“WE were a team,” she said, “one of us backed up the other one…always.” The statement was a reference to team roping but for Bill and Rebecca Hale, roping has been used in all areas of their life to help strengthen the family whose name and actions have become synonymous with Texas and a life of rodeo that extends beyond the arena.
Rebecca was raised and attended schools in Gladewater, daughter of Gloria and E.B. Lee Jr. At an age when most girls would be playing with dolls, Rebecca was learning to ride. It was not unusual to see a young person riding the streets of Gladewater, a town well-known for its rodeo.
“I competed in horse shows and barrel racing,” said Rebecca. ‘When I was eighteen, I started riding bareback horses and bulls. I didn’t think there was anything that could throw me until I went to the finals where I learned different.”
“The All Girls Finals were held in Pueblo, Colorado,” she continued. “The first night the horse actually flipped, just went right on over; fell on me and put me in the hospital,” she said. “I didn’t stay at the hospital but had a bruised kidney and other bruises here and there. Then the second night, I guess I was not comfortable and got thrown,” she laughed. “But, that was the first time for the finals. And yes, I got back on the horse the second night.”
“I rode all over the place in Texas, but mostly around Burnett and that area when I was doing the All Girls Rodeo,” she continued. “It was mainly bareback, I left the bulls alone. The bulls were not my thing,” she readily admitted. “Horses are what I enjoyed. I have buckles and trophies and won some money.”
“Then I met Bill,” she continued. “I made sure I was at a roping arena to be where he was,” she confessed. “And I would ride my horse down a long dirt road at night just to go see him rope when he was in Gladewater. I roped a little then, too. I was probably 21 or 22 years old by that time.
“I was working at a ranch when I married,“ said Rebecca. The couple married February 4, 1977. Together they team roped and won money and variety of tack. They were seen everywhere at Texas rodeos and in 1991 a commercial for a benefit was cut using their roping skills to help sponsor a benefit.
“During that time, we received a lot of calls to help catch cows for people,” said Rebecca.
“I remember one call in particular,” said Bill. “Rob Thoni, a veterinarian, called us to tell us a calf got out. It was over where the new schools are now (Kilgore Middle School) and on Laird property then. So, we found him and took off after him. I threw at the calf and missed. Rebecca rode up there and roped him. Kind of embarrassing to me,” he laughed.
“If they knew what a good hand she was, they would understand that,” he said proudly. “That’s the reason I took her with me. We are a team,” he echoed Rebecca’s words. “A friend of ours, Slim Harris, would bring it up every time he saw us. He would say, I missed and Rebecca caught it.”
“The highlight of my life was roping with Bill,” admitted Rebecca. “After the children came along we would drag them along with us.”
Bill grew up in Rusk County. He was the son of Jeanne and Louis Hale. He was raised with two brothers, Buddy and Howell and one sister, Martha. His father was a farmer and a rancher and loved to plow gardens.
“Dad started me working the hay fields at the age of eight or nine, but I rode horses as early as I could remember getting someone to put a saddle on one.”
“My brother, Howell and I were in the rodeos together. I wasn’t into sports much,” said Bill, “There was always work to do at home. I got around guys that were in rodeos when I got into Kilgore College. That’s when I started roping calves, bareback riding and bulls. Howell was going, too and was part of the Rodeo Club in 1968 and 1969. We went to other colleges like Stephen F. Austin and Tyler Jr. College to compete. In fact, I won the calf roping at Tyler Junior College in 1968 and 1969. In 1969, the rain was pouring down and I was the only one that managed to rope a calf,” he laughed.
“After I went to Texas A&M, I began competing with guys there on weekends and quit all of the rough stock after college,” he said. “I guess for few years I didn’t do anything but work and ‘Becca and I met. I was already team roping a little bit by then and I would rope a little with other people and she would rope with others and then we roped together. Even when we started a family, I guess we continued to compete until right on through 1992.
“Other than team roping with Rebecca,” continued Bill, “another highlight of my career was competing in the U.S. Team Roping Championships in Guthrie, Oklahoma with a cousin, Tuffy Hale, heading. We placed tenth out of 400 teams,” he said.
During his earlier years Bill worked for the Texas A&M Research Center, then at the McKeller Ranch in Mount Pleasant, Kat Creek Ranch in Henderson and Premier Beef Cattle Co. In 1978, he broke his neck riding a horse while at Premier Beef. It took him out of commission for a while and he moved back to Kilgore and worked at the Hale Ranch.
In 1981, he went into partnership with his Dad; they worked twenty years together on a daily basis until his Dad’s death in 2001. During that time they were working 300 mother cows. Today, the family runs 150 head of mother cows with calves running everywhere, according to Rebecca.
The ranch has been in the family since 1856 and has been designated a Texas Century ranch by the Texas Department of Agriculture
Teamwork is involved in keeping the ranch going and all family members are notified when it comes time for baling hay, work the cows and ranching. Their son, Will is a major contributor and now in partnership with Bill. He lends a hand to do what is needed and daughter Amy helps with the bookwork.
Bill’s son and his siblings live on the ranch. All are called in to help Trying to coordinate around everyone’s outside jobs can get sticky but everybody seems to manage to gather especially at the 1150 acres owned north of Tyler along with the original 250 acres on the outskirts of Kilgore.
Rebecca started a cabinet business in 1982 and built it up to make a good living. Last week she finished a job and now claims retirement. That remains to be seen. Her artistry with woodwork can be seen in their own home. Above their kitchen stove can be found the branding symbol used on the Hale Ranch.
Bill was elected Rusk County Commissioner of Precinct 1 in 1976-77. After 21 years, he is self-imposing a term limit, claiming this will be his last term.
Bill and Rebecca will continue to raise and sell all-natural beef. Eight generations strong, the Hale family carries on in the tradition of roping, horses, cattle and ranching and is a true mark of the Texas Bred family.