A Tale of Two Chili Powders



It’s the day after I was first quoted as saying “bullshit” in print,  for an interview with Munchies Magazine.   I was passionately defending my beloved Cincinnati Chili.   My expletive was in reference to all the naysayers from Texas who claim that Cincinnati has absolutely no claim to chili.   Well, they have a little history lesson coming to them.

Cincinnati is in fact the birthplace of American chili powder.   Of course, the spice of ground dried chilis was first invented hundreds of years ago by the Chili Queens of what is now Mexico for their chili.    But the Queen City gave birth to the man who invented the modern blend of chili powder that ALL Texans and chili makers, even Cincinnati chili markers, use.

And oh yes, Texan chili historians will claim their own as the inventor.   Texas historians claim that he was a Czech-German immigrant named Wilhem Gebhardt who landed in New Braunfels, the land of kolachis and jetronice (a cousin of goetta).    He is purported to have invented chili powder in 1896.   Gebhardt operated a café in the back of what was called Miller’s saloon.     He invented a way to pulverize dried chilis into a powder that he called Tampico Dust, and then quickly renamed Gebhardt’s Eagle Chili Powder.   Well that’s all fine and good, but it was probably more like paprika (a mild chili) because of his Eastern European origin, than modern chili powder.


Rewind nearly three decades earlier to bustling Cincinnati.   DeWitt Clinton Pendery (1848-1924)  was itching to move west and  join his two brothers at their successful dry goods business in Ft. Worth, Texas, blocks from the courthouse.       All  of DeWitt Clinton Pendery’s siblings were born in Cincinnati – Nellie,  Anne, Thomas, Semiramis (love that name), Eugene, and Frank.        DeWitt in 1870 took one bumpy ass stagecoach ride from Cincinnati to Ft. Worth, Texas, and joined his brothers in the trade.    He arrived in the center of town and was nearly laughed back on the stagecoach because of his Yankee attire of his tall Cincinnati – made silk tophat and long frock coat.     Legend has it that in true Wild West form, someone shot a bullet and grazed Pendery’s tophat in jest.

Pendery had developed an interest in spices.  As a sideline to the dry goods business he began selling a spice blend of ground chilis, cumin, oregano, and other spices that he called Chiltomaline.     The fifth generation of the Pendery family , Clint Haggerty, claims he started selling the chili powder at least around 1885, probably earlier, and cafes, restaurants, and citizens loved it.      Sorry Gebhardt, that beats your late-to-the-game 1896 – copycat!!     The Pendery family still sells the original Chiltomaline formula, along with hundreds of other spices from their catalogue and store.

Pendery’s family legacy in Cincinnati can be read through famous streetnames.   You see, Dewitt was born in Cincinnati in 1848 to Ludlow DeMun Pendery and Catherine Sheppard.   Ludlow Pendery’s parents were Alexander Pendery and Mary Ludlow, born in Cincinnati in 1791 to John Ludlow and Susan Demun.     Now the names should start getting familiar.    Mary Ludlow’s uncle Israel Ludlow, came to Cincinnati (or more accurately Ft. Washington, at the time)  after the Revolutionary War, to survey the Symmes Purchase, out of which the City of Cincinnati was carved.     By the 1870s when DeWitt Clinton Pendery left for Ft. Worth, there were many large spice companies in Cincinnati, where he could have been exposed to spice blends.

So chili and chili powder really do come to the core of Cincinnati.   We could even say we taught Texans how to make their chili, or at least how to make their chili powder.   Take that Deadspin!



The Memorial in Oakwood Cemetery in Ft. Worth Texas, to Cincinnati born, Chili Powder inventor, DeWitt Clinton Pendery.


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