Now in it’s 14th year, the annual Pioneer Days Festival returns Friday and Saturday at the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum, on the northwest corner of Lake Pat Cleburne off U.S. 67. Parking and admission is free. The event runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 8:30 a.m. to dusk Saturday.
Pioneer Days has long since become a Cleburne holiday season tradition, Johnson County Heritage Foundation Chairman David Murdoch said.
“Well, we always have it the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving,” Murdoch said. “So a lot of people are in town visiting family, and a lot of people come in from outside the county too. It’s just a great family, community event with a bit of history and a lot of fun and good times.
“I think for a lot of families Pioneer Days has become a tradition they look forward to every year and something fun to do before they get into the busyness of Thanksgiving week and then on into the Christmas season.”
This year promises to be bigger than ever, Murdoch said.
“Because, in addition to Pioneer Days this year, we’re also celebrating the 150th anniversaries of both the Chisholm Trail and of Cleburne,” Murdoch said, “something we’ve partnered with the [Cleburne Chamber of Commerce] on.”
Cleburne Chamber President Cathy Marchel promised something for everyone at this year’s event.
“Pioneer Days has been such a wonderful event from its first year to now and one that quickly grew into a major event many look forward to every year,” Marchel said. “So the chamber has always supported and promoted it.
“But this year, with two very special anniversaries, we’re very excited to partner with David and his crew to add the sesquicentennial celebrations of Cleburne and the Chisholm Trail’s anniversaries to all the other fun, cool events that people look forward to at Pioneer Days.”
Robert McMinn, who serves as coordinator of Pioneer Days, agreed.
“It’s always been a fun event and this year will be that and even more so given the extra celebration for the two anniversaries,” McMinn said. “You know, it’s just fun. We get a lot of the school kids out on Fridays though we get families and grown ups too. But then we get all the families on Saturday, a lot from here and a lot coming into Cleburne.
“And it’s history, a chance to learn about our history in a hands on and fun way. The trend now is to try to get rid of a lot of our history and pretend it never happened. But our past and our history, good and bad, is something kids, and adults, need to know about.”
Pioneer Days fan favorites Terry’s Texas Rangers and the Ghosts of Buzzard Flats Gunfighters return.
“They’ve been with us since the first event and everybody always looks forward to seeing them,” Murdoch said. “Terry’s Texas Rangers will be firing cannons off about every hour and the Ghosts will be staging gunfights throughout both days.
“We’ll also have several mountain men, lots of food vendors and a few longhorns out here.”
Buttermilk Junction, which Murdoch describes as an acoustic ensemble with a harpsichord and other old timey instruments, and Clayton Read, an old time cowboy singer from Rio Vista, will provide musical entertainment.
“We’ll have that, Indian dancers and bagpipe players who will be going around playing here and there both days,” McMinn said. “There will be plenty of arts and crafts, local honey and the game warden’s coming out to set up a display. That’s not to mention all the attractions of the outdoor museum.”
The museum, which is overseen by the Johnson County Heritage Foundation, celebrates the history of Johnson County. Among other permanent structures and displays are the county’s original courthouse, a one-room schoolhouse, a working blacksmith shop, a jail and other attractions.
The museum’s most recent major attraction, the Big Bear Native American Museum, opened in 2014.
The museum grew out of a gift from former Grandview resident Leonard “Big Bear” Beal, who passed away in 2012. Beal collected more than 2,000 Native American artifacts throughout his life, which are now part of the Big Bear Museum’s permanent collection.
“Big Bear has been one of our most popular attractions,” McMinn said. “And it’s a growing collection. We have several new displays this year that those who haven’t been out since last year’s Pioneer Days might be excited to see.”
Big Bear is the CTOM’s sole attraction to charge a fee.
“But, during Pioneer Days, admission is $1 off,” Murdoch said. “So, for both days, it will be $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and $1 for students.”
In celebration of the anniversary of the Chisholm Trail, a cattle drive will be held on Saturday morning, Murdoch said.
“We’ll have professionals herding the cattle,” Murdoch said. “But people can ride in the drive too. The cost of that is $50 a rider or, for $25, they can ride on a hay wagon behind the drive.”
Other events throughout both days will mark both the Chisholm Trail and Cleburne’s anniversaries, Murdoch and Marchel said.
“We’ve always gotten a good crowd for this,” Murdoch said. “Weather drives it to some degree but even when we’ve had bad weather years turnout has been strong. We had about 4,500 last year and you see returning faces and a lot of people saying this is their first time. But this year looks good weather wise and it’s a special year because of the anniversaries so we’re hoping to see plenty of people out here.”
For information on Pioneer Days and other CTOM events, visit jcchisholmtrail.com.