A History of the Buckaroo Ball
An interview with Buckaroo Ball co-founder Jane Smith
“We decided to do something for this town that had given us so much art, so much cultural diversity and so many friends.” Jane Smith, one of the founders of the iconic Buckaroo Ball, explains the simple idea behind the Ball, which has raised $7 million for at-risk children in Santa Fe County since the first event in 1994.
Sitting around a lunch table in 1993 at another Santa Fe icon, the Cowgirl, the six Texan women, some of whom had experience from Houston’s wildly successful Cattle Baron’s Ball, decided in true Texas fashion to Think Big. That day Jane Smith, Lisa Wade, Mary Miller, Ellen Windham, Linda Cohen and Elizabeth Smith created, from scratch, the largest fundraiser in the Southwest, the Buckaroo Ball.
“We all had a lot to contribute,” said Jane. “Mary Miller had music business contacts – she was King of the Roads Roger Miller’s widow – so she said she would get Willie Nelson. That’s when we knew this was going to be a big deal! Lisa Wade’s husband Bob designed the Buckaroo silhouette that’s still in use. I had a downtown store, Jane Smith Cowboy Couture, and so knew many of the merchants, restaurants and hotel owners.”
The group decided to approach J.W. Eaves, whose movie ranch instantly evoked the style, ambiance and architecture suited the character of the Ball. Eaves, who was born in Texas, the son of a town sheriff, readily agreed to host the Ball, and he continued to support the event until his death in 2001.
Jane remembers that first Buckaroo Ball as “magical,” with the best of Santa Fe’s restaurants and chefs showcasing their excellence, Maria’s showcasing their fine margaritas, Willie Nelson singing his heart out well beyond his allotted time, and Santa Fe’s citizens all in their cowboy finery. Jane particularly recalls La Fonda Hotel owners Ethel and Sam Ballen, great Ball supporters who also looked fabulous on that special night at Eaves Movie Ranch.
“From the beginning we wanted to focus on raising money for children at risk in Santa Fe County, rather than blowing it all on a fabulous event,” Jane added. “From that first event we granted 78% of the money we took in, and that was the thing we were the most proud of. Yes, we had a fabulous evening too, but it was for a reason, and that was the children.”
Jane still remembers the first time she toured the Esperanza Shelter for battered families. Fighting back tears she says, “It still affects me, seeing those little kids and their brave mothers, forced out of their homes because of horrific abuse. We just can’t imagine the violence these kids saw, watching their mothers go through hell. If any of our group had taken our eye off the goal, focusing on the trappings of the Ball, this visit brought us right back to why we were doing what we did. It was for the children. The first five years of a child’s life molds them forever, so they need our help as soon as we can give it.”
The Buckaroo Ball’s continuing success doesn’t surprise Jane Smith. “As I said, we thought big from the very beginning. We wanted to create something that would last, would keep giving to the kids and would make a difference.”
“It’s different, “ she says. “It’s more accessible, but still lots of fun, and still focused on raising money for children who need all the help they can possibly get. That’s as it should be.”