Cow chip throwing—a tradition, indeed.
A plains exposition with national and international fame, celebrated every April since 1970 in Beaver, Oklahoma, simply because it’s based on the most basic byproduct of life.
The Great Plains stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Ozarks between Canada and Mexico. The pioneers who came in the late 1800s found the untamed environment of limited rainfall, high winds and temperature extremes demanding, even unfriendly. But those were determined people. They had an all-consuming desire to own a plot of land, build a home on it, and raise a family there. Miles from any neighbor or town, their life in that arid region was hard and lonely.
If you grew up on the plains of the Oklahoma Panhandle, you’ll know that trees are few and far between. It’s always been that way. The early settlers came to stake out land claims either side of the Beaver River, which flows west to east midway through the Panhandle. The bitter winters in the open plains created a desperate need of fuel for heating and cooking.
Lacking wood for fires, the buffalo hunters before them found that dried buffalo chips burned satisfactorily. By the time most of the settlers came, the buffalo were gone so they gathered cow chips for fuel and heat. Dry cow chips emitted no odor, burned hot, and gave a clear bright flame with no soot.
Each fall, those hardy people would take their wagons out on the prairie to gather cow chips for the winter. With the whole family along, it became a sport as to who could throw the organic Frisbees into the wagon with the most accuracy. Additionally, a wagonload of chips could be taken into the nearest settlement and traded for food and supplies.
Beaver County is the easternmost of the three counties in the Panhandle. Since 1937, the Cimarron Territory Festival drew a modest crowd each year to Beaver, the county seat. Concerned about attendance, the city fathers met in 1969 to generate ideas. They figured a gimmick was needed to attract more visitors. Apparently a local banker showed up at the meeting “a bit under the weather.” Out of the blue, he said, “We could throw cow chips.”
They glommed onto the idea, and the publisher of the local newspaper, The Herald-Democrat, registered the “World Championship Cow Chip Throw.” In nothing flat, the event had national and international media flogging it, telling an eager public why the straight-talking folks in Beaver, OK, population 1,500, were making a big deal out of throwing cow poop. Celebrities of all stripes wanted a piece of the action (pun intended), particularly politicians (who were right in their element!) One of the festival’s founders got an invite to the Johnny Carson show. Other invitations followed. The competition is like no other and draws contestants from as far away as Australia and Alaska.
Besides the petroleum industry and farming, it’s still cow country so you’ll see lots of big hats if you attend. Chip throwing is the main attraction but there are also book sales and a craft show, a parade, kid’s activities, festival foods, carnival, and all the music—what a hoot!