

“That is more impossible. That can’t be done that way,” he said.

Some months later, a card arrived in the mail at the museum. Rhea said it was from the boy’s mother.

“She said, ‘You saved our trip. He drew pictures of that little man all the way home,” Rhea recalled. “‘My husband said stop and buy him another tablet if we need to.’”

If you are familiar with Stamford and the Texas Cowboy Reunion, you’ll recognize the death notice and sculpture of “Scandalous” John Selmon. His portrait at the rodeo grounds is hard to miss. But “Scandalous?” Selmon wasn’t one for bad language, by most accounts.

“Well, he got bucked off a horse,” explained Rhea. “When he got up, instead of doing a lot of cussing - because John Selmon didn’t get thrown off many horses - he wiped off his pants, and said, ‘That’s one scandalous bucking machine.’”

A little bit of wall space near the new room is taken up by a memorial to F.A. “Lee” Dickerson, a longtime museum board member and community volunteer. Dickerson had a chair next to a display at the back of the museum dedicated to West Texas Utilities.

“When somebody would come in he went back there and would sit. When they came around he would tell them the history of WTU whether they wanted to hear it or not,” Rhea recalled, chuckling. Dickerson died Aug. 10, 2013.

“People enjoyed listening to Lee, he’s greatly missed.”


Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com

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