A 1915 menu from Ike’s Chili Parlor, Tulsa.
Chili came out of the land of scrub and hoof, up from Coahuila in the Mexican plain, into the vast triangulation of Abilene, San Antonio and Chihuahua, where a lot of miles and men and beasts crossed paths on the way to slaughter. Men rode herd with chili in their guts, wiping the grease from their hands into their hair and beards. Chiles—guajillo, ancho, pasilla and the like—dried like a charm, as did the fresh-killed beef. Reconstituted, they made a stew of the most peppery sort. Beans are a latter-day addition, apparently, though their ability to dry nicely would seem to make them ready kin for the chili pot. Whatever, beans have no place in so-called “Texas chili.” The legendary “chili queens” of San Antonio, hawkers of street-corner “bowls of red,” simply put a face on a pastime. A kind of Dallas Cowboy cheerleader with a ladle.