Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Help, I'm Being Stolen!" by Tom Rizzo

On a warm August night in the mid-1970s, I happening to be standing in the midway of the Ohio State Fair talking with a plainclothes state highway patrolman when a bizarre theft took place. 


 It was late. Midway vendors were preparing to close for the night. Soon, the lights began dimming and flickering on concession stands that featured Elephant Ears, Funnel Cakes, Deep Fried Donuts, Fried Oreos and other unique and mostly fried creations.

Seconds later, I heard someone yell for help. I glanced into the pockets of darkness separating a row of exhibits and I saw a man flash by carrying what looked like a child under one of his arms. Then I heard the same cry for help again. I recognized the voice. It was someone named Pete Moore. 

Before continuing with the rest of the story,  this post was inspired by Jacquie Rogers who last month, blogged about "Fair Play: How to survive the Owyhee, Idaho County Fair and Rodeo." 

Her blog triggered memories of my three years as public relations director for the Ohio State Fair. The vendors, entertainers, concessionaires, state fair staff, and even fair-goers represent fascinating opportunities in character study.

Consider this a change of page. Normally, the WF blog focuses on stories of the West, instructional articles, and posts about the craft of writing fiction. I'm invoking a bit of poetic license to share a couple of anecdotes that took place during my tour of duty at what used to be billed as the World's Largest State Fair

I did a lot of writing different writing during those days, some which I suppose could be branded as fiction if you're splitting hairs.

In addition to news releases and articles, I wrote a pocket sized booklet about the history of the Ohio State Fair, various media relations guides, even the results of various competitive events for distribution to newspapers and broadcast outlets. 

I also served a ghostwriter of sorts for the governor and for the state fair manager, developing Welcome messages that were included in each of several booklets detailing the broad range of events scheduled during the twelve-day run. 

This was no cookie-cutter approach. Each message had to be unique to the particular venue.  I especially got a kick out of signing the governor's name to the messages. But my words weren't sacred. All the messages produced for the governor were delivered to the statehouse for his - or someone's - approval.

During those three years, I learned what it took to  put on such a huge event that attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. It was intriguing getting to know the various vendors and exhibitors and learning how they lived and traveled and made a living.

Now, the rest of the story . . .

Pete Moore stood 27 inches from head-to-toe. Of the nine children in his family, he was the only one afflicted with osteogenesis imperfecta. The disability kept him out of school--not by his own choice, but by directive of the Wetumpka school district in Alabama. 

Despite his handicap, he was quite intelligent. Pete was home-schooled until age 11. When he finally got the okay to attend public school, he put himself on a fast-track and got a diploma in nine years. And with an A average.

But making a living was difficult. During a visit to a sideshow in the early 1960s, he saw an exhibit billed as The World's Smallest Man. But Moore, who stood 18 inches tall, was smaller and got hired on the spot. Several years later, he fell in love and married and he eventually became the World's Smallest Dad. The couple had a boy and a girl, but their daughter inherited the same bone disease as her father. 

Wife and kids, however, toured with Pete who made a financially comfortable living at various venues. Pete owned his own show and acting as his own booking agent, appearing at major fairs across the US and Canada. He died of heart disease in 1984. He was 51.

When I met him, I was impressed by his genuine nature. Simply put, Pete was a nice guy. And, except for his disease, quite normal. He drove a car, did chores around the house, including mowing grass. 

He spent 23 years on the road appearing in carnival freak shows. I have a feeling that in those two decades of entertaining the public he would always remember a bizarre event that occurred during one of his visits to the Ohio State Fair.

When I heard his cry for help, I couldn't imagine the scene being played out before me. 


"Help! I'm being stolen."

"My God," I told the patrolman, "someone's trying to steal Pete Moore."

"Who's Pete Moore?"

"The World's Smallest Man."

He frowned until he heard another desperate cry for help from Pete. Wasting no time, the patrolman radioed his colleagues and they corralled the thief before he could escape. 

I learned later, the culprit crept into the Pete's exhibit test and spotted in in the display cubicle. He walked over, snatched the little man up into his arms, tucked him under his arm, and raced along a fence bordering the midway seeking a way to escape with his prize possession. 

The entire affair was ludicrous, and we managed to keep it quiet. I never learned exactly what the thief intended to do with Pete. He wouldn't have been able to exhibit him and I doubt Pete Moore would never have allowed that to happen anyway. Maybe he planned to hold The World's Smallest Man for ransom. No one knew the reasoning behind it. A weird crime, not well thought out.

One of the biggest events at the Ohio State Fair is a livestock exhibit called the Sale of Champions where a professional auctioneer sells off the grand champion and reserve champion steer, barrow (a young, neutered male pig), and lamb to the highest bidder. 

At the time, the proceeds were rolled into a scholarship fund and awarded to the 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) youths who raised and exhibited the animals. The exciting showcase event attracted television coverage and lots of statewide publicity.

The Sale of Champions began in 1968, a brainstorm of then-Governor James Rhodes. He attended every Sales of Champions auction during his four terms. And he would actively participate by cajoling business people to make bids and then urge them to push their bids even higher. 

Rhodes was a savvy campaigner and a shrewd promoter with a reputation for leaving nothing to chance. Under his direction, the sale of livestock became a made-for-TV event.

"You can put the whole state of Ohio in a corner of California," he once said, "but we've got the world's largest fair."

On the morning of the Sale of Champions in the mid-1970s, I happened to be in my office when the phone rang about 6:30. The manager, from his office in adjoining building, said Governor Rhodes was in his office and wanted to see me. He told me to bring a pencil and a pad of paper. When I walked in, the governor motioned me to a chair.

"Here's what I'd like you to do," he started. "Get six panels of stiff white cardboard, about two feet long and six inches wide. Then find a handle of some kind that you can affix the panel."

The governor's eyes sparkled with excitement. Keep in mind, the fair and the Sale of Champions took priority over more serious affairs of state. Fair-goers often spotted him strolling the grounds, sampling fair food, chatting it up with Junior Fair exhibitors, and generally making himself visible and accessible. 

"What do you want me to put on the six panels?" I asked.

"The amounts each grand and reserve champion is sold for. Get a chair and put it out of sight behind that big auctioneer's desk. Then when each winning amount in announced, hold up the appropriate sign so the TV camera can zoom in on the price."

"How much time am I going to have to write the amount on the sign and hold it up. That auction moves pretty fast, governor."

He dismissed my question with a shake of the head. "Don't worry about that. Write these numbers down."

The governor then told me to write down six different prices - down to the penny - which represented each of the categories involved in the auction. After jotting them down, I looked up and frowned.

"You look confused, Tom."

"Do these numbers represent the actual bids?"

"They do."

"I'm still confused," I said, wondering whether the prices he gave me were nothing more than educated guesses. "Let's say someone bids a penny or two above or below these numbers. It's going to look a bit stupid if I hold these panels up and the numbers are wrong."

He looked at me as if I landed from another planet. "The numbers are right. Those are the actual prices."

"I thought this was an auction."

Rhodes smiled. "It is indeed and it's going to be a good one."

Later, I realized what I sat through was a lesson in political theater. Leave nothing to chance. Even when it involved selling cattle, pigs, and lambs.

# # #

Monday, September 15, 2014

Trail Ride--Mexican Style by Gordon Rottman

Houstonians are familiar with the 13 trail rides into Houston for the Livestock Show and Rodeo Parade at the end of February. We see them on the freeways prodding toward Memorial Park, their destination prior to the big Go Texas Day Parade through downtown the next day. Some of these are almost 400-mile long trips. They continue the traditions of an older and more romantic Texas.

Years ago I was introduced to another kind of trail ride through my wife’s family in Mexico. The Cabalgata Revolucionaria Morelos is an annual November event. A cabalgata is a cavalcade or procession taking many forms. In ranching towns, this is called a “circular procession”—cabalgata revolucionaria—celebrating ranching traditions and a time for families and friends to bond. By “circular” it means that it begins at a ranch hosting that year’s ride and then the trail winds cross-country through other ranches and ends in the town of Morelos. Some towns’ ride begins and end in the town.
Morelos in Coahuila State is a small ranching town 35 miles across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. It’s not the Mexico seen by tourists nor was it troubled by the border violence until recent years. It was a quiet, laidback town in which we did not hesitate to take night strolls on unlit streets. Things got bad a couple of years ago, but the Mexican Marines have settled things down and it’s getting back to normal. Regardless, cattle ranching is the focus here and the traditions and values are more fitting for the 1880s.

A recent cabalgata was hosted by our family’s Rancho el Consuelo and riders began assembling on the 36,000-acre ranch on a Friday afternoon. A bonfire-lit mini-rodeo was held that night followed by dancing in the corals by firelight accompanied by blaring car radios. By dawn Saturday over 3,000 riders were assembled. Its one thing to organize 3,000 people, but there’s as many horses too and each extended family and ranch has its supply wagons for little kids, and oldsters and for hauling food and drink.

The start is always surprising smooth with everyone cooperating and helping out. The priest blesses all of the riders and horses and the possession sets off stringing out into a miles long column as it ambles across the range-land over dirt roads. Most noticeable are the number of mounted kids wearing big Stetsons and denim jackets. They’re treated as equals and are expected to pull their load. It’s all part of the bonding and they learn the time-honored skills and traditions.

Mid-morning finds the riders and wagons in a clearing and forming a huge circle for the first rodeo’s “coral.” This year it’s a horse obstacle course in which riders demonstrate both their skills and their mount’s. Riding on, there’s a strong sense of a mobile community as we visit with friends and families, meet new friends, and carry on long conversations as we ride. Food and drink are shared in the saddle being handed out from the wagons without halting.

The mid-afternoon rodeo finds us in another massive circle. Its bull-riding time and this is when young vatos—dudes—display their pride and skill before all. These are just roped, range-wild bulls. Watching the boys trying to mount the bellowing critters as they attempt to leap and literally climb out of the six-foot high chutes is a sight to see. You can tell they’re having second thoughts, but they can’t back down in front of the entire town. Some charging bulls break trough the “corral” with horses and riders scattering in all directions and the announcer saying maybe we’ll find the rider tomorrow, maybe.

The end of the long day finds us winding into the village of Los Álamos for an impromptu parade with the entire town turning out. Horses are unsaddled, fed, and watered. Campsites surrounding the town are set up and fires kindled. For the kids it’s a time of excitement and learning. Around campfires with the grownups, they learn to tell tales, cuss—politely, drink coffee, play Pokar, take part in adult conversations and learn a rough, but very valuable etiquette. It may sound rancorous, but they learn about being as good their word, trusting family and friends, and being responsible for their actions. They also do all the camp chores, but that’s part of the deal. It’s a long, nearly sleepless night of visiting with talk of old times, old friends and future hopes.

After a quick breakfast of arroz, frijoles y tortillas—rice, beans and tortillas—we saddle up and start for Morelos just a few miles away. This is the big day, the final. The beery-eyed riders perk up as we approach town. The high school band is playing and CD players blast music over PAs. We ride through town waving and throwing candy to the kids with thousands cheering. Even the neighboring towns are represented as the riders come from all over the area. Three of the five towns of the Cinco Manantiales (Five Springs) area have an annual ride and many take part in all of them.

The parade breaks up; hundreds of horse trailers and pickups appear on side streets. After taking care of the horses our extended family adjourns to a relative’s home for a massive breakfast that runs into lunch and beyond. On the patio, chairs are pulled together and there’s endless conversations and planning for the next cabalgata. Hundreds of such get-togethers are occurring across town.
In the evening, we all walk to the dance hall where three different bands will provided the dance music into Monday morning. We ended the dance with a conga line winding through the rooms, even the kitchen, out the back door, and through the parking lot. Passing cars and pickups honked and folks cheered us on. A couple cars pulled over and the occupants joined the line.

We don’t have family reunions, the cabalgata—along with quinceañeras and weddings—serve in its place with families traveling from all over Mexico and the States to attend this annual tradition.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Past, Present & Posterity: Wyoming 1890 -1990

By Richard Prosch

In 1990, an unlikely group of fiction writers, poets, visual artists, teachers, students and celebrities came together to celebrate Wyoming's centennial with a unique micro press book as rich in content as it is
now, 24 years later, hard to find.

Past, Present & Posterity: Wyoming 1890-1990 is a spiral bound mash-up with short contributions (one to three pages each) from every corner of the arts and every part of Wyoming's bright and varied culture. Everybody was invited and anybody could be represented. It was edited by Nancy Jennings, Linda Love, Sherry Tavegie and printed in Buffalo, Wyoming early in the year.

Living in Laramie, eking out a few bucks here and there as an artist, I was putting up a solo show of my western paintings and the director of the gallery, who knew I was also writing, suggested a I contribute something to the centennial project. My non-fiction piece describing an art project was accepted, and I kept it on my resume for a few years as a professional credit. When we moved to South Carolina, I promptly lost my only copy. Even a few years after publication it was hard to get a replacement. In fact, it was harder then than now with Amazon and AbeBooks.com available at our fingertips. I finally got a new copy a few weeks ago, and I'm still paging through it. 

Third generation rancher Charles Lawrence contributed a piece about historical cattle brands. Western novelist Les Wayne Merha, who wrote as "Les Wayne" gave us a history of the French-Canadian trapper Joseph LaRamee, he who the river, county and town are named after. TV's Morey Amsterdam contributed a song, and famed lawyer Gerry Spence sent in a familiar fable. Included here are art projects and poems, recipes and legends.  It's an odd mix, but what makes it work is each contributor's obvious love for their home state.

Keep an eye out for it. If you find a copy for less than $20, grab it up for your reference library. Get it for: 

Paula Taylor's bullet list of Flirtations with Handkerchief, Fan, Glove and Parasol.
George Fraker's step-by-step guide to constructing your own western saddle from scratch

Nadine Zowada's essay on dying yarn with natural dyes.

Marva Haukass piece on the Shosone method of brain tanning hides.
Patrick Walsh's story about the Famous Deadline of 1908

Get it for stories about Butch Cassidy, the Abe Lincoln monument on I-80, and the wildfires of 1988. 

It's a unique resource, and one I'm sure you'll enjoy when it crosses your path.  

A few copies are available at Amazon and AbeBooks.com 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again
Part 2: P-Z

Here’s a crash course in saddle terminology for those who don’t know a cantle from a cinch ring. Bruce Grant, in How to Make Cowboy Horse Gear, lists the parts of the Western saddle as a tree (frame), the seat, the cantle, the horn, the swell and gullet, the front jockey and back jockey, skirt, fender (rosadero), stirrups, stirrup-leathers, cinch rings, latigo, conchas and tie-strings.

Pimple, postage stamp, kidney plaster, kidney pad: the cowboy’s name for an English saddle

Pommel: the front portion of a saddle (the fork) attached to the side-bars

Pommel bags, cantinas: saddlebags up front of a saddle

Pomo, manzana: the pommel of a Mexican saddle

Rear jockey, back jockey: the top skirt of a saddle under the cantle

Rig: a saddle

Rimfire saddle, rimmy: a Spanish rig, a saddle with a forward-placed cinch; the rear of the saddle was inclined to rise when a rope-dally was made on the horn and there was a lot of steer on the other end of the rope

Saddle-blankets: in the Old West, the average cowman used an ordinary blanket, folded according to taste, to protect the horse’s back against the chafing of the saddle. It was preferably made of wool, but if made of cotton it was larger and folded more to produce the necessary thickness. The finest blankets were Navajo – less inclined to crinkle than a common wool blanket, yet possessing pliancy. Riders who used the double rig or Texas rig generally covered a larger area of the horse than those favoring a single cinch rig

Saddle bow: the arched forepart of a saddle-tree

Saddles: an adaptation of the Spanish war saddle, itself probably from the Spanish Moors, who probably developed their design from that of the Arabs. The main difference in the Western saddle is the high horn, used by the cowboy for roping. Saddles were (and are) usually named for the maker or the shape of the tree. A number of different rigs were used in the West, and to a great extent, in the early days a man’s rig could indicate whence he came. A Texas rig had two cinches, the center-fire rig belonged fundamentally to California, while the El Paso-Albuquerque was a three-quarter rig, a style that belonged also to the Northwest (for example, the Montana rig). In later days, a man could more easily use the rig of his fancy. The very early saddles of the Mexicans in Texas had a broad-based horn that instantly identified it: the apple was flat-topped. Early Anglo saddles constituted the bare minimum to separate a man’s butt from his saddle blanket. The saddle-tree was covered with rawhide only, and the over-all housing was a loose detachable cover. The Mexican models were adopted by the Mountain Men and frontiersmen, modified further by the Texans and others to their own needs. The saddle-types of the Mountain Men were used by early cattlemen in the north (whose cattle were the ones traded by travelers on the Oregon Trail and California Trails back in the 1840’s and 50’s). One early type of saddle was the Mother Hubbard: under this, most of the rigging disappeared. Toward the end of the century, once again most of the rigging was revealed, though the style did not revert entirely to the early model that had only an upper skirt and no fenders. The new style retained the deep fender that had been used with the mochila and had a full squared skirt under the tree. Swelled forks came in at the end of the century, and some riders had adopted the roll cantle by this time. The old-timers, however, stuck with the old slick-fork.

Saddle-tree, tree: the frame and foundation of the saddle, usually of wood covered with rawhide. It was measured from the top center of the cantle to the rear of the horn

Salea: a softened sheepskin placed between the horse’s back and the saddle blanket

Silla: a chair or seat; hence, a saddle

Slick-fork: the fork of a saddle that curved down smoothly as opposed to a swelled-fork

Spanish-rig: a saddle with one cinch directly beneath the saddle horn

Squaw saddle: a padded blanket or quilt used as a saddle, after the fashion of the old aparejo

Stirrup, stirrup-iron: the support for the rider’s foot that hangs from the saddle; to use the term correctly, the stirrup includes both stirrup-iron and stirrup-leather. In the early days, this was not made of iron at all, but carved from a single piece of wood. Later, the wood was bound with rawhide or wrapped with metal until eventually, the support was made of iron. Compared with Eastern or European stirrup-iron, those of the West were heavy and utilitarian, often covered with tapaderos to protect the foot. They were an essential part of the working equipment of the cattleman, and great strain could be put on the leather and iron during working of the cattle.

Stirrup-leather: the broad strap hanging on each side of the saddle which supported the stirrup-iron

Stock saddle: a saddle especially made for the working of cattle, strong enough in the horn and tree to withstand the enormous stress and strain laid on it by roping animals

Sudaderos: the leather lining of a saddle’s skirt

Swell-fork: the fork of a saddle which swelled out on either side below the horn

Tablas del fuste: saddle-tree bars or slats

Tackaberry buckle, tackberry buckle: a cinch-buckle that took two wraps of the latigo and hooked into the cinch ring

Tapaderos, taps, tapaderas: (Spanish: “thing that covers”) a covering on the forepart of the stirrup to protect the foot from brush and other obstacles. A very necessary piece of equipment in brush country. It was also more than that, for it prevented the foot from being put fully through the stirrup-iron, which would trap the foot if the rider fell from the horse. In pre-Anglo days, Mexicans and Californios put only their toes into the stirrup-irons, using a shallow tap which lay flat against the broad stirrup-iron

Texas rig, Texas saddle: the double-rigged saddle favored by Texans; a stock saddle with a high cantle and horn

Texas skirt: a square saddle-skirt such as found on a Texas rig. Popular east of the Rocky Mountains from Texas to Canada, including part of Western Canada, while the Spanish style of rounded skirt prevailed in the coastal states. Around 1900, the two styles were combined, generally speaking, by the Miles City, Montana saddlemakers. From that time on, the styles were mostly mixed throughout the west

Texas tree: a saddle-tree of a kind used on a Texas rig

Three-quarter rig, Montana rig: a saddle with its cinch just forward of the center-fire position; also found in the El Paso-Albuquerque rig

Tie-strings, tie-straps: the thongs or straps on the upper flank saddle-skirts by which bedrolls and other equipment was fastened behind the cantle

A Dictionary of the Old West, Peter Watts, 1977
Dictionary of the American West, Win Blevins, 1993
J.E.S Hays