Wick Fowler (photo courtesy of the Wittliff Collections)

How did Wick Fowler, the best chili cook in Texas, manage to not win the first Terlingua Chili Championship back in 1967? According to his boon companion, Sidney Roper Weisiger, a south Texas journalist, it was because Wick left out the treasured ingredient of his youth: swamp rabbit.

At the dawn of the roaring twenties, Wick and his group of playmates contented themselves the way many small-town Texas boys did. When they weren’t in school they spent their days fishing, playing marbles and hunting small game. Victoria, where Wick grew up, had less than 6,000 residents.

Their hunting ground was along the banks of the Guadalupe River and extended east to where a pizza joint and a tire store now stand. A hundred years ago that part of town was a mite different than it is today. Walking west of present day Vine Street you would’ve encountered a fairly large slough or swamp as you approached the river. Mexican Devilweed, rose hedges, and dewberry vines ran amok.

The boys had the run of this wilderness and took to it as boys would in those days: with dogs and sticks to hunt for the swamp rabbits. As many as 20 kids would gather for the hunt. Wick’s brother Ike always brought his faithful companion Lady along for the excitement.

Kids with names like Horn Mouth, Dutz, Dee Dee and Cecil Frank made up Wick’s crew in that long-ago era.

Their hunts went like this: Wick and his buddies would surround a row of hedges. The meanest, nastiest dog of them all was little four pound-er named Bouche. They’d get him all riled up and sic him on whatever was in the bushes. He’d go racing in like a mad dog and all of a sudden rabbits would be racing every which way.

Sometimes as many as 20 rabbits would erupt out of the bushes. For their part the boys would take off bellowing, chasing after the dogs that were chasing after the rabbits with sheer chaos and bedlam being the order of the day.

If a rabbit got caught another fracas would erupt over who the rabbit then belonged to. A pot of swamp rabbit chili hung in the balance.

Wick’s role was an important one. He did not enjoy running so his task was to tote the dead rabbits after the hunt. Once the chaos had subsided and the boys returned to the hedge row they’d find young Wick, kicked back and relaxing right where they’d left him.

Sometimes Wick and Ike would show up back at their daddy I.D’s house with a good fat rabbit for the chili pot. Wick, not yet a teen, would not have been turned loose as the family cook but I’d wager he kept his eyes open as his mom Lola and his father busied themselves getting supper ready.

Who could’ve known that these familial meals of swamp rabbit chili would one day lead to the young Fowler being the crowned king of Texas chili?

There will never be another man like Wick.

A Wick Fowler fan in Terlingua, Texas (photo courtesy of the Wittliff Collections)

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