Walter Smith remembers his grandfather, McCullar Smith, with great pride.
“He was the type to sit you on his lap and rub your head – he loved you in a way that now makes me proud of him,” Walter said.
Next month, the George Ranch Historical Park will further cement McCullar Smith’s legacy when it honors Walter and other remaining descendants for the family’s contributions to Fort Bend County’s rich ranching history. On Feb. 15, the second annual George Ranch Rodeo will take place at the historical park, located at 10215 FM 762 in Richmond. The event will also spotlight and honor the remaining family of African-American ranchers, such as McCullar Smith, whose family played a key role in the development of Richmond, Fort Bend County and George Ranch itself.
“The rodeo grew from a desire to celebrate the skills and contributions of these amazing individuals,” even chairperson Debra Greenwood-Sharp said.
Beginning in the early 1900s, black cowboys played an essential role in Fort Bend County ranching operations for more than 100 years, according to Greenwood-Sharp. More than 90 percent of Fort Bend cowboys during that time were African-American, and she said four generations of black cowboys worked alongside four generations of the George family, including the Smiths. In doing so, they left behind a rich legacy of black cowboy heritage unique to Fort Bend County.
Fred Smith was born in 1857 in Texas and worked as a cowboy for the Davis and George families most of his life — a path his
sons McCullar and Ben also followed. McCullar served as lead cowboy for George Ranch until his death in 1945, and he and Ben were both known for their roping skills and knowledge of cattle.
McCullar was the first black cowboy to ride in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo parade in 1937. He did so representing George Ranch.
“He was one of the top cowboys at the ranch. It’s a great honor for (George Ranch) to honor my family,” said Walter Smith, 86, who will be traveling from Houston for the event. “We had a good life. We weren’t wealthy, but we had the best life with the type of environment we were in because of George Ranch.”
The honor will also serve as confirmation of numerous stories that Walter’s daughter, LaTanya Smith, had regaled to him over the years. When she was in college, she said she even met a minister from Richmond who knew McCullar and retold tales of their adventures.
“I thank the Lord for this (honor). My uncle used to tell me stories about my great grandfather, and that was thrilling for me to hear as a kid, knowing your great grandfather used to ride at the parade,” LaTanya said. “To hear this about him, it makes me so happy to know he was so well-loved to people.”
Walter remembers living with his grandfather in Richmond until the age of 7 and said McCullar spent much of his free time at George Ranch.
“He was the kind of guy who was welcomed into a lot of places,” he said.
The Smith family was just one part of the fabric of Fort Bend County ranching, but Greenwood said that is the whole point of recognizing them. Every person played a role in her mind, spurring her to bring up the rodeo concept at a board meeting just two years ago. Her connection to the black cowboy history at George Ranch – with two uncles who grew up at the ranch, a grandmother who was a housekeeper for the George family at the ranch and a grandfather who was the family’s right-hand man in the 1900s – makes honoring the Smith family that much more meaningful.
It’s a small way to repay them for their life’s work and legacy.
“What better place to honor their legacy as well as the African-American cowboy legacy here in Fort Bend?” she said.
Pre-sale general admission tickets for the event are $5 for children ages 4-12 and $15 for adults. Box seats, which include admission to the historical park, are $10 for children ages 4-12 and $30 for adults when purchased in advance. At the gate, each ticket is an additional $5.
For more information on the event, visit georgeranch.org/programs-events/george-ranch-rodeo/ or call 281-343-0218.