Rural Missouri - February 2013 - (Page 26)
Don Collop keeps the Western spirit
alive with his portrayal of ‘Cookie’
by Kyle Spradley
and buffalo chips for ﬁre
Don’s chuck wagon
is a Peter-Schuttler farm
wagon that was built
in Chicago in 1910. He
has had it for nearly 40
years, but it wasn’t until
more than a decade after
he bought it that he
installed a chuck box
and began cooking
Now that he
is retired, Don
and his wife,
many cities across the
Midwest for cookouts
and to make meals
for groups of all sizes,
including a few that
have numbered more
“We’ve done everything from weddings to
cattle auctions, family
Dressed in authentic Western attire, Don Collop often portrays the character of “Cookreunions, school talks
ie,” the chuck wagon cook for the cattlemen on the trail. “He was not only the cook,
and even business funcbut the doctor, nurse, barber and the one to settle all the bets,” says Don.
tions,” says Evelyn. “It’s
great to see this history
adds Don. “We instead cook with what was available
preserved, and I just love to help him cook.”
on the trail with the cowboys: beef. Not to say they
The Collop’s menu will include almost anything
didn’t eat beans, but I guess somehow Hollywood
one would like but sticks to meals similar to what
the cattlemen would’ve eaten on the trail. Stews,
In addition to private events, the Collops take
barbecue, biscuits and all the ﬁxings with mouthwatheir chuck wagon to many festivals, gatherings and
tering cobblers for dessert all are cooked in one of
the couple’s many Dutch oven pots.
Every year, Don visits the third-grade students at
“Movies always portray cowboys eating beans,”
Ray Miller Elementary School in Kirksville with his cowboy tales and chuck
wagon for the school’s Western Days,
which includes other re-enactors.
“The kids get so excited to see him
and look forward to it each year,” says
Principal Marianne Farr. “He not only
provides them with a great history lesson, but he’s a great storyteller and portrays the look of the classic cowboy so
well. They learn so much from him.”
Don admits that enlightening somebody about the life of the cowboy is
what makes it all worthwhile.
“I love doing this for the kids and to
keep the history of the cowboy alive,”
says Don, smiling. “Everything about
the cowboy was just so great. He’d tell
you the way it was. You could depend
on him and he’d be there, riding for the
brand. I think I was just born 100 years
iving out on the trail during the 19th century was tough for cattlemen. These cowboys
found themselves battling Mother Nature and
the harsh landscape of the American West.
Days were spent in the saddle from ﬁrst light to
dusk as these drovers pushed their cattle from the
grazing lands to the cattle yards.
Folklore often exaggerates their
tales of run-ins with Indians and barroom shootouts. Most of these cowboys were merely teenagers enticed by
the romanticism of the open range and
the chance to run away from home.
These young men had to be taken
care of, and that job fell to “Cookie,” the
chuck wagon cook.
“He was not only the cook, but the doctor, nurse, barber and the one to settle all the bets,”
says Don Collop of Colony.
For nearly two decades, Don has been portraying
the character of Cookie and still believes in the cowboy way. Dressed in attire akin to the time, he shares
stories about what life was like on the cattle drives
and recites poems to school groups and at festivals
as well as being a true chuck wagon cook.
Although Don admits to “cowboying” his whole
life, the Lewis County Rural Electric Cooperative
member ﬁrst got serious with his re-enacting when
he lived in Mexico, Mo. During his three-decade
tenure as a lineman for Ameren Missouri, he discovered the writings of famed cowboy poet Baxter
Black. Dressed in Western garb, he began performing
poems from other writers in front of small groups.
Then in 1996, he and three others formed the
Missouri Cowboy Poets Association (MCPA) to promote and preserve the cowboy lifestyle.
Over the years, the group has expanded to
include poets, singers, chuck wagon cooks, writers
and others interested in the cowboy
way. Members are made available to
anyone looking for a presentation by an
authentic cowboy performers.
In 2001, the group published an
anthology of members’ work and delivered 177 copies on the back of Don’s
wagon to the Missouri State Library in
Jefferson City for each county library.
“Then I discovered some guys who
were doing chuck wagon work,” says
Don. “Now, my true love is the chuck
wagon. We bring it and set up right in
your yard and cook right there with our
pots. Everything is from scratch.”
The beginning of chuck wagons
can be traced to Texas rancher Charlie
Goodnight, who in 1866 fabricated
the ﬁrst chuck wagon from surplus
Studebaker wagons he purchased from
the U.S. Army. He rebuilt the wagon to
include a chuck box that housed utenphoto courtesy of Don Collop
sils, tools, a fold-out counter used for
Don Collop poses in front of his Peter-Schuttler farm wagon at the Old Threshers
food preparation and several drawers
Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. He converted it to a chuck wagon similar to what was
and shelves. The wagon had a canvas
used on cattle drives during the 19th century. Don and his wife, Evelyn, offer chuck
top and a “possum belly,” a rawhide
wagon services to festivals, schools and gatherings throughout the Midwest.
pouch on the bottom to hold wood
To contact Don about the Missouri Cowboy Poets Association, chuck wagon services
or to speak at an event, call 660-434-6519
or e-mail ﬂyingte@marktwain.net.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - February 2013
Rural Missouri - February 2013
Table of Contents
A lasting tribute
Preparing for the worst
Out of the Way Eats
Our history with Missouri’s future leaders
Hearth and Home
The cowboy way of life
Rural Missouri - February 2013
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