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Another cowboy rides away - Hall of Famer Ray Wharton completes his last rodeo

Special to the Courier

Ray Wharton was born into a Texas family who farmed on the banks of Turtle Creek in Kerr County. He was one of four boys and they all had to pitch in to put food on the table. Adversity for Ray began early with his mother dying when he was six and a year later when he seriously hurt his right arm- his roping arm.
As a young boy Ray went with his family to "Uncle" Ed Mansfield's 4th of July rodeo and barbeque in Bandera. Ray was immediately drawn to the cowboys as he saw the stark contrast between them and farmers. Ray set out to become just like the cowboys by constantly practicing roping and exercising his weak arm. Having a ninth grade education, being short with a deformed right arm and being extremely poor never deterred Ray from his goals. When someone told him he couldn't do something, he worked harder and proved them wrong.
As a teenager Ray worked on local ranches and eventually worked for Morris Whit who took him to the Uvalde Rodeo. In order to participate in this sanctioned rodeo, Ray joined the United Cowboys Turtle Association in 1940. His number was 1758. When he passed away last week, he was one of the last surviving "Turtles."
Wanting to participate in all of Bandera's roping opportunities, Ray moved to Bandera in 1941 where he worked various jobs including being a wrangler at the Mayan Ranch. He often said that Bandera helped make him a great roper and in turn he helped make Bandera "The Cowboy Capital of the World."
After buying his first horse in 1946 Ray began his full time rodeo career. Toots Mansfield, Bob Mansfield, Mansfield Autry, Buddy Groff, Bill Linderman, Shoat Webster, Jim Bob Altizer, Everett Shaw, Royce Seawalt, Casey Tibbs and Whiz Whisenhunt were just a few of Ray's rodeo friends. While Ray was known for his well-trained horses, when he started riding Brownie the entire rodeo world took notice.
In 1956 at the age of 36, weighing 145 pounds, with one arm 2 inches shorter than the other, Ray won the Calf Roping World Championship riding Brownie. One of Ray's competitors admitted that, "There wasn't a man in the finals who didn't want to see Ray win first and we thought his little horse Brownie deserved the championship, too." Ray bought his ranch that same year and he always credited Brownie with allowing him to buy his ranch. In an article in 1995 for The Quarter Horse Journal, Tuffy Cooper listed Brownie as one of his top picks for best horses in roping history.
Buying his own ranch was one of Ray's dreams from childhood. Through the years many cowboys and other young fellows lived and worked at the ranch. Some worked for room and board to learn to rope or ride better. Tom Nesmith, Bill Murray, Cleo Hearn, and Bandera's Ray D'Spain are a few names of men he worked with. Some boys were sent by the sheriff or their parents to give them the opportunity to avoid jail. Ray only remembers one young fellow who didn't work out and he ended up wanting to go back to jail instead of keeping up with Ray's work schedule.
After decades of bachelorhood and dating Ada Ender for almost 10 years, Ray and Ada married in 1970. She was a true partner, doing the accounting for Ray's property purchases and appreciating Ray's rodeo career and friends as much as he did. They travelled together as Ray was honored by the Texas Senate, inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, the PRCA Hall of Fame, and Bandera's Frontier Times Museum Hall of Heroes.
While Ray is best known for his roping, his training of horses, and his legendary antics, few people realize how generous he has been to fellow cowboys, children in need or the Bandera community. He helped any cowboy in a bind. He has made generous contributions to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund in the names of 140 of his cowboy friends, helped those with medical needs and made generous donations to local schools and the Frontier Times Museum.
In the 1950's Bo Chesson joked that Ray was so ornery that he would have to pay pall bearers to carry his casket. Ray's service this week proved him wrong. It was a fitting sendoff for the World Champion with 14 pall bearers all in crisp white western shirts, black silk ties and black Stetsons with the room overflowing with rodeo legends spanning six decades and his many friends.
Ray often said that he has had the best life ever and he did everything he wanted to do. George Sharman, who officiated at the service, said, "He wasn't my father, but I sure would have been proud to be his son." Ray D'Spain remarked "I hope he will be finding faster horses, good whiskey and long lost friends."