The fiery death of Big Tex

Big Tex statue at Texas state fair 1956
Big Tex statue at Texas state fair 1956 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, an icon became ashes and dust. Big Tex, the gigantic cowboy who loomed over sixty Texas State Fairs, burned to the ground on Friday morning.

This isn’t about writing or teaching, but it is about Texas, where I grew up and where a lot of my writing still gets set. And the fiery death of Big Tex means something. It’s about the loss of a symbol, the old-fashioned heart of the modern Texas cowboy. Big Tex was, after all, more than just a statue: he was a giant automaton, a huge mechanical marionette, whose Howdy Doody mouth would boom friendly greetings to everyone visiting the Texas State Fair. He was, for many, a protector of the state and its warm-hearted, manly image. His rugged blue jeans and crisp Western work shirt, his huge white hat and equally huge metal belt buckle, his clean cowboy boots — these were not the clothes of a ranch hand but the costume of the modern Texan, still tied to his cattle-drive history but looking out over the modern corporate metropolis of Dallas at the future. His hat tipped casually back on his head, one hand perpetually raised in a friendly howdy and the other arm extended in a welcome: “Come on in, folks.”

The fire seems to have started in his boots and the first signs of smoke came billowing from his hat. (Where else, on both counts?) But Big Tex was clothed in genuine fabric, and it didn’t take long for the whole of him to become consumed. It caught people by surprise, and while we’ve all been trained these days to whip out our phones and our cameras to record every tragedy we come across, people in the foreground of the resulting videos seem stunned. No one is screaming; no one is applauding or shouting “Awesome!” They only stand and point. No one seemed quite sure what to say. In the audio of the emergency radio chatter that plays over some of the YouTube footage of his death, you can hear the dispatcher declare, “777 is out at Big Tex. You got a rather tall cowboy, all his clothes burned off.”

Texas mourns his passing.

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7 thoughts on “The fiery death of Big Tex

  1. ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    [Apologies – it’s just what sprung to mind. M.]

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