In our annual Best of the West special, we present inspiring individuals and organizations who remind us of the better angels of our nature and our shared American goodness. This round, meet Red Steagall.
In his first inaugural address, at a particularly fraught time in American history, President Abraham Lincoln gave us the glorious, famous expression “the better angels of our nature.” It was 1861. The country was hopelessly divided. The Civil War loomed. But Lincoln appealed to his “dissatisfied fellow countrymen,” invoked our common foundation as Americans, and made a pitch for peace. “We are not enemies, but friends,” Lincoln said. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for the entire 2022 class of C&I Heroes who exemplify those better angels and the best of our American character.
Whether he’s singing around a campfire, headlining a cowboy-poetry gathering, or hosting his popular show on RFD-TV, he’s an example to us all.
There may not be anyone who’s more steeped in cowboy culture than Red Steagall. Genuine cowboy poet. Western-swing singer-songwriter. Well-known television and radio personality. He’s even credited with discovering Reba — yes, that Reba.
Name a Western award or a cowboy honor, and you can bet that Steagall’s name is there among the other greats, right along with Will Rogers, Theodore Roosevelt, and Charlie Russell. He’s been inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and many more. For Steagall, living the Western lifestyle is just part and parcel of who he is and who he’s always been.
He’s long been a C&I favorite and friend — a hero who, after being stricken with polio as a child, turned a 10-dollar mandolin into a career that would span a lifetime.
When he found out he’d been named one of C&I’s 2022 Heroes of the West, he reacted with characteristic cowboy humility. “I’m humbled. I’m deeply honored, because I don’t consider myself a hero. l consider myself a guy who loves America and his family and is dedicated to his family and loves the Lord and is grateful that the Lord loves me. I don’t ever think of myself as a hero, so it’s quite an honor to be called one.”
We caught up with Steagall between shoots for his award-winning RFD television show, Somewhere West of Wall Street, at his home in Fort Worth, Texas.
Cowboys & Indians: When you think of the word hero, what comes to mind?
Red Steagall: Someone who contributes to society in a positive way, in an unselfish way, and in a courageous way. It doesn’t make any difference whether they’re doing something extraordinary, as long as they’re the right kind of person. To me, that’s a person who exhibits independence and individualism, freedom, honesty, integrity, loyalty, and work ethic. Someone who’s dedicated to their family and God, but most important, who treats their fellow man with dignity, respect, compassion, and common decency. To me that’s a hero.
C&I: Who’s your greatest hero?
Steagall: My first real hero was Mr. Newton Stearns. He was the Methodist minister in Borger, Texas, and I wanted to be just like him, because he was such a kind human being, and he had such wisdom.
C&I: Who are some of your heroes of the West?
Steagall: John Wayne is an icon to almost everyone. [Actor, stuntman, and world champion rodeo cowboy] Ben Johnson was a very good friend of mine, and he was a hero. Ben was Ben, and he didn’t change anything about his attitude or belief to satisfy someone else, and there was nobody like him.
C&I: How are the people that you write about and sing about heroic?
Steagall: The people that I admire the most are the real people and are not afraid to say what they mean and live by the code that they believe in. I love the people I write about, the people in the ag community. They were brought up with a set of values; people depend on each other, and that sense of belonging and community has been passed on through the generations. It still exists in that community because it’s been passed down from generation to generation, and you can depend on it, you know that it’s real, and it’s the right thing to do.
From our May/June 2022 issue
Photography: (Cover image) Vaughn Wilson/Courtesy Red Steagall; (Reba and Red) courtesy Justin Boots