Ray Bourbon on a Cattle Drive in 1916

Over the past few years, an increasing number of local newspapers and entertainment publications are being scanned and are turning up, fully keyword indexed, online.  This has been a boon to my research on Ray Bourbon – before, only major newspapers had some kind of rudimentary index and you couldn’t easily search for mentions of specific names.

I’ve been digging through local newspapers from west Texas during the period where Ray grew up.  We know that Ray’s real name, or at least the legal name he took from his adoptive parents, was “Richard Waddell” or “Hal Waddell”, the latter perhaps being a nickname.

Cover of Ray Bourbon album "A Girl of the Golden West" featuring Ray and a cowboy

I’ve been searching through newspapers from west Texas for the names “Richard” or “Hal Waddell”.  The El Paso Herald was the larger paper that covered the region where Sierra Blanca, Texas, the location of the ranch Ray grew up on.  From that newspaper, from 1890 to 1930, there is only one mention of “Ray Waddell” I can find.  (“Cattle Shipments From Midland Country Increase”, El Paso Herald, October 24, 1916, p1)

Image of El Paso article on cattle shipments mentioning Ray Waddell

Midland, Texas, Oct. 24 – Cattle shipments from the Midland country are showing a marked revival over the past two months, and the indications are that a lively movement to markets will mark the fall season.

Within the past week the following shipments have been made from points in the Midland district:

From Metz: John M. Cowden & San, six cars cattle to Forth Worth markets; M.J. Allen, two cars to Forth Worth market; Richard Waddell, one car to Ft. Worth markets …

Did Ray head up a cattle drive from his parents’s ranch in Sierra Blanca?

It would make sense, based on the other information we have on Ray’s activities at this time.  Ray, with the outbreak of World War I, returned to the ranch from Europe where he was sent to school and wound up working in English music halls.  In 1916, he would have been about twenty years old.  

Ray claimed to have been involved with Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico in the spring of 1916.  Columbus, New Mexico is 200 miles west of Sierra Blanca.  Metz, Texas, the town mentioned in the El Paso Herald article as the departure point for the cattle going to Forth Worth, is 200 miles east of Sierra Blanca.  Either trip would have been reasonable on horseback during that time period; Ray was an accomplished horseman, doing stunts in silent movies.

The one car load of cattle, compared to the multiple cars of cattle mentioned from other ranchers, also fits with what we know about the ranch where Ray grew up.  I read the description of the ranch to one older Sierra Blanca resident a few months ago, and he remarked that it would have been a small to medium-sized ranch at the time.

I’m certain this was likely our Ray.  He was very devoted to his mother and did love life on the ranch, so I could see him, after attending school and working on stage, going back to the life he knew as a child and teenager, perhaps even trying to make a go of it at the insistence of his step-father and some urging from his mother.

Ray, in accounts he left, said he decided to try his luck in Hollywood after the raid on Columbus, when he knew that American authorities might be looking for him.  The first films Ray mentions he appears in were in 1919, though he could have done bit parts or other work months earlier.  That gap, from the spring of 1916 to 1919, might have been filled with more time on the ranch or some minor work around Los Angeles that we have no record of at the present time.

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