Sunday, February 12, 2012

Western Humor

Tales of friends and Little Brownie’s Sister
Western Humor
Spontaneity or Bust
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            I had a call yesterday morning. I had dreaded facing it because there had been sparks that prompted it. I had tried to tell the wolf story so somebody would understand it. CJ had drilled me.
“My Gawd,” she had started. “Can you make it more tedious?”
We were friends when it was over. We were reminded that the world we face everyday can’t be eaten without dessert once in a while. She had been to Elko and the poetry had revived her. I had seen my grandson wearing his new hat.
            Beyond the moment
            There is nothing more unconvincing than attempting to make western humor. It is a contradiction.
            The failure of at least one western magazine resulted in trying to duplicate its first interesting offerings to the public. Beyond the initial material, the attempts to hold the intrigue lost its spontaneity.
            When humor is analyzed there are probably those who could come up with some logic, but it shouldn’t be dissected. It just happens, and, when it happens, it describes what makes the West special.
            It can come from any circumstance. It can even be blurred boundaries between life and death, but when it happens there is somebody who nails the gist of the event with glaring honesty. Those are precious moments.    
            Jim Henry
            Jim Henry was a creator of humor his entire life. He reached into my heart through time by stories told by family years after the actual events occurred. There was the fight with the bear that was told to me when I was just a little guy.
The boys were working cattle in the Rice’s Cross H pasture. It was a typical New Mexico spring day. The wind was blowing, it was cold, and it hadn’t rained in eight months.
The cowboys jumped a bear that was described as just coming out of hibernation. Skinny and poor, the bear was spotted by Jim and here he came loping through the crew shaking a loop.
            “Let’s git ‘eem!”
            Whooping and hollerin’, they all built loops at a run. Jim was now on the bear’s heels trying to get a shot when the bear ducked into a cut and continued running full out. As Jim maneuvered closer, the bank gave way and down on the bear went Jim, horse and all. The story goes in three directions from that point.
The first story was from Grampa’ Rice. He said when the bank gave way, in less than a heartbeat, Jim, horse, and bear were scattering with Jim giving the horse a heck of a race for first place anywhere but where the bear was going!  
The cowboys’ version tells about the damndest wreck in years as horse and bear and rider all disappeared into a cloud of dust under the cut with Jim, his eyes rolling around in his head, trying to get his senses when the cowboys arrived.
Jim declared those accounts were all exaggerated. The real truth was that he stood and fought the bear for minutes with nothing but his hands until the cowboys arrived and scared it off!
Nobody even saw where the bear went. The cowboys were in stitches laughing. Those same responses continued the rest of the day when somebody broke into laughter.
Jim’s adventures continued variously the rest of his life.
There was the hot day over in the ‘Frisco Box and, boy, that water sure looked inviting. He got down and took his boots and clothes off and carefully tied them to his saddle so they would be safe. As he was easing into the water the horse he was riding jerked loose and went home. There sat Jim … with his hat only!
Years later, people still remarked how his fluorescent white skin looked like a rosebud when he hobbled into the headquarters miles from where he had taken his dip.
The final story just won’t fit here, but in its stead there was a wild Jim Henry cow that the Moon’s had gathered off the forest. They had cut the old gal out and turned her out into a big pen. She had run to the middle of the pen blowing snot, bellowing, and pawing the ground in a circle just daring anybody to come in there with her and her calf.
They called Jim and by and by here he came in his little half ton Chevy with the cattle racks. He stopped there alongside the corral and stepped out on the running board to study the cow. Yea, it was his cow alright.
“Yes, sir, I am sure proud you fellers gathered that ol’ cow,” he had said. “Violet has been milkin’ ol’ Sister there at the house and she must of got away.”
Just because it was such a typical Jim Henry response, the whole crew was worthless for minutes. The just couldn’t put it back together!
Edwin Shelley
The Shelley’s were working cows in Mogollon Creek on another spring day and the boys were sure getting tired of beans. Edwin had run into a flock of turkeys and he dispatched one with his pistol. He retrieved it, remounted, and headed to camp.
Around a corner he loped holding the turkey by its head and there, miles from anywhere, was game warden, Jewell Butler, riding up the trail!
Edwin, never missing a beat, loped right on by Jewell without stopping.
“Mornin’ Jewell,” He had cheerfully said as he passed. “How’re you doin’ this mornin’?”
Fayette Rice
The eldest Rice brother was Fayette. Fayette was not taken to cows like his heritage. He was the miner of the bunch.
He was known for several things and one of them was his propensity to have some friends come by for a game of poker. The problem was these games didn’t always know when to stop.
In one marathon session, Fayette’s then current wife had had enough. They lived in a ‘shotgun’ house that was made up of three rooms all in a row. In order to get into the far room, the bedroom, you had to enter the first room, go through the kitchen, and then enter the bedroom.
Being a miner, Fayette always had dynamite. From that and the fact Mrs. Rice was at her wits end, a plan was concocted. She went to the barn and found a corn cob that would double as a stick of dynamite. She then carefully unwrapped a real stick and rewrapped the paper around the corn cob. She then cut a short fuse and stuck it in. She was ready.
She climbed through the window into the end room, came through the door into the kitchen where the boys were playing poker, dropped the now lit stick of dynamite  in the middle of the table, and exited into the first room. She locked that door and went on outside.
For a few moments there was not a sound. Then there was an explosion of activity as the boys came out of the house from all points … none of which was a door!
The game was over … and soon the marriage was as well.
Albert Wilmeth
Grampa’ Wilmeth was a stern fellow. Few people fiddled with him, and, although humor was always part of him, it was seldom aimed at him.
There is a story about the day south of Silver City when he returned to camp only to find some of the cowboys there drinking coffee in the middle of the morning. Knowing my grandfather I can only imagine how his temper flared.
He was riding Little Brownie’s Sister. Grampa’ was always cutting the weight of his rig down and he probably had cut his reins a bit narrow because, when he jerked Little Sister’s head up, he broke both reins. There he sat with his split reins connected to … nothing!
Off the hill they came and in two or three strides Little Sister discovered her pilot was on auto! She shifted gears and she decided to give Mr. Albert a ride. They were flying!
Hearing the commotion, the cowboys stepped out from the fire to see what was happening. They got a quick glimpse and in no time they were offering encouragement.
“Oh, come on, Albert, give the little mare her head,” was one objective comment.
As the little bay mare and Grandpa’ reached the bottom and thundered right on through camp and up the other side of the canyon, someone suggested, “Mr. Wilmeth, if you’re going to go on to town would you mind pickin’ up the mail?”
I will surmise that when Little Brownie’s Sister decided she had run far enough … Grandpa’ was ready to call it even.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “These guys were real. Chances are, among the whole bunch, there may not have been a single full vacation. They lived starting each morning at sunup.”


Anonymous said...

I will surmise the story of Jim Henry that Wilmeth wouldn't tell was when he had some visitors drop by at the rest home he was staying in before he died. They all visited for awhile and Jim finally had to introduce the gal that was in bed with him! Honest to God! And, I always thought it was a piece of oak that Jim was trying to hit that bear on the head with rather than a rope. Same outcome, though. Jim claimed he fought the bear. Nobody else saw any such thing.

Anonymous said...

Vernon may disagree with the Shelley that killed that turkey. I thought it was Bill. What wonderful, wonderful memories, though. Need a book. Need a book!

W. Benton said...

Albert Wilmeth was a gentleman. Those of us who knew him always remember having to slam the brakes on the car as we came up on him. He was going 25 mph while we were going 60. Steve needs to tell more Albert Wilmeth stories.