It’s a different way of life, one filled with hard work and strong values – values passed on to each generation to use rope, horse, cattle, tack or feed as part of a lifestyle. It's a lifestyle that has enveloped the homes of E.W. Halbert, Jr. and his son Cliff. It's a lifestyle currently seen through the family's youngest generation as they now step into the arena with their own horses and cattle.
The Halbert family moved to Kilgore in 1939. They had two sons, Bill (the elder by two years) and E.W. or Elzie Jr.
“I rode some bareback bucking horses when I was a kid,” said E.W. “I went to a few rodeos when I was in the sixth or seventh grade. My uncle put on rodeos in Eastland, Texas, and I rode race horses in the seventh grade in McCaney and went to some in Kilgore while in high school.
“I joined the Merchant Marines and fought in WWII and proud of it. I was afraid they were going to win it before I got over there. My daddy told me, ‘Teenagers don’t have any sense and you have proved it.' I joined when I was sixteen. It didn’t take me long to realize I had messed up.”
E.W. Enlisted in July 1944 and came home to stay in mid-1949.
“I didn’t intend to stop going to sea until I met my wife, Wanda (Martin) and she changed my mind.”
If he wasn't working or sleeping, he was roping.
“I started roping in 1953 and a year later went to my first rodeo with the roping,” E.W. Recalled.
Throughout the '50s and '60s he worked in the oilfield, at first with Premier Oil Refinery, a locally-owned company. When they sold out to another outfit, E. W. went to work for a local oilfield chemical company. In 1973, he became partners with the late Sonny Spradlin at an oilfield service company. It was called Henry C. McDonald Company and E.W. ran the company until 1994.
Wanda and E. W. raised two children: Cliff, who followed his father’s footsteps, and Debbie Leopard, an English teacher at Kilgore Middle School.
Together, E.W. and Cliff worked the rodeo and worked in the oilfield together – twenty years side-by-side. In the last 10, Cliff continued in the rodeo field of bull riding.
“All those years, I would rodeo as an amateur. I did not belong to the RCA because I did not want to interfere with my job,” said E. W. “You either rodeo full-time or you rodeo part-time. I didn’t want to leave home to rodeo. I probably went to 50-60 rodeos a year in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and this part of Texas. If I wasn’t working or sleeping I was roping,” he reiterated. “You supplemented your income with rodeo. To be good at it and do it you had to like it and hard work.”
During his early rodeo days, E. W. roped in boxing shoes as they did not make flat-heeled boots. “You had to save the ankles,” he laughed.
In a few days, E.W. will turn 90 years-old. At the request of his family, he no longer rides horses, but he continues to rope every evening.
“I sit in a recliner, hold a rope in my hands and work it in my mind,” he quipped. “I do love to rope.”
Cliff was raised around calf roping and could rope ever since he was a kid. He went to work during the summers for Nathan Bussey out of Longview. His son, Gary, was already riding bulls and had practice bulls at the ranch. It was there Cliff got his start learning to ride bulls; he was 15 years-old.
Cliff graduated from Kilgore High School and Kilgore College. He has worked at the Kilgore College Ag Farm and Texas A&M Research Center in addition to coal- and oilfield-related companies. He, too, worked with Spradlin alongside E.W. Today, he works at Texas Eastman.
“I kept roping and riding bulls for several years,” Cliff said. “I quit roping and stayed with the bulls for awhile. It was not the best decision,” he laughed.
That was, probably, in the mid-'60s to the late '70s.
“There was a period during that time I quit working but continued to rodeo and I made bull ropes. I had moderate success in bull riding mainly in the regional area,” he humbly confessed. “And I was a member of the International Rodeo Association for awhile.”
“When family started coming along, I basically backed out of the bull riding thinking it was time. I met my wife, Susie Falconer, while in college.
The couple has three daughters: Carey Murphy, Lindsey Halbert and Lauren Halbert. Carey and Lauren became barrel racers, evident in the array of buckles and photos found in both homes.
“We always had a good time going to the rodeos, it was good family time,” said Cliff.
According to Susie, “We never pushed them to get involved. We let the decisions to participate in whatever they chose be entirely up to them. And we supported and coached the best we could.”
For Cliff, “I still enjoy riding and training horses. I go to training clinics once a year and try to improve on horsemanship training. There is always something to learn about the horse.”
Susie says her husband has an innate ability to work with a horse that's hurt or skittish.
“He has received calls for help on loading horses into trailers. One time a co-worker had a horse they had tried to get in a trailer for over 45 minutes and within a few minutes after Cliff arrived the horse was stepping in and out of the trailer like he owned it,” she said. “It is magical to watch him work, kind of like horse psychology.”
Today, Cliff and Susie have three grandchildren: Kace, Karleigh and Kellen. It looks like their preference is cattle. They'll be showing in the upcoming FFA Auction and Kace recently won the calf scramble held in Houston.
Whatever their preference, the Halbert family continues to be Texas Bred, Texas Strong and continues to add their talents to the world of rodeo.
May His Love and Laughter Fill Your Hearts and Your Homes Throughout the week. In the meantime, we may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 903-984-2593.