The rites of fall in Round Top, Texas, include a century-old demonstration of manliness. Who'll take the cedar crown?
Beer, boots, guns, drums. Round Top, Texas, might be the birthplace of “the men’s movement” except guys here got started 120 years early. They were doing the tough and tribal thing a good century before Robert Bly unearthed the myth of Iron John.
The third Sunday in September, like always, men from Fayette County and its predominantly Tex-German environs gathered at the Rifleman’s Hall north of Round Top for the 139th Schuetzenfest. This fall tradition began in 1873, a friendly competition and chance for local marksmen to hone their skills.
It’s also the most easy-going and unabashed display of macho you’re likely to see.
The riflery contest starts early behind the hall. This year 31 contestants showed up. Lundy Wantland of Carmine, association president, explains that each participant gets three shots at a target 168 feet away. “I challenge you to convert that to meters or anything else,” Wantland declares. Longtime member Curtis Leitko said something about conversion to “rods,” but nobody standing around drinking in the basement of the hall knew for sure was how long a rod was, or is. Whatever. The Round Top Rifle Association just goes by the old rulebook.
Everyone who scores 29 or higher makes it to the second and decisive round. Three more shots apiece, and you have a winner.
Let’s just not call him a “winner.” He’s the new Schuetzenkoenig (Markman King). And as a king deserves, he gets a medal, a parade and crown — a cowboy hat covered with cedar.
Last Sunday Wolfgang Kayser of Richmond, Texas, won for the second year in a row. He scored 35 – one point shy of perfection.
At 6 p.m., he has lined up behind the U.S. and Texas flags and a banner of the Round Top Schützenverein. Musicians from the Donnie Wavra Orchestra, based in Columbus, descend the bandstand to lead off the march with rolling drums. The riflemen march in and circle the edge of the wooden dance floor, as family, friends and guests stand at attention. A couple of fellows by the stage salute tipsily.Back in the old country Schützenverein (marksmen’s clubs) had actually been local militias, organized to protect towns from outside incursions. But in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S., they were social clubs. Depending on the tastes of the region, members gathered for drinking, amusements, patriotic events, and dancing, along with tests of marksmanship.
During World War I, many of the U.S. Schützenverein withered away, as German-Americans muffled or outright abandoned their Old World heritage. (German language instruction was forbidden during the war years in parts of the country.) With World War II, another wave of Anti-German sentiment put an end to many more of these organizations and their traditions.
Not so in Round Top. Bob Heath, a member of the association, proudly claims that the 4th of July celebration here is the oldest continuously held Independence Day parade West of the Mississippi. The Round Top Schützenverein is more American than thou.
With the club members standing in a circle, friends and relatives around the edges of the big hall, Wolf Kayser says a few humble words, expresses admiration for the band, and remarks on the high caliber of the day’s competition.
“Could we get four members,” asks Ronny Sacks, “four or five…YOUNG men?”
Several step forward and awkwardly hoist the new Koenig up, again and again, to the old cheer “Hoch sol Er leben!” — drowned out by a trumpet fanfare.
Kayser, wearing his cedar crown, and the rest of the club members take another lap around the hall, and that’s about it. There will pulled pork sandwiches in the basement for a free will donation, more beer, and dancing to the Donnie Wavra Orchestra till nine.
That’s right. Real men polka.