The Cattle Baron’s Ball Etiquette Guide

It’s September. In other parts of the country, folks are celebrating Labor Day or Rosh Hashana. But our attention is focused on the Cattle Baron’;s Ball. Emily Post must have overlooked this peculiar little Dallas occasion. We’ happy to help.

Photography by Manny Rodriguez. Illustrations by Douglas B. Jones

It’s September. In other parts of the country, folks are celebrating Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, and Grandma Moses Day (September 7). Sure, we acknowledge all that stuff in Dallas. But our attention this month is focused on the Cattle Baron’s Ball. Local ladies adopt liquid diets to ensure a perfect fit in size 0 Cowboy Cool gear. Men stiff the first wives on the September alimony in order to budget for pricey auction items. Remarkably, people metamorphose into younger versions of themselves. It takes a lot of time and money to prepare for what is arguably the best party of the year.

For those of you who are new, Cattle Baron’s Ball is a yearly function that raises stacks of cash for the American Cancer Society. Dallas socialites Jacque Wynne and Patti Hunt threw the first one in 1974, and, since then, the balls have become increasingly extravagant. Last year, Toby Keith was the featured performer, and $3 million went into the American Cancer Society’s coffers. This year, Brooks & Dunn headline at Southfork. Anyone can buy a ticket or, for those more flush, a table. (Those who donate $125,000 are assured the right to “secure the best seats in the house for 50!!!”) Attendance this year is expected at around 3,200.

But Cattle Baron’s is not just a party; it’s a national club. Folks in far-flung places such as Greeley, Colorado; Columbus, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, dress up like Miss Ellie and Jock Ewing each year, with mixed results. But much like being a Theta at Ohio State isn’t quite the same as being a Theta at UT, admittance in the Dallas chapter is a lot tougher than, say, in Waco.

Think you have what it takes to go from no-name to a bold name? Here’s the skinny: as noted above, getting into Cattle Baron’s really is akin to getting into a sorority. Someone has to nominate you. Paperwork has to be completed. If you’re lucky, a Cattle Baroness will compose a cute little poem or a jingle to sell you, her chosen rushee, to the voters. Members will discuss you and your family and your ability to raise money. Sometimes the voting gets personal. Don’t be sad if you don’t get in on your first go. You can be nominated three times—but after that, you’re blackballed. 

So, with only three shots, you won’t want to make any faux pas. Start the coalition building early. And follow these rules, each taken from a rumored, recent, real-life incident:

DO be friendly.
DON’T abscond with a copy of the Cattle Baron’s directory
and start calling everyone in an attempt to befriend members and create allies. It freaks people out.

DO embrace being a single mom. A lot of Cattle Baron’s members are divorcees, as evidenced by the lavish John Haynesworth Christmas cards that go out every year. Lithe, sexy, unwrinkled blondes pose with teenaged daughters, begging the question: is this a hot mom-daughter duo or a sexy sister act?
DON’T date other people’s boyfriends. Two members were involved in an altercation at a local boutique not long ago. The rift was over the affections of an older gentleman. One woman called another a “whore.” Worse, she went on to suggest that Botox and rhinoplasty were in order. Allegedly.

DO get enthusiastic about raising money. Cattle Baron’s relies heavily on new recruits to raise important underwriting dollars and to solicit auction items. Each year, there’s immense pressure on the chairwomen to raise more money than the year before. Make sure people know that you have a husband, friends, parents, co-workers, et al. who can and will write checks when you ask.
DON’T get dishonest about how much money you can raise. People hate that even more than they hate the  directory-dialing thing.

DO dress the part. Make it known that you have a wardrobe full of party-appropriate clothes. There are many Cattle Baron’s-related events throughout the year in addition to the ball, and they run the gamut—from a golf tournament at Vaquero to various happy hours.
DON’T complain if party clothes are ruined. It seems as though sometimes CB parties take place in 200-degree heat, on the lawns of ultra-rich investment bankers who won’t let you into the house. Take this opportunity to prove once and for all that ladies don’t sweat. They glow.

 DO live in Dallas. If word gets out that you live in, say, Fort Worth, you’ll be forced either to buy something in Dallas or join the Fort Worth chapter (Cowtown Ball).
DON’T join the Fort Worth chapter.

DO buy tickets to the ball. Buy big stuff at the silent auction. And there’s no better way to get attention than to encourage your husband to become a sponsor. It’s a win-win. For a mere $25,000, your husband can secure two $100 casino chips in addition to other perks. And you become a superstar.
DON’T allow that check to bounce. It happens every single year. And don’t think everyone doesn’t know exactly who does it, how much the check was for, and how long it takes to make good on it.

DO have drinks. Be social. You’ve seen the gangs of the chosen few at the Highland Park Village Mi Cocina, the Cafe Pacific bar, and the patio at Pueblo Arriba. Go there, too. Host some lavish dinner parties or an over-the-top book club. Invite some of those ladies. You only need one.
 DON’T get drunk and showcase your new breasts while sitting in the laps of party guests. You’re likely in your 30s or 40s, so it’s a little late for Girls Gone Wild. Everyone is uncomfortable—even those in the medical profession.

DO remember that this is about philanthropy. Sure, it’s a fun party. But, make no mistake, even after you’ve made all the phone calls and found a million auction items, you are still expected to work the party. Those first few years, you are the help.
DON’T think for a second that you can “forget” to show up for your shift and then inexplicably arrive at the party in a limo. Everyone will hate you. And rightly so.

DO keep your fingers crossed that entry into Cattle Baron’s will lead to the promised land: Crystal Charity.
DON’T say that out loud. Ever.

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