A special chat with Red Steagall on the occasion of C&I's silver anniversary.
Cowboys & Indians: You’ve been a friend to the magazine for so long; what do you see as its legacy, and what is your impression of the readership we’ve built?
Red Steagall: I think it’s a great magazine. It’s probably the single biggest force that preserves and perpetuates the Western way of life that we all love and appreciate. It reaches an audience that you can’t reach through normal channels; it’s an audience that lives in the city who still adores the Western way of life. If we stop to think about it, most of the people who settled the West, after the Indian wars were over and the Civil War was over, were people from the East who wanted to get out of the cities and be out in the open country. Cowboys & Indians gives them the ability to do that. They read the beautiful magazine, see the unbelievable pictures, and they can transport themselves into the West.
C&I: Do you ever get approached by people specifically because they’ve read about you in C&I? If so, what are the most common comments that you get?
Red: I have a lot of people talk to me about the column. ... They all seem to think that they gain an awful lot of insight into the people of the West and the way they talked. Those are interviews that we’ve done, sometimes years ago, still alive and people still concerned about the West and want to be part of it.
C&I: What gave you the idea to do something like In the Bunkhouse?
Red: It was the publisher’s idea to put that in the magazine. The interviews are from my radio show, Cowboy Corner. And so we just take excerpts from those radio shows. ...
C&I: What do you find to be the most common denominator for all of your guests who come to visit the Bunkhouse? Is it a devotion to the West, a particular outlook on life?
Red: It’s a combination of an outlook on life and their interest in the preservation of the Western lifestyle. And everybody that I interview for Cowboy Corner has something to do with the West. They might be a rancher, they might be an actor, might be a singer, might be a cowboy, might be a bootmaker — I had great interviews with Mr. [John] Justin when he was alive. ... And great actors, like Ben Johnson and Richard Farnsworth and Dale Robertson and just on and on and on. It’s all about the West, and it’s all about the people, places, and events in the West.
C&I: We love your poems that we get to feature. Do you have a poem or a song that you’re most proud of?
Red: There’s a couple of things that I’m more proud of than the rest of them, and that’s “Born to This Land,” because it talks about something that’s very important to me: It’s private ownership of land. And that’s what we have in this country, what we must protect at all costs. And then “The Fence That Me and Shorty Built.” It’s talking about being proud of yourself and doing the job right in the first place so you don’t have to do it again. So those are probably my two favorite poems of everything I’ve written. And “Ride for the Brand” is a very close second. ...
C&I: Can we expect any more songs or poems in the future?
Red: Yes. I’ve got several songs that I’m working on. I don’t have the time to write like I used to because the television show takes up most of my creative time, as well as the radio show. But I’ve got to block out some time and finish another project.
C&I: What excites you about contemporary cowboy life and young guns?
Red: It’s the same thing. It’s the same objective. Working cattle horseback providing beef for the dinner tables of America. You do that and you accomplish that by protecting the investment in the cattle to begin with and in the land to begin with; being good stewards, good conservationists, good environmentalists. Because you live with the land, you don’t live on the land. You live with the land, and there’s a difference between a person who owns land and a landed person. A person who owns land owns it to utilize it. A person who’s landed knows that they belong to the land, so they do everything in their power to protect it. Because if they don’t, they can’t make a living from it. I don’t think any of that has changed. That’s always been the idea, and I don’t think the set of values of the cow country has changed. And that’s honesty and integrity, loyalty, work ethic, dedication to your family, conviction about your belief in God, and practicing respect and common decency for your fellow man every day you live.
C&I: As a great storyteller, do you have a specific story about yourself and your experiences that you love to tell?
Red: Not necessarily. I think a story that I sometimes hesitate to tell because it sounds like I’m bragging on myself, but my ability to overcome the polio and the loss of my left shoulder has — it’s still a challenge every day, but it’s one that I’m proud to face because it gives me an insight into what I’m doing, because I have to concentrate on everything that I do and figure out a way to do it, because I’m not like everybody else. So, I think that that has been the strong point in my life because it gives me the ability to be introspective and to decide what’s best for me and follow that course. The one thing that I try to live by — and don’t always do ... but I read what John Deere said in 1856: “I will never put my name on something that’s not as good as the best in me.”
C&I: What is something that our readers might not know about you?
Red: Probably nothing. I’d like to think that what you see is what you get. I have a love of the land. I have a love of America. I’m proud to be a Texan. I love the agricultural way of life. I don’t have a specific mission, but [it] seems my motivation in life is to make people understand how important our agricultural community is. Because without it, if we can’t feed ourselves, none of the rest of what we do matters. ... That’s our most important asset, and most people don’t think about that because you can go to the grocery store and buy anything your mind can imagine and your heart desires. ... But it’s because we have men and women who are dedicated to it and put everything they have on the line every day to put food on our table.
C&I: As for future plans, what’s down the trail?
Red: I’d just like to think we can keep the television show going as long as we can, and the radio show. I still love to do a few concerts, and I do about, on average, two a month all year long. Our Cowboy Gathering in Fort Worth. ... I just enjoy life. I really enjoy my friends and my family, and I don’t know what else there is. Everything else is window dressing.
Born To This Land
Tonight there’s a terrible pain in my heart,
Like a knife — it cuts jagged and deep.
This evening the windmiller brought me the word
That my granddaddy died in his sleep.
Now that he’s gone, things are certain to change.
An’ I reckon that’s how it should be.
But five generations have called this ranch home,
And I promise it won’t end with me,
’Cause I’ve got a little one home in a crib,
When he’s old enough he’ll understand.
From the top of that hill I’ll show him his ranch
’Cause like me, he was born to this land.
Excerpted from Red Steagall’s book Born To This Land.
TV And Radio Schedule — Episodes of Red’s travel show, Red Steagall Is Somewhere West of Wall Street, air Mondays at 9:30 p.m. EST on RFD-TV. Find out more about the TV program at rfdtv.com, and keep up with Red’s radio show, Cowboy Corner, at their website.
Upcoming Events — October 26-28: The Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering & Western Swing Festival at the historical Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas.
From the July 2018 issue. Photography: Courtesy Vaughn Wilson.