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tor of Parks and Recreation, Director

of Urban Housing, Inspector of Hides

and Commodore of the Terlingua Navy

were quickly conferred upon other

friends. Official looking business cards

and letterhead soon followed. Sporadic

meetings were held in some of the

tonier watering holes and restaurants

in Dallas and were usually followed by

a flurry of official sounding press re-

leases. Neale even edited a newsletter.

One issue carried a small blurb which

stated, “

Girls—don’t forget to sign up

now for the Terlingua Women’s Auxil-

iary Territorial Service


A meeting in May 1967 was at-

tended by Tom Tierney, a friend of

Shelbys who worked for Ford in public

relations. When Witts asked him

what, exactly, it was that a P.R. man

did, Tierney responded with an exam-

ple. “

A good P.R. man could take a

ghost town like the one you own and

put it on the map.

” Someone else

asked how that could be done and

Tierney, without missing a breath,

said, “

Hold a chili cook-off there.

” And

that was how the whole chili cook-off

phenomena got its start.

A series of cleverly worded chal-

lenges made as part of a handful of

newspaper articles resulted in nearly

two hundred people turning up in Ter-

lingua on October 21, 1967 to crown a

chili champion. Among them were

hard core chili aficionados, members of

the Terlingua town council and dozens

of reporters representing

Time, The

Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morn-

ing News, The New York Times,



Sports Illustrated

(which eventually carried a six-page

article reporting on the “event”). An

uneven dirt airstrip on the edge of

town (described as “Terlingua Interna-

tional Airport”) allowed most of the

participants to fly in, with Shelby

American’s DC-3 bringing most of

them. The World Championship Chili

Cook-Off soon gathered momentum,

mostly ginned-up by its own publicity.

Within ten years, attendance would

top 35,000. Several chili organizations

were spawned, among them the Inter-

national Chili Society which sprouted

a hundred local regions and sponsored

regional cook-offs. The World Finals

eventually moved to California and

became immersed in show business,

complete with celebrity judges, scant-

ily clad females and the accompanying

glitz. Today, tens of thousands of dol-

lars are funneled into various chari-

ties. And Terlingua is on the map.

One of the most entertaining Ter-

lingua stories was related by Bill

Neale. He and Shelby were attending

the 1966 Indianapolis 500. Just prior

to the race’s start they walked the

length of the grid, and when no one

was looking they applied a Terlingua

Racing Team decal to each race car.

Virtually every flat surface on the cars

were completely covered by sponsor

decals, so it was virtually impossible

for anyone to spot one which might not

belong. By the time Shelby and Neale

had covered the length of the pits they

somehow managed to put a Terlingua

decal on every car except one.... the car

that eventually won the race!


Spring 2016 64

Shelby and Witts pose at the ranch’s en-

trance. Terlingua is truly one of the most

desolate places in the country. It makes

Afghanistan look like Maui.