Marty Acton

It takes a lot of starch and a hot iron to hold the crease in a pair of Wrangler jeans, but save some starch for the white shirt. It takes six sets of jeans, shirts, boots and hats to outfit the pallbearers in a cowboy funeral. Marty Acton's funeral filled the rodeo arena in San Angelo, Texas with starched jeans, white shirts and black cowboy hats because he was a true west Texas cowboy.

Ranches that mean anything in west Texas are measured in sections (1 section equals 1 square mile or 640 acres) and Marty's family owned several hundred sections of west Texas land that could barely support any livestock but had a huge bubble of natural gas under it. Marty was a rancher who lived comfortably because of the gas leases. It would have been easy for him to live the life of a man who had a money tree in his back yard, but Marty was a cowboy first. He raised sheep and horses and spent his days in the saddle on a horse or a four wheeler. He was what west Texas is about; hard work, hard rules and a warm heart for others who shared that life.

A funeral does not fill a rodeo arena 75 miles away from a man's home if he is just a hard working cowboy, even an iconic cowboy. It takes a man who participates in his community to pull that kind of response and he participated in youth groups, rodeos and rancher's organizations. He traveled the world representing ranchers and discussing ranching techniques. The image of Marty in starched Wranglers and white shirt moving through Paris in glistening cowboy boots is such a wonderful contrast. Marty was just a big man, not so much height or weight, but voice and presence. His shaved head and coal black moustache would have been intimidating without a natural smile that put people at ease. It is easy to think of him dominating any sidewalk cafe anywhere in the world. He was pure country but his presence would transcend the urbane.

It takes that kind of man to fill a rodeo arena for his funeral. A big man with an easy smile and unlimited energy, who led by example and was the center of his community. He was also a diabetic. The unkind whispers that his New Jersey born wife tampered with his insulin and contributed to his death are the kind of thing that happens in a small community that loses one that was born and raised there and leaves property to an outsider and are a natural part of a cowboy funeral.

Diabetes may or may not have had anything to do with his death, but it was a cowboy passing. Marty and his partner had just finished roping a steer in a local competition. He dismounted to release the animal and collect his rope when he slumped to the ground. Marty died in the roping arena with his boots on in the fashion of the old west cowboy, but even more he died with his boots on in a pastime that made him happy.

In west Texas, it takes a large funeral with a lot of starch to honor a cowboy who died after only 44 years of being a cowboy. There really is only one way to say goodbye to such a man.

Lee McGavin
Cedar Park, TX 2007

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