A dude ranch? In Decatur?

By Gerre Joiner | Published Saturday, September 10, 2016

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Reader friends: I wrote this story back in April about a conversation I had with my friend, Doc Cocanougher. He told me the story you’ll find below.

Some of the details regarding what you read today may be faulty because my friend died before editing/returning the draft copy I’d left in his office days before his death.

I bumped into retired veterinarian and semi-retired businessman Doc Cocanougher a few days ago. He said he wanted to tell me a story that he considered worthy of reporting in the newspaper.

The next day, Doc and I sat down at one of the tables in my “outer office” at Whataburger.

Doc’s story goes back to the World War II era when he was a senior in high school (1949) and almost everyone was hunkered down, thinking of the war effort, squeaking by on limited funds and hoping for the best “someday” when the war was over.

The war years featured “stamps” with which one could buy everything from sugar to tires. Without the government-issued stamps, one could buy almost nothing. All available resources were dedicated to the war effort. Doc’s family owned land and animals, so they were better off than most city folks.

In those tough economic times, there was a Dallas man who owned an automobile dealership. He was forced to close the dealership. He had enough resources to purchase a place in Decatur and turn it into a dude ranch.

The ranch was a huge success, partially because he had lots of Dallas friends who would ride the passenger train from Dallas to Fort Worth and then on to Decatur to visit.

The dude ranch featured trail rides, cookouts and other “cowboy activities.” There was a horse barn, a lake, bunkhouses and many other improvements.

Doc remembers that the person pairing dudes with horses first studied the crowd of people and guessed the one who was most likely to be most “dude-like.”

To the dude-of-all-dudes in the crowd, he assigned a horse that, when standing on the bank of the lake, would always (every single time) wade into the water unprompted by the rider and lie down.

As the horse went down, the wrangler in charge would scold the helpless rider, shouting, “Keep his head up! Don’t let him get down in the water! Don’t let him get that saddle wet!”

This was great entertainment for all the other dudes.

Now for a little Decatur-area history: The dude ranch entrepreneur sold out in the early ’50s to a man who turned the horse barn into the first cattle auction barn in Decatur.

During this same post-war era, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team held their spring training in Decatur. Many of the guys on the team were veterans returning home after the war.

Reader, have you traveled Business 81/287 and seen the remains of a rock structure on the east side of the railroad tracks? Way back in the ’20s, Doc’s family built that structure. They used it for a feed store for many years, then sold it to a flour company.

At one time in the history of the building, it was area headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan.

The Cocanoughers moved the feed store to a more central location, closer to downtown Decatur. After many years at the downtown location, the family closed the store and gave the land to the city.

Now for a few questions. I’m thinking the old Decatur-ites will enjoy recalling history and answering. We “move-ins” will enjoy learning the history.

  • What was the name of the Dallas man who owned/ran the dude ranch?
  • What was the name of the dude ranch?
  • What was the name of the man who ran the first cattle auction barn?
  • What was the name of the league in which the Brooklyn Dodgers farm team played?
  • What municipal building today sits on the land donated by the Cocanougher family?

Send your answers to gerjoiner@gmail.com. I’ll begin my next column reporting your answers.

(I may have to take your word regarding the answers. Doc’s not here, you know.)

Gerre Joiner is a semi-retired church musician and has lived in Decatur since 1999.

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