Nowhere can you look so far and see so little--or so you think while traveling across the Texas Panhandle on the way to the little feedlot town of Hereford. The railroad tracks and telephone wires and tar-covered highway race across land so flat you can see into the middle of next week.
The first hint that anyone lives out here is the galvanized grain elevators shimmering miragelike on the horizon. Then come the pungent feed yards and the forbidding sheds of the Hereford Custom Slaughter Co. Pretty soon Baldo's Mexican Food, a big marble courthouse, and the melancholy-looking collection of storefronts on Main Street confirm one's arrival in Hereford city proper, population 14,872.
Set among stark beige land and sorghum fields about 50 miles southwest of Amarillo, Hereford is the seat of Deaf Smith County, named for a hard-of-hearing scout who played a role in the Texas Revolution.
This town, though, is better known for its women. It's the birthplace of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
"How could it start, in 1975, out here with all the rednecks and raw land? And women--we were housewives or raised children, so how could it?" asks the hall's founder, 67-year-old Margaret Formby. "Well, it just happened so beautifully. Maybe not then, but as I look back at it. It was beautiful."
For 18 years, Formby and her friends nurtured the cowgirl museum, which honored women of the Great West. But then Formby and the hall's Hereford supporters realized it had outgrown their wallets and their town. In 1994 they decided to turn over the museum and its collection to Fort Worth--with the hope it would flourish in a bigger place.
Today, however, there is little delight on their lips when Formby or the other Hereford folks talk about the hall, which set out to honor rough stock riders and trick ropers, pioneers, ranchers, artists, and entertainers, both living and dead. Most people in Hereford would rather forget the rude treatment and hurt feelings that have come to surround the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
Wooed and won by Anne Marion, Ed Bass, Kit Moncrief, and several other Fort Worth multimillionaires whose promises sounded better than anyone else's, the hall has since bred a dust storm of conflict. Not the least of it is a lawsuit that the hall's new managers filed in Fort Worth this year against a well-liked New York restaurateur who put Hereford's museum on the national map.
Several of the rodeo performers and ranch women among the hall's 129 honorees are so fed up with the shabby, high-handed way they say the Fort Worth crowd has treated people, that they've withdrawn their things from the museum's collection of boots, saddles, flashy clothes, and such, which is currently stashed away in a Fort Worth warehouse.
Divisions between the Fort Worth and Hereford crowds are so deep that Formby, who is lovingly regarded by most of the honorees, skipped last year's induction ceremony. She is purposely avoiding this year's event as well.
Changes in the annual get-together, which has been held in Fort Worth for the past two years and is scheduled this year for November 1 at the Worthington Hotel, have prompted some honorees to complain that the whole thing has become too elitist and remote.
Last year, honorees were put up in $100-a-night rooms and made to pay half of the $125-a-plate tab. Invitations asked Fort Worth's benefactors to don "Western chic," the sort of faux atmosphere that sits as well with cowgirls from Billings, Montana, or Texico, New Mexico, as picking a new executive director from the East--which is what the Fort Worth folks did in June. Few of the women honored in the hall say they have ever met the woman who succeeded Formby as president, Kit Moncrief, wife of oilman Charles Moncrief and a fixture in the society columns in both Dallas and Fort Worth.
The return envelopes for this year's induction ceremony, which read "Mrs. Branford S. Barnes," show how country-club fusty it all has become, some honorees say. In Hereford, she probably would have been Jil Barnes, or just plain Kit's-sister-Jil. You could have called her up and asked if it was all right to park the camper in that field out near the hall.
Against that backdrop, there is growing uneasiness about the seemingly indifferent pace Fort Worth is taking in finding the hall a new home, although Kit Moncrief says that "doing it right," with the Walt Disney Co.'s help and a site among the city's best museums, is taking time. At present, there is no blueprint, no fund-raising drive, and no museum--only a promise that something will be open in three years.
It's enough to give Annie Oakley the blues.
The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center--its full name--began 21 years ago as part of an "all-girl" rodeo sponsored by the Hereford Chamber of Commerce. Like a lot of small towns, Hereford was casting around for ways to get people into town.
The possibility that there might be more to it was evident to Margaret Formby nearly from the start.
Looking a bit like Georgia O'Keeffe--her dark hair pulled back tight and framed by cowboy-boot earrings, her wrists weighted with thick silver bracelets--Formby retells the story from her Southwestern-style home, which is decorated with striking cowgirl bronzes and other Western art.
At first, Formby tried to make it more for the inductees than just--as she puts it--"arrive, get a plaque, goodbye." She began a luncheon for the honorees, whose names were provided in the early years by the Girls Rodeo Association, forerunner of the Women's Professional Rodeo Association.
Auspiciously, the first woman inducted was Alice Greenough Orr, "Queen of the Rodeo," a Montana cowgirl who in the 1930s and '40s won three national rodeo championships and personified the ideal of a wild woman of the West. Usually pictured in a sombrero, she rode fighting bulls in Spain, taught Dale Evans how to ride, and performed movie and TV stunts into her 80s. Over time she abandoned two husbands and some kids to sate her wanderlust and love of bronc-riding. "Mom was America's first liberated woman," pronounced her son, E. Jay Cahill, after her death in 1995.
Stories like those prompted Formby to begin compiling a historical archive and collecting artifacts. "I was finding out how much of the old cowgirls was lost; we needed more than a notekeeper," she says. "Little by little, we got it going."
In the early days, a lot of her enthusiasm fell on deaf ears, she recalls. The hard-on-women culture of the West hadn't really considered the thought of honoring cowgirls. Even her husband, Clint, owner of Hereford's country radio station, KPAN, and their four children didn't understand the long hours she gave, gratis, to the nonprofit hall, she says. But there was just enough support around town to keep the project going.
After six years as an exhibit in the basement of the Deaf Smith County Library, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame's expanding collection moved to a modernish, 6,000-square-foot house donated to the cause.
"The cowgirl had something we wish we had a little more of," says Formby, explaining the growing public interest during the past decade in the myths and realities of Western women. "They had individualism."
As the hall's pamphlet proclaims, "Broncs before breakfast, babies after 40, life without pay, death without warning, God as her guide, and a ballad on her wind-blistered lips, Woman in all her greatness gave flower to the great American West."
It continues, "Woman could rule a mule team, pop a bull whip, steer the plow, or build a campfire of cow chips, could fire a Winchester at Comanches or paint a watercolor of the wildflowers carpeting the endless prairies."
Hereford's Cowgirl Hall of Fame--as a keeper of this emerging cultural icon--started getting in-quiries from afar. Sissy Spacek would ring in from Hollywood for costume tips, and more serious researchers would phone or make their way to the little prairie town, some from as far away as Europe and Japan.
The collection grew to include files on more than 800 women, a collection of rare books and vintage photographs, plus the museum pieces. There's champion barrel racer Billie Hinson McBride's gold lame riding outfit; a red-white-and-blue rhinestone hat owned by Rubye Blevins Rose, better known as the yodeling Patsy Montana, who sold more than a million copies of "I Want to Be Your Cowboy Sweetheart"; an upholstered sidesaddle stamped "1881, Edna Smith, Virginia City"; a pair of pink-and-gold elephant-riding boots owned by Mae "Mamie" Francis Hafley, whose act including diving astride her Arabian mount from a 50-foot platform into a 10-foot tank. She performed the stunt 628 times between 1908 and 1914.
Under Formby's reign, the hall also celebrated unsung women such as Hallie Crawford Stillwell, an author who in 1916 drove a covered wagon into Texas and taught school in the Big Bend area with a six-shooter tucked in her skirt. Or Sacajawea Charbonneau, the Shoshoni Indian interpreter for the Lewis and Clark expedition.
The Hereford hall attracted some 3,500 visitors a year, but the $3-a-head admission fee hardly kept up with the $60,000 annual budget.
Formby and some of the other active supporters--feed-company owner Hollis Klett and his former wife, Charmayne, and Hereford accountant Diane Hoelscher--recall rustling together funds by staging a Selena concert for Hereford's big Latino population, or renting the museum for Christmas parties and baby showers, or making each board member kick in $1,000 as a last resort.
A little outside help arrived in 1988, when New York restaurateur Sherry Delamarter, a Texas expatriate, came in with a business proposition.
In return for a licensing agreement that allowed her to name her Greenwich Village restaurant after the hall of fame, Delamarter agreed to pay $5,000 a year for each restaurant she opened, and cater the annual induction luncheon in Texas. The story of a New Yorker arriving in Hereford to cook barbecue for the hall's Rhinestone Roundup was a big deal on Amarillo TV that first year.
"It was a big family picnic," recalls Dixie Mosley, a former rodeo clown and trick rider, of the annual event. "We'd stay in board members' homes and sit out by the hall and visit--things like that. Sherry's people did a great job with the food." Mosley, who lives in Amarillo, began her career in Western shows 60 years ago, at age 5.
Back in New York, Delamarter's vision turned out to be irresistible to city folk. She served up a combination of mythology--kind of like cowboys without the Indian- and buffalo-killer baggage--a menu of chicken-fried steak and Frito pie, and the ambiance of a Texas chuckwagon, with Hank Williams Jr. on the sound system and a decor of tinted cowgirl photos and pinto-spotted barstool seats. Delamarter, who was born in Waco and went to junior high in Fort Worth, drummed up publicity with things like a Patsy Cline look-alike contest--usually won by a guy in drag--and parties for Patsy Montana or Bonnie Raitt.
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.
Hollis Klett, whose cattle-feed business stretches to Australia and Brazil, says of the Fort Worth board, "They were pretty cagey about how they did things."
Before a critical meeting in June 1995, for instance, the Fort Worth contingent offered one Hereford-leaning board member, Shelly Burmeister, an honoree from Weatherford, a well-paid position in marketing for the hall. But the offer required her to leave her voting seat on the board, and she was given a deadline just before the meeting.
"I begged her not to take it," Klett recalls. She did, though. As a divorced, single parent, she said, she needed the work. The balance of power shifted even further to the Fort Worth group when another Hereford member suddenly resigned.
Minutes of the particularly contentious board meeting on June 21, 1995, at the posh City Club in Fort Worth show how divided things had become. Klett told the group that the Hereford contingent was very concerned about closing the hall in Hereford during the transition. They wanted to keep it open until six months before a new facility was to open its doors in Fort Worth.
"We didn't want the stuff all boxed up. Maybe it would just sit somewhere--kind of like what's happening now," says Klett, talking from his ranch near Tucumcari, New Mexico.
But Moncrief and Carol Beech resisted that idea, saying instead they would make "a good-faith effort" to keep the museum open. To that end, Denise Spitler, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram vice president and treasurer on the hall's board, moved that the board "continue to be firmly committed to relocating the hall of fame facility" and that the decision of when to move would be made by the board's design team.
Klett voted "no" for himself and nine proxy votes, but lost to the unified Fort Worth bloc.
"Nobody seemed interested in us after we signed off on going to Fort Worth," says Charmayne Klett, Hollis' ex-wife and a board member then. "We were just two different factions of people. We didn't meld."
Adds Formby, "They were awfully cliquish."
Klett says he consulted a lawyer in Philadelphia during the summer of 1995 about pulling the hall out of Fort Worth, but support in Hereford was only lukewarm.
At the same time, Formby was talking with Moncrief about working in a paid capacity for the hall, as everyone had expected she would. Moncrief is noted in the June minutes as saying that "discussions will proceed about this possibility in the near future."
Formby sent her written proposal--asking to manage the organization's magazine, SideSaddle, work with the honorees, and help put together several books at a salary of $4,500 a month--in late June.
Moncrief's reply outlined a pared-down position in which Formby was to report to a managing editor and others at $1,200 a month for a four-month contract.
"I was ready to give them every benefit of the doubt," Formby says. "But this was so distasteful--questioning whether I knew how to do these things."
The salary offer was a blow, too. Says Moncrief: "We didn't have that much money to pay her. We were on a budget."
There were more obvious chances to take offense in the coming months.
In September, 1995, Klett and Formby flew in Hollis' plane to Fort Worth for a meeting with the Star-Telegram's Denise Spitler, as well as Bill Boecker and several accountants. The subject: an audit that was being done as the accounting work shifted from Hereford to Fort Worth.
"I did not realize what was going to happen," Formby recalls. "But then we're in it, and one of the accountants pointedly said we'd have to pay back some money because the books didn't balance out.
"I said that after 20 years of giving this my life blood, turning over a gold mine to you, and then saying I owe $3,000--or something like that--it was insulting."
It was also just not true. The money was simply misplaced in other accounts, Boecker admits. "We needed answers and got good answers," he says, adding that the way the questions were asked might have set off a few "negative vibrations."
You can put a rope around that one, podner.
Klett stormed out of the meeting. Formby was reduced to tears. That was the last time the Hereford residents had anything to do with Fort Worth, and they don't have any plans to go back.
"We don't have anything but admiration for her, and we're sorry," says Kit Moncrief about the break with Formby. "Maybe she'll be happier with us when we get something built."
The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame exists today in a fur vault under Sundance Square, and in some smartly decorated third-floor offices around the corner. There are the hardwood floors, the indirect lighting, and the original Western art looking very Santa Fe. Visitors can buy T-shirts, or check out a hanging display of nine rodeo buckles and a fancy brown riding outfit that once belonged to Dale Evans.
The organization had moved its office briefly to the Stockyards, but decamped at the beginning of this year, citing many of the concerns the Hereford people had brought up earlier.
Then in March, the collection in Hereford was loaded up and brought over to Cowtown.
In a May 17 letter to Boecker, Hereford Mayor Robert Josserand asked if the now-empty building in Hereford, which is still owned by the hall of fame, might be donated to his city for building a local cultural and tourist center. "We would think that a portion of the display area could be used for a traveling Cowgirl Hall of Fame exhibit," he wrote.
Good luck on both counts.
Says Moncrief of the building, "It's for sale."
Nobody from the original Hereford crowd works in the hall's office now, or holds any place of much authority on the board.
"Those girls had no idea who the honorees are. They'd have to look up names in the SideSaddle [the organization magazine] when they have them on hold," says Shelly Burmeister, the Weatherford honoree.
The new management didn't renew Burmeister's one-year marketing contract in June, an outcome she considers "a real slap in the face."
Burmeister made a lot of friends in cowgirl circles as a rodeo organizer for Adolph Coors Co., where she worked to equalize prize money between the women barrel racers and the men on the broncos, and continues in the sport as a commentator and publicist.
"I don't want to come off as some pissed-off cowgirl," says Burmeister, who named her daughter after Fern Sawyer, the late cutting-horse champion. "But there's a pattern in the way they've treated people. You'd expect a little honesty and integrity. That's the cowgirl way. But that's not what you get."
Along with the new faces have come some very big plans.
A freestanding, 20,000-square-foot state-of-the-art museum is planned for Fort Worth's cultural district. And the new name will be rolled out soon, according to Boecker. Take a deep breath: It will be called the "National Museum of the American Cowgirl, Home of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame."
Washington-based architect David Schwarz, who designed the Ballpark in Arlington and several projects for the Bass family, was enlisted to do a site plan, due in December. Van Romans, a Walt Disney Co. vice president, was brought in in May as an advisor to the project, which promises to include the latest in visual technologies.
"We as an institution have started getting comfortable with the creative end, the story we are trying to tell. We'll start seeing some visualization of what that concept is," says the new executive director, Pat Riley, who had worked in New York as a film and television producer before she married into one of Fort Worth's horsiest families.
Her father-in-law, one insider confides, has from his Aledo ranch "sold a horse to every rich guy in the city." Her mother-in-law, Mitzi Lucas Riley, is a former rodeo competitor and daughter of the famed Tad Lucas, an eight-time overall world champion rodeo rider from Fort Worth, and one of the hall's most illustrious honorees.
Riley talks about the new museum as if she were pitching a film concept--giving a hint at the Disney approach. "The first step is to write a script, and we have been coming up with a storyline since the end of May," he says.
"When a person walks into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, what do we want them thinking?...Whether they are from India or Indiana, they will in their mind have a picture of what the cowgirl is, the image formulated by the media...When they walk through the door and come out of the museum, they'll have an understanding that the mythology is true. There are live women who are the basis for it."
Says Kit Moncrief, when asked a less abstract question about what the museum will cost: "It will be 7 or 8 [million dollars], depending on how much interactive technology you put in."
She says fund raising will begin early next year, and the museum will open sometime in 1999.
With Fort Worth's abundantly successful record of building museums, hospitals, and other big projects with private philanthropy, it wouldn't be wise to bet against those promises. But, possibly mindful of criticism from Hereford that nothing appears to be getting done, the organization has more than once overstated what it has accomplished.
Both Moncrief and Riley say Burbank-based BRC Imagination Arts has been hired to design the new museum, but a call last week to its president, Bob Rogers, found that to be a surprise to him.
"We're talking with them," says Rogers, who designed the $70-million Space Center Houston, which opened in 1992. "We'd love the project."
Also, reporters have been told for almost a year that the museum will mount some sort of traveling display. That too has yet to materialize.
Three years ago, Sherry Delamarter had big plans, too. With the backing of millionaire investor Peter Soros, she was ready to take her Cowgirl Hall of Fame Bar-B-Q restaurants nationwide, a kind of Hard Rock Cafe meets Little Miss Sure Shot.
"He wasn't about to put in his millions unless my licensing agreement was tightened up with the board," she says, referring to the group she'd dealt with back in Hereford.
As Formby recalls it now, the rather complex issues of licensing came down to one big question: Who was going to be in control, Delamarter or the Hereford board?
The issue hadn't been resolved when the board voted to move the entire museum to Fort Worth.
"Margaret [Formby] and the board never included me in the final negotiations," Delamarter says. "They gave away the museum and didn't get anything in return, not even a secure job for Margaret. Those are shrewd business people down there [in Fort Worth]."
As in the past, Delamarter flew in and catered the induction luncheon during the museum's first year in Fort Worth, but didn't seem to hit it off with the new crowd. "Kit wouldn't take a meeting with me," she says. Negotiations continued through the two parties' lawyers, but no agreement has been reached in more than two years.
In an apparent attempt to break the stalemate, the hall of fame filed a lawsuit in February asking a Tarrant County judge to sort out the 10-year agreement Delamarter and the hall reached in 1988, especially as it relates to merchandising rights.
"Sherry forgets she was fighting with Margaret about this, too," said Kit Moncrief in an interview last week. "I think we have settled with Sherry in the last few days."
Not so, said Delamarter the next day.
The last thing she was offered, she says, was the right to keep the name on her two current restaurants, but there would be no more lending of museum items to the restaurant, as had been done in the past.
"We had personal relationships with people in Hereford, and we don't have that now," says Joel Gordin, one of Delamarter's New York partners. "The doors have pretty much been closed," he says, adding that, like a lot of people, he has never met Kit Moncrief.
So what do the cowgirls think about these cross-continental dust-ups, all the hurt and disappointment felt by their old Panhandle friends?
There's a lot of unguarded straight-shooting on this subject--that's the cowgirl way.
"I think it stinks right now," says Norma Sanders, one of the first women cattle auctioneers, who was inducted into the hall in 1989. "They did Margaret Formby a real nasty turn, they gave Shelly Burmeister the gate, and tried to get rid of Sherry; they moved in an Easterner to take over things. I don't think it's right."
Sanders, of Texico, New Mexico, says the Hereford hall was "doing fine," except that it ran out of space. But in Fort Worth, "This bunch haven't stuck a spade in the ground."
Lynn "Jonnie" Jonckowski, a bull-riding champion who went on to do modeling and sports commentary, says, "A lot of the people who were there were like family, and they aren't there anymore. If they cleaned house for the good, I haven't seen it yet."
Jonckowski, who lives in Billings, Montana, says she asked the hall several months ago to ship back her mementos--trophies, chaps, a bull rope, and the like.
"I'm honored to be in it, and I'll probably give them back sometime, but not right now," she says. She finds it disturbing that the people in charge "never ranched, never rodeoed, never even sat a horse."
Sheila Kirkpatrick, a hat maker from Wisdom, Montana, who was inducted in 1992 as a Western heritage honoree, says that many of the women the museum honors "followed their hearts more than the dollar."
The gatherings in Fort Worth have "been getting a little ritzy and a lot pricier. I know they have to pull in the big shots to scare up the dollars, but it has lost a lot for the honorees. We show up in clothes we've had for 10 years."
For this year's induction, which is no longer being called The Rhinestone Roundup, the Fort Worth organizers appear to be making an attempt to respond to complaints about costs.
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Gone are the $100-a-night rooms and $65 meals of the past two years. This time the words "complimentary for honorees" are all over the advance schedule. Perhaps trying to recapture some of the casual feel of years past, Riley is hosting a dinner at her River Oaks house, which was Tad Lucas' house two generations before.
And there are those who say they're optimistic about what might come of the hall in Fort Worth.
"I sort of expected this, that it would be totally different in a large community," says Dixie Mosley, the former rodeo clown from Amarillo. "I'm sure as time passes, we'll get to know the people down there."
Says Joan Wells, a 49-year-old Nebraskan honored for her expertise in the fast-vanishing art of trick roping, "I'm willing to see what they want to do, but I support Margaret Formby and her ideas. I am sorry things can't be the way they used to.