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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Bill Wharton

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Used to be, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, some people were born Thankful and died Thankful. That’s because, way back, parents sometimes named their daughters Thankful.

Born in 1803, Thankful Rankin later married someone with a more common given name, William Watson Wharton. Well into middle age, the couple made their way to the Texas hill country in 1857.

Thankful and her husband relocated from McNary County in Tennessee to Kerr County. They bought 640 acres along the old Guadalupe River road between Kerrville and Center Point, a route that came to be called Wharton Road.

William and Thankful gave thanks for their new home and for their three sons, one of whom was William G. Wharton, born in 1841. Folks called him Bill. Just shy of 21 when the Civil War broke out, Bill served as a sergeant in Company A of the Mounted Regiment of Texas State Troops, a unit which functioned as rangers to protect the frontier from hostile Indians. Whenever he heard the word “thankful” Wharton thought of his mother, but her sainted name also summarized his position on chewing tobacco, hound dogs, whiskey and his six-shooter.

Following his discharge from Confederate duty, he returned to Kerr County to raise cattle and occasionally serve as a peace officer.

His father died in 1871, occupying one of the earliest graves in the Wharton Family Cemetery, founded the year before. Thankful lived another 15 years before joining her husband in the small graveyard.

At some point, Bill Wharton’s long, interesting life moved someone to poetry. Whether that someone was Panhandle artist H.D. Bugbee, who published the poem in 1960, or whether someone else penned the poem is yet to be discovered.
No matter who wrote it, Bugbee featured the poem along with a pen-and-ink sketch of Wharton in a small booklet printed by Clarendon Press, “Bill Wharton or an Example of Early Hill Country Diplomacy.” Today the small piece about Wharton, his propensity to go around heeled and an understanding county sheriff is quite collectible and quite scarce.

Though no mention is made in the poem of the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms it guarantees, old Bill seems to have been one of those types who didn’t feel properly dressed without a pistol hanging on his side.

No subtlety in its rhyme, here’s the poem:
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Bill Wharton was a cowman in an early Kerrville day;
He also was a lawman – in a carefree sort of way.

His ranch was on the Rock Springs road, he lived there with Aunt Lou.
It made an ideal stopping place for travelers passing through.

For as long as they would visit he encouraged them to stay;
A sittin’, spittin’ on the porch, the true Bill Wharton way.

Wherever that old man would go, his hound dogs went there too.
There wasn’t anything, he said, “them hound dogs couldn’t do.”

Quite often into Kerrville he’d come and bring his wife –
For he loved the Kerrville liquor and the Kerrville brand of life.

Then they passed a law in Texas, guns must not be worn in view,
So deputizing Wharton was the only thing to do.

It wasn’t aught that he had sought, that badge pinned on his vest,
Twas kind of forced upon him with the taming of the West.

Since boyhood every morning he had donned his pants and gun;
They couldn’t make him give ‘em up, no sir, either one.

He wouldn’t have felt decent without his gun and belt,
It was lucky that the sheriff realized that was how Bill felt.

For fifty years he wore that gun, no doubt he packs it still –
For if he didn’t folks would say, “that cain’t be Uncle Bill.”
Bill Wharton died Nov. 3, 1919 and lies buried with his kin folks in the family cemetery. Whether he was still packing a shooting iron when they lowered him into his grave is another unanswered question. If so, he doubtless would have invoked his mother’s name.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
November 27, 2008 column
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