The Native Americans have always passed their stories and legends down through the generations by use of designated storytellers. It is the job of a gifted tribe member to be the keeper of the stories and to pass them on to the next generation from the many generations before.
Cowboys do much the same thing. Where the Native American storyteller will have a name like Grandmother Two Bears or Old Father Story Teller, the cowboy will simply be named Ben, Joe or Charlie.
If those same fellows were in a tribe somewhere, they could possibly bear a name such as Man Who Walks Like Penguin. Aged cowboys tend to be shorter than they were in their youth, a bit bow-legged and waddle when they walk. The days of that long-legged strolling stride left when the “itis boys” (Arthur, Burs and Tendon) showed up in every limb of their body. What they don’t have left in athletic ability has been enhanced with humor and their imaginative re-telling of “legends.”
The number of topics from the old days when cowboys were king is endless. First, know that things were bigger, better and wilder “back then.” They may not be able to accurately give you their wife’s full name, but they can name every one of the jug-headed horses they rode during the past 40 years.
In every story of every wreck they were ever in that involved a rope and cow, they can also describe, in detail, the appearance, personality and pedigree of the horse they rode. And not always in the verbiage fit to repeat in polite company.
For whatever reason, that same horse will consistently either be the best he ever rode, or the sorriest. There doesn’t seem to be any recollection of any mediocre nags from that era.
The topic second in line for the windiest stories includes incredible tales of snakes. There are generations of big ugly diamondbacks that slithered into bedrolls, traveled up a catch rope to meet the roper or fell out of a tree on an unsuspecting cowboy riding by.
Snakes, in their mystical ability to strike the fear in the heart of all men, garner a corner of cowboy history dedicated to that species. Ask any old bowlegged, cowboy-booted hombre you run into for his best snake story. It is guaranteed he will have not just one.
Additionally, there are the “goin’ to town” stories. In the old days, not so long ago, cowboys went to town only to buy a few groceries and other necessary supplies. During that same trip they might eat a steak at the local restaurant, spend a couple bucks for a haircut and then wile away a few hours of sundown time at the local watering hole, imbibing in adult beverages.
One of my favorite cowboy storytellers told a great tale that had all the going-to-town ingredients. He gleefully recalled, often upon request, riding a young barely broke horse into a bar.
The blaring jukebox music didn’t frighten the colt until it stopped and then the silence brought him to life. He blew up, fell over on the pool table and in doing so, broke the cowboy’s foot. Decades later, the cowboy delighted in detailing the reason for that particular limp.
The cowboys that fill my pages with their stories have no expectations that their shenanigan-nonsense would entertain so many. I delight in being able to pass on those reasonable representations of the truth.
As always, the caveat is, if it didn’t happen that way, it should have.
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.