All Inductees

Bill Barton

Bill Barton was born to Roy C. and Jessica Lemons Barton on February 21, 1920, in Abilene, Texas, a little brother to sister, Margaret. Bill’s dad was the owner of the first Chevrolet dealership in Abilene, and his mother was a school teacher. They had dreams of their son becoming an artist, doctor, or lawyer, but instead, the love for horses was born into Bill, although he did have a natural artistic ability yet it was never professionally pursued.

When Bill was two or three, he watched cowboys drive Mack Merchant’s cattle in front of his home in the far northwest edge of Abilene, and his dream to be a cowboy was truly born. At the age of 13, Bill owned his first horse, given to him as a gift from Mack Merchant. Bill soon began to work area ranches and skipped school occasionally to enter some area rodeos.

When he was fifteen, Bill quit school because he thought school was keeping him back from getting a “real” education. Bill got a job that same day at Jinks Mage’s Mule and Horse Barn, and the job led to various horse breaking and training jobs. Bill’s early rodeo years were influenced by Johnny Downs, Bill Evans, and Bill Chick. Throughout Texas, Bill consistently won saddles and other trophies, and he would always enter three events and sometimes as many as seven. Bareback saddle bronc and bull riding were his three main events, but he often entered the calf roping, wild cow milking, bulldogging, and wild mule riding. At the Houston rodeo in 1941, Smokey Snyder told Bill that he needed to belong to the Cowboy Turtle Association, and for a membership fee of $10.00, he became a professional rodeo cowboy. Bill was encouraged by Doff Aber, Bud and Bill Linderman, and Fritz Truan, as they helped him succeed as a very competitive all-around cowboy. Bill soon began to venture to other states rodeoing and winning at most of the major rodeos.

In the early fall of 1941, Bill had the opportunity to go to Front Royal, Virginia, and work as a civilian, breaking and training horses for the Pre-War Cavalry Remount Depot. Pearl Harbor came along, and Bill was drafted into the infantry. The Cavalry Commander had been so impressed with young Barton’s natural ability to break and train the mounts, he requisitioned Bill out of the foot army and back to the cavalry to continue with the horses. The Machine Age closed the Remount Service, so Bill took the quickest way to action – Paratrooping. This took him through the rest of the war.

Barton was discharged from the service in December 1945, and he moved back to Abilene, resuming his ranch work, horse training, and rodeoing. He also found a few spare moments to use his natural gift of art to produce fine pencil sketches that would make the most severe critic take notice. Some of his sketches which depicted his background of ranch and rodeo life were on exhibit at the Abilene YMCA during the spring of 1948.

On June 3, 1948, Bill married Betty Jo Lewis from Shelbyville, Tennessee, and in that year, Bill never paid an entry fee in vain at any rodeo. His bride saw him steadily add to his collection of belt buckles, spurs, saddles, trophies, and of course, more prize money winnings than most Texas Rodeo Cowboys had ever seen.

Bill rodeoed full time from 1947 to 1960, competing in the three main riding events and later concentrating on saddle broncs. Bill and Betty shared the same old adage, “Silence is the essence of intelligence.” Bill took time out from active RCA competition in 1956 to go on a three-month rodeo exhibition tour in France with the Bobby Estes Rodeo Productions. The last rodeo he entered was at Mesquite, Texas, in 1960, and he won the saddle bronc event.

Some of his most memorable wins were: Bull Riding – Lampasas, TX, when he was seventeen – beating several “tough” Turtle Members; Saddle Bronc and Bull Riding – Little Rock, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn.; Bareback – Colorado Springs, Colo. In 1950 on Madame Queen, and he was one of the riders to conquer the rank bareback horse “Champion,” owned by Bobby Estes. Bill is one of the best all-around cowboys Texas has ever produced.

From 1960 to 1968, Bill broke and trained horses, worked on ranches, and hand-tooled, working with and repairing various leather products. In 1968, Bill opened the “Bill Barton Saddle Shop.” Bill Barton saddles are a class of excellent saddle making and they have worldwide recognition. In September 1995, Bill received an award at the Boot and Saddle Makers Roundup in Brownwood, TX. The award was for thirty years of quality service and craftsmanship to the saddle industry. You can still find Barton, age 77, at his shop daily, steadily working on and filling his many orders for top-notch quality saddles.