2008 Hall of Fame Inductee
2008 Hall of Fame Inductee
Willie Thomas was born on January 30, 1930, to Johnnie and Josephine Thomas in Richmond, Texas. His family had previously moved to Richmond in 1925 as the result of a cotton pick to the A.P. George Ranch. Willie was the second of four children. He attended school in Crabb, Texas until the age of 9 at which time he dropped out of school to help his mother with his other sisters and brother.
Willie started working at the A.P George Ranch as a yardman and was eventually promoted taking care of the livestock, such as feeding and milking ten herds of cattle a day. Often after feeding and milking the cattle, Willie would end up on top of the cattle’s back—riding! Willie’s family had hogs of their own but no horses. Sometimes he would go up to the George Ranch on an early feeding of the hogs but instead of running them back he would ride on their backs. In an attempt to get Willie off their back, the hogs would run under the house. At age 16 Willie was promoted with others, to taking care of approximately 500 bulls at the ranch. During feedings Willie would jump off the feed wagon onto the bull’s back and ride it without a rope.
Mr. Thomas first started rodeoing in 1948. The first rodeo in which he participated was in Hempstead, Texas. The entry fee was $3.00 in bull riding. He was bucked off and on the second day disqualified for slapping with his free hand. The second rodeo he participated in was held at the Diamond L Ranch on South Main, Houston, Texas owned by PRCA Gold cardholder Jerome Sweeney. His first win was third place in the amount of $35.00. From that day on, Willie participated in the bull riding for three consecutive years without being thrown.
His first Professional Rodeo was in 1953 when he obtained his PRCA card in San Antonio, Texas. Because he was an amateur and rookie, he would put his rope on backward from other cowboys in the professional rank. Most of the cowboys laughed at him, but he drew one of the rankest bulls in the herd and won the bull riding. After the rodeo was over, Jim Shoulder came to him and said he would give him $10 for every bull he rode for eight seconds. He was given four bulls to ride and left that day with an additional $40.00. Jim Shoulder and some of the other cowboys followed him to his car and asked him where he was from and who taught him to ride.
Mr. Thomas’s second Professional Rodeo was in San Antonio where he rode a bull that had never been ridden; He won second in the 2nd go round. The Third bull was for all the average money, Mr Thomas rode the bull for approximately fourteen seconds and stepped off, and then the whistle blew. A Texas rancher by the name of Zeno Farris from San Antonio told the timekeepers they should be ashamed of themselves, this left a bitter taste in Willie and he did not attend another PRCA show for one year. He continued to rodeo locally at the Diamond L Ranch, West Columbia, Dickinson, and surrounding rodeos.
Mr. Willie Thomas returned to the PRCA rodeo in 1958 where he rode and won in Boston, Mass., and Madison Square Garden in New York; Harrisburg, Pa.; Austin and Waco, Tx. Mr. Thomas won over 20 belt buckles and saddles for bull riding, bareback riding and all –around Cowboy from 1953-1969.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas have been married for over 61 yrs., and have nine children. They reside in Booth, Texas.
Copyright © 2008, National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame,
All Rights Reserved.