Playing Cowboy

Coleridge, 1948
Maybe ‘Playing Cowboys’ isn’t the right term, but it was a fictional exercise and it had rules. Sometimes we called it ‘Army’ or ‘War.’ All of our playtime when I was about 7 to when I was 8 was taken up with this ‘Play.’ If we weren’t out playing, we were thinking about it: Coloring in cowboy comic books, listening to cowboy radio, or going to cowboy movies. (Every Saturday there would be a fight to see who got to sit in  the front row left side near the aisle. for some reason that was the choice seat and Merlyn, who  lived in the restaurant next door, usually won.) These were full length movies, I din’t see cowboy serials until we moved back to Colorado, and then it was 10 cents at the  State theater for 15 minute serials with cliff hangers at the end  of each  one.
That was the age of western movies and cowboy stars: Roy rogers, Hopalong Cassedy,, Gene Autry, Lash Larue, Tim Allen (I didn’t really get into Tom Mix, before my time.) Lone Ranger, Cisco Kid and their sidekicks: Gabby Hayes, Jingles, Pat Butrum, Pancho, Tonto and, of course, the only cowgirl, Dale Evans.  John Wayne was but a lad then.

Some had their own line of  clothes which were often wished for but seldom received or worn outside.  I remember a Roy Rogers outfit I received as a gift for birthday or Christmas (I would have never had enough money to buy one by myself). The outfits usually consisted of a vest, chaps, sometimes a holster, sometimes a hat, and  seldom if ever, spurs. We provided our own bandana from home for around  the neck or to  cover your face is you were the bad guy and involved in a stick-up.

Now pistols were a different matter.  Sure we could play ‘guns’ without guns, using sticks shaped like guns instead. But what we all coveted was cap pistols shaped like the Colt .45 and a holster that worked. You had to be able to ‘fast draw’ with  it, so it had to be real leather, broken in, and worn low on your thigh with a rawhide string that held it in place. Although the pistols were cap pistols, they seldom had caps in them. First of all they cost money, second they were used up quickly, and third they blackened the pistol. (BB guns were never used. No one had one and we liked pistols for the fast draw.)
So instead we just shouted “BANG.”  Or “BANG, I got you!” If the latter was used an argument immediately commenced.  “No You didn’t; yes I did; no you didn’t; cheater!” And then we  would run off to hide and lay in wait for  the next shoot out.

To start the game, after getting together your friends, rules were established: who were good and who were bad guys, what was  the area of play (usually the block), when to quit (usually when it got dark), and how long you had to stay dead (usually count to  100).

During one of these events wherein we were playing around the Coleridge school I jumped down into a window well to hide, bent down out of sight, and put my butt through the window.  I had to go home, tell my father, return to  the school with him to  tell the principal, and pay the piper. My father spanked me for a lot less, often leaving big red welts (since I was  a red  head) but not his time. Money was involved. He had to ay for the window and I had to pay him.  I lost out on a lot of cowboy play (for a week), did extra chores and had to forego my (50 cent) allowance for a month.

The holster was so important that I stole my friends holster when we had to move to Colorado.  I didn’t use it much there as we had other games to play (hide and go seek), so it did me no good to steal the holster.  I also found this out when pilfering other items in my youth.  Wanting was better than having.

– Small Town Boy


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