behind Every great vision there is a visionary. Meet ray reed.
In 1990, the first Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium was held in Glencoe, New Mexico, at the Glencoe Rural Events Center. This “festival to preserve and promote the cowboy way of life” was a vision that musician Ray Reed had been formulating in his mind for some time. Ray, a guitar picker, composer, bandleader, poet, promoter, singer and storyteller extraordinaire, was above all else a cowboy.
Ray was proud of the fact that his family moved west to New Mexico in the early 1900s. Traveling in a covered wagon, the Reed family settled outside of Clovis, New Mexico, and cowboyin’ became a way of life for Ray. He had musical talent both as a singer and a guitar player. Hitching a ride in a boxcar in the 1930s he headed to California where he became part of the music scene in Las Angeles. He also met western swing legend Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys band. He became friends with many of the Playboy band members. When the drug scene took its toll on several of Ray’s California musician friends, he headed back to New Mexico.
Gene Hensley, owner of the racetrack in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico, needed help in promoting his track to the Hollywood institutions and Ray had the right connections. Ray was hired to promote Hensley’s “Little Quarter Horse Track.” Loading his pickup truck with bourbon whiskey and his guitar, Ray went from ranch to ranch recruiting horses for the World’s Richest Quarter Horse race, the All American Futurity. For Ray Reed, the culture of the American Cowboy—music, horses, and the cowboy way of life—became his way of life. In his words,
But it soon seemed to Ray that his beloved culture was disappearing. A man of vision, he wanted a week-long festival highlighting his cowboy culture in the best light possible. Such a festival, he felt, would encourage others and promote and preserve that culture.
In 1989 Ray performed at the Inaugural National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration in Lubbock, Texas. The response he saw there was inspiring. It convinced him that good, fresh entertainment was what people were searching for. But he wanted more out of his festival than what he observed at the Lubbock event. Originally he envisioned Lincoln County, New Mexico, home of outlaw Billy the Kid, cattleman John Chisum and the Lincoln County War, as the setting for his cowboy symposium. Lincoln County was geographically situated in the south central mountains of New Mexico and embraced three distinct cultures responsible for the settlement of the west—Native American, Hispanic and the American Cowboy. He would bring these three distinct cultures together by showcasing the American Cowboy, who would share the stage with Mariachi entertainers and Mescalero Apache tribal members performing their original songs and dances.
Western swing music took center stage in his vision and would be accomplished by bringing in Johnny Gimble and reviving the Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. And to top off this festival honoring the American Cowboy was something near and dear to the cowboy’s stomach, the chuckwagon.
Ray’s dream came to fruition with the financial contributions and backing of current Ruidoso Downs racetrack owner, R. D. Hubbard and Hondo Oil and Gas owner, R. O. Anderson. That, plus the assistance of countless volunteers including R. O.’s cattleman, Sid Goodloe, the first Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium was held at the Glencoe Rural Events Center in 1990.
Since that early beginning, the Symposium has been featured on the Food Channel and outgrew its original site. It was moved to the site of the Ruidoso Downs Race Track & Casino.
Ray Reed passed away in the winter of 1998. He was doing what he loved to do best, promoting the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium on the road in his familiar “winny-bagy” (Winnebago).