By CHRIS AGEE | firstname.lastname@example.org
GRAFORD – Don McClure grew up on a family ranch in Graford and was exposed to rodeoing at an early age. Years of practice followed by decades of competition resulted in his recent induction into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.
"When I grew up back in the '40s, everything was farming and ranching" in the Graford area, McClure, 74, recalled. "We were in a rural area and there were not many things to go see and do in that day and time. Rodeo was a way of life in this area."
First introduced to riding a calf by his father, Russell, when he was 5 years old, McClure won his first calf riding contest in Weatherford the next year. At the age of 15, he won his first bareback riding event at a junior rodeo in Graham.
By the late 1950s, McClure competed in rodeos across Texas and Oklahoma and travelled with another local cowboy, Johnny Clark, to Cowtown, N.J., each Monday during the summer for a nationally televised rodeo with large cash prizes. His specialty was bareback bronc riding.
The pair then travelled back to Texas in time for weekend rodeos and kept up the busy schedule during the summers of 1957 and 1958.
The following year, McClure married a barrel racer from Mineral Wells named Shirley Winnett and the couple are now parents of three and grandparents of five.
Though rodeo remained a major passion, McClure graduated from North Texas State College in Denton in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education. He taught math for 33 years in Graham, though his desire to compete in rodeos never waned.
"During the fall and winter I went to as many of the big rodeos as I could get to and teach school," he said. "In the summertime, we had a camper and we would travel throughout the southwest," he added, noting he "went as far as Canada, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Arkansas and New Mexico."
McClure competed in numerous rodeo associations throughout his career and won or placed in countless competitions.
Though the majority of his victories were at rodeos in Texas and Oklahoma, he also had success at competitions in Arkansas, Nebraska, Missouri, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.
In 1969, McClure retired from the rodeo circuit and soon followed in his father's footsteps, raising and training cutting horses.
After determining he was naturally adept at cutting, he found further success in the National Cutting Horse Association.
"In 1981, I made the open division," he said, referring to the NCHA Futurity competition. "There were over 600 horses in the open and I made the top 20 in the finals."
He said he also advanced to the non-pro finals the same year, finishing in fifth place, and placed again in the non-pro division three years later.
Though his long rodeo career is over, McClure said he still lives the life of a cowboy on the McClure Ranch, which has been in his family for more than a century.
"I raised my own horses, trained and showed my own horses, then sold them," he said. "It worked really well for me. I've accumulated more land since then and I've just continued to farm and ranch and do ranch work. I still ride my horses [but] I do not show anymore."