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Written by Jane Kellogg Murray

ComAnT 14 photo by Stan A Williams 2

It all started in 1831 when Mexico gave the people of Gonzales a cannon to ward off Indian attacks. Four years later, with talk of independence among the Texas colonists, Mexican troops came to get the howitzer back and were greeted by a lone star flag of defiance: “Come and Take It.” Today, the cannon sits in the Gonzales Memorial Museum and the taunting words of the 1835 flag is the town’s banner. The cannon and the catchphrase are so omnipresent the people behind “I (heart) NY” think Gonzales maybe oughta tone it down a bit.

But the slogan is reborn with new energy every year at the Come and Take It Celebration, a three-day festival that swells with Texas pride. Held the first full weekend of October for the past 62 years, the festivities take place in downtown Gonzales this year on Oct. 5-7, in one of Gonzales' two town squares, so there’s plenty of room for carnival rides, live country music, a classic car show, food and drink vendors, plus the popular flying chicken contest. (That’s flying, not frying, unfortunately.) Be sure to follow signs because you don’t want to confuse the snake exhibit with the petting zoo.

The 200-entry downtown parade, with its crazy floats and the newly-crowned Miss Gonzales, starts Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Later in the day, attention moves to Pioneer Village, the frontier life recreation site on the outskirts of town, for a re-enactment of the battle of Oct. 2, 1835, when the first shots of the Texas Revolution were fired.

Each night ends with country dancing in the streets, with Marty Raybon’s Shenandoah headlining on Friday, and Gene Watson and Eddy Raven playing the old hits on Saturday. For conjunto dancers, Ricky Narajo y los Gamblers play earlier on Saturday.

Because this festival is downtown and not in a field or fairgrounds, there’s no sense of captivity. There are tons of great restaurants and bars to explore just steps away from the funnel cakes.

Fall is in the air—with pumpkins as far as the eye can see at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, competitive lumberjacks at the Texas State Forest Festival, and the rhythmic sound of oom-pah-pah at Addison Oktoberfest.

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From Oklahoma! to the Texas-Oklahoma border, there's plenty to celebrate the weekend across the Lone Star State.

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Learn how to time your wildflower seed sowing for a bountiful spring, indulge in kolaches in Caldwell, and explore a new Dalí exhibit at the Meadows Museum in Dallas.

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What do flip flops, oatmeal, rodeos, sorghum, and animatronic dinosaurs have in common? They're all the centerpiece of events happening across Texas this Labor Day weekend.

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On Nov. 17-18, the sounds of Native American drums will lead visitors to “experience Mother Earth’s heartbeat” at the Sacred Springs Powwow in San Marcos near the headwaters of the San Marcos River. The event expects to feature more than 100 dancers in vibrant regalia along with Native American history presentations. Taste favorite dishes like fry bread, and shop for handmade goods. The event is produced by the Indigenous Cultures Institute—a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the culture, arts, and traditions of distinct indigenous groups originally from South Texas and northeastern Mexico that are collectively known as Coahuiltecans.

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A few miles north of Waco, Homestead Heritage—an agrarian and artisan community consisting of a few hundred families—welcomes visitors for a taste of the simple life at its annual Homestead Fair on Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-24. Members of the community drive modern vehicles and use technology, but adopt plain dress and traditional values, and strive to master the skills of self-sufficiency—a lifestyle that draws thousands of tourists every year. At the 31st annual event, learn how to milk a cow, lend a hand at an old-fashioned timber frame barn raising, and watch a master craftsman fashion a fine Windsor chair straight from a rough log. Each day in the craft pavilion, you’ll find a wide variety of ongoing homestead craft demonstrations—pottery, quilting, weaving, broom making, basket weaving, leatherwork, and more; learn how to make your own holiday gifts, or purchase one of these specialty items onsite. Sip on hand-pressed apple cider, snack on cheeses aged in Homestead’s own climate-controlled cheese cave, and take a horse-drawn hayride around the farm, which houses numerous structures built before the American Revolution, including a water-powered gristmill.

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Texas leads the nation in cattle production and projects a rough-and-tumble mystique about ranch life. City slickers and old ranch hands alike can celebrate this heritage at the Ranch Hand Festival, Nov. 16-18 in Kingsville and on King Ranch—the largest ranch in the Lone Star State. Downtown Kingsville gets festive Friday evening by lighting the Christmas tree followed by a street dance. Head out to the working King Ranch on Saturday morning for the Ranch Hand Breakfast—a hearty cowboy and cowgirl breakfast fit for a hard day’s work, served outdoors—plus team-roping demonstrations, storytelling, music, bird-watching tours, and wildlife tours. The festival caps off Saturday evening with a holiday-themed performance by the Kingsville Symphony Orchestra and a headliner country concert.

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November is peak season for butterflies in South Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The National Butterfly Center in Mission has documented sightings for more than 200 types of native and migratory butterflies and is the premier location in the U.S. to witness such vast butterfly diversity in the wild. The center invites promising naturalists of all ages to learn more about butterflies and their natural garden habitats at the Texas Butterfly Festival’s Community Day on Nov. 3. Open to the public, the event offers a Hungry Caterpillar playscape for little ones to climb, and “wild things” arts and crafts to keep their hands busy. You can also learn how to make banana brew, an irresistible beverage for butterflies that uses dark beer as its secret ingredient. Who knew butterflies liked beer? Professional naturalists and butterfly enthusiasts can stick around for expert-led educational field trips Nov. 3-6.

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As Texas’ summer heat subsides, more than 2 million visitors will say “howdy” to Big Tex, the towering 55-foot cowboy, as they enter the State Fair of Texas. Gates are open Sept. 28-Oct. 21 in Dallas’ famed Fair Park, host since 1886. Some visitors seek out deep-fried banana pudding, while others find glory in the cooking competitions. Carnival rides will spin you around while stunt dogs do the flipping in one of the fair’s numerous family friendly shows. Watch a chainsaw carver transform a piece of timber into art, or view the nightly fireworks and dancing water show. No state fair trip is complete without seeing the year’s butter sculpture representing the theme “Celebrating Texas Innovation.” Admission includes 75 concerts by regional performers and headliners on the main stage during the 24-day event. Some of the star power making an appearance this year include Ludacris, Casting Crowns, and Hunter Hayes.

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Escape the urban pressures of traffic and deadlines, and head down to the fifth-generation Graff 7A Ranch in Hondo during weekends from Sept. 15 to Nov. 25. The South Texas MAiZE is a 7-acre maze cut from 12-foot high sorghum. The maze is divided into two parts and takes 15-30 minutes to complete each side. Bring a flashlight if you plan on exploring after dark. Campfire sites can be reserved for an additional fee. Explore the farm on a tractor-pulled hayride, pet and feed the ranch’s Boer goats, and watch squealing pigs race. During the month of October, the pumpkin patch creates an ideal backdrop for fall family photos. Climb on giant hay bales, become human popcorn on the two corn popper pillows, or slide down the giant MatterCorn. Owners caution that the last two weekends of October are the busiest, so expect longer lines.

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Celebrate a Texas icon of function and fashion Oct. 5-6 in downtown Victoria. Entering its eighth year, the annual Bootfest kicks off with a Saturday morning 5K. Afterward, trade your running shoes for boots and head to De Leon Plaza to see boot crafters, Western artisans, and a trick roper display their talents. The festival includes two days of free live music on the main bandstand, with ’80s and classic rock tribute bands on Friday night and Texas country favorites on Saturday night, including Mason Lively, Cameran Nelson, William Clark Green, and Reckless Kelly. The festival culminates in a spectacular fireworks show on Saturday evening.

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