Me and L.D. With Cactus Jack


Cactus Jack is a fairly common name out west, mostly for old grey haired miners with scraggly beards and mules named Midnight. Our Cactus Jack was a mid aged, clean shaven man with white hair on his forearms that stuck out 2" like cactus needles. Jack liked to tell folks that it was a result of being struck by lightening when he was a kid, but his dad and grandpa had the same trait. It wasn't a good idea to call Jack a liar, so folks just let it be.

Jack owned a ranch 16 miles east of Red Lodge that his family had homesteaded in the 1840's. He ran a pretty good spread, but had recently begun to pick up some extra cash from coal royalties. Jack liked to spend some of that extra cash drinkin' and chasin' the ladies down at the Pollard Hotel bar.

LD and I had wintered south of Jackson and had worked our way up to Silvergate. We'd been settled into the bunkhouse for a few days when Jack showed up. He wanted LD and me to come to the ranch and break a dozen or so horses. Jack was driving a great looking, fairly new Ford pickup with a flathead V-8 and a wooden stock rack. We piled in and headed for Red Lodge.

Work progressed pretty well, but each day around 5:00 in the afternoon Jack would take us into town to the Pollard for refreshment. I was a pretty good hand around the horses, but LD could attract the ladies like a Bull Elk in rut. Jack hoped to capture some of LD's harem.

The job took two days longer than it should, but by Thursday noon we were ready to head back to Silvergate. Around 2:15 we stopped at the Pollard to get "one for the road". Six hours later we loaded into the truck and headed south.

As we approached the Park county line, something about the sign seemed to aggravate Jack. He slowly came to a stop in front of the sign, then suddenly went forward pushing the sign over onto the ground. For some unknown reason we all whooped and hollered as if we'd just rode the meanest bull in Montana. That's all the encouragement Jack needed. From the Park County line clear down to Cooke City every north facing sign on highway 212 fell prey to the bumper or right fender of Jack's V-8 Ford. We whooped and hollered till we lost our voices.

They say that God looks out for fools, drunks and little children. I figured that us being two of those is the reason we made it to the bunkhouse alive. Cactus Jack stayed overnight and headed to Cody the next morning. Two days later, Park County Sheriff Bob Kracht found us in Cooke City. Bob heard that we had been in Red Lodge the night of the sign caper and wanted to check the front end of our truck for damage. Satisfied that our truck was not involved, Bob walked toward his patrol vehicle, stopped and said "by the way fellas, got any idea where Cactus Jack's at?" Bob was a sharp officer, and he knew we weren't being fully honest when we assured him we'd let him know if we heard anything. We used a pay phone in front of the Cooke store to call Jack's sister in Cody. She didn't understand the message, but she said she'd tell Jack that the Sheriff had been down to look at our truck.

About mid summer we were back in Red Lodge and drove out to Jack's place. Right in front of the barn sat a shiny red Chevy truck. LD asked where the Ford truck was. Jack said he'd never had no damned Ford truck and wouldn't take one if given to him.

Jack passed on some 50 years later without sharing with us what happened to the Ford. LD thought it was buried on his brother in law's spread near Cody, but I thought we'd probably find it in one of the abandoned coal mine shafts on Jack's ranch.

 Copyright 2009 Michael J. Kay
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