Once a Queen, Always a Queen

photo by Matt Cornelius
photo by Matt Cornelius

In the heart of the Lone Star State, where the sun beats down, and the cattle ranches stretch on forever, there’s a spirit as vast and untamed as the land itself. It is the spirit embodied by Marilyn “Cattle Kate” Jones, a woman whose life story reads much like a chapter from a classic Louis L’Amour western novel. It has been said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway,” and “saddling up” is exactly what Marilyn has done over and over throughout her life.

Born July 4, 1939, in the small South Texas town of Raymondville, Marilyn’s story began. She was born to father, Alton Jeremiah Cox, known affectionately as AJ, and mother, Mary Emma. She also had one brother, Jerry, who was four years older. Her dad, who was always moving around and looking for a better life, decided his cattle ranching prospects would be better in East Texas. So, he purchased 800 acres 20 miles east of Texarkana, settling on a cattle ranch aptly named Fargo. “Dad always said that ‘the place was about as far as you could go down a dirt road,’” Marilyn recalled.

The family eventually moved to Elizabeth Street, where Marilyn had a pasture to keep her horse. At 11, her mom would drive her to Spring Lake Park so she could hang out around the riding stables owned by Shorty Robinson. She would clean out stalls, and if riders were late bringing horses back in, Robinson would let her ride out to get them.

A longtime friend saw Marilyn’s love for horses and suggested to AJ and Mary Emma that they join the Texarkana Quadrille. The Quadrille was a choreographed dressage ride for riders and their horses, often performed to music. Because they needed better horses for the Quadrille, Marilyn’s parents decided they would buy horses for Marilyn and Jerry. They bought two Palomino horses, Jerry’s named Headlight and Marilyn’s named Skylight. They put those two beautiful Palominos right in their backyard on Elizabeth Street. Marilyn loved competing on Skylight but eventually talked her brother out of Headlight as well, and she went on to win many barrel races with him. She still proudly displays the trophies.

Every year, Texarkana buzzes with excitement as it hosts the well-loved annual Four States Fair and Rodeo. In 1956, organizers introduced the first Miss Four States Fair and Rodeo contest. Being the spirited, petite, 16-year-old tomboy she was, Marilyn entered the competition at the Spring Lake Park Arena. She proudly rode her beloved Skylight while several of her cowgirl friends entered as well. At the Saturday night rodeo, Marilyn was crowned, becoming the first ever to win the coveted title. “One of the most exciting parts,” she said, “was when they unsaddled my horse and re-saddled her with my new Four States Fair and Rodeo saddle, which I still proudly display in my home. I have always said once a queen, always a queen!” Marilyn jokingly doubled down on the sentiment with the addition of a sign at her ranch that says, “Queen of the whole damn thing.”

After graduating from Texas High School in 1958, Marilyn enrolled at Texarkana College (TC), where she remained until 1959. During her inaugural year at college, she enthusiastically joined the Starletts, a spirited drill team dedicated to boosting morale at TC Bulldogs’ football games. Clad in cowboy boots, hats, and star-studded uniforms, Marilyn and her fellow Starletts entertained crowds with their high-energy performances. The following year, she transitioned to become a cheerleader for the Bulldogs, where she soon crossed paths with Raymond Jones, a football player who would later become her husband.

In 1960, Marilyn transferred to East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas, majoring in Physical Education with a minor in Agriculture. There, she became one of only two female students in the Agriculture Department. Embracing her love for the outdoors, Marilyn joined the college rodeo team, competing in barrel racing. However, her academic journey was soon interrupted when she and Raymond tied the knot in 1961 in Linden, Texas.

In 1969, the couple, along with their son, Kelly, relocated six miles north of New Boston. Marilyn’s father owned approximately 600 acres near the Red River, situated close to the tri-state borders of Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. It was there the family settled and built their home. Despite Raymond and Marilyn’s eventual divorce, she and Kelly stayed in the home, where she has continued to live for 45 years raising beef cattle. Kelly eventually married his wife, Cindy, and the two remained in New Boston. Marilyn also has two granddaughters, Chloe and Devan, who are graduates of the University of North Texas. They are both married and living in Dallas, Texas.

In the late 60s and early 70s, Marilyn became involved in the International Rodeo Association (IRA), where in 1969, she was awarded IRA Woman of the Year. In 1970, she also received the Sportsmanship Award for the association. It was during this time that she was given her nickname. She and a friend were traveling in a camper without a bathroom. So, in her normal, fearless fashion, Marilyn went out searching for one in her nightgown and cowboy boots. As she came upon a couple of familiar cowboys feeding the rodeo stock in the early morning hours, one of them looked up at her and said, “Well, if it ain’t Cattle Kate!” The nickname stuck, and she proudly answers to it to this day!

On August 20, 2023, Marilyn was thrilled to be asked by the New Boston Chamber of Commerce to be Grand Marshall of the New Boston Pioneer Days Parade. “It was exciting to see so many friends lining the streets of New Boston,” she shared. She did not think her family was going to get to attend, but they surprised her by showing up with signs and cameras. She was then surprised to be recognized by Ron Humphrey, Mayor of New Boston, who read a proclamation that August 19 would be declared Marilyn “Cattle Kate” Jones Day. “It was the honor of a lifetime,” recounted Marilyn. After the parade, there was a gathering at the New Boston Pavilion, where she was able to visit with longtime friends and family.

These days, Marilyn remains as spirited as ever. Her hobbies are watching rodeos on the Cowboy Channel 24/7 and traveling with her family. She also loves all western events and going to the cattle auction when her cattle sell. She remains actively involved in her community and dedicated to preserving the ranching way of life. Whether she’s volunteering with the New Boston Round-Up Club, serving on the Farm Service Agency Board of Directors, advocating for soil conservation on the Bowie County Soil and Water Conservation Board of Directors, or serving as Director of the Woodstock Cemetery Association near her ranch, her energy and tireless committment to serving her community is unwavering.

“I always love talking and visiting with the many friends I have made along the way, especially the cowboys,” she jokingly said. One of these very special longtime friends of over 50 years, fondly called “her sidekick,” is Jane Forrester. “We are true cowgirl friends,” said Forrester. “I don’t know if I would have had any fun in life without her! We have also shared deep sadness. She has stood with me for a lifetime. She inspires me every day, and I am so grateful that God brought us together.”

As Marilyn looks to the future, her vision is clear. She wants to continue living life on her own terms, surrounded by the beauty of the Texas countryside. “I also hope to continue volunteering and helping others in any way that I can,” she said. Her fearless spirit remains strong, and she is ready for whatever adventures lie ahead.

In a world that is constantly changing, Marilyn “Cattle Kate” Jones stands as a reminder of the timeless values of hard work, courage, and perseverance. She’s more than just a rodeo queen—she’s a symbol of an enduring spirit. Her passion for rodeo wasn’t just about winning—it was about pushing the boundaries of what was possible for women in a male-dominated sport. As one of the few female riders on the circuit, she faced her share of challenges and obstacles, but she refused to stop, and she still keeps going. With cowgirl-style grit, she has blazed a trail for future generations of cowgirls, proving anything is possible with enough courage to keep “saddling up.”


< Previous Story Next Story >

Print Edition

Print Archive



© 2024 All Rights Reserved.
Design By: WebProJoe.com Web Design