Photos by Libby Rogers
Anyone who’s lived in our community very long can quickly figure out that rodeo is an important part of the area. And yet, there are a few folks who have made a name for themselves far beyond Walker County. One of those is longtime roping champion Martha Lynn Walters, who in April was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame. But while she keeps company with rodeo greats such as barrel racer Martha Josey on that Hall of Fame plaque in the Fort Worth Stockyards, Martha Lynn is as down to earth as she can get. She sat down with us recently to talk about rodeo, which has been in the center of her life for more than 50 years.
Tell me about the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame
The Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame is an organization where anyone can be a member, but then each year, nominations go out and the members vote on who actually gets inducted into the Hall of Fame. There are several different categories, including animals, rodeo announcers and, of course, riders. This year, I believe there were three women and six men inducted into Hall of Fame.
So, were you surprised when you found out you had made it into the Hall of Fame?
Very surprised. Debbie Garrison is the one who nominated me. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame two years ago. She was Miss Rodeo America and so forth – she did it all – and she was married to (NFL football player and rodeo cowboy) Walt Garrison. Well, she and I became friends and started roping together. She and I roped together for about 26 years.
Anyway, I actually was nominated the previous year – you can stay on the nomination ballot for two years – and they told me if I won, I would have to give a speech. I was so nervous about that, and so when they called and told me I didn’t get in, I was kind of like, phew, thank goodness! e next year, they called me and said I had been nominated again. I was like, well here we go again. It took me about a year to write my speech because I started it as soon as they called. But I gave it, and I survived! But yes, it was quite a surprise.
What is your rodeo specialty
My specialty is roping, predominantly team roping, now that I am semi-retired. I’ve done it all, though, from barrel racing to break-away, which I did in high school and college. I’ve had so many different careers (in rodeo). I think that’s why I got inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s not that I’m really good at one particular thing. It’s that I’ve been around so long, you know, my longevity got me into it. But what I really like doing is training horses, as well as buying and selling horses. My son likes to tease me and calls me “Red,” but I’m not your typical horse trader. I like putting horses and people together that work out well together.
How long have you been in the rodeo?
I remember getting my first rope for Christmas when I was 10 years old. My dad also bought my first colt for me when I was 10, which is the first colt I broke. So, I’ve been doing it for a long time. I was on the rodeo team in high school, as well as when I came to Sam Houston. I put myself through college on rodeo scholarships. en I went to the all-girl circuit and did that for a while, then went back and roped in the CPRA and UPRA for a while. Now, I pretty much just team tope with the World Series of Team Roping (WSTR). We go to Las Vegas again this year in December, and I’m shooting for that hundred-thousand-dollar prize this year!
You have a number of horses. Which one will you be riding in the WSTR championship event this year?
I have a really neat little horse I’m riding right now. If I don’t sell him, I’ll be carrying him with me. He and I are clicking really well right now. I call him Smartie, but his registered name is Smart Sugar Badger. He’s a red roan quarter horse my husband and I picked up in Cayce, Wyoming two years ago from Dick Wheeler, and he’s a hoot! He’s about half renegade – not everyone can ride him – but he and I seem to get along pretty good.
So, if you could pick one defining moment in rodeo for you, what would it be?
Probably the college finals in 1976. I bought this little mare from a good friend in Cameron, Texas, and his wife’s name was Jewel, and so I named that little mare Jewel. I carried her to the college finals, and she was pretty nervous. I came in second high call, which meant there was only one other person who could beat me. I backed up in the box, and Jewel was real nervous, fantasying a little bit, and so I stopped, rode her forward and backed her back up. And she stood there, I roped my calf, and I don’t remember what my time was. But Sonny Sikes was there, right there in the box, and he said he was so nervous, he could hardly see straight. e girl behind me, she ended up beating me, but only by 1/100th of a second. So, I was reserve champion of the college finals by 1/100th of a second. at little mare was special to me, and Sonny was special to me, so that moment would have been it.
I’ve had a lot of special moments, though. This very good friend of mine, Shelah Aiken, and I roped together for a while and in 2005, we won the Wild re All Girls Shootout. We won a saddle and everything, and Shelah told me in her little dainty voice, “I’ll never get rid of this saddle! I’ll keep this saddle for the rest of my life!” that was in February, and she passed away from a brain aneurysm in November. Her husband still has the saddle. But that was a special moment in my life.
It sounds like you have developed long-time friendships and riding partnerships in the rodeo circuit. Who are you roping with now?
Now that Debbie is retired and Shelah passed away, I rope with a girl named Jayme Marcrum from Springtown. She and I rope a bunch together. She’s the one I went to Vegas with and won $35,000. It was 10 or 11 years ago, and we qualified for the very first World Series that they had. She and I ended up winning 3rd place in the #10 roping, and it paid $35,000 apiece. We thought we were set! We thought we’d never need anything else! But we’re still roping together.
I understand that rodeo runs deep in your family. Tell me more about that.
My husband Roger is Commissioner of College Rodeo (NIRA) and my oldest son Britt, who works here in Huntsville for Jack Olsta, is a rodeo pickup man. He used to bulldog up until about four years ago, but then he had to have total hip replacements. And then my youngest son Clint, who works selling tractors at Washington County Tractors in Bryan, team ropes with me. We all rodeo.
Besides horses and rodeo, what do you think you are most known for?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. Probably being hard-headed, haha! No, I think it would be my grandkids, Presley Lynn, who is ve, and Payson Pearl, who’s two. ey’re just wide open, full-time. ey’re crazy little girls, and we have a ball. I’m “Mel,” and Roger is “Rog.” My oldest one rides a lot, and of course, the little one thinks she does, too. My oldest, though, just loves to ride. She’s been riding since before she was two. I’ve got her a little old 30-year-old mare named Corona, and she gets on her and just goes to town. I’ve got a video of her riding, loping, running. She runs barrels and runs poles as well.
I understand you are not only continuing to pursue rodeo yourself, but you’re investing in younger rodeo riders as well.
Yes, I enjoy working with kids. McKenna Davis comes and ropes with me, and Roger helps Ryan Thompson. He comes and ropes with us a good bit. And I really enjoy helping the kids, teaching kids how to rope. at’s a lot of fun for me. When our boys were in 4-H, we were heavily involved in that. Roger was an adult leader. In fact, Roger was just in Bryan for the 4-H horse show last week. Ryan was doing team roping, so he went over to watch. We probably should get back into 4-H in order to help, but there just doesn’t seem to be any time. I’m busier now that I’m retired (from the US Department of Agriculture) than when I was working!
So, do you get any downtime at all?
Not much. I inherited my parents’ house in Cameron, and it’s a really cool petrified rock house, which my grandfather built in 1931. Roger and I go over there as often as we can. at’s our retirement – we go there and work. Roger has a tractor, so he gets on his tractor, and I get on mine. We come back about midday and have lunch together. We also bring our horses over there, and so we go and ride together and dream. We would move there, except everything we love is here in Huntsville.