Posted by: trevormeers | April 10, 2010

So THAT’S Where My Horse’s Head Went!

(Dispatch #1 from a trip through cowboy country.)

“What is that? Are you wearing a gun!?

I’d been in the self-proclaimed wickedest town on the old cattle trails—let’s call it Chisum—about 30 seconds when a wild-eyed guy with an orange Winchester cap and about 40 fresh stitches holding his right palm together accused me of packing heat on a Friday afternoon.

“It’s a camera,” I said.

“Oh, well, I was wondering why you had a pistol.” He paused. “Don’t try runnin’ your hand through a calf chute. It’ll bite ya!”

He looked at me cross-eyed and said, “I’ve known this ol’ snake since high school, you know that?”

The ol’ snake was who I’d come to see, a local cowboy historian who theoretically ran an Old West clothing mercantile. But now I was inside the mercantile, and all I found was a scarred wooden floor, a bad painting of a can-can girl, Jim the historian and Frankenpalm.

I asked, “Jim, are you remodeling?”

Before he could answer, Winchester Cap said, “Remodeling? Ha! It’s more like a RE-moval!”

Turns out the mercantile shut down almost two years ago, and now it looked like I was going to interview Jim about Chisum’s history in an empty storefront with the help of a liquored-up Greek chorus.

Jim showed me to a naugahyde couch in the back of the vacant store and sat down to talk. Lank—as I later found out the sidekick was named—leaned on an empty glass display case and sized me up as I pulled out my notebook. “What magazine you say you’re from? Playboy? Hustler?”

Just then, another wild-haired guy slunk into the room through a back door, hunched over like he was walking under a helicopter.  He shouted, “Jim, I have your horse’s head!”

Jim said, “That’s been missing for years. How did you get it?”

Keep in mind that Jim is a fairly well-respected personage in these parts. That very morning, I’d seen a poster in a museum advertising his upcoming presentation. So now I was increasingly feeling like the one clueless guy in a Twilight Zone episode as I absorbed the fact that Jim’s famous store was an empty shell and he was now engaged in a conversation about his horse’s missing, well, actually now located, head. None of this seemed out of the ordinary to him.

“Found it in the pasture when I was supposed to be working on your windmill,” said Bobby (the newcomer’s name, I later learned).

“That was Sweet, my favorite horse,” Jim said. He looked at me and said, “I rode that horse down a bluff once.” Then he turned to Bobby and said, “I left him out there in his favorite pasture out of respect after he died. Why did you pick up his head?”

“I couldn’t find your windmill,” Bobby said. “And then—whoosh!—there was this head, so I grabbed it. I’ll give it back to you, though. I’ll give it back right now.”

“You don’t need to do that,” Jim said. But Bobby was already crouch-running out the wooden door that led to an alley behind the store.

At this point, Lank began reeling his wallet up from his pocket via the long chain holding it in place. “This fella needs one of your books, Jim. How much?”

“20,” Jim said.

“Holy cow!” Lank said. “That the best you can do?” He handed Jim a 20 then handed me Jim’s book on Chisum’s history.

Just then, Bobby slunk back into the room with a horse’s skull. “There you go!” he said and plopped Sweet’s whitened head onto the couch beside Jim.

“Looks like he lost some weight,” I said.

“I’ll show you how to lose some weight,” Lank said and pointed at me with his homemade cane. I started wishing my Nikon actually was a Colt.

“Hey, reporter,” Bobby said. “You want a picture of the horse-head thief?”

I said, “I’m betting you’re not leaving until I take one.”

“You got that right,” Bobby said and started peeling his shirt off for reasons still lost on me. “Jim, you got a rifle?”

Jim walked around the couch into his office and came back with a gold-finish Winchester rifle, which he apparently keeps handy right next to the toner cartridges. All of a sudden, I was looking like the unreasonable one for questioning Lank’s initial assumption that I had a .357 slung over my shoulder.

Bobby dropped to his knees beside the skull on the couch and threw his hands up while I snapped a picture of Jim guarding him with the rifle.

Then Lank swatted Bobby on the backside with his cane and said, “We need to let these fellas get to work.” Bobby kissed Sweet’s blanched forehead and followed Lank across the creaking wooden floor to the front door. The door banged, and I turned back to Jim on the couch. Sweet’s empty eyes stared back at me from the far cushion and Jim said, “Now, what can I tell you about the town of Chisum?”



  1. WOW! What an adventure! Sounds like a typical day in the old west,followed by a shoot out at the OK corral. A top 10
    vacation get away for sure! Of courseBYOHH(bring your own horse head) is required for admission!

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