I mentioned earlier in “Bird Killer” that I was going to tell a story about Cowboys and Indians. It includes my trusty Red Ryder and how I continued to have trouble when it was around. I shared an early draft of this story with my brother Allen to get his side of the story. Until I sent him the draft I doubt that he and I have talked about it since the day it happened. So a couple of background stories and antidotes seem appropriate to set the scene.
I think it is important plot point to share one of the themes of the stories we heard from my mother and her family about the little farm we worked on. There are about 5 acres in the far south west corner of the property next to the river that was filled with willows and was mostly used to keep a couple of steers in during the summer, we called it “the willows”. I know not very creative, but it was and still is very descriptive of the spot. The stories from the family were that this was one of the spots that Indians were allowed to stay/camp when they were passing through the area during the days when they weren’t confined to the reservations in the days of the early settlers. We always suspected that we would find old arrow heads and other tools that they might have broken, lost, or left behind. Everything that looked like it might have worked as an Indian artifact was immediately assumed to be just that.
I want to share an interesting anecdote before I continue my story to share some of the similarities with China and America. As a boy in America it is quite common for little boys or most of them I know to play “cops and robbers” or “cowboys and Indians”. In each of these “games” there are the good guys and there are the bad guys. It seems that what we seemed to play more was the cowboy and Indian version and the cry for attack or surprise for me/us for the Indians was “Geronimo”. In China I have read that there is a similar game that is/was played but it was called “Chinese and Americans”; no fooling. You might guess who the good guys were here and who the bad guys were. If you have not figured it out, this is the only clue I am going to give; the attack cry was . . . “Hello”. It makes it just a little funny knowing this when I walk about the country-side and the “old guys” always say hello more like I would have said Geronimo as a kid instead of as a greeting. Odd, to think that they used this as the “war cry” and that they likely learned this word thinking it was something that it wasn’t. Of course, my Indian friends likely wonder why we picked “Geronimo”, but the story we had was that he was a great chief and was one of the last chiefs to stand up to the “white soldiers” and this is what his warriors yelled as they attacked the wagon trains and others. Anyway, enough of my comparisons between stories of China and musings.
The story happens down at the “barn”. When we first began working on the farm the “barn” was just a little 8’x8’ whitewashed or white painted cinderblock cooling house with a sunken tank that held milk cans, the milk barn, a big machine shed with an attached room that served as a tool shop, a hay shed, a bunch of broken down rail fences surrounding an old log cabin that served as a spot to put a calf or two. Within just a couple of years we made some improvements to the buildings there, more out of necessity than anything. The government had recently decided to get more involved in milk production and the “milk inspector” would inspect the buildings and processes used to produce and sell milk. The first visit I am aware of was basically an ultimatum that said we had to do something different or quit selling milk. We knew that there was absolutely no way to continue to do milk in the structures there and had to do something.
Allen’s version of the story says that we had already tore down the original milk barn, built the 4 stall milking room on the cooling house, and had built a shed behind the hay shed to allow a place for the cows to lounge and get out of the bad weather that was and is prevalent during the winters of Western Wyoming. The Machine shed suffered from some decades of serious neglect and was beginning to lean and several rafters had broken so it was taken down, leaving only the tool shed. That building was roughly where my parent’s house currently sits.
Enough of the background and setting the stage; let’s get back to my story and the BB-gun.
Allen and I are enjoying the summer and are living about 200 meters from the “barn” in our brand new house in Thayne, WY with our 3 younger brothers and our parents. We would have been about between 11 and 13 years old. So it was probably either 1975 or 1976. The wonderful years of being free to do what we wanted and not having to do much other than bring cows up to the barn for milking in the evenings and help milk in the mornings and evenings as best as ‘tweens can do. It was a wonderful time in life for a little boy living in the wild west of Wyoming with not a care in the world.
You will remember that my BB-gun was a lever action Daisy. I don’t even remember if it was just mine or if it was something that Allen and I shared. It was one of the guns that looked a lot like the Red Ryder BB-gun that plays a key role in the story in the movie “A Christmas Story”. You poured the BBs into the feed tube and cocked the spring mechanism with a Winchester handle.
As I described in “Bird Killer” I am working on killing birds that are considered vermin around the farm. I am in the “zone”; I am stalking the birds hoping that I can get close enough that my gun still has enough velocity to push a BB through the breast feathers of a fat little sparrow or starling.
Allen says his side of story starts like this:
I had found a rock down by the spring that reminded me of a stone tomahawk. So I broke off a green willow stick from a willow bush that used to be right about where the fire pit is now at our parent’s house. I went into the old shop and split the end of the willow, then lashed the stone into the split with baling twine. When I finished I saw Jerry out under the power lines being all stealthy trying to kill God’s innocent little birdies with the BB gun. Jerry didn’t’ know that I was at the barn and he hadn’t seen me, so I decided to try to sneak up on him and give him a scare. I’m pretty sure that I had also put on some orange cattle marking paint for some war paint and I think I had on some old chaps as leggings, plus a head band with a crow feather in it.
So, there I am concentrating on spotting the vermin birds before they spot me and hoping to get a shot off. I think it was somewhere close to the hay shed. I probably hadn’t changed to wearing a baseball cap at that point in my life and would have been wearing an old raggedy hat that might have been closer to a sod buster hat or cowboy hat than it was to anything else.
I sneaked up on the side of the milking barn and then got down in the tall weeds, staying in the back of Jerry so he couldn’t see me. I crept to within about 20 feet of him then I jumped up and rushed him letting out a big yell (I suppose I could have yelled Geronimo I don’t remember).
As the Indian is leaping to attack and kill the poor Cowboy, the cowboy can do nothing but fire from the hip in a desperate measure to save his poor white self.
When I yelled and was running at Jerry, his reaction was to turn over his shoulder and squeeze off a hip shot.
The “Indian’s” scream of attack changes to a blood curdling scream.
Now one of the challenges that my monkey friend, George, presents is that some memories are completely missing. I don’t know if I can blame the vagueness of what I remember of the immediate moments following the scream on George or if it is because the Indian actually hit me in the head with a stone tomahawk. Allen says that what happened immediately was an attempt to place blame or fault. He says that we argued for a few minutes, which was likely shorter than normal when we argued, and did not resulted in our occasional fist to cuffs. My memories continue in what would be a few moments later.
What I remember is looking at my brother’s forehead standing between the old white cooling house and the hayshed. I remember wondering how the heck we were going to get the BB out from under the skin where it had entered, right between his eyes. He says there was blood running down the side of his nose. The BB was lodged between his eyes about eyebrow level embedded in the skin next to his skull.
According to Wikipedia, “a BB with a velocity of 150 ft/s (46 m/s) has skin piercing capability.” I was well aware that anything within 20 feet was a sure kill if they didn’t dodge the BB so it is a safe assumption that even with a muzzle velocity of around 275 ft/s (84 m/s) it was still well above the velocity needed to pierce skin at 20 feet and closing.
There we were, two young boys, one bleeding from a BB hole right between his eyes. I would really like to remember what we said and how we finally decided to not argue about whose fault it was; we really had something more important to do. We needed to get the “bullet” out of the Indian’s forehead. I am sure that we discussed a knife at some point in the conversation. The knives we carried in those days certainly weren’t going to do a good clean job and would likely have been a sanitation nightmare. I think we probably recognized that we didn’t have a sharp enough knife to try surgery and needed to come up with a better plan. I can say now that I am glad we didn’t resort to the knife approach, even though it was what you always see in the movies.
We finally wandered into the coolness of the cooling house and somehow came to the conclusion that we would just pinch it (similar to what you would do with a zit or pimple, which we knew nothing of as such young and foolish kids). Surprisingly to our simple young minds it popped right out. At this point I don’t remember if it bled much more, I have had kids smack their heads and cut their heads even just a little and it seems like a quart of blood gets out before you can get the wound to stop bleeding so I could very well have bleed profusely.
Allen’s recollection is as follows:
After I cussed at you and we argued a bit you said that you thought you could just squeeze it out. So I let you give it a try and sure enough it popped out of there just like a ripe pimple. It did start to bleed down the side of my nose, so we went into the milking barn and cleaned it up by using the iodine solution that we used to cleanse the milk cows’ udders with before or after we milked them.
I don’t remember if Mom even asked about it and I don’t know that we ever told her about it. I wonder now how we managed to keep the iodine stain inconspicuous enough to get past that evening’s dinner I know we swore an oath to never tell Mom or Dad what had happened.
Well, that cat is out of the bag now. But you can see that I might get a little nervous about a story where everyone is warning the little boy about being careful so that he doesn’t “shoot his [or his brother’s] eye out”. A little to the left or right and a little lower, we would be calling Allen “patch”.
Next time I see Allen I am going to have to look closely at his forehead to see if I can see that little scar right near his eyebrow. That scar is the only physical reminder of how lucky we were as kids. It is also quite likely why I don’t get too uptight about my kids or grandkids playing with BB-guns, I am certain they aren’t going to get into as much trouble as I did.
I do have at least one other story to share about my troubled youth with this BB-gun. I have to work with the “victims” to make sure all are given proper credit. That may take more than a letter or two to confirm their side of the story.