WINNING THE WEST WITH A SONG
Gene and Roy never lost their hats, sang to their horses, and
always played fair.
© 1998 by Tim Findley.
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Roy is gone, and now, Gene too. I guess it will have to await
some divine revelation before one of the greatest controversies
of my childhood is resolved.
Personally, I was always a Gene guy. Autry only carried one
six-shooter in a sort of plain holster. It had an ordinary grip
that was darkly colored, probably just wood. Champion was obviously
as smart or smarter than any horse that ever lived, but he was
just a kind of plain roan color too. Those two silver guns aside
the bit of his bridle were about the only exaggerated decoration
I ever noticed. Gene and Champion worked the West more like proletariat
heroes, ordinary folk who only did what they had to do in defense
of women, children, and generally good people. Just one plain
old six-shooter had Gene, and I always figured that was good enough
Rogers, on the other hand, always rode with those two chrome-plated
revolvers in a two-gun holster belt that looked like it was designed
for a side show. I know. I tried strapping on that double-draw
set a bunch of times. It always made my pants start to fall down
when I ran and one bone-handled gun was always falling out when
I tried to straddle the tree trunk that was my loyal pony. Roy
wore trousers with creases in them, and tucked his pants legs
neatly into tooled leather boots. Poor Trigger had to put up with
even more in all that silver saddle and fancy rolled blanket meant
to compliment his palomino glamour.
Me, I always thought "Champ" and I were better off with just
one gun and the good sense not to make things heavier for the
Winning the West in those days wasn't always so easy, though.
Some of the other guys who thought Roy had the right idea were
always telling me I was out of bullets before the shoot-out really
got going. They regarded me as a pretty plain cowboy in my old
tan Stetson, not nearly as heroic as their carefully-shaped white
10 galloners with the Colorado peak.
When we fought the bad guys, I always tried to keep in mind
the way Gene preferred a good upper cut to settle the issue. Roy
liked a right cross, but seldom used it. Neither one of them,
of course, ever fought with their feet, although I did see Gene
once push a guy off with a two-booted shove in the chest. It was
only because the evildoer had pulled a knife. Most times for both
Gene and Roy it would have to come down to shooting it out, after
the other guy drew first. Even then, they were both such good
shots that they could usually knock the pistol out of the bad
guy's hand before he cocked the hammer. It seemed to me that Roy
was always showing off by blazing along after them on Trigger,
with both hands full of smoking guns. Champion was more reasonable
about it. I figured he always knew that somebody had to steer
with at least one hand.
So I wasn't really a big fan of Roy. Truth is, that part
of that was his having Dale and Buttercup around all the time
where they might get in trouble. I even knew that it wasn't his
real name. The singing parts were always something I just scrunched
down in the seat and endured with both of them. I supposed that
those parts were just something to make our mothers feel better.
Although he didn't sing, I didn't really much go for "Hoppy" either.
He always wore that black suit which made him all the more obvious
on pure white Topper, and, like Roy, he carried two fancy pearl-handled
six-shooters. I know from experience that it just gets too darn
hot to run around in black all the time in the summer when most
bad guys are doing the wrong thing. Anyway, he sort of looked
too old to be really bringing law to the West.
I could forgive the Lone Ranger for his two-gun style. After
all, he had to make up for the whole Butch Cassidy gang that killed
his brother. But I always rather more admired that pinto, Scout,
that Tonto rode than Idid the sort of tiresome stallion antics
of the Ranger's Silver. They sold those eye masks to a lot of
us, but I never knew anybody who wasn't recognized right off when
he wore one.
Nope, when it came right down to it, I was a Gene guy. One
gun and a good horse that didn't try to steal the show. Just a
straight-out working class hero who never tried to take credit
My own son grew up without knowing any of this. The truth
is that he thinks John Wayne was the only cowboy to ever make
good as an actor. He never saw an episode of "Cheyenne," or knew
the catchy tune from "Bronco Lane." Wyatt Earp he knows about
from "Tombstone" and Kim Delaney, but the "Buntline Special" is
a bit of trivia he has no need to recall. Horses in movies don't
have names. Westerns in his mind bring to memory Clint Eastwood.
I tell him that most of those things were made in Italy and that
even the rifles look like some silly grapevine imitation, but,
since he was five, he has been able to play the theme from "The
Good, The Bad and the Ugly" on a flute recorder. Ooowie-Ooowie-Ouuu.
Nothing at all like "Happy Trails," or "Back in the Saddle Again."
To him, Western heroes were bushwackers and, as likely as not,
back-shooters. Gene and Roy would rather die first.
Well, that's it, isn't it? I've long outlived my childhood.
Heroes don't come anymore with just one six-shooter and a good
horse. Everybody, even the girls, fights with their feet now.
And nobody ever runs out of bullets, at least not until there
is a good body count.
It was sort of true to the code that Roy and Gene both went
on this past year without saying much more about it. I guess I
shouldn't either. It doesn't really matter to me much how rich
both of them got later or what they finally ended up owning. After
about the age of 11, I couldn't see them anymore anyway. They
were just always something fundamental in how I decided about
my own life. I wish I were winding up with as much money in the
bank and properties to pass on, but I don't really think that's
what it comes down to. I remember them as I remember myself, and,
when I think about it, I'm not too disappointed. I was a Gene