Cowboy Festival rides on into Sunday, features chili cook-off

Aaron Tenbears, left, dress in Native American regalia and Trooper Michael Shipman, of The New Buffalo Soldiers pose for a photo at The 2019 Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival held at William S. Hart Park in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal

The wild west stayed in town for another day as the Cowboy Festival continued at William S. Hart Park and Heritage Junction on Sunday.

The day began with services and a cowboy breakfast at the First Presbyterian Church on Newhall Avenue, next to the park. Festival guests then made their way into the park.

“It’s beautiful,” said Stefano Mila. “Even more (than what I imagined). I didn’t have a clear idea about it. There’s music, there’s history, a lot of stuff to see and to buy.”

Mila stopped by with his wife Valentina and their three children. Originally from Italy before moving to California, Mila said he was always curious about the west. Though he and his son challenged each other playing corn hole, the family’s favorite part of the day was visiting the blacksmith.

Ulli Skillman and her daughter Maya look at dreamcatchers outside of a teepee at the Cowboy Festival. Ryan Mancini/The Signal

At 1 p.m., guests with tickets hopped onto shuttles that took them to Blue Cloud Ranch, located within Santa Clarita, which featured various outdoor film sets for movies like “Iron Man” and “American Sniper.”

While park goers could grab a slice of peach cobbler or ask for beer from Wolf Creek Brewery, the festival included several food vendors with different food for everyone to try. Whether it was barbecue nachos, Thai food, tamales, smoothies or sorbet, the festival offered something for every taste, said Carrie Lujan, Communications Manager for the city of Santa Clarita.

“The big hit today is definitely the chili cook-off, with all the proceeds going to Bridge to Home,” Lujan said. “The chili chefs in there are intense, they’re following all the International Chili Society rules and making sure that everything is up to standard. They’re delicious. You walk over there and it just smells amazing.”

Jim Beaty was one of the chili competitors. Representing Sespe Creek Chili, Beaty said he competed in chili cook-offs since 1982.

Cowboy Festival visitors sampled different chili recipes during the chili cook-off at the Cowboy Festival. Ryan Mancini/The Signal

“It’s just you want a good, mild chili,” he said. “You don’t want it too hot. You want the meat where it’s nice and tender, not mushy. If you bite into it, you start tasting the spices. When you get through, you get a little pop in the back of your throat. That’s what you cook for, but you don’t always get it.”

Though the festival continued various activities from the day before, guests also had the chance to walk inside teepees, look at Civil War-style saddles on display and interact with festival personnel dressed in western attire, such as Scott Ferguson. He wore a headband, shirt, vest and moccasins to resemble the appearance of a White Mountain Apache scout. They served the United States Army in tracking the Chiricahua Apaches led by Geronimo.

“It took a while, it wasn’t an easy thing even with the Apache scouts,” Ferguson said. “Then they were ultimately used as police on the reservations and stuff like that. The ones that were in revolt against the United States were sent to Florida and Oklahoma.”

Ferguson said he began participating in the Cowboy Festival in 1987 at Melody Ranch. Being part of the festival gives a visceral sense of what life in the west was like, he said, such as the tastes, noises and smells, along with wearing period clothing.

“It’s one thing reading about guys marching 15 miles a day in the heat, it’s another thing to walk a hundred yards in the same heat,” he said. “But you get an idea, you live the way they lived and do the things that they did as closely as you can. You still carry your cell phone – hidden.”

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About the author

Ryan Mancini

Ryan Mancini

Ryan Mancini covers local news for The Signal. He joined in 2018, previously working as a reporter and editor for The Sundial, Scene Magazine and El Nuevo Sol while a student at California State University, Northridge, where he studied journalism and political science. He's lived in Santa Clarita since 2002.