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Web Extra: Interview with Elmer Kelton

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In April 2005, the San Angelo Visitor Center hosted a ceremony commemorating the unveiling of a bronze of Western writer and longtime San Angelo resident Elmer Kelton by artist Jimmy Don Cox. Following the ceremony, senior editor Nola McKey, who was researching her story on San Angelo and the arts, had a chance to talk to the famous author. Here’s what he had to say about San Angelo’s culture.

Every place has culture of some kind that’s unique to that place but is also part of a larger culture. San Angelo is no exception. We have a history here that goes back to Indian times. The Indians used to come to this area, especially in the fall of the year, when the pecans were ripe. They’d pick up pecans along the riverbank. We had these huge native pecan trees then.

The army established the beginnings of Fort Concho here in 1869 to patrol the trails that led through this area, especially the stagecoach route that came through here and went on out to El Paso. So San Angelo, or Saint Angela, as it was called then, was born as a military town, but it grew beyond that to be a large supplier of goods for this whole area of West Texas. When the railroad came in, the town became a real supply point. People came in here from 200 miles away to get whatever they needed. We still have a pretty large trade territory, very similar to that.

San Angelo became the center of the wool and mohair industry, particularly wool. This began in the 1880s and ’90s, and San Angelo is still probably the biggest center of the wool and mohair industry. The industry has declined a lot in the last couple of decades, but San Angelo is still a vital part of the wool industry and to a lesser extent, mohair. Most of the goats are to the south of us.

But as for the culture, of course, we had the military here from the beginning. San Angelo became quite a cowtown and a ranch town. For a brief period, it was also a big buffalo-hunter center, because they shipped worlds of buffalo hides out of here during the short time that the buffalo trade existed.

As oil began to develop in West Texas in the 1920s, the town became important, to a point, in the oil industry. You couldn’t say it was the center, but a lot of oil companies worked out of here and leased offices here.

All of these things are still here. The military is still a vital part of our local economy. The ranching and farming industry is very important to us. Being a supply center, a trade center is important.

And we have two really fine medical facilities—two large hospitals.

We have some manufacturing, what I’d call mid-level manufacturing. It’s not large manufacturing, but in the aggregate, we have a lot of small industries here that contribute to the economy.

Culture-wise, we have a local symphony orchestra here and a little theater group. Angelo State University has become quite an important part of the scene here and is very much a contributor to the culture of this area. We have a lot of artists here—Jimmy Don is one of many. And we have a number of writers—professional and semiprofessional. There’s a San Angelo Writers Club.

We have some cowboy events here—the rodeo takes place in late winter and steer-roping in the fall—and we also have team-roping tournaments. So the cowboy culture is still very much part of who we are. And besides that, it’s just a real good place to live!

San Angelo is large enough that you can find most everything you need within reason and small enough that you can get across town in 15 or 20 minutes, if the lights work good. So it has all the advantages of a smaller city, and yet, the advantages of a larger one as well. Beyond that, it’s just got a lot of good people, and a lot of them have been in here today.

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