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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Roscoe in Years Gone By: Tent Shows

Audience inside a tent show in the 1920s. (Photo from Internet)
Here's another John Beryl Witherspoon memoir of his childhood adventures with his friend Bood in Roscoe during the 1920s.  Traveling tent shows, a popular form of entertainment in the early part of the twentieth century, came to Roscoe every year just as the medicine shows did.  One of the most popular was the one run by Harley Sadler.  Sadler was from Avoca, just south of Stamford, and his shows were popular all over Texas. 

The Texas Historical Association website offers more information about traveling tent shows by clicking here and more about Harley Sadler here.

by John Beryl Witherspoon

Bood and I went to the dark side of the tent and we laid down on our stomachs.  We had barely got our heads under the side of the tent, and the glare of the lights from the stage was blinding.  We were looking at the people in the “Reserved Section” and blinking our eyes when suddenly two strong hands grasped us by the back of our pants. 

We were lifted to our feet and a harsh voice said, “Come out in front of the tent where the lights are and let’s see what you look like before I take you to jail!”

When we got in front of the tent, I was so scared I didn’t know what to do.  I looked at Bood and his face was white and he had a blue spot on each cheek, and I knew he was scared, too.  Those two strong hands held on to us, and when we looked at his face, we saw that it was X. B. Sanders!  He was our City Marshal, and he represented Law and Order.

He put his big strong hands around the back of our necks and marched into the tent right up to the lady who was selling tickets for reserved seats.

In a very official voice he said, “Do you have a place where these boys can sit?

She nodded her head and pointed to the bleachers behind us.  There were two sections of bleachers, one on the left side of the entranceway and one on the right.

He took us to the one on the left and one at a time he hoisted us up shoulder high onto two vacant seats, and he said, “Now you two boys sit here on this ‘Buzzard’s Roost’ while I go out here and do what I have to do, and when the show is over you can meet me outside and I’ll take you both to jail!”  With that he turned on his heel and walked out of the tent.

I looked over at Bood, and it appeared that he had recovered completely.  The little blue spots were gone from his cheeks, and his face wasn’t white any more.

I don’t know what I looked like, but I was stricken with the terror that I might have to go to jail!  All I could think about was the “Black Hole of Calcutta” that I had read about.  And, what would my mother think??  And, besides that, every step we took when we were coming into the tent, X. B.’s six-shooter hit me right in the middle of the back, and that added to my fright.

“I don’t want to go to jail,” I said in a frightened voice.

“He won’t do it,” Bood said defiantly.

“He said he would.”

“I don’t care what he said.  He won’t do it.  Now shoosh, the curtain is coming up!”

When the first act was over and the curtain gently lowered, a handsome young man came on stage.  He was dressed as a gaucho.  He had the straight-brimmed hat cocked jauntily over one eye with a chin strap under his chin.  His dress was all black except for his snow-white shirt, which had full, flowing sleeves.  He wore a black, shiny leather vest over the shirt, and his black trousers ballooned out from his legs.  They reminded us of the big, black bloomers our school girls wore when they played basketball.  His black, shiny boots were knee length, and in his hand he carried a bull whip.  He cracked the whip at each side of the stage.  Then, as the music began to play, he coiled the whip.  He planted his feet wide apart, raised his arms high in the air, and began to sing in a golden baritone voice that resounded throughout the tent:
        Ramona, I hear the mission bells above,
        Ramona, they’re ringing out our song of love,
        I’ll press you, caress you, and bless the day you taught me to care
        And always remember the rambling rose you wore in your hair.
        Ramona, when day is done, you’ll hear my call,
        Ramona, we’ll meet beside the waterfall.
        I dread the dawn when I awake to find you gone,
        Ramona, I need you, my own.

The applause was deafening.  He bowed graciously and returned backstage.  The applause continued.  He came back out and acknowledged the applause with a graceful bow.  The music began to play and he began to sing in his rich, resonant voice again:

        In a little Spanish town ‘twas on a night like this,
        Stars were peek-a-booing down, ‘twas a night like this,
        I whispered, “Be true to me,” and she sighed, “Si, si.”
        Many skies have turned to gray, because we are apart
        Many moons have passed away, but still she’s in my heart.
        We made a promise and sealed it with a kiss
        In a little Spanish town, ‘twas on a night like this.

When he was finished, many of the ladies in the reserved section had out their handkerchiefs and were dabbing at their eyes.

Bood and I had never heard these songs before.  The melodies were appealing and we instantly fell hopelessly head-over-heels in love with Ramona.  We dreamed of rescuing her from burning buildings and raging streams—of placing her on cool grass on the banks of the stream to rub her delicate hands and wrists and revive her from a dead faint.  Never once did she lose the rambling rose in her hair!  Our fantasies were unlimited.

When the curtain came down after the second act, Harley Sadler came out and made a little speech.  He always thanked everybody for coming and described what they could expect in the coming performance.  While he was still on stage, the curtain came up again, and there displayed on the stage were all kinds of prizes—all the way from ladies’ hose to wrist watches and air guns.  There was something for everybody.

On each item a large number was displayed.  Bood and I wondered what that could mean, and Harley said, “Members of the company will come among you and pass out delicious confections, and the price is only 15¢.  In each box there is a prize, and if there isn’t a prize in the box, there will be a number.  If your number corresponds to one of these prizes on the stage, then that is the one you win.”

The actors still had their make-up on because they had one more set to go.  They came down the aisles with large pasteboard boxes tied to their necks so their hands would be free.  They held their hands high in the air displaying the boxes while the music played.  Those who had an extra 15¢ to spare bought one. 

We didn’t have 15¢, but we watched in eager anticipation as those around us opened their boxes to see what mysterious prize they had won.

When the third act was over, we all started down out of the “Buzzard’s Roost,” and we lingered until almost everybody was out of the tent because our dread was overwhelming.  We braced ourselves and went out anyway. 

Sure enough, X. B. was standing over at the side, saying goodbye to the men and tipping his hat to the ladies, and when he saw they had all about dispersed, he mounted his horse and rode down the street. 

Bood glared at me accusingly, pointed his finger at X. B., and said, “See?  Didn’t I tell you?”



City of Roscoe planners are soliciting feedback about the possibility of starting a Farmer’s Market here. They want input from both potential vendors and customers.  The idea is that the market, a place to buy and sell locally grown produce, would be held on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month between May and October. 

If you have any interest, ideas, or opinions about such a venture, please make your feelings known at City Hall, either by dropping in there or calling 325-766-3871.



Both Plowboys and Plowgirls participated in the annual Double Mountain Relays at Aspermont last weekend.  They competed there with athletes from Abilene Christian, Afton Patton, Aspermont, Cool Runnings Track, Crowell, Guthrie, Hermleigh, Highland, Ira, Jayton, Knox City, Lueders-Avoca, Meadow, Newcastle, Paducah, Paint Creek, Rule, Spur, Throckmorton, Vernon Northside, and Woodson.

Those scoring points are listed below.


Event                           Place                   Athlete                                   Time
400 meter dash             1                Kevin Lavalais                           54.04
800 meter run               3                Braiden Moore                        2:17.86
1600 meter run             2                Jesus Leanos                           5:12.42
                                             4                Javier Leanos                          5:23.14
3200 meter run             2                Jesus Leanos                         11:01.13
                                             4                 Javier Leanos                       11:46.19
300 meter hurdles       2                 Max Nemir                                 45.08
                                             6                 Dillon Freeman                          45.38
4x200 relay                   6                 Roscoe ‘A’                                1:39.57
      (Rafael Aguayo, Shelton Toliver, Javier Leanos, Jesus Leanos)
4x400 relay                   1                 Roscoe ‘A’                                3:39.03
      (Max Nemir, Kevin Lavalais, Braiden Moore, Shelton Toliver)


Event                           Place                  Athlete                    Time/Distance

400 meter dash            2                  Eva Aguayo                            1:04.85
                                            4                  Lyndi Wilkinson                   1:05.42
800 meter run              6                  Danielle Dean                          2:50.13
1600 meter run            2                  Alejandra Solis                       6:18.43
3200 meter run            4                  Alejandra Solis                    13:54.18
                                             6                  Karina Cisneros                 14:43.24
100 meter hurdles       2                  Sunshine Saddler                      16.95
4x100 meter relay      4                  Roscoe ‘A’                                    53.81
     (Whitney Williams, Lyndi Wilkinson, Sunshine Saddler, Eva Aguayo)
4x400 meter relay      3                   Roscoe ‘A’                             4:30.46
     (Whitney Williams, Lyndi Wilkinson, Sunshine Saddler, Eva Aguayo)
Long Jump                      6                   Lyndi Wilkinson                   14’0.5”

This weekend Plowboys and Plowgirls will compete in the Lone Wolf Relays in Colorado City.  The District 13-A Track Meet will be on April 10 at Highland.



Blooming bushes at John Strother's house on Bois d'Arc St.
Signs of spring are busting out all over.  The buzzards are back, and so are the robins and hummingbirds.  Various trees and bushes are budding out—but not all.  The old mesquites, cautious as always, are still in winter mode.  The springtime winds have been a nuisance and at times excessive.  There were sustained high winds of 36mph on Thursday night with gusts up to 43mph, and Sunday was just about as bad with high winds of 31mph with gusts up to 41. 

Temperatures are also rising.  Since Sunday, afternoon highs have been in the eighties with nighttime lows in the fifties and sixties.  Yesterday’s high of 87°F under cloudy skies was the warmest day we’ve had so far this year, and the today’s outlook is for a high of 88°.  Starting on Friday, though, the weekend weather should be milder with highs in the seventies and lows in the forties.

There’s a 20% chance of rain tonight and Saturday night.



Funeral Services were held yesterday at 10:00am at the Salem Lutheran Church in Roscoe for Ronnie Lee Gardner, 63, followed by interment in the Roscoe Cemetery.  He passed away on March 28 at Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene. He was born in Fisher County on February 21, 1951.

Survivors include his wife, Connie, of Sweetwater; sons Brad Gardner and wife, Amber, of Abilene; Lance Gardner and wife, Evie, of Garland; Michael Gardner and wife, Allie, of San Angelo; John David Gardner and wife, Sheila, of Roby; brothers Terry Gardner and wife, Brenda, of Sweetwater; Leon Gardner and wife, Zenita, of Sylvester; sisters Sue Sutton and husband, Buddy, of Sweetwater; Jane Chew and husband, Elvin, of Abilene; Doris Squires and husband, Winfred, of Carrolton; ten grandchildren and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Willie Lee and Willa May Christopher Gardner; three brothers, Jim Gardner, Donald Gardner and Sonny Gardner; six sisters, Darlene Schoonover, Jo Faught, Peggy Eaton, Billie Martin, Sandra Estes, and June Squires.

Pallbearers were Basil Stags, Jackie Williams, Bobby Briscoe, Jay Suggs, Glen Barton and Gene Sorrows.


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