Saddlesore

How Fort Worth's rhinestone socialites bushwacked the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame

In 1993, she boasted of grossing $2 million a year in New York, opened her second location in Santa Fe, and began scouting a third location in Nashville.

"Sherry really got the best of that deal, but we didn't mind," Formby says. "She did so much to publicize us."

The restaurants generated far more newspaper coverage than the remote little museum. And as Delamarter says, "I'd do everything I could to make this a kind of home in the city for the honorees." In 1991, she even got a posse of real cowgirls into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

The story of the museum's migration eastward across the high plains to Fort Worth has been told and retold in the local papers--minus the behind-the-scenes fights and feuds, the maneuvering for control of the board between warring Fort Worth and Hereford factions, attempts by Hereford at one point to back out altogether, and that nasty audit.

It begins in 1993, when it became clear the hall would need a new home to survive. In terms of money, energy, and a supply of civic types ready to help, Hereford was tapped out.

Word got around that the hall of fame was ready to move, and by early 1994, Hereford was entertaining offers from 35 cities in six states.

As Formby recalls, Fort Worth's pitch came right from the top, in the form of a phone call to Formby from Anne Marion, great-granddaughter of oilman Burk Burnett and owner of the 6666 Ranch. Soon after that, a search committee flew to Fort Worth and was put up at the Stockyards Hotel, where the committee members met then-Mayor Kay Granger, billionaire Ed Bass, and various representatives of the Stockyards historic district including Holt Hickman, principal owner of the site Fort Worth had proposed for the museum, a red brick structure called Mule Barn D.

"We heard about their plans to integrate the hall into the Stockyards and about how when Fort Worth sets out on a project, they get it done, that the money's always there," Formby recalls. "There were all these testimonials, and people would pull us aside to tell us how this person or that person had pledged so many millions."

Impressed and feeling that Fort Worth's size and authentic Western heritage would be a good fit, the hall's 21-member board picked Cowtown over finalists Abilene, Granbury, and Dodge City, Kansas.

Under Marion's direction, the Burnett-Tandy Foundation kicked in $200,000 to begin planning the relocation, and the Rhinestone Roundup moved to Fort Worth in November 1994 to mark the move. At the $122,000 bash, where country star Pam Tillis sang and Marion was given an award, Mayor Granger half-whispered in the microphone to Formby, "We'll take care of it, I promise."

Formby smiled and wiped away tears. But the real crying time was yet to come.

After the gala, a 31-member board was installed for the 1994-1995 transitional year, with 15 members from Fort Worth and 16 from the old Hereford board.

Kit Moncrief, who by several accounts had pledged more than $1 million to building a new hall, became president of the board. A member of what the local social column calls "Fort Worth's best families"--with a family fortune estimated at $400 million, you might say the "very best"--Moncrief had long been associated with the Western thing, at least when she wasn't making the society columns at some charity 'do at Neiman Marcus or the Chanel Boutique.

There are the family ranches in Parker County and Gunnison, Colorado, and Kit has been known to ride in the grand entry of the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo at the Will Rogers Coliseum. The Charlie and Kit Moncrief Building, an $11-million arena and barn, sits next door to the coliseum.

In this corral, even the riding togs are couture. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram effused earlier this year, Kit did the annual rodeo parade in a rhinestone-and-suede outfit by Manuel of Nashville, whose $6,000-and-up duds are favored in Hollywood and among Texas' superrich.

Her Hereford counterpart on the board became Hollis Klett, who was installed as co-vice president, along with Bill Boecker, one of Ed Bass' lieutenants at Sundance Square. Each of the cities was given several votes on an executive committee, and it was during a conference call among them in January 1995 that, as Formby puts it, "the division started, for sure. "They were gonna get ready to close the museum here in Hereford, and everything got real quiet," remembers Formby, who retained a seat on the board as past president. "They didn't want to discuss it. Carol Beech [the board's new secretary and the wife of Burnett-Tandy Foundation head Tom Beech] said, 'We are going to do this.' They kind of made it clear that they were paying now, and they were calling the shots."

In Moncrief's view, "It was like sending a child off to school; they didn't want to let it go. We sure did everything we could not to hurt anyone's feelings."

Tensions grew through the spring as the Hereford side of the board became more and more leery of what they were learning about the Stockyards. They considered the hall of fame a museum, not a tourist trap, and the Stockyard's honky-tonks, curio shops, and talk about casino gambling turned them off. The mule barn's inadequate size was another concern.

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