Ray Rector, Cowboy Photographer

John Graves writes in his introduction to Cowboy Life On The Texas Plains

"there a couple of main troubles with trying to say in print anything worth saying about cowboys... an astounding lot has already been said about them, both by old cowboys themselves in reminiscences written or dictated late in life, and by observers of whom quite a few have been thoughtful persons with a good knowledge of the subject."
Mr. Graves has a point. Words can, and often do, fail us. Photography rarely does. Photographs append meaning to those events we read about. Most importantly, for me, photographs inform in ways words cannot...

Ray Rector c.1902

Ray Rector was a working cowboy. He plied his trade on the high plains ranches of the Texas Panhandle. As a cowhand on the XIT, Rector took part in several cattle drives. And, like many cowboys, Ray was prone to wander. But he never lost his roots. Homesickness, combined with the need to overcome malaria contracted in California, bought him back to the healthful environment of West Texas. He settled in Stamford, Texas in 1902.

Stamford, Texas c.1903

No longer able to work as a cowboy, Ray and his brother Glen bought a photography business from a photographer named Higginbotham. Higginbotham taught the two young men everything he knew about the craft of taking and developing photographs.

Glen Rector moved to California soon after he and Ray established Rector & Rector. Ray continued to take photographs in Stamford, then a bustling and growing farm and ranch supply center. Portraits. Circus parades. Church socials. Street scenes. The coming of the railroad. Ranch life. Cowboys at work and at play.

SMS Flat Top Ranch cowboys branding a calf

Rector was happiest when he was taking pictures of the everyday activities and entertainments of ranchers and cowhands. His constant companion, a Kodak Autograph camera, was the tool he used to relive his cowboy days. Rector made many friends amongst those men, he took photographs on the Flat Top, Spur and Throckmorton divisions of the SMS Ranch.

SMS Ranch Cowboys Saddle-up


Mr. Rector loved the cowboy way of life. He knew it would change. He also knew what was needed to keep the flame alive... a grand cowboy get together. Old timers, working cowboys and greenhorns. A get together that would perpetuate the cowboy life style he loved so dearly. Rector worked with other Stamford businessmen to realize his vision of a cowboy get together. He worked hard. The cowboy still in him.

Grand Entrance, Texas Cowboy Reunion Rodeo c.1930

The Texas Cowboy Reunion, first held in Stamford, Texas in 1930 was mostly the result of Ray Rectors' ideas and efforts.The reunion is today the largest cowboy get together and amateur rodeo in the world. Still held in Rays' hometown of Stamford. On July 4th weekend for over 70 years. Be there.

Ray Rector was born on November 23, 1884, in Indian Gap, Texas. He died at his home in Stamford, Texas in January 1933. Thanks Ray... and Happy Trails.

The photographs taken by Rector serve to remind me of a way life many think disappeared. It's still with us. Changed, one has to look harder to find it. Hell, you have to get off the interstate. You even have to get out of the car. Takes a little looking, but it's there. The cowboy life. And, you can bet your boots that you'll see a cowboy with a camera when you get there.

Margaret Rector, Rays' daughter, donated over one thousand negatives and prints to the Harry Ranson Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin in 1979. She and her brother Tommy knew how important it was to preserve what was so important to their father. Without their efforts Ray Rectors' photographs, and the history they document, may well have faded into oblivion. My hat's off to them.

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