Gardner Chuckwagon Dinner
Each summer, hundreds of old friends from throughout the nation travel to Gardner to reminisce about old times and enjoy pleasant camaraderie during the Annual Gardner Chuckwagon Dinner.
The smells of pit-roasted beef and buttered corn-on-the-cob fill the air along with the aromas of baked beans, hot biscuits, potatoes and gravy, strong cowboy coffee, iced tea, lemonade, and homemade pies.
Chuckwagon dinners in the Upper Huerfano River Valley boast a long tradition that began with Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving’s first cattle drive in 1866. It was in this year that Goodnight invented the chuckwagon.
In 1904, ranchers on the upper Huerfano River formed the Cuerno Verde Cattle Association so they could act as a unit in protecting brands, rounding up rustlers, and lobbying government agencies. These stockmen and their hired cowboys branded calves together in the spring, drove their herds together onto the lush pastures atop Greenhorn Mountain in the early summer, and herded their steers to market together in the late fall. The association’s autumn roundups often included more than 10,000 cattle and took up to six weeks to complete. Every morning and every evening during those six weeks, all the riders from outfits large and small ate their meals together around the same chuckwagon.
The open range round-ups ended in the 1930s, and in 1942, the Gardner Methodist Church congregation sponsored the first “official” Chuckwagon Dinner as a fundraiser for the church. Six and a half decades later, aging church members turned over the annual event to Jan and Ray Garcia, who created a non-profit organization. Today, proceeds from the dinner fund scholarships for area students and capital improvements within the entire community.
The actual chuckwagon has since been replaced with a church kitchen and a large underground roasting pit. But, the corn is still boiled over an open flame in cast iron kettles and many of the makeshift picnic tables are supported by hay bales, giving the scene a genuine rustic flavor.
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