Cowboys are some of the orneriest people around, especially when it comes to what they find to be funny. In fact, hardly anything can be real fun at all unless it puts someone in the hospital, jail or both.
When I was about fifteen, I got a summer job on the Prater Ranch about ten miles east of my hometown of Stinnett, Texas. I built fence, cut hay, chopped firewood and did most of the other jobs that the three regular cowboys didn't want to do. If it couldn't be done on a horse, then it wasn't fit work for a cowboy. About the only thing I ever got to do in the way of "cowboy" work was help when they were working cattle on the ground. My job was to plop down on the ground at the north end of a calf, grab one hind leg, brace my foot against the lower one and hold the animal so they could do the cutting, vaccinating and branding. It wasn't a difficult job but often when they applied the hot branding iron on the calf's hip, it would let and fly and I was right in the line of fire.
One day, in a moment of bad judgment, Mr. Prater let all three of his three cowboys, Larry, Ed and Curley take the pickup and go to Borger for some fence wire, staples and the like. I never heard Curley's real name but he was called that because he had no more hair on his head than on a watermelon. He was also the only one who was married and they lived in a small house near the barn.
Since it had rained the night before and I couldn't cut hay, Mr. Prater let me go with them. Now, one cowboy would have gone into town, got the stuff and came right back but when you let three of them out of your sight, they usually head straight for the closest bar. That is exactly what they did as soon as they had loaded the wire and stuff. I couldn't go into the bar so they parked under a shade tree behind the place, brought me a coke to drink and said they were just going to have a cold one.
One beer led to two and then to several more as the afternoon progressed. Somewhere along the way Ed ended up in a fight with some oilfield roughneck who had staked out the barmaid and thought Ed was getting too friendly with her. It got dark and Curley came out, gave he a dollar to go get something to eat and went back inside. I finally went to sleep in the back of the pickup.
They woke me up when they were kicked out at midnight so the bar could close. They had bought a bottle of whiskey to help them get home. Ed and Larry were in the cab while Curley and I rode in the back with the wire and stuff. They were passing the bottle back and forth as they drove. They also decided to take a "shortcut" on an oilfield road through Phillips and across the Plemons bridge since it was only about four miles further than going through Stinnett. I think they decided to go that way because the road had been paved with crude oil mixed with the dirt and laid on top of a series of roller sand dunes along the bank of the river. They were known as the Whoop-de-doos and a vehicle would go airborne over them at about sixty miles an hour. It was a favorite place for kids to wreck their parent's cars while trying to thrill their girlfriends.
The roller coaster ride over the Whoop-de-doos was going really good when Curley had to get rid of some of the beer he had been storing up all evening. He stood up in the back of the pickup and just as he had a good stream going, Ed spotted a skunk in the road and swerved to run over it. He missed the skunk but Curley did a half gainer out of the pickup, came down right on top of the skunk and the two of them went tumbling down the road together. I could see Curley's bald head and the white stripes on the skunk flashing in the moonlight as they did flip-flops down the middle of the road. I started pounding on top of the cab to get Ed to stop but they thought Curley just wanted the bottle back before his turn and kept going.
I finally got them stopped and after a bit of discussion, they decided that the decent thing to do would be go back after him. They turned around and started back as fast as the old pickup would run. Luckily, its top speed was about fifty, not fast enough to get us off the ground. They topped one of the hills and there was Curley, standing in the middle of the road, waving his arms. In Ed's drunken state, his reactions weren't all that fast and he would have run over Curley had he not dived into the brush beside the road at the last instant. It just happened that he picked the very spot where the skunk was nursing its wounds and Curley got a second face full of skunk spray.
They finally got stopped, turned around and here the came back, nearly running over Curley the second time as he dove into the brush. They drove a lot slower on the next trip but by this time, Curley was convinced they were trying to kill him and he figured that he was safer in the brush with a mad skunk than on the road where they could get at him. They finally had to get out and walk up and down the road in the headlights of the pickup and calling his name before he would come out.
Curley was pretty well bunged up so they decided to take him back to the hospital in Borger. When the doctor finally arrived at around two in the morning, Curley was a real mess. Except for inside his boots and his pride and joy that he was hanging onto when he took the tumble, he had road rash over almost every square inch of his body. Also, after three or four bouts with the skunk, it was almost impossible for anyone to stay in the emergency room with him.
The doctor checked him over and declared that he didn't have any broken bones or serious injuries. Then he and a nurse dug out most of the thorns and imbedded gravel, mopped him from one end to the other with iodine and told them to take him home. The last thing he wanted was for Curley to stink up the rest of the hospital.
Curley was having quite a sinking spell by the time we got to the ranch and he walked right past his wife who was waiting up for him and tumbled into bed. Ed and Larry, being the good buddies they were, decided to cover for him so they came up with the story that Curley was trying to break a bad horse and it had thrown, kicked and dragged him through a nest of skunks. Then to add to his misery, they told her that the doctor said he had a mild concussion and if she allowed him to go to sleep, he might not wake up.
When they went to the barn the next morning, they found Curley sitting on a bale of hay, covered with scabs from one end to the other and cussing that crazy wife of his. He said she wasn't the least bit mad at him for getting drunk but kept feeding him black coffee and washing his face with cold water so he couldn't go to sleep.
Ed and Larry said that without a doubt, Curley sitting there, looking like one big scab from head to toe and cussing his wife for not being mad at him was the funniest thing they ever saw.
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