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Frontier Times celebrates Ray Wharton’s book release

By Sandy Jennings BCC Staff Writer

“This book is dedicated to anyone who has had a dream and been told they could not achieve it because they were too poor, too short, not educated enough or lacking in something. Every time Ray Wharton was told he couldn’t do something, he worked harder to prove them wrong."
He was told he was too short to be much of a roper and he became a World Champion. His own brother told him that poor people like them could never own any land and Ray has owned several ranches and made a fortune buying and selling land.
Despite all of the odds against him, Ray never doubted himself. He was always too busy practicing, going to rodeos, training horses, roping and practicing some more to ever question whether his dreams were realistic.
He achieved the American dream through sheer determination to succeed coupled with hard work. Just as important to him, he did it while "making a lot of friends, helping people in need and having fun along his nine decade ride,” reads the dedication from Ray Wharton Champion In and Out of the Arena.
A book signing in celebration of Rodeo Champion Ray Wharton written by George Sharman and edited by Maggie Schumacher was held on Friday, Dec. 23, from noon to 2 pm, at the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera. Ada Wharton also greeted guests and signed books at the event.
The steady line of people at the book signing included friends and fans of Wharton, each with their very own anecdote to tell of their favorite memory of the cowboy they call Ray.
The autobiography of Percy Ray Wharton was a collaborative work between the Wharton's, Sharman, Schumacher and numerous others who contributed pictures, research and insight into Wharton’s life, which span was just six years short of a century.
Sharman met with Wharton on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for over two years, recording Wharton’s stories of his past on the frontier. According to Sharman, Holly Boyle reviewed the tapes and after seeing the scope of material, encouraged Sharman to turn them into a book.
Sharman also thanked Holly Hasenfratz’s from the Dickinson Research Center at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, researcher Irene Van Winkle, Frontier Times Museum Director Rebecca Norton and all the people that sent letters about Ray and encouraged Sharman to write the book.
Sharman grew up in Bandera, graduated from Texas A&M University in 1970 and worked as a general contractor in Houston for 30 years before returning to Bandera and renting a place owned by Wharton for a few years before buying his own ranch. Sharman shared a friendship with Wharton for about 40 years and started taping his weekly conversations with him for the last couple of years. Sharman realized that Wharton’s story is a part of rodeo and Texas history. Sharman’s “knowledge and respect for Ray, the history of the area and his enthusiasm for the western way” drove him to take on the project of creating a book.
One of Sharman’s favorite stories was when Wharton made it his goal to have his own ranch, even though others saw that as an unrealistic dream.
“Ray and his brother were digging holes at someone's ranch for ten cents a hole when Ray turned to his brother and said, ‘I’m going to be digging these holes on my ranch one day’ and his brother said, ‘No Ray, guys as poor as you and me will never own any land, we’ll always work for someone else,’ and that’s not something you tell Ray Wharton,” Sharman said.
Wharton worked on many ranches and dude ranches in his early years. In his late teens, he worked for Morris Witt who gave him the opportunity to compete in a local rodeo for money and Wharton loved the experience. He continued to work on ranches and rope on the side until he bought his first horse in 1946 and began making a living rodeoing full time.
Wharton worked hard to overcome the obstacles he faced with his right arm and small stature and his perseverance paid off. In 1956, Wharton won the Rodeo Cowboys World Championship in Calf Roping. He was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1994 and recognized by the Texas Senate on April 24, 1995. Wharton was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2002 and into the Frontier Times Museum’s Texas Heroes Hall of Fame in 2009.
In addition to winning the World Championship title in 1956, Wharton achieved another one of his milestones when he bought his first ranch and credited his horse Brownie for making the dream of owning a ranch a reality.
According to the book, as Wharton rode into his fifties, ‘he settled down by raising cows, training horses, participating in jackpot rodeos and finally marrying Ada Ender, his girlfriend for more than 10 years.’ He married Ada on July 22, 1970, in Mexico.
“Ray and I had a great life,” Ada Wharton said. “We were so compatible. We traveled a great amount to rodeos and to see friends. I helped around the ranch as much as a city girl could. Ray always said I was the best fence climber when it came to working cattle. We were so close. I miss Ray dearly.”
The book begins with the Wharton ancestors and their arrival in Kerr County, Texas. Starting with his birth on the banks of Turtle Creek on February 17, 1920, to Sidney Lee (Pappy) and Margaret Ruth McDonald Wharton. It covers Wharton’s early years, growing up poor on the rugged Texas frontier and attending school in the Center Point area.
Chapter 3, dives into Wharton’s working and rodeoing in the 1940s and covers his championships, friendships, awards and iconic presence in Bandera through the next five chapters.
The book ends with a picture of Wharton tipping his Stetson and saying, “I’ve had the best life. I’ve done everything I wanted to do.”
The epilogue reads, ‘Ray Wharton passed away on October 20, 2014, at the age of 94, at his ranch in Bandera with Ada by his side. When Ada picked the date for the service, she knew Ray would not want it held on the weekend of the San Angelo Roping Fiesta. It was held the week after the roping event.
When Cody Ohl won the San Angelo roping, he asked that his winning rope be placed in Ray’s casket as a tribute to the man who had helped so many ropers, himself included. Ada, of course, obliged knowing it would make Ray smile.
In the 1950s Bo Chesson joked that Ray was so ornery that he would have to pay his pall bearers to carry his casket. Ray’s memorial service proved him wrong. Wearing crisp white shirts, black silk ties and Stetson hats that Ray had requested, fourteen pall bearers walked into the room overflowing with rodeo legends spanning six decades and his many friends. George Sharman officiated at the service, where many laughed and cried, while he reminisced about their friend.
Ray D’Spain had a bucket of Snicker bars at the cemetery for friends to eat. Ada invited everyone back to their ranch where the reminiscing continued. Ray D’Spain’s remarks summed up the feelings of many, “I hope he will be finding faster horses, good whiskey and long lost friends.”
Ray Wharton Champion In and Out of the Arena can be purchased at the Frontiers Time Museum for $25 plus tax. All profits from the book are being donated to the Frontier Times Museum. For more information, call 830-796-3864.