These days it would be referred to as a "manifestation of the individual's right to freedom of personal expression." Back then we called it "stacking the joint." I was a skinny young deputy sheriff, and "square" enough to believe that my duties included keeping the peace and preventing mayhem and destruction of private property.
About 300 migrant farm workers in various stages of drunken combativeness had decided to round out a night of a-drinkin' and a-dancin' by taking each other apart - along with sundry dance hall furnishings, automobiles, deputies, and anything else that impeded free and happy movement.
I won't indulge in gory particulars. Suffice it to say that in the heat of the discussion I lost my 357 sixgun, two teeth, the shirt off my back, and several days of work while waiting for a few busted ribs to heal. My wife would have also been out the price of a funeral but for the intervention of a couple of gutty citizens out for a stroll. Seeing their friendly neighborhood fuzz getting tromped into the rocky caliche street outside the dance palladium, they violated the law.
One of them yanked a heavy blackjack from under his coat and began flailing heads. This showed his ignorance of that Texas statute that proclaims blackjacks to be in the same category as pistols, and prohibits their being carried except on one's own property or while traveling.
The second scofflaw hurried to a nearby house and obtained an old shotgun, which he exhibited to the exhuberant dancers still doing the mambo on my battered carcass. The party broke up, and I got kind of busy hauling a few of the remaining celebrants to town for a demonstration of how a cell door works.
I gave the shotgun man a lift home, and he proudly showed me his old pumpgun. The barrel had once been burst, and he'd had to saw the tube back a bit. Being a zealous cop, I meant to check the length for legality, but I could never remember to take a tape measure along on my subsequent visits to this old gentleman's neighborhood.
A while later I was elected sheriff. Figuring to teach the blackjack toter a lesson in the law, I swore him in as a deputy and bought him a Smith & Wesson 38 Special.
Many years and a lot of fracases have come and gone since that little misunderstanding. Looking back, I can reflect of literally dozens of times I've been helped through tight spots by the very citizens who paid me to protect them as a law enforcement officer.
The other day I pulled into a gas station in a tiny, isolated, West Texas town. The woman working there, eyeing my holstered 357, asked if I were a lawman. When I nodded, she drawled, "Well, we could sure use one. The deputy is over at the county seat this evening, and there's a man down in that pasture shooting at us folks."
She related that the man had caused some trouble at her station a few moments before, then stolen a rifle from a parked truck. When one of the station attendants had followed this hombre, he had been driven away with a couple of shots from the stolen gun.
The county seat, and the nearest local peace officer, were 30 miles away. The description of the gunman fitted that of a man suspected of having stolen a car and burglarizing a store in a neighboring village the night before. Digging some heavy artillery out of the trunk of my scout car, I prepared to go after the rifleman, telling the filling station operator to summon official help from the county seat.
I didn't have to go alone. Word of the events had already fanned through the little cowtown, and before I could drive away from the station I was joined by perhaps 10 men. Some drove pickups with stockracks on the back, and wore boots and Levi pants. Others rode in family sedans and were dressed in the casual clothing of store clerks and office workers. All were armed. Most of them brought handguns from their homes or stores. Several of the cowhands and farm types had simply grabbed the ever-present rifle or shotgun that lived in the racks in their pickups.
The county sheriff and several other state and federal officers arrived shortly and pitched in, and the subject of the manhunt was soon in the hoosegow. But that's not the point of these little episodes.
Different from the apartment dwellers in that eastern city who sat on their hands while a screaming girl was pursued and stabbed for 30 minutes until she died without a single person coming to her assistance, these small town westerners weren't afraid of getting involved.
Like other civilized people the world over, citizens of the rural Southwest prefer to have their laws enforced by professional law officers. But in these parts, when circumstances state it must be so, there never seems to be a shortage of capable men who are willing to step in and take care of their families, their neighbors and friends, and themselves.
The private citizen in Texas and a few other western states, is blessed with reasonable state laws governing his use and ownership of guns. To him a firearm is nothing to get excited about; it is a tool to be used for pleasure. Like most other tools, it can be pressed into service for defense of person and property when that defense becomes necessary.
The news media have depicted today's guntoting westerner as a dangerous fool who lives in the past, a make-believe cowboy looking for someone to shoot. This simply isn't so.
My life has been spent in the Southwest, and for 20 years I have enforced the law. Until the recent rash of anti-gun sentiment and increasingly restrictive legislation. I'm afraid I took it for granted that my ability to do my job and often my personal safety would always be bolstered by a society of responsible men who were armed and skilled in the use of their arms. As things now stand, a peace officer can still depend on his neighbors for that kind of help in my part of the nation.
I want it to stay that way.
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