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Local Lore

From Gipsy, a Guest Who Grew Up in Duncan

"I was just musing about an old fellow in Duncan in the 1950s. I think his name was "Johnny". He wore a fake sheriff’s badge and swore, as he swiped his fingers across his chest, that he had bred a squirrel with a rabbit and named it a “squabbit.” A small man, harmless, clomping about in oversized cowboy boots. Cactus Annie hitchhiked everywhere and always seemed to be gnawing away at a raw russet potato which she dipped in salt. And in Clifton, there was Old Black Joe who lived in a cave in between Clifton and Morenci. Single-named Toronche was a simple-minded fellow who walked up and down the railroad tracks with a gunny sack collecting bottles for money. The pedophile priest Monsignor Griffith or Griffen, with a single malt habit, was sent to the “outback” (he was a monsignor for crying out loud) for re-education. One of my favorite memories is flagging down the “putt-putt” that checked the safety of the train rails. It was a small wooden platform that had that T-lever that provided the manpower to move it along. I would flag it down and jump on with three or four ancient Mexican men and ride with them to get across town. I think they found me funny and fearless. Then, to finish with a flare ... there was a gay couple that sashayed through town in drag – an Anglo, Mickey Whipple, and a Mexican named "Gilbert Gomez". Gilbert was murdered on the streets of San Francisco and Mickey had what I imagine to be one of the first sex change operations ever done. He then took the name of "Leslie". I think she lives in Texas now. My grandmother, Mary Cosper, traveled from a sod house in eastern Colorado and came by covered wagon to Duncan. She had her own cattle brands: the Lazy S/Y and the MJ Bar. We have two somewhat “famous” people in our tribe: Cody Lambert who was a well-known bull riding champion and Matt Billingslea who is the drummer for Taylor Swift.

When you went into Hal Empie's store, the overriding smell was of oil paints and turpentine. I loved that scent. When he painted, he wore a smock. If you needed a prescription filled, he removed the smock and had on a pharmacist jacket underneath, so he became a different professional with a clothing change. If you wanted something from the soda fountain, off came the smock, off came the jacket, and then he was down to his soda jerk shirt. We often ordered a chocolate Coke or a cherry Coke or a cherry 7-Up.

Our grandmother (we called her Mom) would pay the bill from her knotted red paisley bandana. She only wore Levi’s and never carried a purse. In fact, we buried her in her Levi’s. She was a formidable Scrabble player and I was the only grandchild clever enough to engage her in this game. At one point, I decided to present a letter as a blank because I was after a huge triple word score. After doing this a couple of times, she looks at the board and says that there are three blanks on it. Since there are only two in a game, she called my bluff. She read Don Quixote (unabridged) at the age of 10 and loved the violin, so she named her riding mare Yehudi. To make her tamales, she killed a hog and went to Virden to pick corn and have it milled, and the Mexican women in the area said she made very good ones.

Down at the Old Stevens place where she lived (on the road to Safford) there was an abandoned bauxite mill. Timber framed with corrugated tin walls. I owned that place. It still had all of the machinery, steel balls of all sizes, cat walks and rickety stairs going every which way, and golden dust motes coming through the high windows. One day, all of the glass panes had been replaced and still had their stickers on them. I guess about 16 panes (8 x 8) per window. No one was around so I spent an entire blissful day throwing rocks and breaking every window in the place. One of the best days of my life, I swear.

Mom was on a party line with three other families: Lunts and Claridges perhaps. Each family had their own special ring. . .three shorts and a long, etc. We would pick up and listen to conversations across the river.

Our best fort was a defunct cattle tank. We lit fires in it, had chairs to sit in and one ladder to get in and one ladder to get out.

One day, out at the line shack during branding, Aunt Helen is frying chicken on a wood stove. The cowboys ride over the ridge stirring up dust, jump off their horses and squat to eat. Their hands are bloody from castrating the herd and sweat is pouring off their faces. Their hats are pulled down so low you can barely see their eyes and at this most auspicious moment my mother declares that Rick and I are vegetarians. Now, cowboys don't talk much to begin with, but they all gave out a "huh" when they heard this news. Every one of them had the bumper sticker that read: "Eat Beef, Keep Slim." Our family motto was: "You can cuss, but by God, you cannot whine." We all cuss a blue streak."