Editor: Since the Cowboy Hall of Fame banquet of 2019, when Rex Allen Jr. suggested he knew a “different” story of the start of the Cowboy Hall of Fame, I’ve been encouraged to tell the “real” story of how it all began. Eddie Browning did a fine job in the program, and I won’t repeat that.
After Carl Clapp made the suggestion and made the offer to paint a few portraits of selected cowboys to get the Hall of Fame started, a committee of ranchers and cowboys was organized.
As we began developing the criteria for selecting cowboys and determining boundaries, it was the consensus of the group that it never be a part of Rex Allen Days. The reasoning behind that stipulation was that Rex Allen was never a working cowboy or rancher — they agreed he was a good entertainer, but not a cowboy.
A direct quote from that meeting: “The summer he worked for the Sierra Bonita Ranch, he hauled hay.”
The other reason expressed at the time was that they did not want to add to the idea that cowboys and alcohol were synonymous.
The first few years, the banquet was called Founders Day and was held in mid-September. The portraits and photographs of posthumous members were displayed in the Museum of the Southwest at the Cochise Visitor Center (This museum has since been decimated and scattered among other facilities).
Like a lot of things in a nonprofit organization, members moved into decision-making positions and totally ignored the original intent. They successfully used the banquet to kick off Rex Allen Days. Note: We lost the support of those who knew the history. Rex Allen Days added their Favorite Sons or Daughters Award,
Eventually, the Rex Allen Museum was up and functioning, and Rex lobbied a couple of chamber board members into moving the portraits and photographs into the back room of the museum. Carl Clapp retained ownership of the portraits he painted and eventually worked out an agreement with the museum. The rest of the portraits and photos were the property of the Chamber of Commerce, but perhaps that, too, has changed.
Please don’t take any of this to disparage Rex Allen. He was a nice man, but he was just a man with failings like all of us. He loved Willcox and he was good for the town.