Road to Nowhere

Cutting across America’s heartland, US‑83 remains a must-do long-distance byway—transnavigating this broad, odd nation without once grazing a conventional tourist destination.

Cowboys’ Christmas Ball

All along US-83, but especially in the panhandle area of northern Texas, you pass through town after time-worn town that has clearly seen more prosperous times. Stately courthouse squares, massive old hotels, and blocks of all-but-abandoned storefronts testify to the depopulation of many rural areas in the wake of agricultural mechanization and a myriad of related economic and social changes. Looking at the photogenic remains of these once-bustling towns, it’s hard not to imagine what life would have been like here during harvest, round-up, or holiday festivities, when every able-bodied man, woman, and child for miles would come to town to buy supplies, sell their goods, and socialize with friends and neighbors. An excerpt from an entertaining poem written about Anson, Texas, in 1890 by William Lawrence “Larry” Chittenden captures the vitality of these occasions, and gives a strong sense of the creative phraseology that animates cowboy poetry to this day.

Way out in Western Texas, where the Clear Fork’s waters flow,
Where the cattle are a-browzin’ and the Spanish Ponies grow;
Where the Northers come a-whistlin’ from beyond the Neutral Strip;
And the prairie dogs are sneezin,’ as though they had the grip;
Where the coyotes come a-howlin’ round the ranches after dark,
And the mockin’ birds are singin’ to the lovely medderlark;
Where the ’possum and the badger and the rattlesnakes abound,
And the monstrous stars are winkin’ o’er a wilderness profound;Where lonesome, tawny prairies melt into airy streams,
While the Double Mountains slumber in heavenly kinds of dreams;
Where the antelope is grazin’ and the lonely plovers call,
It was there I attended the Cowboys’ Christmas Ball.
The town was Anson City, old Jones’ county seat,
Where they raised Polled Angus cattle and waving whiskered wheat;
Where the air is soft and balmy and dry and full of health,
Where the prairies is explodin’ with agricultural wealth;
Where they print the Texas Western, that Hall McCann supplies
With news and yarns and stories, of most amazin’ size . . .

—Larry Chittenden, Songs of the Cowboys, compiled in 1908 by Jack Thorp