ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Junior ranchers and their families moved in and set up tack in preparation for a livestock show this coming Saturday at the West Texas Fair and Rodeo (WTFR). This is the second year they are allowed to set up a day early to cut down on traffic, although not much else has changed in the 125 years since the first fair show was held in Abilene.

“Fairs in general started around livestock and then rodeos, and then started adding more entertainment like the carnivals and midway, and things like that,” said Steve Estes, Taylor County Ag extension agent and WTFR Junior market show Superintendent.

The first West Texas Fair and Rodeo was held in 1897 at Fair Park, now known as Oscar Rose Park. In a time before the world was well-connected, the fair offered a moment for Texans to come together and build community face-to-face. Not to mention, it was a chance to show off their project animals and produce.

Abilene Newspaper Headline in 1922 (Via. Portal to Texas History)

“Folks were able to get together at the fair and its a good time to see each other make new friends, and exhibit their livestock or their crops… Really no different than what we’re still doing today,” Estes said.

That practice lives on in the younger generations of Texans. Ryli Hollis, a 15-year-old from Baird, said she’s been raising and showing cattle since she was just four years old.

“My first show, I showed an Angus up here at the West Texas Fair and Rodeo,” Ryli looked back.

It’s a practice that was passed down to her from her ranching mother, Teri Hollis, who began showing lambs when she was six years old. She pivoted to cattle and told KTAB/KRBC she’s raising them on their family ranch.

“She’s [Ryli] getting to be where she doesn’t need me a lot. She can pretty much handle most of it on her own,” said Hollis.

While the Grand Champion title is the focus for most junior ranchers, the fair and rodeo provides more than just a competition by fulfilling its original purpose as a time to build community.

“We’re able to come together as different cattle ranchers from all over the state and talk about what we were dealing with on our ranches back home,” explained Hollis.

Rylie added how much she’s enjoyed the rodeo, “It’s a blast – we make so many memories that way.”

The next time you find yourself walking down the Midway, consider taking a stroll to the show barn to see where it all began.

“Come over to the First Financial Pavilion or the Guitar Arena, and see some of the livestock shows that are going on,” Estes encouraged. “You’ll watch a little bit and you can figure out how it all works.”

The Youth Jackpot swine show, open-breeding sheep show, and junior steer shows begin Saturday, September 17, at 8:00 a.m. in the First Financial Pavilion.