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It’s forever been said that Santa Claus lives and works in the North Pole.

Not this year. 

Santa has traveled far south, settling down at the Fort Worth Stockyards, where he’s taking photos every Wednesday to Sunday, up to Christmas Eve.

Dressed in white, gator-skin cowboy boots, and with “Randolph the Red-Nosed Longhorn” emblazoned on the back of his red jacket adorned with holly, Cowboy Santa, also known as Darrell Merritt, greets those who come by his cabin.

Cowboy Santa welcomes everyone, even if they aren’t paying to get their photo taken. 

“We don’t turn anyone away,” he said.

As he sits in his “cabin” across the street from the Fort Worth Livestock Exchange, Cowboy Santa waits in holiday cheer, brightening the day for stockyards visitors, making lasting memories for families, and himself.

“To be able to actually make a significant impact on a parent’s life, or a little boy’s or girl’s, that’s another satisfying part of what I do,” Cowboy Santa said.

He recounts a memorable moment a few years ago, when an autistic boy became overstimulated while waiting in line.

Despite the boy’s outburst and tears, Santa was able to calm the boy down and put a smile on his face, making a bigger impact on the child’s mother than the child himself.

“I gave her a big old bear hug and she didn’t want to let go,” Cowboy Santa said. “That’s so gratifying. I love that part.”

To him, putting a smile on the faces of parents is just as important as making sure the kids enjoy their time with Santa.

“If mom and dad aren’t happy, it doesn’t matter what the kids are,” Cowboy Santa said. 

He adds, though, that it isn’t easy to make every kid happy. Some kids may be a little intimidated by Cowboy Santa, but he does have tips for photo-hungry parents to help their little ones feel a little more at ease. 

“Start around Halloween and show them every movie, cartoon, coloring book, figurine, anything you can get that is Santa Claus,” he advises. “It makes a difference, it really does.”

For those fear-stricken kids who do brave a photo with Santa, parents may go home with a “boo-hoo picture,” as Cowboy Santa calls them, but he doesn’t mind, nor should parents, he says.

“You can blackmail your kid for years with a good boo-hoo picture,” Cowboy Santa said, letting out a big, old belly laugh.

As for what’s on kids’ wish lists this year, electronics and dolls, like Barbies, are still popular requests.

But, Santa reminds parents that it’s their responsibility to buy the big-ticket items, not his. “Never, ever let Santa buy the big-ticket items,” he says. “Mom and dad should always be the ones to buy the nice, big-ticket items.”

With all the joy he brings to kids and their parents, Cowboy Santa admits that the holiday season always seems to pass by too quickly.

“When Christmas Eve gets there and I see the last little boy or girl on my knee, it’s like dang, I can’t believe it’s over already.” Cowboy Santa says, solemnly. “I’m already looking forward to next year.”

“Who doesn’t love Christmas?” he says.

Cowboy Santa will be on East Exchange Avenue, across the street from the Fort Worth Livestock Exchange and next to Avoca Coffee Roasters, every Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Christmas Eve, his big night. 

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Matthew Sgroi

Matthew Sgroi

Matthew Sgroi is the 2022-23 Fort Worth Report multimedia fellow. He can be reached at or (503)-828-4063. Sgroi is a current senior at Texas Christian University, majoring...