Monday, December 28, 2009

The Silver Screen Cowboys

Looking Back – The Silver Screen Cowboys
By J. Bryan Wasson

If there was ever a group of people that influenced my life, it was the silver screen cowboys. I suspect that it was much the same with nearly everyone who is over 50 years of age today.

Every Saturday afternoon was spent at a local movie theater watching B westerns, frequently known as, “horse operas.” On some occasion it was a double feature, but that made it twice as good. I once sat through the same movie five times. I no longer remember the outcome, but I am sure I was very late getting home and I am also sure my parents were not very happy.

A typical Saturday for me went much like this. I would walk or ride a city bus to the downtown central business district of Abilene, Texas. At that point there were five movie theaters in downtown, Abilene. Soon there would be a 6th. Now there is only one, The Paramount. I nearly always went to either the Queen Theater or to the Paramount Theater.

At the Queen Theater, at 12 noon each Saturday there was a live stage show to start the afternoon. There was live entertainment which sometimes included a cowboy movie star or more often, some local talent. Banner Creamery of Abilene, Texas sponsored this program. There were always prizes that could be obtained by means of a specific number of aluminum foil milk bottle tops. The sponsors had worked out a method that did not require the counting of these milk bottle tops. A hole was punched in the center of the tops. Two or three big knots were tied in the end of a piece of string. Then the string was threaded through the holes in the bottle tops. The sponsors had predetermined based upon the length of a string of bottle tops, how many were in each string. Some kids saved the milk bottle tops for weeks or months. A few weeks were the most I could save before I decided to take in my bottle tops.

That is why I never claimed the big prize even though it was what I wanted. The grand prize, always saved for last, was a pair of chrome plated, engraved Hopalong Cassidy cap pistols with a steer head embossed on the genuine, simulated ivory, (plastic) grips. There was a pair of holsters attached to a matching white leather, studded, red reflector mounted belt. Looking back, I suspect the belt and holsters were made of what is known as split leather which is nothing more that an extremely thin layer of leather, bonded to a man made substance which at the time, was most likely cardboard.

The pre movie show at the Paramount was much the same, but it always had a patriotic theme. This was during World War II. In fact it was claimed that this was the meeting of a club known as Defend US All Guards. Each club member was given a military style red, white, and blue overseas cap with the words, “Defend US All Guards” on the side. Somehow we were made to believe that we were contributing to the war effort by attending these so called meetings.

Immediately after the live stage show, there were previews, a cartoon, and a chapter of a serial. These serials often starred some of the same “cowboys” that were in the B Western “horse operas.” They always ended with the hero in such a position that there was no possible way for survival. This always brought folks back the next Saturday to find out what had happened to the hero. The next thing on the agenda was the feature, the B Western starring one of my favorite Cowboy stars.

These movies always had the same plot. A bad man was always up to some illegal scam that would cause harm to the local ranchers. The bad man was always assisted by a group of his equally bad henchmen. Then the hero, the good guy came upon the scene. He always had a side kick. In the case of the singing cowboys, there was often a group such as The Sons of the Pioneers or Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys that assisted the hero.

These movies were clean, wholesome entertainment. Good always prevailed over evil. Right always superceded wrong. The good guys always won. These movies were always bloodless. Frequently, shooting from the hip, a gun was shot out of the hand of the bad guy by the good guy. People got shot, they fell, and sometimes died, but the blood and gore of modern movies was not present. In fact, it was often entertaining to watch all the gyrations a person would go through before falling. I never ceased to enjoy the six shot revolvers that fired 15 or 20 times before it was necessary to reload.

There were always chase scenes. I enjoyed watching to see how many times the same location appeared in a single chase. There were usually some night time scenes. These scenes were actually shot in the day time with the camera light reduced. I was just a child, but I knew horses. Many doubles were used for the horses. I enjoyed watching to see when a different horse was used to portray a specific horse. Most often this was the horse ridden by the hero. Many of the horse “stars” were extremely valuable. Doubles were used in all dangerous scenes. In fact the true equine stars were often only used in close ups.

Silent movies were the only thing available during the 1900s. These first films usually lasted no more than 15 minutes. About 1913, a “Star” system was adopted which publicized named individual actors and actresses. The term, “Movie Star” was thus born. By 1920 silent movies had become extremely popular. Sound was not added to motion pictures until 1927. Color films were available from the 1930s, but were not common until the 1950s.

The first “Silver Screen Cowboy” was William S. Hart. He appeared in silent movies. This was slightly before my time. One of the most important of the early cowboy stars was Tom Mix and his horse Tony. Tony was billed as, “The Wonder Horse.” Tom Mix appeared in both silent movies as well as the early “talkies.” Tom Mix and Tony also appeared in Circuses and Wild West Shows. It has been said that Tom Mix created his own pre movie Star background. I have read and heard the claim that Tom Mix was once a Texas Ranger. I have never found any evidence that this was true.

Henry W. Gaffney of Lititz, Pennsylvania, an ADMS member, recently sent me a photo of Tom Mix and Tony, the original of which was given to him by Tom Mix back in Mister Gaffney’s childhood. It is with great appreciation that I have added this photo to my cowboy collection.

By the time I was in High School, Tom Mix was a long time deceased. The Ralston Purina Company, however, sponsored the Tom Mix Show on radio every afternoon at about 5:00PM. A radio actor played Tom Mix. Sound effects created Tony as well as all the action. Tom Mix and Tony got into and out of all kinds of complicated situations. At the time, we were living on the family farm at Potosi, south of Abilene. My Father and my Mother both worked in town. I had an aunt and uncle who lived a few blocks from Abilene High School. I would walk to the home of my aunt and uncle and listen to the Tom Mix Show each day after school. There was even a theme song that started, “Shredded Ralston for your breakfast starts the day off shining bright, it’s a warm up build up breakfast, and it makes you feel just right.” It made the listeners believe that Tom Mix, even though deceased, started each day with this same breakfast. It most likely sold a lot of breakfast cereal.

I can no longer name all of my cowboy heroes. One that stands out in my mind is Charles Starrett. I got to see him and his Palomino horse in person at the Linda Theater on Pine Street in Abilene. Many years later as an Abilene Police Officer, I had the occasion to be back stage in the Linda Theater. There were doors that opened into the alley and a very small room behind the stage with about three steps going up to the stage. I have no earthly idea how they got that horse up on the stage, but they did.

Some of my other movie cowboy heroes were Ken Maynard, Tim Holt, Tim McCoy, Johnny Mack Brown, Don Red Berry, Buck Jones, Robert Ryan, and many more that I can no longer name.

William “Bill” Boyd using the name Hopalong Cassidy or Hoppy was another extremely popular silver screen cowboy. The Hopalong name came about by a limp that was used in his first couple of movies. The story indicated the limp was due to a gunshot wound to the leg. Soon the limp faded away, but the name stayed.

It has often said concerning Western movies that, “good guys always wear white hats.” Hopalong Cassidy was an exception to this rule. He most often wore a black hat and black clothing. William Boyd had white hair and he rode a white horse. His white hair and his white horse really stood out, contrasting that black hat and black clothing.

There was probably as much merchandising of Hopalong Cassidy products as there was for Gene Autry and Roy Rogers merchandise. There were mugs and lunch boxes and many other items. I have a Hopalong Cassidy mug in my collection. For years I have searched for a Gene Autry or Roy Rogers guitar. Those I have found have been in extremely poor condition with an extremely high price.

Some movie cowboys rode unusual horses. One such actor was Bob Steel. He rode a horse of a color that was sometimes called, a “black Palomino.” These horses are Palominos with so much dark dappling that it makes the coat color appear to be black or near black dependant upon the extent of dappling. In those early black and white movies, the black appearance was enhanced. This dark color enhanced the white mane and tail. There was another thing unusual about Bob Steel in that he appeared in movies as both the hero and as the villain. I guess that is one of the marks of a great actor. They can play any part.

Randolph Scott was a cowboy star, but he also played in other type roles. He like Bob Steel rode an unusual horse. The horse was sorrel with a white rather than flaxen mane and tail. I often suspected the mane and tail might have achieved this lack of color by means of bleach or possibly mane and tail whitener often used on Palominos in preparation for the show ring. Randolph Scott played in both B westerns and A westerns.

There was another category of movie cowboys. These were the “Singing Cowboys.” The first of these was known as Singing Sandy. He was none other than Marion Morrison who later adopted the name, John Wayne. Singing Sandy, the first singing cowboy could not sing. All the singing was dubbed in. As John Wayne he made many movies classed as A Westerns as well as a wide variety of other types of films.

The second cowboy star and the first singing cowboy that I saw in person was Tex Ritter. When I was in High School I was active in vocational agriculture and the Future Farmers of America (FFA) as well as the 4H Club. The big event for FFA and 4H Club each year in Taylor County was the Spring Livestock Show at the Fair Grounds in Abilene. There is a big round building that still stands. It was used as the judging ring for livestock shows. Most of the exhibitors, including myself spent the nights at the stock show sleeping on cots near their animals.

The stock show management arranged for Tex Ritter to be in the show ring building one night to entertain the exhibitors. It was just Tex and his guitar, no band. Because I am a music lover and guitar player, it was a great treat for me. An event I will never forget.

About a year later, I appeared on stage in that same building with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys as part of a talent contest. Needless to say I was not the winner of this contest, but I will always remember being on the stage with the Texas Playboys. The fact that it was in the same building where I met Tex Ritter made me enjoy it more.

Another singing cowboy I saw in person was Gene Autry. I was an adult by the time I saw him in concert at Rose Field House, located on the campus of Hardin Simmons University in Abilene. Gene Autry was one of the two most popular of the singing cowboys. He joined the U.S. Army during World War II. If my memory is correct, he served in the Army Air Corps.

Gene Autry was a telegraph operator in Oklahoma when he was discovered by Will Rogers while playing his guitar and singing. Will Rogers was also a cowboy, a trick roper, a vaudeville entertainer, and news paper writer. Will Rogers also made a number of movies. I don’t remember how many, or if any of them were westerns

Gene Autry was one of the two best known and most popular of the singing cowboys. He later joined into a partnership with Everett Coburn as a Rodeo Producer. He also became the owner of a professional baseball team and established the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum.

One of my childhood treasures that survived into my adulthood is a photo of Gene Autry on his horse, Champion.

Other singing cowboys included Johnny Bond and Jimmy Wakely. Johnny Bond sometimes played the singing sidekick. Another singing sidekick was Smiley Burnett, known as Frog due to his deep voice. Smiley “Frog” Burnett was often the sidekick of Gene Autry.

The second of the two best known and most popular singing cowboys was Roy Rogers. Roy Rogers was born Leonard Sly. Roy Rogers was actually his second screen name. He was a member of the great western music band, The Sons of the Pioneers led by Bob Nolan. The Sons of the Pioneers often played supporting roles in early Gene Autry movies and later in Roy Rogers movies. Young Leonard Sly as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers was known as Dick Weston in these movies. It has often been reported that Roy Rogers founded the Sons of the Pioneers. I do not know if that is correct, but he was an extremely important member of this group.

In the late 1960s, my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in the Taylor County Coliseum at the West Texas Fair in Abilene, Texas. Roy Rogers became an honorary Texas Law Enforcement officer. A group of my peers elected me President of The Law Enforcement Officers Association of Texas for 1970 – 71. During that time period, I made Roy Rogers an honorary member of The Law Enforcement Officers Association of Texas.

When Gene Autry entered military service during WWII, Roy Rogers and his Palomino horse, Trigger, moved up to fill in the gap. After the death of Roy Rogers’ wife, he married the leading lady in his movies, Dale Evans. Together they continued to make movies, television shows, personal appearances and recordings. Both Roy and Dale were prolific song writers. Gene Autry also had a regular TV show called, The Melody Ranch Show.

With the advent of television, the B Westerns started to fade out of existence on the silver screen, however, some of the old B Westerns gained new life on the TV screen. Many new western shows along the line of the old B westerns were created specifically for TV. I guess my favorite was The Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore as the lone Ranger and J. Silverheels as Tonto.

Another former member of The Sons of the Pioneers, Ken Curtis became the second sidekick for Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) in the long running TV series, Gunsmoke. Ken Curtis played the part of Deputy U.S. Marshal, Festus Hagan. Ken Curtis was in at least one Gunsmoke show before he assumed the role of Festus. Ken Curtis assumed the role of Festus in a few episodes before Festus became Mat Dillon’s Deputy. As Festus, his mount was a bay mule he called Ruth. I can not remember any movie or TV cowboy sidekick other than Festus, who rode a mule.

The last of the singing movie cowboys to come on the scene was Rex Allen. Rex Allen was a true Arizona cowboy and in my opinion one of the best singers that ever lived. It was reported that his voice had the greatest voice range of all singers of any style of music including classical opera. His voice made him the narrator of numerous Walt Disney films long after his silver screen singing cowboy days.

Rex Allen was one of the movie cowboys that rode an unusual horse. The producers of his movies told him to find an unusual looking horse and that is just what he did. He found a chocolate brown stallion with a white mane and tail. He named the stallion Cocoa. The stallion was reported to be extremely gentle and to be no problem around other horses.

In my lifetime, I have seen only one other horse of this color. A family friend in the Potosi community had such a horse in the late 50s and early 60s. I am sure there are other such horses, but they must be few.

Cocoa was such an unusual horse that neither Rex Allen nor the movie producers were willing to risk possible injury to the horse. The unusual color made it seem impossible to find a double for scenes with the remote possibility of injury to the horse. They found a rather easy way to do this, however. They used a white or a gray horse. They died the entire coat of the horse leaving face and feet markings white. The mane and tail were also left white.

There was one other cowboy who made a big impact on my life. He was never a movie star, but he worked in the movie industry and one of his books became a movie. He was Will James, a true life cowboy, writer and artist. I think I learned more about the equine anatomy from the drawings of Will James than from any other source.
Will James was often the double riding a bucking bronc. He was also often a back ground extra as well as working behind the scenes as a horse wrangler.

His work in Hollywood however was not his most important work. During the late 30s through the 50s it was hard to find a kid that had not read Will James’ most famous book, Smokey the Cow Horse while in school. Many schools used this book as a reading textbook known as, a reader. This book was made into a movie although the movie was not very true to the book and the story as Will James wrote it. For one thing they did not even get the color of the horse correct. The movie folks used a brown horse to play the part of Smokey. Will James described the horse as what he called mouse color.

During my time in the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades I read every book that Will James wrote and some of them more than one time. I read Smokey the Cow Horse again about two years ago. Any lover of equines who has never read the books of Will James or seen his art is missing much. I think the most important thing that Will James taught me is to take care of your animals first, before your own needs.

I sincerely believe that for all of us still living today who were born in the 1930s or before, our lives were a little bit richer because of the silver screen cowboys. As Roy Rogers would say, “Happy Trails.”

November 17, JBW
Note: This article was previously published in The Brayer magazine. I had more fun writing this article than any other that I have written for The Brayer which is published by the American and Donkey Society (ADMS).

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Looking Back - This is Elvis - by J. Bryan Wasson

When the following story came to my attention, it punched my funny bone button extremely hard. It was so humorous to me that I had to write it down immediately. All who read The Brayer may not be familiar with all the characters in this story. I will therefore introduce them to you:

Bobby and Brenda Campbell are mule people. They own and show a jumping mule named Fizz Bomb. They also participate in parades. Bobby is a wild hog hunter and uses a pack mule on wild hog hunts. Brenda is Brenda Foster Campbell, a Texas cowgirl who was nominated to The Cowgirl Hall of Fame which is located in Fort Worth, Texas in 2003. I had recently written an article about Brenda in a Looking Back article for The Brayer magazine.

Allen Luskey is one of the owners of Luskey Luskey’s / Ryon’s western stores. Allen is the son of my old friend, the late Gary Luskey and the nephew of another good friend, Ed Luskey. Allen is in charge of the Fort Worth Luskey / Ryon store.

Michael Martin Murphy is a cowboy singer, songwriter and performing artist. He was a well known country music artist, but switched entirely to cowboy music. One of his best known recordings is about the Cowboy’s Christmas Ball in Anson, Texas. This annual ball has been going on since the 1800s.

Reba McEntire is an Oklahoma cowgirl and country music recording artist, as well as making a number of movies and currently has her own TV show.

The last character in this story is Elvis Presley. I doubt that he needs any further introduction.

Brenda’s nomination to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame has picked up a lot of momentum. She rode in the grand entry of a rodeo in Oklahoma and then set the pattern for the barrel racing folowing her nomination. She was featured in her local newspaper and gave some talks at schools. One of her Oklahoma friends was a friend of Michael Martin Murphy. He was scheduled for a concert in Oklahoma. He told Michael about Brenda.

I guess if some celebrity called me at home and identified themselves to me I would be very suspicious about their identity. Brenda was at home. Her phone rang. She answered the phone. The voice on the other end said, “I am Michael Martin Murphy.” Brenda thought someone was playing tricks on her. Her response was therefore, “”Yes and I am Reba McEntire.” After Michael Martin Murphy convinced Brenda that he was indeed who he claimed to be, he invited Brenda to his Oklahoma concert and said that he wants to introduce her on the stage as a nominee for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Michael is originally from Texas as is Brenda. She therefore planed to present him with a yellow rose representing the famous song, The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Michael then advised Brenda that he would like to confirm her nomination to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. He said people sometimes provide him with erroneous information. It was therefore necessary for him to confirm this before his concert. Brenda said the Luskey’s / Ryon’s was one of her nominators and suggested that he call Allen Luskey at the Fort Worth store.

The next thing that occurred was that Allen Luskey received a telephone call at the Fort Worth store. Allen answered the phone with, “This is Allen Luskey.” The caller responded with, I am Michael Martin Murphy.” Like Brenda, Allen thought someone was messing with his mind. Allen responded, “Yea, and I am Elvis Presley.”

A jack named Man O'Peace By J. Bryan Wasson

I still have fond memories of 3 years of my life that were spent at South Junior High School in Abilene, Texas. I suspect that the fact that I spent my entire first year at South Junior on crutches to be the primary reason this period sort of sticks in my mind. Being on crutches hampered my walking, but it did not stop me from riding horses. I would lean my crutches up against a tree in our front yard and mount. The only problem was the fact that I had to come back to the same place to dismount.

The reason for the crutches was the fact that during the summer between the 6th and 7th grade, I went with a couple of my friends to look at some horses. The reason we went to look at these horses now evades me. Most likely, because they were horses. The fact is I don’t have much of a reflection of these horses. We had just climbed over the fence into the pen when everything went black.

The thing I remember was being unloaded from a car parked in front of the Alexander Building at North First and Pine Streets in downtown Abilene. My mother worked in that building for Doctor Holt Magee, a Dentist. Our family physician, Doctor Prichard also had offices in that building. I had blood streaming down my face and my right knee was in extreme pain. I had a very deep gash in the right temple area.

My friends explained to Doctor Prichard what happened. They said that a horse had kicked me in the right knee. When I bent over and grabbed my knee, the horse let go with another rear foot to my head. It is a wonder that I was not killed. I also highly suspect that the kick scrambled my brains. This being the reason that I often suspect, “my elevator does not always go all the way to the top” or that “I aint playing with quite a full deck.”

In those days, Doctors did not seem to know much about treating such injuries as a broken knee. Doctor Prichard called in another Doctor who wanted to put the knee in a cast. Doctor Prichard said that would bring about a totally immovable knee. The only treatment that was used was ice packs and heat. The result was that my right leg was one inch shorter than my left leg. The arthroscopy surgery of today most likely could have solved the problem.

It was at South Junior High that I first came under the spell of Will James. He influenced my future personality as much, if not more than any other person. His art work gave me a real understanding of the anatomy of equines. His writings taught me a deeper understanding and love for equines.

Now all the above is not the real reason for this specific article. The true reason is an old drawing I found. I suspect the drawing was made during my 7th or possibly 8th grade. The covers and pages of The Brayer are always graced with artwork from some outstanding artist. This picture proved to me the reason why my writings and not my drawings grace these pages. I took an art class at South Junior. I don’t remember if it was mandatory or an elective. What I do remember was that when the Art Teacher put a bunch of fruit or flowers up at the front of the room and told us to draw them, I was not very impressed. Somehow when I completed my drawing it was most often that of an equine. On occasion I would draw a truck or a motorcycle, but never fruit or flowers. This did not please the Art Teacher very much. Another cowboy in the class went with me for a talk with the Teacher. She reluctantly agreed that the two of us could draw nothing but equines, saddles and cowboy stuff. And that is what we did.

I did not restrict my drawing of equines, saddles, and boots to the Art class. I was not much interested in the “reading, writing and arithmetic” the teachers were trying to imbed into my scrambled brain. I was therefore prone to doodle and draw during all of my classes. I suspect that the drawing which is the reason for this article was drawn in a class other than art class. It was drawn on lined notebook paper rather than on the art paper that we used in Art class. Through the majic of a modern computer, I removed the lines from the above drawing.

It appears that my mind conjured up a jack that was named; “Man O’ Peace” based upon the famous Thoroughbred, Man of War. This Jack was about to run a race against horses. My version of a fine looking horse decked out in western gear. The jack was the centerpiece of the picture. I only showed the front part of the horse at the far right of the picture. This was a"Pony horse" that leads the race horses. The jack needed no "Pony horse". I even put in some circles to represent the heads of a crowd of people in the stands and speakers announcing the race with the jack, “Man O’ Peace”. The drawing also bears my signature at the lower tight hand corner.

I will keep on writing articles and leave the drawing for The Brayer to others.
Note: This article was previously published on the pages of The Brayer magazine

Looking Back-Primary Education for a Cowboy By J. Bryan Wasson

That part of my early education that I considered to be important did not come from within the walls of a conventional Schoolhouse. Well, sure I was exposed to the “three Rs”, known as “readin’, rightin’, and rithmitic.” Some how, I just was not very interested in such things. I doubt that much of it stuck.

The education that did stick with me and always seemed important, was acquired on a rather large campus. This campus was the stock yards at Abilene, Texas. Abilene, Texas was founded in March of 1881 due to the establishment of a rail head by the Texas and Pacific Railroad, known as the T & P. This new City was named after the Cattle town of Abilene, Kansas. It was believed that this new community would soon rival its’ Kansas namesake city as a cattle town. To a large extent, it did just that.

Now the Stock yards at Abilene were never as large as the famous and historic stock yards at Fort Worth, Texas, but they covered a good sized number of acres. The Abilene stock yards were headquarters for two livestock auctions, and at least two meat packing plants. The two livestock auction commission companies held their sales on alternate days so as not to be in direct competition. There were numerous livestock pens and connecting alley ways. What seemed like to a young boy were miles of elevated “cat walks” located above the pens and alley ways. These “cat walks” led from the livestock pens into the auction ring areas designed as a place for livestock bidders to sit. Potential buyers used these overhead walkways to inspect livestock prior to bidding as well as to locate animals they had purchased after the animals were removed from the sale ring.

These “cat walks” were an educational laboratory for me. I observed very closely the characteristics of the animals in the pens below me. I learned about various breeds of cattle as well as cross breads. I watched as mounted cowboys in the alley ways below moved cattle from pen to pen and into the auction ring. The sitting areas for the auction rings became my class room. These, however, were not my only class rooms.

The stock yards in Abilene stretched from about a hundred yards south of North Seventh Street to North Tenth Street on a gravel street that paralleled a railroad just east of the old city cemetery. I believe the name of this street was Almond. Along this gravel street that fronted the stock yards were a number of small buildings with adjoining corrals and pens. These small buildings served as office, tack room and feed room for a group of men who identified themselves as livestock dealers and horse traders. About the only difference I could tell between the livestock dealers and the horse traders was that as a general rule, the men who called themselves horse traders tended to limit their business to the equine variety. The men who called themselves, livestock dealers would buy, sell, and trade any kind of livestock from equine to bovine as well as swine, sheep and goats.

Much of the business of these men was outside the sale ring on sale days. If an interesting looking animal arriving in a trailer caught their attention, they would offer to buy or trade for the animal rather than sending it into the sale ring. This was at a time when many farmers were starting to replace their teams of horses and mules with tractors. Therefore many draft animals became the property of these horse traders and livestock dealers. The trade was not limited to draft horses and mules. Just about any and all types of horses showed up in their pens as well as a few donkeys.

Some of the horses were unbroken young horses and some were old spoiled outlaws. They all had one thing in common when they were offered for sale. They were all alleged to be as gentle as could be. It was also said they had been ridden by children. Being ridden by children was often the only true statement in the sales pitch. The fact that the animal had bucked off a few children was never mentioned. They often used the term, “kid broke” in describing these animals. I and others like me were the “kids” in the “kid broke” term. These livestock dealers and horse traders were always open for free labor to ride these horses, mules and donkeys.

My Daddy bought my first horse when I was in the 3rd grade. The mobility gained by my horse enabled me to go to this campus where I obtained my education very much at will. On most days, after school, weather permitting, I would saddle my horse and ride to the stockyards. I had a cousin who was a couple of years older than me who lived on the South side of Abilene on Pecan Street across the street from Thornton’s Livestock Auction, a smaller livestock auction. This livestock Auction was across the street south from Thornton’s Department Store. Behind Thornton’s Livestock Auction, lived two brothers who were friends of my cousin. My cousin and the two brothers often met me at the stock yards. Many times, however, I went alone. The three of us were often together on Saturdays. We would make long rides all over Abilene. We frequently rode in the island in the middle of Sayles Blvd. We often rode on paved streets in heavy traffic on half broken horses. I am not sure why we did not get killed or seriously injured. These rides did, however, have a positive effect on the gentling of these horses. When we got through with these animals, they could be ridden just about anywhere.

I would ride to the site of one of the horse trader/ livestock dealers where I would look over the equine critters in his pens. These men were always receptive to “free labor.” They were nearly always agreeable to my riding what ever animal I picked out. I had learned to look for saddle marks and collar marks. If an animal had collar marks and no saddle marks, I always viewed them with suspicion, but that did not mean I would not ride them. I was just a little more cautious. On occasion, just for the fun of it, I would mount a critter of the bovine variety.

I would tie my horse to the fence and then saddle and ride one of these “gentle kid broke" equines that would soon be for sale. If we planned to make a long ride, I would put my horse in one of the pens while I was riding a horse owned by one of the horse traders. Often these horses bucked and sometimes, I found myself on the ground as a result. The only time I was ever seriously afraid was an occasion when I chose to ride a surplus Army horse that the horse trader had purchased. The horse was a big bay gelding with a U.S. brand on his left shoulder. This horse ran away with me on Oak Street, a rather busy paved street with many cross streets that had stop signs. I was afraid of a car pulling out from one of these cross streets and hitting us. I also feared the shod horse might slip and fall on the paved street. There was also the fear of getting dragged off the horse by the many low hanging branches from trees that lined the street. I envisioned a number of ways that this ride could result in death or serious injury.

I just could not stop this horse so I decided to try the opposite approach. I started whipping him with the reins and kicking him in the ribs. He stopped just because he wanted to and when he wanted to. I may have fooled him into believing I wanted him to run further and faster, but the fact remains, he got his bluff in on me. I got off the horse and led him back the 15 blocks to the place where my cousin and the other two boys were waiting. I convinced them that it was time to change horses and someone else should ride this horse back to the stockyards.

Most of the time, my summers were spent with my grand parents who lived in the Truby community of Jones County. My horse often spent the summer with me at Truby. On occasions when my entire summer was not spent with my Grandparents, much of my time during the remainder of the summer vacation was spent at the stockyards.

My Daddy knew where I was going when I saddled my horse and headed for my school of cowboy education at the Abilene stockyards. I doubt, however, that he was fully aware of all the critters I mounted there. About all I allowed my mother to know about my activities was that I was off somewhere riding my horse.

The livestock auction barns and the meat packing plants have been gone for many years, however, many of the horse traders and live stock traders continued in business at the same sites along the graveled Almond street that once fronted the extremely busy stockyards for many years. As an adult, I still had a number of friends who were horse traders and livestock dealers in this same area. I often visited with them and sometimes bought, sold and traded livestock with them. It has been many years since I have visited this site, but I suspect you can still find a horse trader in the area. I also suspect that you can find an equine for sale that is alleged to be, “kid broke.”

I also suspect that the lessons I learned at this place have contributed greatly to my current medical condition and the fact that I am now disabled. No doubt, getting bucked off many horses over the years combined with many motorcycle accidents contributed greatly to all my current aches and pains. If I had it to do over again, I would still seek out the cowboy primary education that I obtained at the Stockyards in Abilene, Texas.

01-20-03, JBW