WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees
Joe Whelan (119)
March 1918 - July 2003
2016 COWBOY HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
Joe Whelan’s ancestors have been in the Sulphur Springs Valley since the 1870s.
“Joe arrived on the scene in 1918, and while you can find a lot of written material about his Dad, there was just not much written about Joe,” said Browning, adding that what he learned about Whelan is that “he had more fun than anybody you ever met.”
Browning said that Whelan liked to dance and sing; loved to party and was the life of the party.
“One of the more colorful descriptions of Joe was, ‘He was goofier than a wild eyed skunk. He was liable to do or say anything,’” said Browning, adding, “There is no doubt that Joe loved life, but he was also a good hand.”
Whelan was born in March of 1918, one of nine boys born to William “Billy” Whelan and Ignacia Leon Whelan.
He was raised around his father and brothers working on ranches in the Sulphur Springs Valley, Browning said.
Whelan served in the United States Army, stationed in Germany until discharged.
Upon his return to Willcox, Whelan again started working for local ranches in the valley.
He worked for the Stansberrys at the 76 Ranch, Forest Frolich’s Lightning Ranch, the Sierra Bonita, Ted Kortsen, Tom Sellman, Sewell Goodwin and the DuBois family, said Browning, adding that Whelan “became known far and wide as a great day worker.”
“Being a good day worker is not an easy task. It is more than just showing up before daylight and drinking coffee until the sun comes up,” he told the audience. “Most of the time you are working in a strange piece of country, but a good day worker knows what to do when the boss is on the next ridge over, and cattle are going behind him.
Whelan drove cattle trucks for Antelope Trucking, owned by W.P. “Bill” MacIntosh, as well as for Swaner Trucking.
“You know how the trucking business is – it is either feast or famine,” Browning said. “During one of the slow times, Bill needed to haul a load of hay from San Simon to a ranch here in Willcox. Bill asked Joe to make the run, which meant that Joe would have to load the hay by hand and then unload it by hand, as there was no such thing as a squeeze in those days. Joe kind of hemmed and hawed, then told Bill, ‘Ya know the stuff I haul? If they can’t walk on then walk off, then I don’t want anything to do with them.’”
The last place Whelan worked was the Willcox Livestock Auction, first for Jack Nelson and then Sonny Shores.
“There are many, many stories about things Joe did while working at the sale barn. It was a combination of cattle, goats, cowboys and the general public. For a jokester like Joe, the opportunities for fun and mischief were unlimited,” Browning said. “He had everybody laughing for ten minutes when he was riding a large billy goat around the sale ring making noises like he was on a motorcycle. Jack Nelson was on the block and was trying to get the sale started, but here was Joe going ‘varoom, varoom’ riding a goat around the ring.”
Upon retiring, Whelan lived the rest of his life telling stories to his many friends and family members at “The Little Outfit,” Browning said.
Whelan’s nieces and nephews have great memories of their visits to see Uncle Joe. They told Browning, “He was very hilarious and always had us laughing.”
Whelan gave nicknames to his nephews – “Fred was Mouse, Chuck was Hoss, and Billy was Cookie.”
They told Browning Whelan had a great love for animals, and was very good at training dogs.
“One dog in particular was his dog, Tissy,” Browning said. “He trained her so well that, on command, when he asked her to go check to see if the roof was leaking, she would go up the ladder onto the roof of the house, scout around, then come back down the ladder to him.”
Those who knew Whelan best, knew he had a language all his own, he told the audience.
“Words like ‘studinkies, right on, yes sir, you betcha, or wolf.’ These are words and sayings the family knows were uniquely Joe’s,” said Browning, explaining, “‘Studinkies’ meant everything was great or fabulous or pretty neat. And ‘wolf’ meant Joe agreed with whatever was being said.”
Whelan, who passed away in July of 2003, joins his father, Billy; his brother, Eddie; and his Uncle Juan Sierra Leon, in the Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame.
“Tonight, as Joe is looking down and watching, I can only hope that he thinks this evening is ‘studinkies’, and his final word would be ‘wolf,’” Browning said.
Before accepting the honor on behalf of his uncle, Bill Whelan called his cousin Fred up to stand with him.
“The best people in this country are from Willcox. This plaque means so much,” said Bill Whelan, recommending Chuck Whelan as the next posthumous inductee into the Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame.
“Chuck and Uncle Joe were inseparable,” Whelan said. “He taught him everything he knew about the horse business – and drinking.”
Whelan went on to dedicate the plaque to his Aunt Louisa Whelan, who was in the audience.
“Tia Louisa, this plaque we’d like to dedicate it to you tonight,” said Whelan, explaining that she is the last of the surviving spouses of Billy and Ignacia’s children.