Saturday, March 24, 2012


There is a callithump of buskers pretending to be cowboys. Though most of these street slickers are dime-store, there are some that are the real McCoys. As for me, my cowboy credentials are solid. One lazy afternoon beneath a smalt-blue sky in the summer sun of 1964, I became a bona fide cowboy.

My friend, Corky, who had ridden his horse into town, showed up at my doorstep.

“You can ride Blackie, if I can ride your new bike,” he bartered.

Right there we made a temporary trade. I hopped on Blackie, the chestnut Clydesdale with the feathered hoofs, and he jumped on my red CCM Glider with silver fenders covering the 28” wheels.

On the Notekeu Creek Bridge, about a mile from town, on this a warm and windless perfect summer day, the action began. Corky rode my bike across the bridge, whereas, I stopped short because of the rifle fire. Floating on the creek beneath the bridge were four friends, Shane, Lash, Flip, and O'Toole, smoking cigarettes and shooting frogs and birds along the creek bank with their 22 caliber rifles. They were aboard the Snail, a found rowboat they had refurbished and painted for just such a summer day of rowing and smoking and shooting.

Being horseback on that bridge just as they were floating underneath proved too enticing to pass up for the four sailors on the Notekeu. The first couple shots were meant to scare the horse. However, the final shot, fired just as the boat rocked, completely by accident, hit my right shoulder. I felt the thud, looked at my back, and the blood began to pour. I jumped off the horse and swore at my friends.

“He’s fakin’ it,” said one of them.

I turned so they could see the blood.

A mad fury proceeded. The boys scrambled to get ashore to come to my rescue. Since we were about a mile from town, Lash bolted across the fields to get the paddy wagon, the affectionate nickname for his delivery panel truck. (His parents owned a grocery store and he was supposed to be delivering groceries that day.)

The boys loaded me into the paddy wagon, and Lash drove to the hospital. At the hospital, Nurse Dorothy (Percival) waited by my side until the doctor from Herbert arrived. On the operating table the doctor had me roll onto my belly and commanded me to grab the bed post. He drilled a hole through my shoulder blade, and with a long set of forceps, tried several times to get hold of the bullet. I'm going to reach just one more time, Neil, and if I can't get it, we'll have to take you by ambulance to Swift Current, stated the doctor. He then gave one last pinched attempt and voila! He got it!

I spent considerable days of my summer vacation in hospital. Those days they were worried about lead poisoning.

The headline in the Swift Current Sun read:


Like I said, my cowboy credentials are solid. Getting shot while on horseback has earned me the bragging rights of being a bona fide cowboy. I’ve earned my keep. I claim entitlement to don the cowboy hat and pull on the boots, and strum on the sidewalk.

I do have other cowboy credentials:

I’ve been on a cattle drive. When I was ten or so years old I was recruited by a couple of real cowboys, Vern Anderson and Albert Gader, to help drive forty head of cattle three miles from one pasture to another. That time I was afoot.

When I was sixteen years of age I rode across Turkey Track Ranch on my 80 CC Suzuki motorcycle, en route to a rodeo in Herbert. I got a flat and a couple of real range cowboys, Percy and Bob Ostrander, patched my motorcycle tire.

As a young man employed as a Field Office Checker with the Department of Highways, I took board and room for a few weeks with Ranger Charlie at the Ranger Station in the West Block of Cyprus Hills Provincial Park.

As a middle-aged busker I strolled up and down the concrete linings of the mean streets in Victoria, British Columbia, as a singing cowboy. Cap-a-pie my costume was a white cowboy hat, fringed shirt, and green leather topped Rocky boots. To coin a new term, I was a real buskeroo.

And just what does it take to be a real buskeroo? That is besides taking a bullet while on horseback!

I’m thinking it could very well be determined by where your place of origin. Saskatchewan locales such as Hallonquist, Cadillac, Val Marie, Mankota, and Maple Creek are definitely considered to be in Cowboy Country. Places even further west like Pincher Creek, Alberta and Merrit, British Columbia are among the hundreds of famous cowboy communities.

It could be your galloping play list. Yodeling the wistful likes of Don’t Fence Me In, Ghost Riders in the Sky, They Call the Wind Maria, and Someday Soon, will have your consumers surely welcome you as a real buskeroo, just as they did Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy.

The notion of being a cowboy has been in the busking business for a long while. Whenever you climb into the busking saddle, get ready for the ride. And whenever you're strumming under the stetson, you'd best adhere to the Code of the Buskeroo:

-Live each day with courage. Stay fit, eat healthy, and present your sidewalk self with authority and confidence.

-Take pride in your work. Strum and sing like you really mean it.

-Know where to draw the line. Adhere to the demarcations and sound boundaries of other buskers when setting up your buskingdoms.

-Ride for the brand. When you begrime yourself, you begrime all of us.

-Every trail has some puddles. Every day is a new ride, and some rides are hard to thole. Every sun-up, however, gives opportunity for redemption.

Buskeroos, the sky is our roof and the sidewalk is our saddle. We are solitudinarian strummers in a consumer world. Besides ourselves, the only real villains we'll meet along the trail are the hectors and the weather. Whether your busking mesas be 'neath the morning sun or the midnight moon, remember that any cowboy can carry a tune – the trouble comes when he tries to unload it.

Buskeroos … Happy frails to you!

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