The Texans are in town, and they're all hat and, yes, they brought cattle

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In the carpeted exhibition hall of a $350-a-night (£238) hotel, four cowboys in ranch clothes were trying to tie up a steer whose horns were almost as wide as the men were tall.

In the carpeted exhibition hall of a $350-a-night (£238) hotel, four cowboys in ranch clothes were trying to tie up a steer whose horns were almost as wide as the men were tall.

"They're going to have a cross-tie that animal," one woman onlooker whispered, almost conspiratorially, as they struggled to push the vast beast into position. "You can see it just isn't tame."

A few yards away, a man wearing a starched Wrangler's shirt and a large black hat was doing tricks with a rope, spinning it in ever bigger circles as he kept side-stepping through the loop. "I was working on a ranch and I started playing with the ropes," Kevin Fitzpatrick said later. "For the last 12 years I've been doing it professionally."

The Texans have come to town. You can spot them by their Stetsons, you can hear them by their lazy drawl. But mostly you see them in their expensive finery, celebrating at glitzy parties the fact that one of their own now has the top job. Of the inaugural balls organised by the societies representing the various states, the Texas ball is generally held to be biggest and best.

For this inauguration, it is even more so. Tickets for last night's Black Tie and Boots ball, where thousands gathered to eat 6,000lb of beef brisket and dance to country star Lyle Lovett and rockers ZZ Top, were meant to cost $175 (£119).

Such was the cachet surrounding the fund-raising event, at which the former Texas governor and now the President-elect was guest of honour, that they were sold out weeks ago and "black-market" tickets were selling on the internet for $3,600 (£2,450).

"When the election was official the ball took on a new life," said Rick Meyers, the Texas State Society co-chairman. "Everybody wanted to come. It's always been a hot ticket but this year it is the hot ticket."

To much of urbane Washington, this Texas thing has been a joke. The papers have been full of snide remarks about lethal injection, hairdressers worried they are going to be overwhelmed by good ol' gals asking for "big" styles and guides to perfecting that all important drawl. (Try ur-Y-'all, apparently.) But while Texans dismiss accusations of hickery as East Coast snobbery, they are happy to admit their differences, proud of their sense of independence from the rest of the US.

As every Texan will tell you repeatedly, the Lone Star state was an independent nation between 1836 and 1845, creating a distrust of federal government that still exists.

Thanks to the many corporate sponsors, the ball is expected to raise more than $2m (£1.3m) to help pay for George W Bush's inauguration.

Sandra Fisher, who travelled from La Grange, Texas, with her husband and three Texas Longhorn Steers they were showing at a fair in the exhibition hall of the upmarket Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

"I don't think we are going to be ashamed by anything this President does. George W is a good man, a genuine decent person. People from Texas know what is right. They might not always do it, but they do know."