The Elks Lodge in Cortez was filled with cowboy hats and good cheer on Saturday night during the Southwest Colorado Livestock Association banquet.
About 300 people attended this year’s banquet, which came after an all-day meeting with speeches from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and other politicians, as well as reports from the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies of interest to ranchers.
But the banquet’s emphasis was on fun, not politics. Future Farmers of America students from Montezuma County served a steak dinner, guests participated in a fast-paced fundraising auction, and the livestock association’s highest honors, Cowbelle and Stockman of the Year, were awarded to two longtime and popular members.
In addition to the association board of directors, the lodge was crowded with farmers and ranchers from across Southwest Colorado, most of them decked out in fringes, cowboy boots and other Western gear. Although enough people attended to fill almost every seat in the banquet room, Don and Jody Schwindt, local farmers who have attended the banquet for decades, said it was less crowded than usual.
“These tables are usually so close together you can hardly move between them,” Don Schwindt said.
But those who did attend represented many of the big names in Montezuma County. All three Montezuma County commissioners were on the guest list, and commissioner Larry Don Suckla helped perform the live auction after the banquet.
Several local businesses, such as Dove Creek Implement and Ute Coffee Shop, donated door prizes to be given away during the banquet. Chris Jeter won this year’s Cowbelle quilt, which sports the brands of all the Southwest ranches.
But the biggest prizes, a jug of whiskey, a Navajo rug, a rocking horse and a bench made by a local FFA chapter, sold for hundreds of dollars during the live auction, with the proceeds going to fund agriculture scholarships.
The night’s main event was the presentation of the Cowbelle and Stockman of the Year awards. The two winners, Bunny McComb and Al Heaton, both successful farmers and longtime members of the livestock association, received thunderous applause and plenty of congratulations from friends and family members who attended.
“Did we fool you?” Vice President Wayne Rogers asked Heaton after giving him the award.
Heaton is the association’s voting secretary, but he said the honor was still a “complete surprise.”
A silent auction, with donated items ranging from saddles to children’s toys, went on throughout the night. But right after the award presentation, it was time to clear away the dinner tables for a dance, set to the honky-tonk music of the Colorado band The Vanishing Breed.