WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees
VAL AYALA (67)
2000 COWBOY HALL OF FAME POSTHUMOUS AWARD
Val was born February 14, 1914, He was a Valentine's Day Baby and his given name was actually Valentino, but he was known to all as Val. Val literally grew on the Sierra Bonita Ranch. He worked there more than any other single cowboy. He drew his first paycheck at age 14.
Val was born into a large family. He was one of five boys and five sisters.
Val went to elementary school in Bonita, and they say his high school education was cowboying. Val was the kind of person that was always having fun. He loved to be a prankster, (i.e. like stirring up a wasp nest or imitating people.) Val had a good sense of humor; he once named a straight black cowpony "snowball." His wife gave him a bright pink saddle pad which looked like shag carpet. He was teased relentlessly about how it spooked the horses and cattle. But he didn't hide it under his blanket or exchange it, because it might hurt her feelings.
Val was a very hard worker, and it didn't matter who it was that needed help, Val was there to help. He could ride all day long and never hunt any shade. When they were branding cattle, and Juan Leon would rope the big calves around the neck to bring them to the fire, Val would get mad then go do his job. But he loved it all. He was a cowboy at heart. He loved being with horses and being with cattle.
A story from Chuck Davis: One summer afternoon, Val and I were riding back to the ranch when we were overtaken by a large thunderstorm. We ran flat out for about a mile and a half with lighting bolts striking around us like artillery. Val dismounted at the first of two corral gates, between us and the stables. A bolt struck sending fire down a power line right next to us and spooking my horse into Val's horse and Val. No one was hurt, but all were scared. I ran to get the second gate as Val retrieved his horse. I opened it and led through, expecting Val behind me. But, no, he was struggling to close the first gate because our "wreck" bent the chain hook. I yelled at him to leave it and ran for the stables. He did, but then paused to close the second gate, which I left open. All in the worst lightning storm I've experienced. Yes, Val was very neat and thorough about what he did.
Val's life was filled with hard work and some loneliness, but he always was doing something interesting. He had a collection of arrowheads that he found while out riding. He once roped a jackrabbit and Val helped to make a Teepee that was in the Museum of the Southwest.
He rode in one of the Rex Allen Days parade representing the Sierra Bonita Ranch. Val won the first place trophy as best mounted entry.
He could imitate people, especially Juan Leon, but he could imitate about anybody. He was good musician. He could play the violin and the guitar. In fact, the fun loving cowboy could play the guitar behind his head. He could yodel like Jimmy Rodgers and was a wonderful dancer. His favorite songs include Red River Valley or El Rancho Grande.
When Val was young he like to hunt and fish; in fact his favorite food was seafood. After he basically retired, he loved to go to yard sales and he loved to ride around in the truck driving up into the mountains. He just loved the mountains.
Val Ayala was not rich or famous, and he never owned a ranch. Val earned his spot in the Cowboy Hall of Fame by spending a lifetime cowboying for one of the most Historic ranches in the Sulphur Springs Valley.
I talked with one of Val's nephews that remembered spending summers with Val at the Sierra Bonita. He said, if you wanted to spend time with Val during the day you'd better be horseback. Because Val was up before sun up off herding cattle, branding or doing what ever needed to be done on the ranch. He remembered Val as a very understanding man and very seldom saw him angry. Summers at the Sierra Bonita: Fresh Eggs, Fresh Beef and Fresh Milk.
Information was gathered from eight different people. It was almost uncanny how all of them said the same thing about Val Ayala.
He worked hard all his life, and he loved being a cowboy. Even at the age of 62, Val could out work the young farm hands that wanted to be a cowboy. Chuck Davis said about six months before Val passed away, that Val wanted to go out to the ranch and "work hard." His savvy and stamina was an inspiration.
For the last 14 years of Val's life, Betty Wooten took care of him. She knew Val as a very good man who had lots of friends. He was honest and everybody liked him. On March 11, 1999, Val Ayala passed away and Betty wrote this poem for Val Ayala.
The Last Ride
A Cowboy rode away,
This time to stay,
With the Lord up above,
Who needed him and his love.
He went to his heavenly home,
Never again to roam
The pastures and the hills,
Searching for cattle and thrills,
As the life of a cowboy.
Although he did everything on the ranch, farm, and feedlot, Val was most happy riding the range, checking the cattle, waters, salt, and fences. He noticed everything and was a self-taught animal behavior expert. His kinship and kindness with animals enlightened us.
Val's relationship with Chuck Davis was obviously special; as Val told Chuck he missed hearing "those bulls growling up those canyons." I hope he hears them now. Here's to you Vaquero.
Prepared by Eddie Browning.