2016 Hall of Fame Inductee
Cleveland F. Walters Sr. was born in Ames, Liberty County, Texas. He attended school at Our Mother of Mercy Catholic School in Ames but had to quit after the sixth grade to help support the family. He was a real working cowboy, starting off earning $0.75 / day with a meal. Eventually working up to top pay which was $3.50 a day for herding cattle, breaking wild horses and mules for Rich Brothers Company ranch in Liberty County. In those days, the cattle were still the tougher to handle Longhorn breed. During World War II he became draft eligible and reported to the draft board. Once the military found out he was a cowboy that worked on the ranches that provided beef to the military, he became exempt status so he could continue to work the ranches. During these days his nickname was "44". He earned this name because he always wore a 44 caliber pistol to help protect the cattle from the local wildlife (mainly wolves & bobcats). He participated in many local rodeos where he would earn money for riding bulls, steer dogging, wild cow milking and other events. He loved music and during cattle round-ups and rodeos he would entertain the cowboys and crowds with his harmonica, rubboard and accordion. Primarily playing Creole and folk music.
Mr. Walters continues to be recognized as an historic residence and black cowboy from Ames, TX. On September 29, 2014, City Council of Ames, Texas dedicated the street adjacent to his home "Walters Road" to honor Mr. Walters for his rich history and contributions to the city. Texas State Senator Robert Nichols recognized his contributions with a certificate from the State of Texas. In February 2013, he was interviewed by BBC News for a news article titled "America's Forgotten Black Cowboy" and his story was broadcasted on the BBC station throughout Europe and other parts of the world on March 22, 2013 (www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21768669). In 2002, National Geographic worked with Ron Tarver (rontarverphotographs.com) to sponsor a documentary on black cowboys. They interviewed Mr. Walters and honored him by displaying his photos at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. at a Black Cowboy exhibition. Also produced was a video by Alan Govenar in which Mr. Walters was a key figure and instrumental in the production about the history of the black cowboy titled "The Hard Ride". In addition, Mr. Walters is featured in two books written by Alan Govenar; Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound and Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore. He also is featured as a folk musician playing his harmonica on a CD named Documentary Arts, Inc. > Hallelujah Jubilee. He entertained crowds for many years with his accordion and harmonica playing at the local rodeos and the annual Liberty Jubilee. He helped two popular young accordion players get their start in zydeco music: Little Brian of the Zydeco Travelers and Miguel Fontenot of the Zydeco Stompers. The local and Beaumont newspapers have interviewed and printed several articles about Cleveland's life as a cowboy and rancher. His photo is currently displayed in the brochure "Texas Independence in Liberty, Texas" (a part of the Texas State Library & Texas Historical Commission) and can be found at the Texas Travel Information Center in Orange, Texas and the Sam Houston Regional Library. He retired in 1990 after working many years for the Texas State Highway Department.
Mr. Walters married Grace Roy from Ames, Texas after they met on her father's farm. They were married for over 65 years, raising seven children: five sons and two daughters. Family members in Ames still raise horses, cattle and various other livestock. At 91 year old, he still loves sharing his cowboy stories and wisdom with his four generations of children and grandchildren.
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