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World Championship Chili Cook Off, Terlingua Ghost Town 1975 -77

1974 Terlingua Chili Cook-off ... Above (middle image) Terlingua teacher Trent Jones with baby Anna and friend Cindy Buchamon. Estimated number of people at this event was 10,000 +. Oh what fun they had and Oh what a mess they left.

Olga and I lived directly next to the ghost town of Terlingua, so the cook off each year was literally in our back yard. The cook-off was good and bad. Good for the local economy and very bad for the environment. After the event was over the ghost town was covered in trash. As a Terlingua School class project I /we would take the students to the ghost town and with bid trash bag attempt to clean the place up. It was like bailing out the ocean with a bucket. Most of the trash collected was simply dumped down the open mine shafts that covered the area. The ghost town is covered with these open shafts. No signs to warn people of the dangers of falling in. To this day I wonder how many bodies are down at the bottom of some of those mines. Drunks that simply wondered off and disappeared.

What first began in 1967 and organized by Texas historian and chili aficionado Wick Fowler and car manufacturer Carroll Shelby as a means to settle a storied feud between two journalists; namely Frank X. Tolbert who wrote for the Dallas Morning News, and a gentleman by the name of   H. Allen Smith who wrote a scathing article in Holiday Magazine entitled “Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do”.  


Below: From an old article I had saved 1975



Not sure who the author is:

First Chile cook-off was in Terlingua Texas 1967.

One of the most common questions by late-corners to Terlingua in post - chili days is “How in hell did it all get started?’’

It all got started as a kind of joke and whimsical proof of the efficacy of the practitioners of ‘‘public relations,’’ according to Bille Neale, president  of Dallas’s Point Communications, who has been in on every one of the chili­ fests  at  Terlingua.

Several members of the Chili Appreciation Society of Dallas were visiting over a bowl of red in Dallas one night in 1967 when somebody asked Tom Tierney, then a public relations man for Ford Motor Co., just what a PR man does.

Tierney replied that a good PR man could put a place like Terlingua (owned by former Terlingua service station man  David Witts, also of the CAS) on the map and offered to do so by whipping up a world championship chili  contest  at the unlikely  place.

Dallas Morning News sage and undisputed champion Frank X. Tolbert was among the group as were Neale and the late John King, then editor of  a  Dallas  Newspaper.

By November of that year the cadre included   racer   Carroll   Shelby,   all purpose wit H. Allen  Smith (living then and now in Alpine), and the late Wick Fowler, in whose memory recent cook-offs  have  been  conducted.

“We figured maybe we’d attract 150 or so people," Neale, recalls, "and I think the actual count that first  year was  224  people.”

The rest, as the saying goes, is history, with the crowds growing geometrically every year and feeder cooks-off as diverse as the Luckenbach “Hell Hath No fury” event, the “Sons of the Panetelas” at San Angelo, the San Marcos “Chilympiad” (said  to have attracted  40,000 “heads”  in 1975), and the U.S. Air Force whose official team was chosen in the cook-off at Good-fellow Air Force Base in September.

The granddaddy event, meanwhile, remains  the  cynosure  of  children.

Estimating   crowds   is   problematical- -particularly when there are  no front or back “gates”, no tickets, no policemen to give an estimate, and nobody gives a damn about  statistics. But the 1974 crowd was conservatively estimated at 10,000 souls, and this reporter can give an estimate of the growth by the relative distance he had to park from the main drag each year.

Terlingua Cook off Olgas_Chili_Bowls.jpg

Olga and Trent Jones selling Olgas' homemade chili bowls at the Villa De La Mina annual chili cook off 

Chili Cook-off moves to Villa De La Mina

1976: Frank Tolbert, "head honcho" from Dallas announces winner World Chapion Chili Cook Albert Angor Acepts Prize

--- Paul Vonn, Terlingua Landowner very unhappy with event ---

TERL1NGUA (Staff) — Landowner Paul Vonn who holds the deed to the ghost town of Terlingua, said early today he recommends the "chili aficionados get themselves a new 'head honcho" so a chili cookoff for "the nice people" could take place next year. Selected 10 years ago as the Big Bend site of the annual madness. Terlingua has seen the last of the cookers, according to the self-styled mayor. Dallas attorney David Wilts. "No longer will I continue to promote this type of activity," Witts said. "Next year the cook-off will be in this area but will not be in Terlingua town because we have been turned around by the owners. This is an unstructured event and we cannot permit structure on an unstructured event." Vonn said. "1 think Frank Tolbert (columnist of the Dallas Morning News) needs to know something about running a chili cook-off." "Mr. Tolbert is not welcome at Terlingua ever again," Vonn exclaimed. "He did not even have the entertainment he promised. Everything that happened was impromptu, arranged by other people, and it went very slowly." The problems evidently cropped up because Vonn hired security guards to watch over the chili cooking and rampant imbibing. One judge said his sound engineer had been arrested Friday night for refusing to obey instructions from a security guard.

Vonn explained, "Tolbert climbed all over me because some of his cookers had been asked to donate money for parking." "They not only left a big mess," the landowner said, "they left a horrible mess," and the money collected for parking will not be enough to get it all cleaned up, he said. "They came here with greed in their hearts and we maintain this place with love in our heart because we live here all year long and we want to enjoy the beautiful land." "I told Tolbert to take his bums, drunks and vandals and don't come back," the 70-year-old Vonn exclaimed. He said the weekend was so "wild and hectic- that he "lost track of time." because so many persons "jumped on me so badly." Vonn explained that he and his wife were the butt of several "tirades" for calling in the law. They blamed the whole thing on us," he said, "and all we did is try to maintain law, order and peace." "Tolbert was really raising the devil Friday and Saturday," Vonn said. "He was bitter about the whole thing." Tolbert, who is renowned as one of the founders of the World Championship Chili Cookoff which began in Terlingua on an annual basis 10 years ago, was reported to have said, "This isn't a chili cookoff, it's a sheriff's convention. I don't know why he (Vorm) didn't call in the National Guard." Vonn said his reply to tat is "thank you. I hadn't thought of it." "If there is ever another chili cookoff in Terlingua," Vonn said. "It will be fully policed with lots of law and order — if ever we hold another one." Vonn reported that several chili contestants who were also there last year did not even get their chili tasted by a judge this year, so poorly was the weekend event organized. Vonn reiterated his advice that the "chili cookers gt-t a new 'head honcho' if they want to come back." He promised, "In the future it will be legitimate and properly managed and run with enough law and order." Vonn said he believes the near-300 lawmen at the weekend affair was "enough law and order."

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