The Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman

Chapter 18


            Being right in the middle of ranching country, Stinnett naturally had its share of these rugged individuals who were so prominent in giving the Texas Panhandle its unique flavor. They were also some of the orneriest people around and an example of just how mean-spirited and ornery they were could be judged by what they found to be humorous and what they did for fun. In fact, for most of them, something couldn't hardly be any fun at all unless it put someone in the hospital or jail, or both.

            Like the time that Old Man Ancel made the mistake of letting four of his cowboys go to Borger together to pick up some supplies. Any rancher with sense enough to get in out of the rain knows better than to send more than one cowboy to do most anything, especially if it involved a trip into town. As my dad used to say, "One cowboy will work, two cowboys will get drunk and three or more get drunk and start fights."

            On this particular trip was Joe and Ben, a couple of Ancel's slack-twisted nephews who were barely smart enough to drive cows but not smart enough to stay out of trouble. There was also a teen-age drifter called The Kid who wandered in one day and Mrs. Ancel made the mistake of feeding him. As long as they fed him, gave him a warm place to sleep and didn't work him too hard, he saw no reason to leave. Just to keep them from getting into more than the usual amount of trouble or lost, Ancel sent along Curley, the only really good hand that he had. Naturally, with a nickname like Curley, he was bald as an egg.

            They got to Borger, picked up the eight rolls of barbed wire, two bags of staples and a pair of post hole diggers at the hardware store. After that, they stopped by the feed store for half a dozen blocks of salt. With their shopping done in such quick order, they realized that if they got back to the ranch before dark, Ancel would put them to work building fence. Beside all that, it was a hot day and a couple cool ones down at the Wild Bull Bar would really taste good.

            The Kid was too young to get into the bar so he had to stay in the back of the pickup in the parking lot. Every once in a while one of them would slip out the back door and take him a beer. As so often happens, one or two cool ones leads to three or four, mostly because the bar maid had the biggest pair of honkers that they had ever seen and each time she bent over to put more bottles on their table, they got a close and personal view of her mighty mountains. By the third beer, what brains Ben might have had were in his pants and he had fallen totally in lust with her.

            They were still going strong at midnight when the law required that the bar close. By this time Ben had become friendly enough with the bar maid to get a quick feel every now and then and was trying to talk her into going back to the ranch with them. She had more or less agreed but just as they were about to slip out the back door, her boyfriend came by to pick her up. He stood about seven feet tall, weighed three hundred pounds and had fists as big as hams. Curley hustled Ben outside just in time to save his life while Joe bought a fifth of Wild Turkey from the bartender to help them get home. They decided to take a shortcut by way of Plemons, even though it was probably ten miles further, and headed out.

            Joe and Ben were in the cab of the pickup while Curley and The Kid were in the back, passing the fifth of Wild Turkey back and forth between them. Somewhere in the hills just south of the bridge over the Canadian River, Curley decided that it was time to process some of the beer that he had been drinking all night. He stood up in the back of the pickup and just as he got a good stream going, Ben spotted a skunk crossing the road and swerved to try to run over it, sending Curley into a half-gainer over the side. Ben missed the skunk but Curley landed right on top of it and the two of them went tumbling down the road together.

            Later, The Kid said that the funniest thing that he ever saw was old Curley's bald head flashing in the moonlight as he did flip-flops down the middle of the road. What made it even funnier was Curley hanging onto his family jewels with one hand and batting at the skunk with the other.

            The Kid started banging on the top of the cab of the pickup to get Joe and Ben to stop, but they thought that he and Curley just wanted the bottle back before it was their turn. It took a couple miles before he could convince them that Curley had fallen out. They thought about it for a while and decided that they probably should go back to look for him so they turned around and headed back as fast as the old pickup would run. As they topped one of the little hills, there was Curley, standing in the middle of the road and waving his arms. They were going so fast that they would have run over him if he hadn't dove into the bushes along the side of the road where the skunk had taken refuge. This was the last straw for the skunk and he let fly with his best weapon, hitting Curley right in the face.

            They finally got the pickup stopped, turned around and here they came again. Their reaction time wasn't any better than the first time and they nearly got him again. By this time, Curley was convinced that they were trying to kill him so he decided to take his chances with the skunk in the brush along the side of the road. The skunk gave him a parting shot and headed for safer places. They finally had to get out and walk up and down the road, calling his name, to get him to come out of hiding.

            They got Curley in the headlights of the pickup to see how bad he was hurt and as Ben put it, "He looked like he had been sacking cats and someone slipped him a wild one." He was pretty well scratched, skinned and beat up from one end to the other so it was decided they better take him back to the hospital in Borger. Curley was all bloody and stunk like a skunk so bad that they made him ride to the hospital in the back of the pickup. It must have been around two in the morning when the doctor finally got all the gravel, thorns and bits of cloth picked out of his wounds and mopped them with iodine. He declared that while he didn't have any serious injuries, he had pavement abrasions over just about every inch of his body except for the part that he was holding when he fell out.

            When they finally got back to the ranch, Curley was having a bit of a sinking spell so he stumbled into his house and headed straight for bed without saying a word to his wife who was still waiting up for him. Joe and Ben, being the good buddies that they were, told his wife that he had been trying to ride a bad horse and it threw him and dragged him all over the place, including right through a whole bunch of skunks. They told her that the doctor said he would probably be OK but he had a slight concussion and if he went to sleep during the next 24 hours, he probably wouldn't wake up again.

            They all declared that the funniest thing they ever saw was the next morning when they went down to the corral and there was Old Curley, sitting on a bale of hay, covered with scabs from one end to the other, stinking to high heaven and swearing that he was married to the craziest damn woman alive. He said that he expected her to be madder'n hell at him for coming in drunk, but she had been so sweet and nice to him, except that she kept giving him black coffee, washing his face with cold water and wouldn't let him go to sleep.

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