By Jeff Salmon, executive director of Frontier Texas
That’s the question that Frontier Texas asked the students at Abilene Christian University’s Morris & Mitchell Advertising Agency in 2011. The answer they came up with was to create a fun event and to offer cash. Based on that recommendation, a scholarship contest for local college women was created called “Miss Frontier Texas,” which has now crowned two winners and will crown another on April 12.
This fun, action-filled competition takes place over a two-month period with three main events. At the end of the competition, one woman walks away with the title and a $3,000 scholarship.
The first competition is hosted at Perini Ranch in Buffalo Gap, where the women take a written exam that covers detailed information about frontier life, the region’s history and facts about Frontier Texas. They are then taught chuck-wagon cooking skills by a leading expert on the subject, Tom Perini. Standing beside his chuck wagon, Perini tells the contestants about cattle drives and the pivotal role cooks played in keeping the herd moving toward market.
The second event, “Saddle & Shoot,” is hosted at the Fort Phantom Hill Historic Site. Each competitor must saddle and mount a horse, shoot a .50-caliber buffalo rifle at a white buffalo target 400 yards away, and then make a speech about frontier living.
“Over half of them hit the target because these young ladies have great eyesight and they’re shooting a fine firearm,” said local buffalo hunting historian Michael McCormack, who assists with this portion of the competition.
After the judging is totaled, 12 semifinalists are named.
The final events take place on an April weekend, when the semifinalists arrive on a Friday evening and must “survive” an overnight stay on the museum’s parade ground. The next day brings other frontier skill challenges, including wash-board washing, roping and chopping firewood. At mid-day, six more contestants are eliminated, leaving six finalists to take on the chuck wagon cooking challenge. The first year of the competition, chicken fried steak was on the challenge menu, and the next year, cooking an entire fried chicken presented a big challenge.
As soon as the judges tally the cooking scores, the crowd gathers for the awards ceremony. The 2013 winner was Sarah Bishop of Longmont, Colo., who walked away with a new hat with sparkling tiara, a sash, a $3,000 check and the promise of a custom-made pair of James Leddy boots.
“I knew I would have to study the Texas history really hard to beat these smart, talented Texas girls, but it paid off in the end!” Bishop said.