Once every few years, I’ve gone into sites like ancestry.com looking for more information about Ray’s parents and family. While Ray himself turns up in official records, starting in the 1930s with his registration for a Social Security card, and we’ve found newspaper articles mentioning Ray as far back as 1920, nothing about Ray’s parents can be confirmed.
My family has never done anything particularly significant. On both my mother’s and father’s side of the family, our story is remarkably ordinary – working class, a few people serving in the military, a couple of grandparents that were ministers at local churches. As far as I can tell, none of my ancestors served in the Civil War or Revolutionary War.
But, both sides of my family have been traced back by genealogy researchers to Europe in the 1600s. And practically all of my male ancestors show up in some kind of official documents – census, birth, or marriage records.
That’s what makes Ray’s background particularly curious. While we can verify something about many of the stories Ray told to friends or in his autobiography – even about working in far-flung places like Shanghai – Ray’s own stories about his parents and where he grew up have never been backed up with any kind of solid documentation, except what Ray himself had to say, even using extensive genealogical resources, such as ancestry.com.
On his death certificate, Ray’s father is noted as “Franz Joseph of the Throne of Austria” and his mother as “Louisa Bourbon”, the information Ray gave to either officials at the prison where he was arrested or the hospital where he died.
Image: Ray’s death certificate, 1972.
Image: Ray’s application for a Social Security card, 1937.
Here’s how Ray described his origins at the beginning of his autobiography:
I was born in Chihuahua City, Mexico. My mother was an obscure Bourbon-Parma Princess; my father was a member of the Hapsburg Family of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (and a long ways from being obscure).
My father divorced his wife to marry my mother. Getting a divorce in those days was practically impossible, but even the Pope could scarcely defy an Emperor. So, when the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Joseph, gave his sanction to the divorce, the Church could hardly afford to disagree. My father and mother were married in a civil ceremony just outside Paris. Evidently, my mother was about four or five months gone at the time of the wedding.
All of this came out when I was twenty-one years old. I had suspected something was wrong because I didn’t seem to belong to the family that raised me.
My mother had decided to come to America to have me born to keep me free from all of the intrigue that went on among the ruling families of Europe. She was on her way to see the Frank T. Waddell family in Hudspeth County, Texas. My mother and Mrs. Waddell had gone to convent together in Paris and were always close friends. When she reached Mexico, she realized I was getting near. So, she had riders go to the Waddell ranch to notify them where she was and what was happening. The Waddells and about thirty riders rushed to Chihuahua City.
My mother died eight days after I was born. She was buried in Chihuahua City. The Waddells came back to their ranch in Texas where I was raised until I was almost fifteen years old.
Image: The first page of Ray’s unpublished autobiography. Randy A. Riddle collection.
Ray goes on to state that his adopted father, Frank, died when he was about ten years old and that his adopted mother, Elizabeth, married a man named Ted Hughes. In two articles published in the “El Paso Herald Post” in July and August, 1931, dealing with an estate that Ray inherited (a subject that will be covered in another post), Ray is referred to as “Richard” or “Hal Waddell” and his father and mother as “Alfred C. Hughes” and “Elizabeth Hughes”.
I haven’t been able to turn up anything in official records or genealogy databases on any of the Waddell or Hughes names in Texas from that time period.
Ray, in the late 1910s, tried his hand at screenwriting and we’ve documented from industry magazines of the period that he was using the alias “Ramon Icarez”. Later, in the early 30s, he would adopt the pen name “Richard Fabien Mann” when he wrote his novel, “Hookers“. In the early 60s, when Ray was interviewed by the FBI, they listed his aliases as “Richard Fabien Mann, Rae Bourbon, Hal Waddell, and Greg Waddell”.
Again, none of these aliases or family names seem to pan out when researching original documents or family trees from Texas during the time was Ray was growing up.
Ray describes the Waddells owning a “great ranch”, “one hundred and twenty five thousand acres on the American side and seventy one thousand acres on the Mexican side connected by thirty-six miles of the Rio Grande river.” Later, in his autobiography, Ray says the ranch was about “an hour’s ride” from the town of Sierra Blanca – about four to six miles. (In recent years, Sierra Blanca has been known as the place where several celebrities, including Fiona Apple, Snoop Dogg, and Willie Nelson have been arrested for marijuana possession at a local drug checkpoint.)
Image: A modern map of Hudspeth County, highlighting Sierra Blanca with the Rio Grande forming the southwestern border of the county. From the Texas State Historical Association.
Image: Town of Sierra Blanca, Texas with Sierra Blanca mountain in the background. From Wikipedia.
In March 2019, I talked by phone with local Hudspeth County historian, Tom Neely, who writes a column for the local paper and is familiar with many of the old families in the area. We talked about the ranch and geography Ray describes in his autobiography and it does fit, so Ray seems to have been familiar with the area. But, Neely didn’t recall any of the family names Ray mentions or that have been documented in articles.
That doesn’t mean that the names aren’t correct – it could be, since Ray appeared to be the only child in the family, that the ranch was sold off after his parents passed away and the family was just forgotten after that. The only way to document it might be to actually go to the local Hudspeth County courthouse and dig through old land records to see if the names turn up. And, since Ray describes the ranch as being partly on the US and partly on the Mexican side, that records about his family might be in Mexico.
So, Ray’s real name and family origins remain obscure. The Waddell name does seem genuine, based on the articles in the El Paso newspaper. But, we have no way of knowing if they are real, since Ray, his publicity agent, or his lawyer (or the person telling the newspaper that he was Ray’s lawyer) just might have given those names to reporters as a ruse of some sort.
It is likely that Ray did grow up in the Hudspeth County area, because of his familiarity with it. But it does appear that Ray tried to hide his true family origins for some reason.
Perhaps Ray Bourbon wasn’t so much as born as he was created.
Ray told at least some of his friends that his father was actually an influential and well-off politician that paid him to keep the connections to the family hidden. I have a theory about this I developed after seeing some rather odd coincidences between the lives of Ray and a US Senator that I might put up in another blog post at a later time.