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Off-beat pageant showcases frontier skills

Miss Frontier Texas 2015 Savannah Richardson with Jeff Salmon, executive director of Frontier Texas museum
Miss Frontier Texas 2015 Savannah Richardson with Jeff Salmon, executive director of Frontier Texas museum
Four years ago, Jeff Salmon (’91), executive director for Frontier Texas, asked Abilene Christian University’s student-run advertising agency Morris & Mitchell to come up with an idea to help promote the history museum.
The result was a novel scholarship pageant for local college women called Miss Frontier Texas. It is billed as a competition for “women who prefer denim to diamonds, leather saddles to leather seats, and who believe that there’s nothing wrong with a woman that’s got a little mud on her boots.”
Savannah Richardson, sophomore nursing major from Graham, Texas, captured the 2015 title, along with a $4,000 scholarship, a cowboy-hat tiara and a pair of custom-made boots. Two of the previous winners have been from Abilene Christian, Hailey Wilkerson in 2012 and Sarah Bishop in 2013. The 2014 winner, Jamie Chitty, was from McMurry University in Abilene.
Richardson said she was researching scholarship opportunities when she came across the competition, but that wasn’t her main reason to sign up. “The whole thing, with its unique activities like rifle shooting, camping out and chuck wagon cooking, just looked like a blast to be a part of, scholarship money or not,” she said.
The experience did not disappoint her.
“It’s been such a blessing to me to meet all the girls and make all these close relationships,” she said. In fact, Richardson and one of her fellow competitors became such good friends they plan to be roommates in the fall.
Contestants get a target-shooting lesson.
Rachel Mallory gets a target-shooting lesson from gun expert Michael McCormick. American bison were often hunted on the frontier using .50-caliber rifles.
During the 3 1/2-month competition, Richardson and 14 other contestants faced such challenges as roping a calf, hitting a target with a .50-caliber rifle, chopping wood, washing clothes outside using a washboard and cooking a meal over an open fire. The pioneer cooking challenge was Richardson’s favorite.
“We had to cook pork chops and brown gravy in a cast iron skillet and blueberry cobbler in a Dutch oven,” Richardson said. “While I had researched Dutch oven cooking, I never got the chance to practice it beforehand. I remember going to get different sizes of wood to make my fire and thinking, ‘I have no clue what I’m doing!’
“It was amazing, because during the cooking challenge, Pam [Thomas], the museum educator, would walk around our stations and give us all the advice and answers we needed. She even ran to add water to my gravy when it was burning. So the cooking segment was not only a competition, but also a full out, enjoyable learning experience that I will cherish forever.”
Madison Shaw (left) and Savannah Richardson are ready for the overnight frontier life challenge.
Madison Shaw (left) and Savannah Richardson are ready for the overnight frontier life challenge.
The idea behind the pageant, said Salmon, “was to create something that could have the intensity and drama of a reality television program.”
As Frontier Texas staff and Morris & Mitchell students started creating a series of events for the competition, they realized it would be a great opportunity to engage the participants at a level not often found in traditional academic settings, Salmon said. “We wanted to give participants deep, academic and emotional knowledge of life on the Texas frontier,” he explained.
So in addition to the frontier challenges, contestants are required to learn about Texas history and demonstrate what they know.
The result has been exactly what Salmon had hoped: increased publicity for the museum, which serves as the official visitor center for Abilene and the Texas Forts Trail Region, along an increased appreciation for a colorful era of Texas history by participants and onlookers alike.
The project also served as a great learning experience for students in the Mitchell & Morris agency, allowing them to work with real clients in a professional setting.
“Miss Frontier Texas has been the ideal project, providing the opportunity to move through a classic marketing communications scenario,” said Joyce Haley (’04), faculty advisor for Morris & Mitchell. “From being presented with a client problem, to developing a big idea and creating a complete brand identity to implementing a media event, this project had it all.”
Starting a fire the old-fashioned way - no matches.
Katy Westerlage starts a fire the old-fashioned way – no matches allowed.
Yvette Torres shows off her roping skills.
Yvette Torres displays her roping skills.
Mariana Cedillo takes on the firewood relay.
Mariana Cedillo takes on the firewood relay.