THE COWBOYS HAVE ARRIVED IN BRANSON!
Fifteen miles outside of Rapid City, South Dakota, sits the Circle B Chuckwagon. Jay and Betty Baldwin
and Jack and Beth Engel built the Circle B in the cold winter of 1975. As Jack Engel said, “It was so cold that when you drove a nail into the wood, the wood would crack like a piece of ice.”
The Chuckwagon was ready to open on June l, 1976. There were 58 acres, and the Chuckwagon was added on to seat about 1,200. They had the shops, trail rides and a persian team that pulled the wagon.
In 1980, the Circle B Cowboys won the Old West Trail Foundation’s William F. Cody Music Award. THis award is given annually to a composer, musical organization or performer whose music captures the essence of the Old West and its people.
The seasons ran from Memorial Day to mid-September. Jay passed away in December of 1991. Betty ran the Chuckwagon from 1992 to 1995 at which time she sold to the Horn Family.
On December 26, 1995, the Horn family started a modern-day caravan of five vehicles across country from Baltimore, through blizzards and blocked roads, to arrive at the Circle B Ranch on December 31, 1995. January 1, 1996, they were home. The Horn family consists of: father Kemp, a forester from Baltimore; mother Michele, a long-time attorney; Michael, Kathleen, Megan and Christiana, who were all students at the time.
The first real experience of the Chuckwagon life came to the Horn’s when they went to the Jamboree at the Triple C in Tucson in January. Michele said, “We were blown away from what we saw in Tucson. So many caring and family-oriented people.” After the Jamboree, the Cowboys decided they did not want to stay at the Circle B. The Horn family decided to take on the task of playing. “Our family has been performing in dinner theaters, plays, musicals, and church choir, but not like a Chuckwagon. We decided to put together a group to get us started,” stated Michele.
“We got the motivation that we needed to keep doing better from the other Chuckwagons. They were honest with us and that made us work even harder to better our group. We are really grateful to them for making us learn how to do it right.”
Today the family still does it all. Christiana sings and plays the fretless acoustic bass. Megan sings and plays the fiddle. Katie sings lead vocals, plays rhythm guitar and the mandolin. Each of the children at one time wrangled the ranch’s horses. Now, they all help out Dad in the Chuckwagon kitchen in Branson. Son Mike sings, plays guitar and bass, and is the former teamster for the antique covered wagon as well as the plumber, carpenter and handyman. Kemp is the music group’s ramrod, sings, plays harmonicas, and occasionally plays bass. Kemp also doubles as ” the “Cookie” of the outfit and the Sheriff as well. Michelle does whatever is necessary and loves meeting the folks who come to visit. Louis Darby, 17-year Branson veteran and two-time Louisiana State Fiddle champion, has also recently joined the Riders of the Circle B. Together, the Riders of the Circle B play some of the sweetest cowboy music, with stunning new arrangements and tight harmonies six nights a week in Branson, Missouri.
After nine years of running the Circle B Ranch in the Black Hills, the Horn Family reached even higher, by attempting to make the cowboy music their full-time jobs. The family formed another wagon train and traveled South to Branson. The Horn Family leaves the Circle B Ranch of the Black Hills in the capable hands of the Lawson family. Katie Horn, as some of you may know, married into the Lawson Family in the summer of 2003. Katie Horn Lawson, as she is now known, is moving with the Horn Family (and of course, her new husband, Adam) to Branson to join the Riders of the Circle B. Her in-laws, the musical Lawson Family, were itching for a new opportunity, and the Horn Family’s move has provided them with it.
The Circle B Ranch in the Black Hills still offers trail rides, covered wagon rides, pony rides, gold
panning, a black powder shooting gallery, nine-hole miniature golf course, playground facilities, hiking trails, carvings by world class woodcarver Doug Ladd, the Wild Horse Gift Shop, and the Buffalo Room snack bar. Every evening Sheriff Dale Lawson deputizes a posse of youngsters to look for the “desperado” to begin the shootout. The meal is the same meal made famous by the Horn Family for the last 10 years in the Black Hills: special-recipe roast beef or chicken, cowboy baked beans, hot biscuits, applesauce, homemade spice cake, coffee and lemonade. For the little ones, there is also grilled cheese or hot dogs.
The Circle B performs at many functions around Rapid City, helping to promote the Black Hills. In 1997 the group performed at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Karen D. Bogue, Guest Talent Coordinator, Magic Kingdom Entertainment states, “It was a genuine pleasure to host such a quality performing
group. The name Walt Disney has long been associated with the highest quality in family entertainment, and the talent your group shared with our audience has reinforced that standard.”
In 2004, the Horn Family’s Riders were also invited to be a part of Carnival Cruise Lines’ inaugural Cowboy Cruise. The Riders performed with the noteworthy Prairie Rose Wranglers of the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon in Wichita, Kansas, as well as Les Gilliam and Mindy Rogers Peterson.
When the Horn Family took over the Circle B, they were put on the horizon for the Chuckwagons of the West Association. We are proud to say that they were invited into the Association at the Jamboree in Durango, Colorado, in September 1998. In 2004, the Horn Family allowed the Lawson family to take over day-to-day operations of the Black Hills location and opened up a brand-new chuckwagon in Branson, Missouri. The Circle B Ranch in the Black Hills is still a proud member of the Chuckwagons of the West Association; the Branson operation is now a Horizon member of the Chuckwagons of the West Association, with full membership expected soon.
Please visit the Horn Family at the Circle B Chuckwagon in Branson, Missouri all year ’round (call 800-678-6179 or 417-336-1828 for reservations). And stop by the Horn Family’s Black Hills location, the Circle B Ranch, to be hosted by the Lawson Family all summer long (call 800-403-7358 or 605-348-7358 for reservations).
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