He grew up being told he was too poor or too small to be successful, but despite only a ninth-grade education, a deformed right arm and coming from a poor family, Ray Wharton showed that determination and hard work could overcome the most daunting obstacles in life. He became a legend in the rodeo world but Ray’s legacy is better measured by the friends he made and the young people he influenced and encouraged to live their dreams.
Ray grew up in the heart of roping country and competed against some of the toughest cowboys the sport of rodeo has ever known. If you were a roper, the 1950s was a tough era to make a living, having to rope against the like of seven-time world champion tie-down roper Toots Mansfield or five-time world champion Don McLaughlin. But Ray more than held his own, winning the world championship in 1956 and was runner-up to the world title three times.
During his long career, Ray competed and won just about every major rodeo in the country. He won money at New York’s Madison Square Garden, San Francisco’s Cow Palace and all points in between. But he always called Bandera, Texas, home. Rodeo gave Ray the means to acquire land and live the only life he ever wanted, the life of a cowboy.