Sunday, June 10, 2012


One of the primary missions of this blog is to run our known and unknown heroes up the flagpole so all may know of their greatness and forever be inspired by their example. One such man was Carroll Shelby.

When Carroll Shelby recently passed, Texas lost an iconic and irreplaceable native son, but found solace that his legacy and legend will live on. Some have offered that Ol’ Shel was a real frontiersman in the style of Davy Crockett, that he wasn’t all hat and no cattle – he was the real deal. Indeed, he was and then some. Seemingly, he wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody…

When Carroll’s passing was announced I was struck that at least in his initial obituaries no mention was made of the one aspect of his life that probably touched the most people - Chili. Yes, everybody knows about the race car driver and automotive genius that designed and built high-powered "muscle cars" that eventually evolved into the Shelby Cobra and the Mustang Shelby GT500. When I was a college freshman without a ride in 1962 I remember drooling over the Shelby Cobra where on the racing circuit Shelby proved that he could do more with less – a lesson we really embrace in the 21st century.

It was all uphill from there and we need not expound on his greatness in that arena since it’s so well documented. Even the uninitiated can Google him or go straight to Wikipedia to gain at least a partial insight into this man. His fans are legion and no doubt the internet will be exploding further with information about the life of Carroll Shelby.

 Ironically, in what unfortunately appears to be a good/bad case of timing, “Carroll Shelby: The Authorized Biography” by Rinsey Mills is being released as we offer this post and so now we have the unvarnished account - the behind the story history of his life – all from the horse’s mouth. We understand that it’s a challenging read and I will be attacking it soon.

The daunting task of unraveling and defining the life of the man we know as Carroll Shelby was that he was so many things to so many different people – all around the world. He had literally been there, done that and learned lessons that would not only serve him well, but provide inspiration for generations of Americans. After saying that, his close Friends tell us that his needs and motivation were incredibly simple – Family, Friends and the love of a good time, including that (ta-da) perfect bowl of red. While he would assure us that he was just a man, he was the ultimate risk taker, witness his heart (1990) and kidney (1996) transplants. If you can fathom a man with a congenital heart problem who in his last few races driving with a nitroglycerin tablet under his tongue, well, you get the drift.

Aside from all his other accomplishments Shelby was one of the Original Terlingua Chiliheads and ultimately that may be one of his greatest legacies. So, how did that happen and how did the whole Terlingua Chili phenomenon start? Given that there is so much misinformation floating around on this topic, we thought to take this opportunity to set the record straight by piecing together some of the highlights of the true story as best as we can by including personal recollections/experiences of this writer and testimony from some of the few remaining credible sources. Seems like when anyone tells (or tries to tell) this story they tweak it and add/subtract so the truth becomes that elusive butterfly. I have no vested interest in any outcome or version, save the truth of it all

Note that this is not a meant to be a definitive history of Terlingua and we certainly are not striving to demean the many contributions of others who were and remain part of the Chilihead Kingdom. Having said that we do understand in this highly charged politically-correct environment and on a subject so close to the hearts of all Texans, we may be stirring the pot. So be it and note that no like-minded descendants of H. Allen “Soupy” Smith need respond unless they just want to have some fun.

We point anybody interested to a great article written by Ranger Bob Ritchey of Garland, Texas, Nobody Knows More About The Original Chili Cook-Offs Than I Do which details the early, formative years of the Texas Chilidom evolution. For a website that has several reliable sources on this subject including Ranger Bob Ritchey’s article, please surf on over to -

For Shelby it started with his love of racing and friendship with Dave Witts a local Dallas attorney who in 1963 purchased some land in south Texas including a little almost ghost town called Terlingua. Shelby got involved and soon they were dba the Terlingua Ranch Land and Cattle Company which some report was ultimately more than 200,000 acres that made up what they called and still exists as the Terlingua Ranch, formerly the Cherokowa Ranch. After that purchase (Shelby bought his land from Witts) they devoted time and money trying to figure out what to do with this beautiful part of the remote Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend Country. They had a lot of fun with the property roughly concurrent with the formation of Shelby’s Terlingua Racing Team.

Witts along with a group of his close comrades that included, partner Shelby, Tom Tierney (1931-2001), David E Davis, Jr. and lifelong Friend and automotive artist without peer Bill Neale (good ole boys all) would go down to Terlingua and just hang out for several days doing guy stuff including deer hunting, riding dirt bikes, drinking and eating a lot of chili. We assume they may have even slept some. This bunch was joined by some distinguished characters including Wick Fowler (1909-1972) of Two Alarm Chili fame and Frank X Tolbert (1912–1984), the “Godfather of Texas Chili” – writer for the Dallas Morning News column Tolbert’s Texas and the author of the now seminal A Bowl of Red first published in 1966. They were Chiliheads all and from this point the chili pot started to simmer

A couple of “outsiders” were later involved including (briefly) David Chasen (1898-1973) of Hollywood restaurant and chili fame and prominently Harry Allen Wolfgang Smith aka H. Allen Smith (1907-1976), Yankee acerbic author of the now infamous Holiday magazine article entitled "Nobody Knows More about Chili than I Do" and the all too willing “wink and nod” foil for the initial Terlingua Chili Cook-off. We think Smith a great tongue-in-cheek humorist (funny, funny guy) and integral to this whole chili thing though at one point he apparently didn’t know when to stop his antics and come down to earth thus earning his well-deserved curmudgeon status. Allen “Soupy” Smith came…. and he stayed – moving from Mount Kisco, New York and buying a house only 84 miles from Terlingua in nearby Alpine, Texas in 1967. Some have said that he wanted to stay close to the font of Chilidom. A special collection of H. Allen’s papers have a home at Sul Ross State University in Alpine proving that he respected and revered his adopted Texas home or persnickety to the last he wanted to forever be a pest. We believe the former.

There were more august Texas personalities to come including native Texan C. V. Woods (1920–1992) who is best remembered for becoming the first untied, two-time World Champion winning the 1969 International Chili Society (ICS) / Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) Championship and the 1971 International Chili Society (ICS) World Championship and to a lesser degree for building Disneyland and moving London Bridge to Arizona.

Now much of this Texas Chili Madness evolved from the formation of the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) conceived and organized by George Haddaway (1909-1998) of Flight Magazine, Civil Air Patrol, Wings of Hope, et al fame and Bell Helicopter spokesman James C. Fuller as early as 1946. Frank X Tolbert (as has been erroneously reported many, many times), did not found CASI though was an active member of this non-dues paying loosely organized group. We don’t know when the Chili Madness gripped Tolbert though as researched and reported by Ranger Bob, Tolbert only started to mention Chili in his Dallas Morning News column with some regularity starting around 1960.

Contrary to most published reports the first, ever, World Chili Championship was not in Terlingua, rather was held at the Texas State Fair in Dallas on October 5, 1952. Tolbert never even referenced or mentioned the competition though he covered the State Fair for the Morning News that year. Dallasite Joe. E. Cooper (1895-1952), ex-newspaper man, organized the Chili Cook-off to help promote his newly published book on Chili, With or Without Beans - An Informal Biography of Chili. We need note that this Chili Cooking World Championship sin frijoles was won by Mrs. F. G. Ventura of Dallas. Then in unprecedented fashion and unlike the comings and goings and gasps of the three current world championships, successfully defended her title for fifteen years! Her recipe was declared the "Official State Fair of Texas Chili Recipe." Sidebar: Ventura never competed at Terlingua, Cooper never mentions CASI in his book and he died the month after the 1952 State Fair championship. Tolbert does mention Cooper in his Dedication of A Bowl of Red reflecting admiringly that Cooper’s With or Without Beans was the Bible of CASI and that he wished that Cooper, “had lived to join the CASI.”

As related to Tolbert, it was those Chili friendships (which apparently did not intimately include Cooper and Ventura) forged within CASI that allowed Frank to run with the Chili Pot and we speculate publicly probably from the late 1950’s. Having said that we note that while A Bowl of Red was initially published in 1966 by Doubleday there are two previous copyrights cited – 1953 and 1962 - indicating this had long been a work in progress.

So, as august as Tolbert was in this whole effort he was not the only font from which all Chili blessings flowed. Other Texas Chili Movers & Shakers included PR guy extraordinaire Tom Tierney and the aforementioned Dave Witts who like Tolbert was a Chilihead and member Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI). The table was set...

Witts had been the “Assistant Cook” to CASI Chief Cook & Champion Wick Fowler and had been the host of myriad chili functions in Dallas from the late 1950's. Needless to say, like attracted like, and soon there was a small chili army. Tolbert's Texas of April 20, 1964 announced that Witts had christened Terlingua "The Chili Capital of the World" and we can surmise from that point became the heart of Chilidom. Witts had land to sell, was setting the hook and we feel the key to the whole evolution of Chilidom. It grew quickly from that point helped by Tierney’s touch, Tolbert’s scholarship and the desire of a hungry public to know more. CASI gave Witts, Shelby & Company a much needed degree of legitimacy and intended or not Terlingua gave CASI and all Chilidom a much needed kick in the rear.

Witts went to the extent of even printing up stationary for the ghost City of Terlingua and appointed many of his Friends and Chili luminaries to important (though fictitious) posts to include, among others, Frank X Tolbert as Water Commissioner; George Haddaway as Airport Manager, appropriately Carroll Shelby as Social Director; Thomas J. Tierney as Chief Justice of the Municipal Court, Bill Neale as Director of the Museum of Modern Art which we note was/is a two-hole wooden privy over a mine shaft behind the Chisos Saloon and Wick Fowler as Chief Chili Head. Witts appropriately styled himself as Terlingua’s Mayor. There were many, many more co-conspirators so honored. My Dad knew many of them given his pedigree with the Dallas Times Herald and fact he owned The Town Tavern, a popular watering hole in downtown Dallas. As Ranger Bob reminds us, this was three years before the first Terlingua Cook-off. If all these folks hadn’t been on the same page, they were now. The table was set and the diners at their places, well most of them.

Concurrent with this was the evolution of the aforementioned Terlingua Racing Team and their heraldic Texas (Bad) Jackrabbit with raised right paw (“No more peppers in my chili please!!!”) that was soon displayed (voluntarily or not) at many racing and street venues as early as 1964 via what some have called “guerilla marketing”. This was also the crest Witts used for the City of Terlingua. Some noted the 1860 on the team’s crest and assumed an automotive pedigree though it was the very talented Bill Neale’s tongue-in-cheek reference to memorialize the date of a fictitious mercury (cinnabar) ore wagon race down the streets of Terlingua. No, it never happened… Shelby admitted later that they were a bunch of rebellious hot-rodders and mavericks thumbing their noses at the racing establishment. Neale later admitted that the Bad Rabbit logo was to, “make fun of Ferrari’s prancing stallion crest.” We note that the Terlingua Racing Team won the 1967 Trans-Am championship. They became what they initially ridiculed

1966 rolls in and Tolbert was once again walking the halls of the publishing world and specifically the environs of Doubleday, the publisher of A Bowl of Red. With its release Tolbert was now a Chili Celebrity not just in Texas but around the country. On the occasion of a visit to New York and Doubleday’s headquarters he was presented a letter from the aforementioned Yankee humorist H. Allen Smith who took exception to Tolbert’s pedigree, his Chili and by extension the whole State of Texas. Smith later penned his now infamous Holiday magazine article entitle, “Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do” and rocketed from just a burr under Tolbert’s saddle to a pain in the butt who sullied the honor of Texas. Something had to be done

Several things were happening concurrent with all this activity. Shelby, Witts, Tierney, Neale and company as early as 1964 were collaborating on strategies to sell their Terlingua playground. Shelby and Neale give Tom Tierney all the credit for dreaming up the idea to have a Chili Cook-off though he was apparently inspired by Bill Neale’s and David Witts’ evening Chili fetes in the early 1960’s. Bill Neale admitted much later that, "We never meant to have more than one cook-off. We figured we'd have a big party, some fun, and get a lot of publicity. It was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It was in Sports Illustrated. It was in a lot of publications. This was due to Tom's influence that he had as PR guy for Ford."

Now Tierney and Tolbert were the focus of the proposed cook-off that would pit Texan Wick Fowler, the CASI Chief Cook against any pretender. Everybody was on board and contributing including Tierney who was keeping Tolbert abreast of the think tank occupied by Shelby, Witts, Neale and Company. While Smith seemed to be the perfect choice for a cook-off Tolbert’s recent excursion to Los Angeles and a sampling of Chasen’s Hollywood chili (adored by Elizabeth Taylor) prompted the selection of David Chasen to uphold the honor of the rest of the world. That was all but a done deal especially given the Shelby California connection.

While Tolbert and others are apparently willing to accept the sole credit for masterminding the first chili cook-off, we need to recognize that there were a lot of people occupying the same space and all thinking along the same lines – at the same time. There were a harmony of ideas springing up from two main sources – The Shelby Terlingua Group and the CASI generally led by Tolbert – and for different reasons (later). We prefer to give credit to the lot including Shelby, Tierney, Tolbert, Neale and especially Witts who first identified Terlingua as, “The Chili Capital of the World” as early as 1964. All the rest was segue from there…

Carroll Shelby in a 2008 interview with Jerry Heasley for Mustang Monthly sets the record straight when he commented on the disposition of his Terlingua property, “All right, then we (Witts and Shelby) decided to sell it. So, Tom Tierney, a former Ford PR man, said to give him a couple weeks. And he came back and said, 'We're going to have the world's first championship chili cook-off in Terlingua. The only people who can come are from the press, and all they can bring is their sleeping bag and a toothbrush.” So, there is no, “some say” that Tierney came up with the idea. This is a definitive slam dunk, from the horse’s mouth, like it or not…

No doubt that Tierney collaborated with Tolbert witness Shelby’s 2007 comment in an LA Times interview with Sam Blair, “"Dave (Witts) went to Tom Tierney, who had done PR for Ford in Dallas, and Tom came up with the chili cook-off. Frank X. Tolbert of the Dallas Morning News (author of 'A Bowl of Red') got involved and did a great job for us. Tolbert and Tierney ran with the ball.

As the Good Lord would have it – divine intercession, aye – Chasen became ill and waiting in the wings was (Eureka!) none other than H. Allen Smith who was the perfect choice especially given his loud mouth and recent Holiday Magazine article declaring himself, " . . . the greatest chili cook in the world, bar none." His vitriol now appears suspect and the contrivance to elicit an invitation. It worked though in his acceptance he declined the invitation, called Texas Chili mud puddin’ and labeled his potential adversary Wick Fowler as, “trash.” Way to make friends and influence people.

In his second edition of A Bowl of Red Tolbert states that after Chasen got sick only weeks before the 1967 competition, “As if by a miracle a contender of the Chasen class appeared. He was H. Allen Smith…” In a confusing bit of literary license and timeline gone awry it would appear that Tolbert knew of Smith well before his Holiday magazine article though he insinuates otherwise. Witness Smith’s 1966 letter to Tolbert delivered to Doubleday shortly after the release of the first edition Tolbert’s A Bowl of Red. Needless to say, Smith was well known to Tolbert and always there and ready to rip the top off some Texas chili pots…

Reality Check: As has been reported in some circles - Tolbert and Fowler did not conceive this event by themselves, rather joined the ever evolving fray when it became obvious that it served their individual interests and offered a chance to have some fun. If Witts and Shelby hadn’t bought the Terlingua property - none of this would have happened. If Tolbert hadn’t written A Bowl of Red or penned Tolbert’s Texas in the Dallas Morning News or H. Allen Smith responding as he did, or Tierney and Tolbert collaborating as they did or Tierney who got his directions from Shelby and Witts not being spot-on with his calculations and Witts’ timing designating Terlingua as the Chili Capital of the World – then the farce, the joke, the controversial cook-off that would settle absolutely nothing – would never have happened. For most of the original Terlingua Group this was just another excuse to have a good time.

Bottom Line: The idea for the Terlingua Chili Cook-off not so innocently started as a lighthearted vehicle for Shelby and Witts to market their Terlingua holdings (Shelby’s “ten thousand acres of rocks” in south Texas) and for Tolbert to hawk his A Bowl of Red and feed his love for chili, defend the honor of the State of Texas and to provide fodder for his Tolbert’s Texas column. Hurrah, Hurrah – Surprise, Surprise - it all stuck and became the huge charitable crusade (times three) it is today – and promoting chili in the process.

So, the initial Terlingua Chili Cook-Off was promoted by Shelby-Witts & Company with the aforementioned ministrations of PR guru Tom Tierney and initially co-sponsored by the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) under the watchful eye of Frank Tolbert.

In its first (and was contemplated to be the only) year the chili cook-off between Smith and Fowler and refereed by none other than Frank Tolbert was a farcical mano a mano, single combat, burner-to-burner, winner take all publicity stunt that despite the tie turned out to be everything they hoped for – and more. The 1968 Terlingua Championship was the same song, different verse. Little did they know what was in store for them.

Showman C. V. Woods won the Terlingua Championship in 1969 as the competition widened and became more inclusive. Contrary to popular belief, Tolbert was not the anti-femme purist depicted by many, rather he extended invitations to worthy female contestants and enforced the rules, such as they were. Tolbert even went to the extent of arranging a venue for a Ladies Texas Cook-Off so they could qualify for Terlingua.

1970 seemed to be the year of indecision for Terlingua and given the absence of any formal CASI offering or involvement, the group calling itself the International Chili Society (ICS) which had already been founded and organized by Carroll Shelby with its own constitution and bylaws, formally sanctioned and sponsored the cook off that year. So, why did Shelby form the ICS? Well, we really don’t know but conjecture that by this time the obvious potential economic benefits of this whole Chili Thang became real. Perhaps Shelby anticipated an ultimate separation from CASI and this was prudent strategy and good insurance. Perhaps it was something else entirely? Those in the real know are all gone now and Shelby was discreet enough not to rumple feathers and chose to occupy the forefront of this fray. Perhaps Shelby’s autobiography will reveal the real reason(s). We will explore that avenue.

Mind you the ICS was composed mostly of individuals from the initial group who to this day claim the same pedigree and origins dating from 1967 and perhaps while an optimistic look back, they were all there from the beginning. Appropriately, Wick Fowler of CASI won the championship that year

Now what got the CASI and ICS sideways with each other isn’t a mystery to this writer especially when we noted that amidst some juvenile kicking and screaming, this was the first year women were formally allowed to compete witness the uninvited Janice Constantine of Midland, Texas. From this point on both the ICS and the CASI bumped heads, contending for leadership and control over the rules, regulations and ultimate management of the Terlingua championships. In one fell swoop we went from a “guy’s weekend out” to a never contemplated serious competition.

The relationship between the two groups was finally dissolved in 1974 superficially over contest rules and media/advertising issues (Tolbert vs. Woods) with the last straw being the absolutely sincere, sexist reaction of some (apparently mostly ICS folks) to Allegani Jani “Hot Pants” Schofield’s victory that year – the first woman ever to win The World Championship at Terlingua. Reaction was swift and lightning rod, eye-of-the-storm Frank Tolbert invited Woods to take his chili pot to California. Woods did just that and the ICS group as one of the now “three Chili majors” also took the title of, "World Championship Chili Cook-Off" with them. Oops! While apparently justified it was like inviting the Statue of Liberty to leave Liberty Island.

Now just to make sure that the issue is as confounding and confusing as they could make it, a disgruntled group within the CASI in 1983 confronted Tolbert, took him to court, ousted him and won the rights to the title, "Chili Appreciation Society International" and "CASI". The chili pot was absolutely boiling… and Terlingua lost a lot of its luster.

Tolbert not to be dissuaded (only a year before his death in 1984) optimistically adopted the name “The Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cook-off” what we now call the “behind the store” bunch. Then with the passing of Fowler and Tolbert that competition was appropriately renamed the Original Terlingua International Frank X. Tolbert - Wick Fowler Memorial Championship Chili Cookoff, Inc. (OIFXTWFMCCCI - whew!). Of course, they also trace their beginnings to 1967. The OFIXTWFMCCCI event proceeds benefit the South Texas Chapter of the ALS Association. ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) claimed Wick Fowler in 1972.

Thereafter, there have been two World Championship Chili Cook-offs in Terlingua in November with the CASI and the OIFXTWFMCCCI putting on their laudable shows nearby while in October the ICS has celebrated their equally impressive World Championship Chili Cook-Off at various venues to include the upcoming 2012 event to be held in Charleston, West Virginia.

So, what the hell has all this got to do with Carroll Shelby? Well, such as it was, he was the one along with close confidantes Witts, Tierney and Neale (and we are sure – a few others) who along with Tolbert came up with the idea for the Chili Cook Off and was the glue that held this whole thing together - OK the idea. It was Carroll Shelby who provided the motivation/raison d’etre and then turned it into a charity event. He was judge, confidante, the Chili Shaker and Mover who by reputation alone and deliberate or not was the puppet master.

We sure don’t know the level of friendship that Shelby, Fowler and Tolbert enjoyed following the exodus of ICS though he and Witts owned the Terlingua Ranch site at least until the early 1970’s. It was then when Shelby and company sold the enterprise to Great Western Corporation who in turn transferred the assets of the company to the present developer, Terramar Corp in 1976. They continue to capitalize on Terlingua’s history and especially encourage those annual Chili pilgrimages.

Despite all this controversy the always optimistic and sometimes diplomatic Carroll Shelby took the high road even when it came to chili with or without beans: "The beauty of chili to me is that it's really a state of mind," he says. "It's what you want when you make it. You can put anything in there you want, make it hot or mild, any blend of spices you feel like at the time. You make it up to suit your mood." Amidst all the viscera about the origins and components of real Chili comes the voice of reason.

No doubt Shelby still had strong feelings about the backbone of chili and at the 1972 Terlingua cook off, introduced his own chili preparation mix called the Carroll Shelby’s Original Texas Brand Chili Mix humbly packaged in a brown paper bag (see photo above). Shelby manufactured the Chili Mix in his plant just north of Dallas in McKinney, Texas. The brand did quite well and according to Shelby they, “Got to be the biggest chili mix makers in the US.” Carroll Shelby sold his Chili Mix to Kraft Foods in 1986. It apparently outsold Wick Fowler’s Two-Alarm Chili Mix which had been on the market as early as 1964.

Reily Foods Company of New Orleans, Louisiana and of Luzianne coffee and tea products fame purchased Carroll Shelby’s Original Texas Brand Chili Mix from Kraft Foods in 1991 adding it to their stable of food products which ironically now also includes Wick Fowler’s Two-Alarm Chili Mix. We note that the Shelby packaging has been changed to a box and it`s been purported by some old timers that the recipe has also been revised, too. We haven’t tasted it lately, so can’t comment now though others relate that the recipe remains spot on. Maybe it was the brown paper bag that could also double as a cover for a Pearl or Lone Star?

So why all the controversy? Probably egos, politics and control/territorial issues (my sandbox and mine is bigger than yours?) and/or the reaction to the predictable evolution of what was nothing more than a fun weekend into a serious, open competition for the ultimate holy grail – supremacy of Chilidom. We certainly don’t know who cooked up the controversy but note as one blogger recently opined, “Anybody who likes chili can't be all bad.” That means we have every incentive to get along and embrace our common taste buds, beans or not… As one well-known CASI Chilihead said several years ago, “In the end, it isn't even really about chili. It's about folks getting together." We understand that in this spirit all three events will be memorializing Shelby and extending their gratitude to him for his vision, charitable conscience and humanity.

So, who do I like? Well, I admire all of them and respect their mission and charities. The Behind the Store (BtS) Gang, though, appears more in my wheelhouse and demeanor. Aside from those few that still choose to throw missiles at and trash-talk other organizations, we wish them all well. There’s room for everybody.

Thanks Carroll. Thanks Dave. Thanks Frank. Thanks Wick. Thanks H. Allen. They are now all eating out of the same Chili Pot in the sky. Sorry Allen, beans on the side, please


Ned Buxton

PS: Several days after this post I was pulled over by the Plano, Texas Police and told that I had a brake taillight out. No ticket – no warning, just that I had a brake light out. I immediately made my way to my favorite Auto Zone on Springvalley Road in Dallas and purchased some new bulbs. With the loan of a screwdriver I installed some new, brighter, better bulbs and was like new or at least legal. As I was working on the lights a snappy, being restored iconic sports car pulled up for (what I learned later) its daily fan perusal. It was a 1962 Shelby Cobra (deep black with two white stripes) and owned by a nice guy named Eli. Ahhh, life is good… Aye, NB

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