Story by Sarah Naron
Located in Leon County is the small town of Buffalo, which prides itself on being “The Crossroads of Texas” and welcomes visitors each September for its annual Buffalo Stampede. This year’s event is slated for Friday-Sunday, Sept. 17-19, and is sure to delight attendees of all ages.
“The Buffalo Stampede has been ongoing for over 40 years with the original vision to raise funds for more recreational facilities and a civic center for the community of Buffalo,” explained Karen Helmcamp of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce. “These goals have long ago been met with more goals set for the future of Buffalo.”
According to Helmcamp, this year’s festival will be held in conjunction with a PRCA rodeo on Friday and Saturday night beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Leon County Expo Center.
“Tickets can be purchased for $12 at the gate or $10 in advance from a Leon County 4-H or FFA member,” Helmcamp said. “Saturday night’s rodeo will be followed by a dance with a live band.”
The downtown festivities kick off at 9:30 a.m. Saturday with the Stampede Parade.
“Then, at 10:30 a.m., $5 per person will get you a Chuckwagon Biscuit Breakfast at the expo center,” Helmcamp shared. “Included in the admission is a Kid Stick Rodeo, bouncy houses, a petting zoo, food trucks, live music, and vendors.”
For many individuals of faith, Sunday mornings are reserved for attending church services, and the folks in charge of orchestrating the Stampede are on the same page.
“At 10:30 a.m., there will be a Church in the Dirt service presented by the Cowboy Church of Leon County,” Helmcamp said.
Rounding out the festival will be a Buffalo Pro Rodeo Stampede Extreme performance at 2 p.m.
In the midst of the merriment, Helmcamp recommends that guests take time to appreciate some of the city’s most prized locations, such as the expo center in which the majority of the Stampede events are being held.
“In 2013, after many months of planning and talking, the Leon County Expo Center became a dream come true,” Helmcamp shared. “In the beginning, the county commissioners and local citizens agreed that the expo center would be a positive addition to the county.”
Helmcamp went on to say that one of the main goals of those hoping to establish the facility “was to provide a safe place for our youth to participate in roping events, as well as to bring entertainment to our county.”
Since its inception, the expo center has hosted concerts by performers such as Neal McCoy and Mel Tillis. Helmcamp said that local citizen Parthena VanWay Newsome has been particularly instrumental in arranging for the entertainment.
“In addition, Mrs. Newsome provided funds for the beautiful gated entry to the expo center,” Helmcamp said.
Helmcamp also cited the Buffalo Livestock Market, Inc., as another one of the city’s pertinent landmarks.
According to Helmcamp, the establishments was formed in the latter portion of the 1940s and has remained in uninterrupted operation since 2006, when it was purchased by its current owner, Russ DeCordova.
“He said he had always dreamed of owning a sale barn as his father and grandfather had before him,” Helmcamp shared. “Due to his advancing age, Mr. DeCordova said he never thought his dream would ever happen.”
This changed, however, with a phone call from one of the facility’s previous owners, who helped DeCordova rediscover his ambition.
“He said he probably would not have purchased Buffalo Livestock Marketing if it had not been for his two sons, Cody and Ty,” Helmcamp said. “He said what prompted him to continue is his love for the cattle industry and for people.”
In the present day, sale barns like DeCordova’s are becoming a rarity, having been edged out by the opportunity for cattle sellers and buyers to participate in online and video transactions. DeCordova is determined, however, to keep the old-fashioned way of doing things alive and provide an inside look at the cattle industry to visitors who are curious about it.
“In his enterprise, folks can actually view cattle being sold to buyers for harvest to feed lots and meat markets,” Helmcamp said. “Visitors are welcome to come walk the catwalks and observe the cattle sales.”
The barn also features its own cafe, which is in operation each Saturday beginning at 6 a.m.
“They serve delicious breakfasts and good, old-fashioned lunches,” Helmcamp shared.
DeCordova also welcomes local kindergarten classes on annual field trips.
Helmcamp encouraged any Saturday visitors to Buffalo to drop in and take a look at the unique experiences that Buffalo Livestock Market has to offer.
“Enjoy breakfast or lunch, a walk above the cattle, and an observation of the sale process,” she said.
The business’s primary days of operation are Thursday-Sunday. Cattle sales are held each Saturday at noon. In the event that a major holiday falls on a Saturday, normal operations are halted.
Helmcamp also urged visitors in Buffalo to carve out time to appreciate what she described as “a unique piece of nostalgia located in downtown” – the Lyons Hotel.
“It was built in 1911 following a fire that damaged the first wooden hotel,” Helmcamp explained. “It sits adjacent to where the railroad depot sat until the late 1970s.”
According to Helmcamp, the hotel’s current owner, Wayne Best, was drawn to purchase the hotel due to its historical significance and his desire to revive it from the state of disrepair that it had fallen into.
“He has restored the facility as nearly as possible to the original property,” Helmcamp said.
Best is knowledgeable regarding the history of the hotel and enjoys sharing that knowledge with visitors.
“He said people would ride the train, and when it stopped in Buffalo, they might walk over and have a meal or spend the night,” Helmcamp shared. “Drummers – now known as vendors – would set up shop outside the hotel and take orders for their wares.”
The hotel was also a popular place for farmers who would travel into Buffalo with watermelons for sale.
“Brokers would stay in the hotel during the bidding and selling process,” Helmcamp explained. “When sold, the watermelons would be loaded onto freight cars and shipped to market. The third floor was converted into an office with telephones installed, and someone would raise a window and yell to a broker that he had a call.”
The back yard of the hotel was once home to a water tower, which is evidenced today by four concrete pillars.
“Mr. Best said water could be provided to the hotel via gravity, and thereby provide water for cooking and bathrooms,” Helmcamp said.
Thanks to Ms. Lyon, a former co-owner of the establishment, no guests or local residents went hungry, as she cooked and sold lunches to any interested parties.
“Years ago, when Buffalo was wet and had gambling, local men might come to town and get to partying and just walk over and rent a room for a quarter versus driving their wagons home that night,” Helmcamp said.
In addition to serving as a hotel, the building has also housed a library, an antique store, and a gathering place for the local teenage population.
Today, Mr. Best calls the hotel home and welcomes those interested in learning more about its history, sometimes offering tours of the building.
“He said most recently, a carload of young people drove up pretty late in the evening and he went out to inquire as to their reason for being there,” Helmcamp shared. “They told him they were looking for a Pokemon gem that was supposedly inside his railroad caboose out back. He sent them on their way, but thought this might be interesting to young people today.”
Like many aged buildings, the Lyon Hotel is rumored to be haunted and has even drawn the attention of TV crews specializing in searching for paranormal activity.
“They reported seeing several orbs,” Helmcamp said. “Mr. Best said his children and grandchildren have heard children’s voices and doors opening and shutting over the years. He said it does not scare him, because they seem happy and friendly.”
Located on Commerce St. in downtown Buffalo is the Davis Country Store, which was originally formed as an ag-lime business in the 1970s.
“The current owners, Thomas and Jean Davis, became partners in 1975 and 1989 when the original owners reached retirement age,” Helmcamp shared. “They purchased the business and have been steadily progressing ever since.”
In 2008, the Davises were tapped by Purina to become a Purina Premier Store.
“Mrs. Davis said they were prompted to diversify and add clothing and gifts, mainly due to the changing market,” Helmcamp explained. “She said a lot of the big ranches were being divided, and the cattle industry was in transition. She and her husband, Tommy, wanted a business that would provide a living for their children and grandchildren.”
That goal is one that appears to have been reached, as the establishment is now primarily operated by the Davis’ daughter, Christie, and her husband, Bobby.
“Today, the facility still operates the feed and fertilizer portion, but has added 7,200 square feet and provides quality clothing, toys, home wares, and garden accessories,” Helmcamp said. “It is truly a full-service shopping experience.”
The store also carries a wide selection of items essential to caring for goats and horses, and in the springtime, customers can purchase potted vegetable plants.
“Mrs. Davis said as she and her husband are approaching the retirement age, they feel confident their enterprise will continue to provide a good living for their children and grandchildren,” Helmcamp said.
The Davis Country Store is open Monday-Saturday from 7 a.m.-5 p.m.
Helmcamp also provided information on the town of Buffalo itself.
“It was established in 1872 in preparation for the International and Great Northern Railroad,” she explained. “In 1913, it was incorporated with four square miles.”
Helmcamp described the town as an ideal destination for those seeking “small town relaxation, shopping, and entertainment.
“We have five hotels to accommodate you during your visit,” she added. “Our shopping includes The Screen Door – an upscale consignment shop; Heart and Home – a ladies’ boutique with home accessories; and Davis Country Store, which has full ladies’ and gents’ fashion, as well as home décor and garden and farm amenities. In addition, BoBo’s Nursery provides many plant and garden accessories. If you’re a fan of antiques, we offer Old Town Antiques and Relics.”
Visiting kiddos looking for a place to blow off some steam need not look any further than Shelley Pate Park, which features a splash pad and a playground.
“As far as dining goes, we offer a plethora of restaurants, from Mickey’s Italian and Pizza, several superb Mexican restaurants, Anthony’s Restaurant, The Pharm, and Crawfish Hideaway,” Helmcamp said.
Located around Buffalo are ideal places for families to make memories together in the great outdoors.
“These include the Fort Boggy State Park, which is less than a 30-minute drive,” Helmcamp said. “Lake Limestone Campground and Marina is within 30 minutes of Buffalo. And after less than an hour’s drive, you can experience the Texas State Railroad from Palestine to Rusk. Also within an hour’s drive is the Franklin Wildlife Safari.”
Helmcamp encouraged those searching for “a small town, family-oriented experience” to give Buffalo a try.
“Come on over for an unforgettable small town vacation,” she said.