Hooves clanked on the roads as horses and mules carried riders and pulled wagons through town on Monday.
The riders of all ages waved to passing vehicles and those who stopped along the side of the road to take pictures.
The group of travelers — about 45 horseback riders and 15 wagons — are members of the Mesquite Trail Drivers who are making their way to San Antonio for the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. They made an overnight pit stop in the Pin Twist Bowling Alley parking lot.
“There’s 11 (trail) rides total, but ours started out in Rockne just a little south of Bastrop, and we’re a pretty diverse bunch of individuals,” Lupe Valdez, chairman of the Mesquite Trail Drivers Association trail ride committee, said. “We left Rockne Saturday morning, and we’ll get into San Antonio Thursday afternoon, so from A to B, it’s probably about 128 miles.”
Valdez and many of the other riders partake in the annual migration as part of a 60-year tradition, he said.
“We do this to promote the cowboy way, agriculture, the meat industry and to promote the way things used to be in the old days,” he said. “Of course, we have a lot more modern technologies now, but the wagons in the old times were people’s means of transportation. If they had to go into town for supplies, they would sleep in them because most of them would take a day or two to get to wherever they needed to go to get their supplies.”
Valdez is among the wagon riders, and although his carriage consisting of only a tarp cover and wooden benches seems basic at first glance, it does feature several quality of life upgrades, he said.
“Well, we do put the little ones and stuff in there, so I do have a portable heater because it gets really cold,” he said. “And I do have a port-a-potty in there, so if you have an emergency or whatever you can go in there and do what you need to do.”
Although the caravan consists of riders varying in experience levels, the trail is not without its hazards, Valdez said.
“Today, we had a lady who’s horse slipped on the pavement because it was very slippery,” he said. “I don’t think she was hurt bad; it probably just scared her more than anything. She’ll probably have some bumps and bruises, but probably what’s most hurt is her ego.”
When the caravan arrives at the rodeo, several members are selected to jaunt through the grounds, Mesquite Trail Drivers Association treasurer Susan Coleman said.
“We have nine people ride into the grand entry,” she said. “It’s usually the trail boss, the assistant trail boss, the mascot, the little miss, and both of them can have a chaperone,” she said. “Going into the coliseum can be kind of nerve-wracking because everybody’s trying to get in there, and you go in and make a circle around and come back out. However, there are like different trail rides, so you have a whole bunch of horses in the arena at once.”
As a participant in the trail drive most of her life, Coleman said the event plays an important role in each member’s family.
“My parents joined when I was 12. I will be 60 this month. So it’s been a while,” she said. “We have a hall in Adkins where we have an end of the trail thing where we give out trophies for the oldest and youngest that rode the whole way on a horse or on a wagon. All four of my grandkids have been the youngest in the wagon, and they’ve also been the youngest on a horse. It’s a family thing. There’s a lot of families that have come in and that we see every year.”
Coleman’s granddaughter, 11-year-old Cady Bass, began her career in the trail drive when she was 6 months old riding in the back of Coleman’s wagon, Coleman said.
Since she’s been able, Cady has looked forward to the yearly event and has participated in the trail drive from atop her horse Judge.
“It’s very fun,” Cady said. “I really like how free it feels when I ride my horse, and I really like to ride next to my friends and my mom.”
Cady’s mother, Lana Bass, has also been a member of the trail drive all her life and said an average day on the road is a slow and lengthy one.
“We wake up at 5:30 a.m. to feed and water the horses. Then we get up and get the kids ready and dressed and start saddling the horses,” she said. “Most of the time, we’re out on the road by around 7:30 a.m. and ride at about four miles every hour and take a 20-minute break. Then around noon, we take an hour break and let the horses cool down a little bit.”