Toothless Bob by Sandra
|The following is a story written by John Wesley Downs. Credit must be given to Janell Rose for her transcription and typing abilities. Enjoy!!!
Will enjoyed a good joke and during his formative years met many fine jokers and pranksters. His father’s temper often sent Will running out the back door to avoid a whipping. He found refuge in the bunkhouse where he would spend a few days until his dad cooled off. The many drifters of oddball characters that passed through the bunkhouse gave Will a fine appreciation of practical jokes and pranks. Many were of the rough-and-ready western variety. The idea of the joke was to terrify the victim and then have a good laugh.
Will witnessed several bunkhouse classics. Two hands that did not get along were Tom and Eddie, both from Missoula. One afternoon they came to blows over Eddie’s smelly feet. Eddie refused to bathe between the months of November and March – he said it was unhealthy to get wet in cold weather. Tom swore he would get him to bathe. Tom and another hand got a 10 gauge double-barrel shotgun and took apart 2 of the huge shells. They replaced the lead shot with feathers. The next day when the argument came up again, Tom in a rage grabbed the shotgun and threatened Eddie with death if he didn’t bathe. Eddie didn’t know Tom all that well and agreed, although he still said it was unhealthy, but shotguns are unhealthy too. Eddie heated a kettle of water on the stove and took a reluctant, noisy bath in the tiny, freezing bathroom. Tom stood outside on guard. When Eddie came out Tom accused him of not bathing, said he still stank and let him have both barrels from about 10 feet away. The blast wave knocked poor Eddie backward into the bathroom where he conked his head on the toilet, out cold. The men not in on the joke swore they’d just witnessed a murder. Old Bill came out with his shotgun, not loaded with feathers, and ordered Tom to pack and leave, and when Eddie came to, fired him as well.
Another prank involved a hand named Billy Jack. Billy was part Indian and the film “Billy Jack” about the Indian Karate expert who defends the helpless, made a big impression on him. He drifted here and there and was known only as Billy Jack. His real name was a mystery. Billy Jack was a sound sleeper and tended to snore. Some old trauma gave him bad dreams and he sometimes awoke shoving and struggling. He said he had nightmares about drowning. One night he was snoring loudly so the hands took action. They carefully lifted him on his narrow mattress and carried the sleeper outside. Behind one bunkhouse was a dry irrigation ditch about 4 feet wide and they carefully placed the cowboy on his mattress in the ditch. Looking up at the great Montana Sky he continued to snore. They walked a short distance and cranked open a gate bringing a surge of icy Bighorn River water into the ditch. Billy Jack began to float away, the hands walking along side the slowly drifting sleeper wondering what to do. Then he stirred and rolled into the freezing drink. Shouting and floundering in the ditch, he came up for air and was rescued.
Some of Will’s best pranks involved rattlesnakes. The medium sized Timber Rattler was a common snake around ranches, living under buildings, in wood piles and haystacks
They were useful so ranchers let them alone. Sometimes a snake would decide to sun itself in the yard or on the porch and would have to be killed, but mostly they were tolerated. Most had a loud rattle and provided adequate warning, so bites were rare. Some snakes were eccentric, however. An old rattler lurked in a bush by the cowshed and the slightest movement could start it rattling. Will could slam a brick down fifty feet away and set the thing off, like an over-sensitive car alarm. It seemed to want to warn everybody within a mile of its menacing presence. Other rattlers were so lethargic you could nearly step on the things before they would rattle. Young rattlers with only a couple of buttons were like this and some you couldn’t hear even when they were going full volume.
The old rattler with the hair trigger they named Oscar, and he was a handy source of pranks. A hand that showed fear of snakes might come back from a hard day and find all his belongings piled up by Oscar’s bush. The hand, grumbling, would go to retrieve them and would be confronted by Oscar’s ominous rattle. A visiting tourist or dude was likely to find their saddle dropped off by Will next to Oscar’s bush, just to see what would happen. Once an old hand brought along his own gallon of Crow moonshine that he kept in the bunkhouse and mixed with mint, sugar and spring water, making sort of a mint julep. Pranksters moved the jug under Oscar’s bush and the owner had to promise them drinks if they would go recover it.
Will sometimes stopped by an abandoned ranch called Joseys to look for a cow or pick up something. Joseys had a large scrap lumber pile that was good kindling and was usually snake infested. One afternoon Will and Marty went by to get some kindling wood and backed their truck up to the wood pile, setting off a noisy rattler. Walking to a near by shed, Will came back with a rake and started turning over the pile to find the snake. They found him, a Senior Citizen, rather skinny, evidently hadn’t eaten in a while. Will held the snake down with the rake but he got free and struck Marty on the boot. Marty jumped back and examined the spot, no harm done. Will held the snake with the rake and Marty grabbed him, he was a skilled snake handler. Opening his jaws the men saw he was toothless. The large fangs were missing; even the small back teeth were nubs. Marty carried the creature to the truck and put him in a gunny sack. And so began the adventures with Toothless Bob, the snake.
Will had several ideas, “How bout we take him to one of those snake-handling churches and let him bite us? They might take up a collection, Who Knows,” Will speculated. Marty wasn’t so sure. Marty thought it would be a good way to meet women, maybe take Bob into a bar. Will wondered just what sort of women would be attracted to a guy with a toothless snake; they might be more lethal than a rattler.
Exactly what and how a toothless rattler ate was a puzzle. Will and Marty took him back to the Bighorn and cleaned out an old corn crib, sprinkling some fresh hay around the closet-sized crib. They put Bob in there and he rattled contentedly. Mel and his fine hunting skills answered the food question. Mel frequently brought in rats or birds and
Tormented them a while. Will simply had to scoop up the injured prey and drop them in the crib. Bob did the rest. Bob would rattle with enthusiasm at dinner time, chasing the injured victim around the crib, finally cornering it. He began to gain weight and became quite lazy and tame. Marty began keeping him part-time in the bunkhouse. Bob would patrol the floor, flicking his tongue, poking his head into mouse holes. Sometimes Bob would find his own prey, biting a rat or mouse. They wiggled free unhurt with quite a story to tell their fellow rodents.
The most obvious use for a tame rattlesnake is to hide it in the victim’s lunchbox, but cowboys don’t carry them. Cars are another application for the prankster. A hand named Dallas, a softie and a bit of a dude, presented an obvious target. He had just gotten married and the other hands ribbed him about how fast he left after work, eager to get home. He had a small Japanese car and one afternoon they took Bob in his sack and tucked him under the driver’s seat. Dallas as usual got in his car and drove off, Will and Marty following to gauge the reaction and make sure Bob did not come to harm. They expected the car to screech to a halt but Dallas drove on, all the way home, getting out and going into his newlywed trailer. Will and Marty were about to recover Bob when Bob’s wife Heather came out, jumped in the car and drove off. What to do? The men followed Heather out of town when suddenly the car veered into a ditch and Heather, dressed for a baby shower wearing hose and heels, exited the car and ran screaming into a poultry farm, vanishing between chicken houses. The men quickly recovered the rattling Bob and left the scene, the prank having gone a bit far. Dallas never mentioned the incident but the hands noticed him carefully checking his car after work.
Marty had mixed results using Bob to meet women. Out of Towner’s were sometimes put off by his name, He Does It, thinking it was some sort of crude come-on. It’s reasonable for a woman to be skeptical about a man that “Does It,” who offers to show you his pet snake, at least on the first date. Bob became quite popular at their local bar, the Corner Pocket. They would slide him out of his sack on the bar and he would usually rattle if he wasn’t digesting a meal. One afternoon Will & Marty were driving back from the Pocket with Bob under the seat when they picked up two hitchhikers. They looked like college kids and were glad to get a ride since it was threatening rain. They seemed to be boy and girl friend, and thanked Will for stopping.
“We’re from Rutgers,” the guy said making conversation.
“Oh yeah,” said Will, “Is that a town somewhere?”
“Yes, in New Jersey, Rutgers University,” said the girl.
Marty sensed a prank in the making and reached under his seat and poked Bob. It took several pokes but Bob woke up and started rattling. Marty poked him again for more volume.
“My God, what’s that? It sounds like a rattlesnake,” the guy said.
“What you say?” asked Marty, poking some more. Bob was getting riled up. “I said that sounds like a rattle snake, don’t you hear it”, he asked, the girl nodding.
“A rattle snake you say?” Will asked, mimicking him. “Sometimes one crawls into the truck. Just be still, they won’t bother you,” Marty said, helpfully, giving Bob a poke. Bob responded, “My God!” the girl said looking around. “It’s in the truck? Sounds like it’s under your seat, let’s stop, OK? The guy asked. “Just don’t move,” said Marty to the guests, searching for a station on the radio. Minutes later, the hitcher’s urgently asked to be dropped at a gas station. Will obliged, Bob giving them a so-long rattle, prompted by Marty. Then the idle old snake went back to sleep.
So what happened to Bob the snake? In late summer another rattler moved into the crawl space under his corn crib. It must have been a lady rattler with an enticing rattle because old Bob became restless, rattling constantly and searching for a way out. Will was careless one day and Bob escaped taking off somewhere with his lady or gentleman friend. How the old snake managed to feed himself or his ultimate fate remains a mystery.