A Chili Prayer
Chili eaters is some of Your chosen people. We don’t know why You so doggone good to us. But, Lord God, don’t ever think we ain’t grateful for this chili we are about to eat.
Matthew “Bones” Hooks
Frank X. Tolbert, the originator of the world famous Terlingua Chili Cook-off and founder of the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI), is considered the Chief Chili Head among aficionados. The late newspaperman made no claims to being a world class chili chef, but as a lover of the national dish of Texas, and consumer of copious amounts of the red stuff, he wrote the definitive book on the historical and gastronomical origins of the dish: A Bowl of Red.1
Tolbert concludes his fine book with a chili prayer. It didn’t stem from his pen, but was voiced by an old cowhand and range cook: Matthew (Bones) Hooks. In Tolbert’s words, “Bones Hooks was the most beloved of the pioneer black range cooks (he was also a great cowboy) in the Texas Panhandle.” Bones moseyed into the Panhandle from East Texas on his mule Dinamite (Bones’s spelling) in the early 1880s, just before the open range was fenced off into sectioned pastures. “There was no more popular man on the range,” Tolbert wrote. “This wasn’t just because of his prowess as a cowpuncher or his superlative cooking.” Bones made it a point to befriend other cowboys and showed the depth of his friendship by sending wildflowers to any who were injured or ill. It’s estimated he gave hundreds of wildflower bouquets to ailing cowboys over the years.
As an old man, Bones attended an old-time cowboy reunion in Amarillo, where he cooked up a mess of chili con carne. Many of those in attendance who remembered Bones’s chili from their range days were ready to git after it. But old Bones refused to serve a single bowl until he had given thanks to God. He bent his knees and bowed his head—other old cowpunchers too stove up to bend their knees just bowed their balding heads, hats in hand. Then in solemn tones, Bones prayed the following prayer (or something near enough to it).2
Lord God, You know us old cowhands is forgetful. Sometimes, I can’t even recollect what happened yestiddy. We is forgetful. We just know daylight and dark, summer, fall, winter, and spring. But I sure hope we don’t never forget to thank You before we is about to eat a mess of good chili.
We don’t know why, in Your wisdom, You been so doggone good to us. The heathen Chinese don’t have no chili, ever. The Frenchmens is left out. The Rooshians don’t know no more about chili than a hog does about a sidesaddle. Even the Meskins don’t get a good whiff of it unless they stay around here.
Chili eaters is some of Your chosen people. We don’t know why You so doggone good to us. But, Lord God, don’t never think we ain’t grateful for this chili we about to eat.
In 1952, a year before Tolbert’s original publication, another newspaperman wrote a chili book that could rival Tolbert’s A Bowl of Red as the definitive account on Texas chili—which is to say, authentic chili. However, Joe Cooper’s With or Without Beans: Being a Compendium to Perpetuate the Internationally Famous Bowl of Chili (Texas Style) Which Occupies Such an Important Place in Modern Civilization is out of print and difficult to find—and once found, is expensive to purchase.
The spelling of Bones Hook’s chili prayer is as it appears in Tolbert’s A Bowl of Red.