Day Trips

The world's largest collection of spurs is almost too big to comprehend.

Day Trips
Photo By Gerald E. McLeod

The world's largest collection of spurs is almost too big to comprehend. During his lifetime, Lloyd Mitchell collected more than 10,000 spurs from around the world. The Coryell Museum and Historical Center in Gatesville displays some of the best examples from the collection, including spurs worn by Jackie Kennedy, Poncho Villa, and Rex Bell.

In 1928, when he was 21 years old, Lloyd Mitchell found a single spur on a ranch where he was working, says his daughter, Mary Katherine Mitchell. He spent the rest of his life looking for a match to that rusted specimen. Family, former students, and friends from nearby Fort Hood added to the collection until the glass showcases filled a 2,000-square-foot warehouse.

"More than collecting, Daddy loved sharing his collection," Mitchell says. "He had his own museum." His collecting branched into sports and Western memorabilia, but spurs were his main interest.

He loved history and often brought his students and friends home to show off his prized possessions. Each item in the collection has a little white paper tag attached by a string with an inventory number and a short description. "He always had a story about everything he collected," she says.

Coach Mitchell was the kind of guy that never met a stranger, his daughter says. "Everybody liked him," she says, "and wanted to send him spurs."

During his lifetime (he died in 1991) Lloyd Mitchell met a lot of people. He was a high school coach 12 years before he and his wife Madge moved to Gatesville in 1944. Besides teaching until 1972, during the summers he was the "public babysitter" at the local swimming pool. He taught the same Sunday school class for nearly 50 years, beginning when the pupils were 12-year-old boys.

Mary Katherine Mitchell says that she was never bitten by the collecting bug, unless you consider the six dogs in the backyard a collection. When she and her five brothers were children, their father and mother would drag them to junk shops and antique dealers around the world. "When we visited Italy, the first word of Italian I learned was spur," she says.

Soon after Lloyd's death, the family gave the bulk of the collection to the county historic society for the museum. "We probably could have purchased several homes if we had sold the collection," Mitchell says with a laugh, "but I know that Daddy would have wanted it to stay in the community and be available to everybody." In response, Gatesville persuaded the Legislature to proclaim them "the spur capital of Texas."

Mitchell says that the pair of English riding spurs that belonged to Jackie Kennedy were a gift from a man stationed at Fort Hood that her father met. "He was from Boston and somehow, by hook or by crook, he got the spurs along with a letter of authenticity when JFK was a congressman," she says.

Prominently displayed under glass, Poncho Villa's spurs came by way of Mitchell's great uncle on her mother's side of the family. He was a civilian member of the Texas Consulate when Villa was captured and somehow got hold of the spurs.

You have to be a fan of old movies to realize the importance of Rex Bell's spurs. A popular Western movie star during the Thirties and Forties, he went on to become lieutenant governor of Nevada. "Rex Bell was Clara Bow's husband," Mitchell says, "You recognize the name Clara Bow don't you?"

Nearly as old as domesticated horses, spurs are an essential tool in controlling the animal. When used properly, the sharp points strapped to the end of the rider's heel are intended to administer just enough pain to get the horse's attention. Over centuries spurs have evolved from being made of wood and bone to becoming works of art.

Only a small portion of the collection is displayed at the Coryell Museum. In an old hardware store, the museum's display of the spurs is rather chaotic and without Lloyd Mitchell's narrative, loses some of its luster. In addition to the spurs, the depository includes an interesting assortment of old appliances, tools, and consumer goods, plus the county's original log jail. At 718 E. Main St., one block east of the beautiful county courthouse, the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am-4pm. For more information, call 254/865-7586.

667th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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