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Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Western Ways

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My Western Ways
My Western Ways

Another letter came in from one of my readers that made me smile. Let me take just a moment to thank my readers for writing. Your comments and questions really make my day.

'Dear Geno,' the reader wrote. 'I love the way you write about the West. While I have never been there, you make the country and the people come alive. Just how much of a cowboy are you and what do you think of the new West as opposed to the old West? Katrina R., Providence, R.I.'

Katrina, that was a great comment. Thank you for your questions.

Just how much of a cowboy am I?

I grew up in Western Pennsylvania and, like Billy the Kid, never traveled out West until I turned 19. That was the year I accepted a job as sports editor of a newspaper in Tucumcari, N.M.

Tucumcari was a wild town in the late 1800s. It even had a railroad siding that was called Six Shooter Siding, probably because of the gunfights that took place there.

I remember my first day in town. I was having breakfast at the Cattleman's Cafe. Dressed in a suit with a tie and full of my eastern ways, I ordered coffee and told the waitress I wanted it with cream.

Two cowboys in denim and with scuffed high-heeled boots were seated at the counter. One said to the other loud enough for me to hear, 'Seems to me if a feller wants to drink milk, he should do it right and put a nipple on it.'

When the laughter died down, I changed my mind. I told the waitress, who was struggling to keep from laughing, to bring me my coffee black. I also removed my tie, glared at the cowboy, and put it in my pocket. He nodded, smiled and saluted me. His name was Ben and we later became good friends.

My duties as a sports writer brought me into contact with quite a few ranchers and cowboys. They would let me ride their horses and when they held a poker game at the ranch house, I was often invited.

I went hunting for jackrabbits, coyotes and even went on a rattlesnake hunt. On horseback, I would explore outlaw caves and once startled a mountain lion that leaped out of a cave and terrified my horse before disappearing in the brush.

I visited ghost towns and wrote stories about them. People told me stories about their ancestors and Indian attacks.

Weekend rodeos were a big thing in New Mexico and a friend challenged me to ride a bucking horse. Dumb me, I accepted the challenge and the horse threw me through the side of a fence. My editor Jess Price took a photo of it and published it on page one of the newspaper with the caption, 'Our Sports Editor Takes A Tumble.'

I stopped wearing suits and ties and began wearing boots, jeans and a Stetson. I was turning into a transplanted cowboy.

When I moved to Arizona, I continued my western ways by competing in rodeos and using a pistol to hunt jackrabbits, coyotes and sidewinders. I drank beer, attended Brahma Bull riding competitions, and dated rodeo queens.

I read books about outlaws, lawmen and gunfighters of the Old West. I even met people who had been related to them. Some lived in lonely ranch houses that were far from civilization. They preferred it that way and complained about progress. They said they hated it, but I noticed they had air conditioning in their homes and watched the 'Today' Show and 'Good Morning America' on their big screen television sets.

A prospector friend named Joe Wilcox taught me to pan for gold. He and I went prospecting on Rich Hill near Wickenburg, AZ., the 'Dude Ranch Capital of the World,' and found gold nuggets in a stream.

Wickenburg had an all-girls rodeo and I covered it for Argosy Magazine. One of the events was a bull riding contest. I wrote about it, called it 'That Ain't No Lady,' and it placed third in the annual Levi Straus Rodeo Writing Competition. Mr. Straus sent me a check and a pair of Levis.

Today's West is more modern than the Old West, but the people haven't changed that much. They're still independent, some still carry guns, and many would rather ride a horse than a pickup.

An Arizona sunset is still spectacular -- colors exploding across the sky. And if you listen carefully, you can still hear the mournful cries of a coyote in the distance or watch a rainstorm forming miles away. Thanks for the questions. You made my day.

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