Cowboys & Heroes: A feature by Gil Potts


(Note from Editor:  In the print edition, the jump page portion is missing because of a printer error.)

Nearly forty-some years ago, song writer Mary Sharon Vaughn penned a song about cowboys.  In 1976 it was recorded by Waylon Jennings, but it was the 1980 version by Willie Nelson that became a popular hit, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.”

Although cowboys were almost always portrayed as heroes in the 1950s and 1960s television programs such as The Lone Ranger, Hop-Along-Cassidy, and of course everyone’s favorite, The Roy Rogers Show, it was Willie Nelson who rebirthed the romanticism of the cowboy.  The lyrics rang true of the real cowboys, and inspired dreams of urban dwellers who could only imagine the life they led.

Over the years, Van Horn has been home to many a real cowboy. But there’s one that kind of sticks out from the rest.  Having been born back in the early 1930’s, he knows a thing or two about living a hard life. After all, he’s been around for a while. He was born and raised on a small cow outfit in Eastern Oregon in the height of the great Depression, and learning early on the value of those little things like an old worn-out saddle, he still managed to hang on to those old worn out memories that are the inspiration of his popular book, Range Poems by Ray Fitzgerald.

Ray grew up outside of Brianville, Oregon where he naturally learned the cowboy way of life. He says, “We were too poor to pay attention, but we didn’t know it. We managed to eat good and we rode good horses.” After completing a stint in the U.S.Marine Corps, Ray dedicated the next 20-plus years to a career with the Border Patrol, which brought him to Texas in 1972 and retirement 10 years later, although retirement might be an odd word to use at this juncture in Ray’s life. He was just getting started again, doing what he always loved, from the back of a horse.

Just the other day, Ray returned from a trip to Arizona where he visited with friends and relatives and, as any good cowboy would do, helped an old friend with the tasks of branding, and an old fashioned cattle drive to a new pasture.  You could clearly see a spark in his eyes as he told of how the summer rain had greened the pasture and sprouted new grass just in time for arrival of the herd. The best part of the story though, was how he described the good feeling he had when the rain soaked their slickers, and as he looked out between his horse’s ears,  he could watch the water roll off his hat and drip down in front of

his eyes. Just like the good ol’ days.

If you didn’t do the math a couple paragraphs above, Ray is only 83 years young. He still enjoys riding, chasing down stray cows, a good campfire and now-a-days, a warm bed roll at the end of the day. When he’s not out at the ranch, you’re likely to find Ray at Rodney’s Café in the early mornings. It’s just his friendly nature to greet you with a heartfelt “good morning” when you walk through the door. And if it’s busy, he’s likely to get up and poor you a cup of coffee.
On Saturday, Aug.  23,  Ray will be doing a book signing for those of you who would like a copy of Range Poems, available at Rodney’s Café on West Broadway from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.. Ray will also share a few life experiences as a cowboy, and recite a few of his cowboy poems.   There’s probably a lot to learn from the likes of ol’ Ray Fitzgerald.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here