Shop Talk

Ray Jones

In the late 1970s, there was a growing consensus in Texas that Ray Jones just might be the best bootmaker in the state, if not the country. So, when Ray abruptly announced his retirement in 1977 at age 65, he shocked his clients and the entire bootmaking community. Every major newspaper in Texas covered the story because it was unthinkable that an artisan of such extraordinary talent and renown would shut down his shop after reaching the height of his craft. But what folks did not understand about Ray is that he had always lived his life on his own terms. The timing of his retirement was no different.

As a teenager, Ray ran away from home so that he could learn to make saddles in New Mexico and experience life in the Old West. After finishing high school in the middle of the Great Depression, he traveled south through Mexico and on to South America earning a living making Western-style saddles. When he was ready, he returned to Dallas and married his childhood sweetheart, Katherine Elizabeth Roper (who went by Elizabeth); together they built one of the most respected custom boot shops in the history of western bootmaking. Between the ages of 14 and 65, Ray’s service in World War II was the only event in his life that caused him to spend any significant amount of time away from leather work.

On January 3, 1918, Ray Alvin Jones was born in Francis, Oklahoma, to Richard Randolph and Effie Mae Fuller Jones. When Ray was six years old, his family relocated to Dallas, Texas, so that Ray’s father, a carpenter, could work on the Dallas railroad. Ray grew up as a poor kid from Dallas, but what he lacked in material wealth he more than made up for with his imagination, self-reliance, determination and dexterity with his hands. His life experiences show that he was quintessentially American—and Western.

As a high school student at Dal-Tech High School, Ray developed a friendship with an old German leatherworker at Dallas’s famous Schoellkopf Company, a pioneer boot and saddle shop that had the distinction of being the first saddlery in Texas. The old man (whose name Ray did not recall when asked later in life) made English bridles and riding crops for polo players. The man taught Ray how to braid with leather and how to stamp belts.

Around the age of 14, Ray met Elizabeth, whom he would eventually marry. The two developed an incredible bond that would withstand Ray’s many adventures throughout the world.

It seems that the mechanized big city life in Dallas did not suit Ray. Inspired by the leather work he was doing, Ray yearned to travel out West where he could ride horses and continue to work with leather so that he could learn a trade that would allow him to forge a life on his own terms.

Ray’s opportunity came the

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