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Out West, Where the Cowboys Are

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 5/31/2015

“I’m a Tex, I’m a Tex, I’m a Texas star, and I live out west where the cowboys are.” There’s no doubt that I love the Lone Star State—all of it! But, having been born and raised on the west side, I have to say that I believe the west is the best!

The people in West Texas are what I like to refer to as “good, simple people” or “small town country folk.” Everyone is always so welcoming to me when I attend meetings or visit schools—no wonder we are known as the Friendly State. We take pride in our land and our beliefs. We are frugal and still believe in handshakes to “seal the deal.” We love our small communities and the traditions we have established within them. We raise livestock, grow and harvest crops, and pride ourselves in making do with little or nothing. The closest big-box store is often 30 miles away, so we appreciate the simple things in life, such as a home-cooked meal or a family-owned store that sells only the essentials. Most of us love cowboy boots (as shown above with some Bushland ATPE members), rodeos, Texas country music, steaks, Tex-Mex, two-stepping, football, and back-roading (driving in the country on the dirt roads).

We also love festivals and celebrations! Most small towns have a festival, and a few of my favorites are the Cotton Fest in Miles; the Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater; the Wild, Wild West Fest in Andrews; the Ethnic Festival in Ballinger; the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Shamrock; the Outlaws and Legends Music Fest in Abilene; and the Crude Fest near Midland/Odessa.

West Texans work hard. We have oil and gas production, wind farms (the largest one is in Roscoe, not far from where I live), crops, orchards, dairies, livestock, and gins. You can smell the oil and cattle, which we like to say is the smell of money! It’s not uncommon to pass tractors when driving down the road. When traveling from town to town through West Texas, you can see a whole lot of nothing, but a whole lot of something, too.

The land is beautiful and unique. I thought I knew West Texas, and then I became a regional rep for ATPE. Driving along the borders of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Mexico, and then crossing over to Junction and up to the Brownwood area (and everywhere in between), I have discovered that in fact, there is much of West Texas that I did not know. We have mountains, deserts, canyons, plains, hills, and even sand dunes. Towns out here are spaced miles apart. I sometimes drive up to an hour between towns, and it’s easy for me to imagine the Native Americans crossing through this area. In fact, Snyder is known for the White Buffalo (sacred creatures according to Native American tradition), and several small towns are marked with arrows to signify that they are part of the Quanah Parker Trail. The openness also allows for awesome star-gazing and West Texas sunset viewings.

There are a few towns that are known for certain things. San Angelo is considered the Wool Mohair Capital of the World, and Abilene, which has been mentioned in numerous country songs, is the center of the cattle industry. In San Angelo, you will find sheep statues decorated by area artists outside local businesses. The book Friday Night Lights (and the movie based on it) is about Odessa’s Permian High School football team. West Texas also has well-known attractions, such as the Marfa Lights, the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, the Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo, the historic Route 66 that runs through the panhandle, Texas Tech University in Lubbock, the Meteor Crater in Odessa, Palo Duro Canyon, Fort Concho in San Angelo, Fort Davis, and the missions in El Paso. But the quaint, un-broadcasted charms, such as abandoned houses and gas stations, unique buildings, beautiful wildflowers, odd-looking desert creatures, and even Marfa Prada, make this area even more special.

We also have amazing food! No wonder I have gained so much weight! When I was visiting a school in San Elizario, a teacher brought in some cheesy yumminess. I asked her what it was, and she and her coworkers told me about Chico’s Tacos. Later that day, Region 19 Director Socorro Lopez took me around El Paso. We ended our evening at Chico’s Tacos, and it definitely did not disappoint.

I honestly believe that the greatest part of living in West Texas is that students form a deep connection with the school community. Some towns are so small that everyone knows each other. The families have lived in the area for many generations, and rich relationships are formed. When I visited Valentine, I learned that one grade level only had one student. My graduating class had around 80 students, and a friend’s daughter’s class has only 13. The students and staff become active in the school traditions, and pep rallies on Fridays rile up the whole school. The older men discuss the high school football games in coffee shops, businesses paint their windows with school colors, and poles throughout town are decorated with streamers. The town’s students are close friends, because they’ve usually been in school together since kindergarten, and because there aren’t malls or bowling alleys in these small communities, the students have to create their own fun. For my friends and me, it was playing hide-and-seek in the fields, riding bikes from one end of town to the other, sitting around a bonfire telling stories, or sleeping on a flatbed trailer under the open sky. The students are active in school activities, and the educators, just like in all parts of Texas, do their best to help students reach their fullest potential. Many students will attend college only to come back to teach and coach in their hometown.

If you ever get to visit West Texas, where the cowboys are, I advise you to soak in the natural beauty of the land, visit a pep rally or a football game, and admire the colors of a beautiful sunset from an open field. The west is the best, but ATPE is the STAR that holds us together.

Click here to see Chana's West Texas photo album

Chana Appleton is ATPE’s representative for Regions 14-19. Before becoming an ATPE regional representative, Chana was a public school teacher for nine years and an ATPE member for 12 years.