The Enduring Legacy Of Texas Chili Legend Wick Fowler

Homer Thomas Wilson Fowler came to be known as Wick but while growing up in Victoria, Texas his peers called him ‘Pig.’

Wick went to Patti Welder High School where he played football, and strapped his tuba on at halftime to accompany the school’s marching band.

His daddy I.D was an attorney and Wick followed him to Austin in 1932 where the young man went to work for the Austin Statesman newspaper.

Restless, Wick set sail for Europe where he would criss-cross the continent on bicycle. He paid for his ocean passage by working as a furnace stoker on the way over, and a deckhand on the way back. Upon his return he recommended others just go ahead and pay for their tickets as the work was hard and the hours long.

The Enduring Legacy Of Texas Chili Legend Wick Fowler

Back home in Austin, the following year, Fowler became a detective as well as secretary to the police chief. Early in his tenure he helped top cop Raymond D Thorp create a new sign affixed to patrol cars that would allow “highwaymen, yeggs, and robbers” to know that they were being pursued by actual cops and not brigands or bandits. It was a novel, illuminated sign reading “Police” that swung out from a hidden compartment after being deployed via a snap switch.

Criminals trembled when the sign whirred into place.

In spite of his clever invention, Fowler found his 701 Guadalupe Street apartment burglarized in September 1933. The bad guys made off with two pairs of the officer’s pants. Just two months later Wick was inducted into the opening class of The Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Austin.

Fowler was something of a renaissance man.

As a woodsman he favored carrying a Colt .45 revolver and was often seen wearing a coonskin “Daniel Boone” cap. A regular deadeye, Wick was known to compete in city pistol tournaments, and was so good that his opponents claimed he was a ringer.

Midway through 1936 “Hollywood” came calling and highway patrolman Wick was cast in a safety film by the crew at Fox Newsreels. The subject was car crashes, and the bigwigs even saw fit to send a vehicle careering off a bluff and into the Colorado river. Fowler was not hurt during the filming of the reels.

As a motor cop Wick Fowler had hundreds of crazy adventures. His bosses sent him into a rigged gambling parlor one time and Wick had this to say: “I couldn’t swear I was gambling. That guy took my money so fast I knew it couldn’t be a game of chance. He was so handy with the cards he had me out before I knew it. It wasn’t necessary for me to tell him I was just a country boy out for a good time. He could tell that right off.”

In 1937 Fowler became sports editor for the Wichita Falls Post but that didn’t last. Before long he was back writing for the American Statesman weighing in on dope addicts, con men, penitentiary-bound folk singers, snake-handlers, and hoboes. Wick was slowly becoming an able chronicler of Texas folklore

The Enduring Legacy Of Texas Chili Legend Wick Fowler

But it wasn’t until 1944 that Wick really hit his stride. That was the year the old roundsman became the first Texas journalist to be given credentials to report on World War II in Europe; the 36th Texas Division in Italy specifically. He was barely on the ground for two months before the villa he was staying in was destroyed by a Jerry Bomber. Though not seriously wounded Fowler would receive a Purple Heart.

Wick would travel to the Pacific and stand on the deck of the USS Missouri for the Japanese surrender a year and a half later.

Of course the history books mainly reflect on Wick’s role in the Texas chili game. Advertisements for Fowler’s 2 Alarm Chili mix first began appearing in Texas newspapers in 1964. Ever the salesman, when the Texas Legislature returned for their new session in January of 1965 each senator had a Fowler chili kit sitting on his desk.

A month later Wick had shipped his first order to Paris, France.

Wick Fowler was the chief cook for Dallas-based Chili Appreciation Society International, when his old buddy Frank X. Tolbert called him for a favor back in 1967. Frank wanted Wick to wade into battle in a chili shootout versus northern humorist H. Allen Smith. The proving grounds would be Terlingua, Texas, population 10.

A flight was chartered out of Dallas for the occasion, and a rumor floated across the Lone Star state that one Elizabeth Taylor was going to be a judge for the affair.

Texas newspapers reported that Fowler went into training in September for the October 21st battle. For his part the six foot, 200 pound cook claimed that he didn’t need any training as “you can’t improve on 2 Alarm.”

When the smoke over the chili pots had settled onto the dusty soil of Brewster County on October 21st, 1967, a draw was declared. The stalemate came about when the judge who had the deciding vote claimed that an errant chile pepper had scalded his mouth leaving him unable to declare a winner. He was also the mayor of Terlingua so his word was sacrosanct.

The Wall Street Journal put the competition on the front page of their paper calling it “The Chili Bowl.” Three months later Fowler was summoned to Houston to ceremoniously clear the Ship Channel by dropping a bowl of his Two Alarm chili in it.

“If one bowl of 2 Alarm doesn’t work we’ll escalate to 4 alarm,” said Fowler. The 2 Alarm did the trick.

Wick’s Caliente Chili Company kept him plenty busy but he still found time for journalism, writing columns such as the “Towering Texan,” “Fowler Fare,” and “The World’s Fare” as he built his chili kit company into a behemoth.

Wick would return to Terlingua in 1968 to compete but the outcome was never determined as armed bandits made off with the ballot box. In 1969, Fowler was still building his brand as entrepreneur and chili cook when he traveled out to Brewster County. The chili man stopped off in Ciudad Acuna to consult with Senorita Lupita de la Rosa y Zuniga, Chili Queen of Coahuila on technique but he did not triumph on judgement day.

The Enduring Legacy Of Texas Chili Legend Wick Fowler

Wick would finally taste victory at the 1970 shootout and be allowed to ascend onto the golden throne while being proclaimed World Chili King. It would be the culmination of a life spent in chili. Just a year and a half later Wick Fowler was dead at age 63.

At the end of his career Wick would laugh and simply refer to himself as a “damned chili cook.”

In the Lone Star state that speaks of a life well-lived.

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