Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ballistics and such

Don and I just stood there with our heads bowed in humiliation, shoulders hunched in disgrace, hands thrust deep in our pockets; dumbly kickin' horse turds because we could not think of anything else to do. Buck watched us closely, without saying a word. He finally walked past us, and went over to lean on a fence post to survey his cows and disgraced pony. We turned on our heels and went back inside the building, hating that we had done what we did, and, worse, that we had been caught doing it.

Navajo Folk Art

It was the early 1980's, and my sister Susan and I were running the Bluff City Trading Post for our parents. We purchased the old grocery store from Bob Howell and had renovated it into an Indian arts and crafts store and silversmithing shop. My father, Duke, thought it a good idea to train me as an entrepreneur and silversmith, in hopes of securing my future as an "Indian Trader".

Susan was recently married. Her husband, Renis, worked for Utah Power and Light and was stationed out of Bluff. This worked out perfectly in the minds of Mom and Dad. My older sister was charged with keeping an eye on me; a big job for such a small girl. This was my first taste of independence, and I loved it.

We quickly hired a silversmith by the name of Don Dale. Don said he was a Missouri hillbilly who had walked out of the Ozarks and straight into the Army. After his tour of duty, he made his way to the Southwest. Don then hooked up with the Sanchez family of Cortez, Colorado. They owned San Juan Gems, and had taught Don the art of silver and gold smithing. After a bad experience with a dark-eyed girl and her ill-tempered family, Don found his way to Bluff.

Don is a talented artist who taught me a great deal about silver smithing. Knowing the difference between quality and shoddy workmanship has come in handy over the years, and I have to give credit for this education to my parents for being astute business people and to Don for his masterful tutelage. Don had been a sharpshooter in the military, so he also taught me about guns, ammo and shooting.

One day, as we worked at mastering soldering techniques and discussed ballistics, Don began explaining the various angles of trajectory between light and heavy caliber bullets. As we spoke, a light went on in Don's head and he said, "Actually, I can show you trajectory right here and now!" "How's that?" I asked. Don went on to tell me that he had a Benjamin air rifle in his Volkswagen Beetle. He said that if you pumped up the pressure only slightly, you could see the lead projectile exit the end of the barrel and watch it travel to its destination.

"OK then," I said, "let's do it!" We went out to his Bug, got out the air rifle and walked to the back of the building. Don put a .177 caliber pellet into the gun, pumped it twice and handed it to me. "Pick a target," Don told me, "and watch the flight of the pellet."

The field next to the building was grassy, with a small, old, dilapidated sandstone block building. Roaming the field was a rank old stud horse that had been put out to pasture and a small herd of Hereford cows. I smiled to myself, picked out a cow that stood chewing its cud about 30 paces away and pulled the trigger. I watched as the pellet "puffed" out the end of the barrel and fell to the earth short of its mark. "Hhmmph!" I said reaching into the box for another pellet and pumping the pressure up to a five on the danger scale. "Hold the barrel just over its shoulder this time," said Don. I pulled up, sighted in, pulled the trigger and watched as the pellet arched in and struck the cow in the shoulder. The beast barely moved; didn't make a sound.

Navajo Baskets

I squinted at the cow in consternation, reached for another pellet and pumped the gun up ten times. "This time hold dead on," said Don. I raised the air rifle, held just behind the bovine's ear and let fly. The cow lurched forward in stunned surprise, and let out a bellow of indignation. "Cool!" I said, pumping the gun up again, "Where's that nasty horse?" It was nowhere to be found. I sighted in on a few more of the nearer cows and let 'em have it until Don took the rifle and made some long, beautiful shots by holding well over the target and arching the pellet in.

Just then that old stud horse stepped out from behind the broken-down rock building to see what all the commotion was about. He was standing tall, proud and looking for love. I reached blindly for a pellet, hoping to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. I fumbled the projectile into the chamber, pumped the handle twelve times, raised the rifle and sighted in. When Don realized my intention, he reached for the rifle and began to voice opposition. "Phfoof!!!" The rifle belched. "whack!" The projectile found its mark, the horse screamed and began bucking wildly.

We watched in amazement as the horse tried to shake off the shock of the insult. As we stood marveling at the sight, we heard a frightening sound. From directly behind us, a voice heavy with sarcasm said calmly, "Good shot!" We turned slowly . . . There stood Buck, the cowboy who owned these now highly-agitated cows and the big, black stallion standing cross-legged on the far side of the fence. If a horse can look indignant, this one did - as did his disgruntled master.

Buck stood there with his hands stuffed in the back pockets of his threadbare Wrangler jeans. His potbelly was encased by a well-worn red paisley cowboy shirt with faux pearl snaps. An antique silver rodeo buckle with gold accents and a woven horsehair belt held his over-long britches in place. His beanpole legs and meatless buttocks were long and lean. On his big ol' feet were a pair of heavily scuffed, once black cowboy boots, with high swooped riding heels. The bottom of his jeans bunched up on top of those "Biskit Kickers" in wrinkled layers of denim and dust.

Buck's face was deeply tanned and wrinkled from many years of exposure to the harsh elements of the high desert. His livid brown eyes flashed at us from under his furrowed brow. Resting upon his high forehead sat a rustic black Stetson as well-worn and weathered as he and his boots. His overly black bowl cut hair stuck out in several directions from under his hat. We could tell by Buck's expression and posture that he was fit to be tied. We were guilty as sin, and suitable to be hung at sunset.

Navajo Rugs

Buck said nothing more. He simply walked past us, leaned on a cedar fencepost and quietly inspected his livestock. I wanted to say something about scientific experimentation, ballistics or trajectory, but could not make it sound reasonable in my head, so I just shut-up and walked away.

There are obvious morals to this story, and I have discovered a few more after years of thoughtful contemplation. Realizing that I might have wound up in a penal colony for my misdeeds, I leave you with this missive in hopes you will learn from my mistakes, and be inspired to resist similar temptations. Amen brothers and sisters.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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