Friends continue rodeo tradition

February 21, 2019

The roads within Katy Park are lined with trailers, horses and trail riders with the sound of conversation and the smell of supper in the air.

People are scattered throughout the park, some sitting by their trailers and others around a table or over a wood fire preparing that evening’s meal. The Salt Grass Trail Ride has camped for the night of Feb. 20 at the Harris County Park again this year as it makes its annual trek to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

Meanwhile south of Katy at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center, members of the Valley Lodge Trail Ride are camping for the night.

“The Salt Grass Trail Ride has almost a 1,000 members,” said Trail Boss Dan Johnson, a 30-year veteran of the historic ride. “My dad and my brother got me started right after I got out of college,” said the Liberty County resident. “Some days we roll out 500 or 600 head of horses.”

Those horses include Laurie McCarty’s Sonny and John Matthews’ Jethro. Both belong to Wagon 15, Texas Outlaws.

Matthews, formerly of Katy and now a Sealy resident, has been part of the trail ride for 20 years. Friends invited him to participate the first time. “I had such a good time, I bought my own horse.”

Frequent laughter marks the conversation as the sun prepares to set. “Today was awesome,” said McCarty of Moscow who is talking with friends, including Lynn Ezell of Sealy. Ezell has been part of the trail ride about four years and McCarty about 15 years.

Why be part of the ride? “Because it’s fun,” said McCarty. “Because this is my other family. We’re close and have grown to love each other.”

Matthews takes time to talk after he has followed a trail ride tradition and changed into dry clothes: New members have to be dunked in the water trough no matter how cold it is. Both he and the person dunked draw laughs.

Matthews answers the “why” question with one word “camaraderie.”

“You’re with people you don’t normally see all year long. You roll in Friday and see them here. Everyone still remembers your name. It’s just a great big family. The best part is no matter who are you or who you are with if you need help there’s always someone to help you. They may not know who you are but they will help you.”

“We’re the oldest and largest of the trail rides,” said Johnston.”We have a huge tradition and legend to uphold. Every day we try to make that happen.”

In 1952, Reese Lockett, Pat Flaherty, E.H. Marks and John Warnasch left Brenham on Jan. 30 with the LH7 chuck wagon to ride to Houston as publicity for the Houston Fat Stock Show. The last of the Marks’ children, Atha Marks Dimon, 99, participated in the ride until her death in 2009.

But the Marks family is represented by Dimon’s granddaughter, Kyra Vaughan Natho.

According to www.saltgrasstrailride.org/, “The Marks Family Wagon owned by 4th generation Marks, Kyra Vaughan Natho and Marla Bundick Susik, was the original lone wagon that started with the first Salt Grass Trail Ride in 1952.”

“I am the Wagon Boss for Wagon 1,” said Natho. “Trail going good. We had a beautiful day yesterday. It was a welcomed break after Tuesday’s cold and rain. Of course, we will be dealing with it today and the rest of the week. We are used to it . . . kind of traditional.”

“We roll rain or shine unless there’s a safety issue,” said Johnston. “The riders are holding up well. It’s all about the safety of animals and riders and promoting the rodeo. As we move closer to the city, the public becomes more excited and there’s more participation. Young children, moms and dads - everyone likes to see the trail rides come by. The excitement builds as we approach Houston.”