ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — Cowboys and cattle dominated the West Texas landscape for some time, and for the last 40 years, Hardin-Simmons University (HSU) has preserved this history. 

On Thursday, the annual Western Heritage Day gave over 2,000 elementary school students a glimpse of what life was like in the 1800s. 

HSU Director of University Events Cassie Mattern says the driving force behind this event is not just its history, but also the history of those in attendance.   

“It’s so cool to see teachers and students that are bringing their classes saying, ‘I came to this when I was a kid,’ and just to see what the impact has been on the Abilene community,” said Mattern.  

Mattern says back in 1981 this tradition was born out of faculty members, one being Dr. George Newman.

“Every one of these exhibits is authentic to what life used to be 100 years ago, or even 30 years ago now,” said Dr. Newman.  

These exhibits included a small farm-animal petting area, folk music, dancing, and even livestock branding. Students also had the chance to hear from Texas Buffalo Soldiers from Texas Parks & Wildlife, as well as Western Melodramas & Storytelling.  

“It’s kind of our gift to the community. Teachers in elementary schools teach about Texas and Texas history and they usually build their curriculum around the western heritage, so the things they teach them, they can come and actually see,” said Dr. Newman.  

Newman says after all these years, he takes pride in seeing the kids interact and get the full experience on what life was like on the trail.  

“Now that I’m not responsible for any of it, I just enjoy it. If they want to take a picture with me, I enjoy that, so it’s just great. I’m just kind of a curated exhibit,” said Dr. Newman.  

Even after 40 years, Mattern says HSU is looking forward to creating new memories for kids to come in the near future.