I recently sang for the funeral of a gentle giant. Bill Askey’s life touched the lives of so many people in our area. Bill showed you what a good man ought to look like … and do … and he never broke a sweat. Made it look easy.
Almost every time I am with a large group of friends, someone mentions that they enjoy the little columns I write for the Messenger. I am rewarded by these comments because my initial hope for the column was that it be a source of entertaining (maybe even “earthy”) stories from folks (maybe even “earthy” folks) like me who hang out at the coffee shop.
While I was seated with the Askey family before the service, I thought of a really worthy story. I’m kind of glad I didn’t think to write about it until now. Kind of fitting, I think, to write a funny story involving my friend, Bill.
Years ago, one of the paid entertainers at the local rodeo was a man from Aspermont named Hackberry (not making this up!) Johnson. Hackberry owned a buffalo and an outfit that looked like a chariot.
The guy made a good living hooking up the buffalo to the chariot, loping around the rodeo arena, pulling a pin that released the chariot, and saying, “show me the money” after entertaining the crowd.
Some of the local guys behind the chutes (including Bill Askey, Elton McCurdy, Dan Rhine and Ross Mueller) observed after a couple of evenings at the rodeo that Hackberry was shorting them a little. He pulled the disconnect pin after traveling only 75 or 80 feet into the arena. They devised a plan that would ensure a better, longer and more meaningful show from Hackberry and his buffalo.
The reason the guys didn’t have to sneak around to tamper with the disconnect pin was this: Johnson had only one leg. (Not making this up!) He couldn’t manage the surcingle (Google it. I did.) rig by himself so the locals had to help him get hooked up. The pranksters secured the pin on the chariot connection with just enough bailer twine to make things interesting.
The guest for the evening was television personality Bobbie Wygant. I’m not sure if the guys knew that the refined lady from Dallas was going to be in the chariot when they secured the little pin with the little bit of bailer twine, but she was … in … the chariot.
The buffalo, the buffalo wrangler and the refined lady entered the arena and made a round, waving to the folks all the while. Then the wrangler sped up the pace, planning on a big finish. He made another (faster) circle around the arena and tried to pull the pin. No workee. The bison was still in his “big finish” (fast) gait as the frantic buffalo wrangler tried to pull the pin.
Realizing that things were getting out of hand, Ross yelled to pickup man, T.L. Gentry, “T.L.! Rope him and dally!” Gentry obliged, and the show was over.
Nobody actually accused anyone of anything, but after he got the runaway buffalo stopped, T.L. looked straight at Bill and the other men standing by the chutes and said, “You guys are gonna get somebody killed!”
It’s a little known fact that neither Hackberry Johnson nor Bobbie Wygant has been back to Decatur since that 1964 rodeo. (I made THAT up.)
Gerre Joiner is a semi-retired church musician and has lived in Decatur since 1999.