Both men knew that the county was flooded every year with dove hunters.
But it wasn’t until Hedtke was at that grocery store that the idea took flight — so to speak.
He had overheard a couple of Cajuns talking to a stock boy.
They were talking Cajun French among themselves when one of the Louisiana men eventually asked the stock boy, “What is there to do in this town besides hunt?”
That did it. That question spurred Hedtke to give Witte a call.
“Let’s do it,” was all he needed to say.
If they build it
The place was chosen — a bermuda grass field on Hedkte’s land in Coy City.
Using borrowed money, the Karnes City Rotary Club started that first Lonesome Dove Fest.
Witte admits that the first year wasn’t what most would call a sophisticated event.
It was simple.
They had to haul in generators for electricity. Water too had to be trucked in, as did toilets.
“We had a little bit of food,” Hedtke said in a prior interview. “We did not have any entertainment. Everything ran on generators, and we could not have too many generators, or we would drown out everything.”
But 500 people showed, converging on the nondescript pasture 10 miles outside of town.
“It was amazing (if) you would have 50 people who could find the place,” he said. But 500 people – that was more than these two men would have expected.
“You have to have a desire and willingness to find the place,” Witte said. “We were impressed with that.”
They held it again the next year, and this time they were grateful they had enough foresight to have a backup location — the Karnes City Youth Show Barn.
Rains had soaked the ground, and all their equipment was stuck in the mud.
“It is funny how we had the foresight to have a backup place,” Witte said.
Since then, they have kept that backup location as their home — the Karnes County Youth Show Barn grounds on U.S. 181 between Karnes City and Kenedy.
It was a guy thing
Back to those first years — this wasn’t what would be a family affair. Lonesome Dove Fest was about shooting and hunting and, well, anything feminine was pretty much nonexistent.
Since then, though, that has changed. As did their approach to youth.
Now, there is a whole day devoted to nothing but youth education.
They expect bus loads from 30 or 40 schools to be in Karnes this Friday to attend the 13 safety and educational courses.
“It has been an interesting evolution — starting out as a man’s group and now becoming a family affair,” he said.
So, just what is in store this year at Lonesome Dove?
Saturday (Sept. 22) events start with a Lonesome Dove Fest Parade that will kick off at 10 a.m. in downtown Karnes City. Parade floats, bands and other participants will travel along Calvert Street through the heart of downtown Karnes City, weather permitting.
One of the main attractions at the festival, a team sporting clays competition, also continues Saturday from noon until sundown.
The team shoot provides an opportunity for participants to compete for prizes and bragging rights and, for those interested in hunting, includes a dove hunt with area landowners.
A celebrity challenge five-stand clay target event pitting the shooting skills of media members against local and state officials will be held at 2 p.m.
In addition to the Birds of Prey exhibit, this year will feature the “Aussie Kingdom” that includes birds, lizards, wallaroos and wallabies among other native Australian wildlife that is the largest display of its kind in the United States. A&J Snake Handlers will perform shows throughout the day, and there is also the annual Stickhorse Rodeo and Kid’s Camo Contest shortly after noon.
Dirty Texas will perform under the air-conditioned tent from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., while John Wayne Schulz will perform at 9 p.m.
In addition, country music act Emmerson Biggins will play from 5 to 7 p.m. Between Emmerson Biggins and John Wayne Schulz’s performance, a live auction featuring a variety of sporting goods and other items will be held under the tent at 8 p.m.
All for free
Thanks to donations – many of which came from oil field-related businesses – this year, there is no admission or park fees.
In fact, they even made energy their theme this year: “Energy – The future of Karnes County and Our Youth.”
Witte said that the energy businesses setting up shop in the county have revitalized the area and made it so that his children have the ability to come back and work in the county after they graduate college. “There are all types of opportunities that didn’t exist in Karnes County before.”