Fairest of the Fair

A photo essay.

Texans generally don’t cotton
to royalty, except for when it’s local: Each year, almost every town across the state crowns a young queen at its community festival. These lovely sovereigns preside over the annual celebration of their region’s bounty—whether it’s grapefruit in the Valley, peaches in the Hill Country, roses in the Piney Woods, or rattlesnakes in the Panhandle—and act as ambassadors of their towns throughout the year. As women of poise, ambition, and service, whose homegrown roots go back generations, these queens are as much a reflection of their communities as the festivals they helm.

We asked eleven of our contributing photographers to each capture one of these regal representatives on her home turf. The oldest festivals in Texas go back more than seventy years, and the queens on the following pages represent a full calendar of harvest seasons: Some are at the sunset of their reign; others have only recently laid claim to their tiaras. For a few, the namesake crop has dwindled to the point that their titles are merely symbolic. But all of them serve as standard-bearers of a rich agricultural history—in their towns and, perhaps more importantly, in Texas.

Queen tunaep/Sarah Nina Treviño/18

FLORESVILLE PEANUTFESTIVAL/FLORESVILLE/OCTOBER

Peanut Queen

photograph by Dan Winters

“My title is ‘peanut’ spelled backward. My escort is King Reboog, and he wears a cowboy hat covered in peanut shells. We have only one peanut field left in Floresville this year because of the drought, so it is really special, not just for the peanuts it produces but also for the history it represents.”

San Saba Pecan Festival and Rodeo Queen/Kayla Fry/18

SAN SABA COUNTY PECAN FESTIVAL AND RODEO/SAN SABA/JULY

Rodeo Queen

photograph by Wyatt McSpadden

“There are pecan groves surrounding all of San Saba. The trees get really big, and they’re planted far enough apart for the machines and workers to harvest them. I love the rodeo because I have nine horses, and if one is ready to run, I get to barrel-race in front of everyone I know.”

Anahuac Gatorfest Queen/Megan Frankum/18

GATORFEST/ANAHUAC/SEPTEMBER


photograph by Kenny Braun

“Last year Hurricane Ike hit the same weekend as Gatorfest, so there were alligators everywhere: in ditches, waddling across roads. They were fat from eating all the dead fish. Gators can be up to fifteen feet long, but they’re usually more afraid of you than you are of them.”

Luling Watermelon Thump Queen/Ravana Damon/17

LULING WATERMELON THUMP/LULING/JUNE


photograph by Randal Ford

“My mom was queen in 1988, and my great-aunt was too, in 1968. Watermelons are a part of our family: My dad grows them and so did my great-grandfather. For the past fifteen years, my parents have pulled the float for other queens; now they get to do it for their own daughter.”

Queen Citrianna/Lauren Yvana Guerra/18

TEXAS CITRUS FIESTA/MISSION/JANUARY


photograph by Sarah Wilson

“In winter and through the spring, I travel around promoting the citrus industry. Our parades are almost every two weeks. I enjoy informing others of how important it is to the Valley and to Texas. Red grapefruit, pink grapefruit, lemons—the best citrus grows here because the weather is warm and the soil is so rich.”

Rose Queen/Emily Anne Austin/19

TEXAS ROSE FESTIVAL/TYLER/OCTOBER

Rose Queen

photograph by Darren Braun

“My dress is a big secret. We’ve been working on it since last November. At the festival, before the coronation, there’s a Queen’s Tea, at which everyone can see the dress for the first time. It’s held in the city’s rose garden, which has just about every rose you can imagine.”

Queen Yam/Stephanie Lynn Henson/18

YAMBOREE/GILMER/OCTOBER

Queen Yam

photograph by O. Rufus Lovett

“Call them yams or sweet potatoes—it doesn’t really matter. In addition to the livestock show, the parades, and the pageants, we have a yam pie contest. A lot of people around Gilmer farm sweet potatoes, and they’ll sell them in the exhibit building or on the streets out of their trucks.”

Poteet Strawberry Festival Queen/Nikkiah Guerra/17

POTEET STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL/POTEET/APRIL

Poteet Strawberry Festival Queen

photograph by Michael O’Brien

“Our festival started as an incentive to bring our World War II vets back to Poteet’s farms. There are several varieties of strawberry we grow, such as the Sequoia, which is strong and best for shipping, and the Douglas, which is huge and looks good to eat. I haven’t found a berry that tastes better.”

Miss Snake Charmer/Lealonnie Alvarez/17

SWEETWATER JAYCEES RATTLESNAKE ROUNDUP/SWEETWATER/MARCH

Miss Snake Charmer

photograph by Artie Limmer

“This year is the roundup’s fiftieth anniversary, and I was crowned by the very first Miss Snake Charmer. I handled several snakes in the roundup’s snake pit, walking around and showing them to people. The bull snake felt like it was trying to cuddle. I was also in the rattlesnake-eating contest, and no, it doesn’t taste like chicken.”

Peach Queen/Holly Crenwelge/16

STONEWALL PEACH JAMBOREE AND RODEO/STONEWALL/JUNE

Peach Queen

photograph by Matt Rainwaters

“We have a peach-eating contest and a pit-spitting contest, which the royal court often participates in. We also throw peaches from the float—people catch and eat them—but not this year, because we didn’t get strong rains. The peaches are good; there are just not as many.”

Miss Helotes/Megan Leigh Rodriguez/17

CORNYVAL/HELOTES/MAY

Miss Helotes

photograph by James H. Evans

“Ours is a full-blown scholarship pageant, with interview, fashion walk, and evening gown components. Your grades, community service, and poise also play a big part. The pageant honors Cornyval, which was started by John T. Floore to raise money for our first post office. The name ‘Helotes’ comes from the Spanish word for corn.”

 

Tags: THE CULTURE

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