Saturday, 22 February 2014

“Original Six” Goaltenders…Part Two

Glenn Hall

Why did Wings GM Jack Adams trade Sawchuk away in the first place? It was to bring up Glenn “Mr Goalie” Hall from their farm team in Edmonton. Another Saskatchewan-born Original Six goaltender, Hall was the first of the controversial “Butterfly” netminders. 


Glenn Hall with his first NHL team, Detroit Red Wings
(courtesy www.beehivehockey.com)

Glenn Hall had height going for him. He would get down to his knees and wrap a skate around each post to guard the low shots. Meanwhile, his quick hands would take care of the high shots. This position also gave him a great vantage point for seeing through all the legs in front of him. It was a style that many of the “old school” coaches deplored. They wanted the stand-up goalies.  I know because I went through it when I played in the early 1970s.  Sometimes I flopped. Sometimes I stood up.  Like Sawchuk, Hall won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie, which he did in 1956 with 12 shutouts and a 2.10 GAA. He was also voted a Second Team All-Star.  

After another season in Detroit (as a First Team All-Star), he and his fellow First Team All-Star teammate Ted Lindsay were dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks for their “mutinous” role in supporting a Players’ Association in 1957.  In Chicago, Hall was a First Team All-Star again. The Blackhawks, who used to be the doormat of the league, suddenly improved by leaps and bounds. Players such as Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, and Bobby Hull entered the scene and Chicago won the Stanley in 1961, with Hall’s goaltending a major factor in the outcome.

Hall is famous for his record 502 consecutive games played, which he did over a span of 8 seasons, all in his barefaced days of the Original Six. It was a back injury in 1962 that eventually sidelined him. Hall hated training camp and he hated practice. When sharpshooters Mikita and Hull  would wind up, he’d just skate away from the net. He wasn’t about to get in the way of any 100 miles per hour missiles. Hall nervousness before games is well documented.  All through his career, he would throw up before games and sometimes in between, including stoppages of play. The team staff used to keep a pail on the bench for such a purpose. Can you imagine sitting beside it?  

In the first year of expansion, with the St. Louis Blues, he was the Conn Smythe Award winner in the playoffs, although the Canadiens beat the Blues in four straight games to take the Stanley Cup. No one argued the decision. In his last year, 1969-70, he finally threw on a mask. Hall finished his outstanding career with 84 shutouts and 7 First Team All-Star selections, still a record for goaltenders. On The Hockey News list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, he’s down at #16.


Al Rollins

As if you haven’t heard enough about Saskatchewan-born goaltenders, here’s another one…six-foot-2 Al Rollins came from Vanguard, Saskatchewan. Without a doubt, he was the most underrated goaltender of the Original Six era. As Toronto Maple Leaf property, he first appeared in the limelight as one of the goalies ready to take over from Turk Broda, should he not lose the weight that Conn Smythe wanted him to lose in the “Battle of the Bulge” publicity stunt mentioned in Part One.

Nevertheless, Rollins stuck around Toronto and along with Broda helped the Leafs win a Stanley Cup in 1951, compliments of Bill Barilko’s famous OT goal in Game 5 against the Habs. Rollins also won the Vezina that year with a 1.77 GAA in 40 games played. With the job all to himself upon Broda’s retirement, Rollins had one more very decent year, then was dealt to the Blackhawks in the same deal that sent goalie Harry Lumley to the Leafs.

In 1952-53, his first year in the Windy City, Rollins’ outstanding goaltending led the Hawks to their first playoff appearance in 7 seasons.  He averaged a shocking 38 shots a night, but still managed to maintain an excellent 2.50 GAA, and finished a close second to Gordie Howe in the Hart Trophy voting. Rollins quickly became a fan favorite for his bravery beyond comprehension. The next year, the Hawks were back to the basement, winning only 12 games, and Rollins’ GAA climbed to 3.23. However, his play was still brilliant that Rollins took the Hart Trophy this time around, despite the fact that he was left off the First and the Second All-Star team! Figure that one out! Who did the voting back then, anyway?

After 5 years defending the Chicago nets and only one playoff appearance, it was plain to see that Rollins could not make the team any better all by his lonesome. So, it was the old story of the team moving in another direction. So, Rollins was sent down to the minors, and returned later to the NHL with the New York Rangers for 10 games in 1959-60.  His short, but sweet NHL career was over after 9 seasons. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, but should be.


Harry Lumley

They called him “Apple Cheeks” for his rosy complexion. As a Red Wing, Lumley played his first NHL game in 1943 at the tender age of 17. In his 2 NHL  games that year with Detroit, he rendered a not-so-great 13 goals. At the end of the year, Detroit loaned him to the New York Rangers for one game in December. By 1950, he was a well-established goaltending veteran  who helped the Wings win a Stanley Cup, while compiling a 2.35 GAA with 7 shutouts, and 1.85 GAA in the playoffs with 3 shutouts. How was he rewarded? A week after celebrating with his teammates, Wings GM Jack Adams traded him to the pathetic Chicago Blackhawks in a 9-player deal. Why? Adams had Terry Sawchuk waiting in the wings--no pun intended.

Pelted with pucks for 2 seasons in Chicago, he was mercifully traded to Toronto where he spent the next 4 years making the team respectable following their downslide after the 1951 Stanley Cup year. With the rebuilding Leafs, he played even better than he did in Detroit. His best season was 1953-54, where he was a First Team All-Star. He also won the Vezina with a 1.86 GAA and he established a post-war record of 13 shutouts, which Chicago’s Tony Esposito broke in 1969-70 with 15 shutouts.

His fast times in Toronto were short-lived. The problem was the Leafs couldn’t score if their life depended on it. So, with no Stanley Cups, they traded him back to Chicago. However, Lumley wanted no part of another Chicago stint facing at least 40 pucks a night. He refused to report, and instead signed with the minor league AHL Buffalo Bisons where he played parts of 2 seasons. Still Chicago property, though, they eventually sent him to Boston for cash. After 3 seasons in Boston intermingled with some games in the minors, he retired in 1961 at the age of 34 while toiling for the Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League.

All told, Lumley played for 5 of the 6 Original Six NHL teams. Every team except Montreal. His 78 shutouts in regular season and playoffs combined and 2.75 GAA in regular season play and 2.49 in the playoffs helped to propel him into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980.


Jacques Plante

Three minutes into the game on the night of 1 November 1959 at Madison Square Garden, New York Rangers forward Andy Bathgate unloaded a backhanded shot that ripped into Plante’s face. Seven stitches later in the trainer’s room, Plante told coach Toe Blake that he would not go back out unless he could wear the same fiberglass mask that he had been using all season in practice. Plante wasn’t kidding. Up to that point in his career, he had sustained 200 stitches, a broken jaw, and 2 broken cheekbones. Frowning, Blake gave in. He had no other choice. Plante was the only goalie dressed.
Goaltending innovator, Jacques Plante
(courtesy www.beehivehockey.com)

Montreal won 3-1, the first of an 11-game unbeaten streak with the mask on. Combined with the 7-game unbeaten streak prior to the game against the Rangers, the Habs stayed unbeaten for 18 games. Montreal eventually won the Stanley Cup that season, their last of 5 in a row. Every one of those years, Plante won the Vezina Trophy. He won two more Vezinas after that. One by himself with Montreal 2 years later and his last, which he shared with Glenn Hall in St. Louis, in 1968-69.

Plante was a cocky, confident individual blessed with quick reflexes. He was a stand-up goalie who quite often came out beyond his crease to cut down the angles. He was a superb puck handler and a roamer, the first since Chuck Rayner. He was also an innovator. When the opposition would step over center ice and fire the puck around the boards, Plante  would stop it for his defense. He was the first goalie to raise his arm on an icing call to let his defensemen know what was happening. On occasions when the puck was between Plante and an opposition player who was hoping for a clear-cut breakaway, Plante would skate out and merely fall on the puck. No one had seen a goalie who played this way. Like Johnny Bower, he could also pokecheck.

In 1963, Plante found himself traded to the New York Rangers in a deal that sent  Gump Worsley to Montreal. With the pitiful Ranger defense in front of him, Plante didn’t fare well. After a stint in the minors, he retired in 1965. Then, in the second year of expansion, he made a stunning comeback with the St Louis Blues where he and Glenn Hall teamed up. Traded to the Maple Leafs after 2 great seasons in St Louis, Plante helped in the development of Bernie Parent, a goalie who had a lot of potential but no real direction. Under Plante’s wing, Parent turned his career around and went on to take 2 Conn Smythe awards in his 2 Stanley Cup winning years with the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers.

Without Plante, Parent would not be the Hall of Famer he is today. One thing that I distinctly remember about Parent in Philly was how he was an exact copy of Plante’s stand-up style. I mean exact, right down to his stance at faceoffs inside his blueline. It was a stance where one leg came out to the side, instead of the pads snug together. Funny, it was a stance that I adopted too in my junior days. It felt comfortable. I wish I would have had Plante as a goalie coach to learn a few more things.

Plante also played with the Boston Bruins and the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA, before retiring in 1975. He finished his star-studded career with 82 NHL shutouts and a stingy 2.38 GAA in 837 games. In the playoffs, he had an even better  2.14 GAA with 14 shutouts.

 
There’s 3 other notable Original Six goaltenders to mention. The first is Don Simmons, the southpaw who first came up to the NHL with the Boston Bruins in 1956. Five seasons later, he was traded to Toronto for fellow-goalie Ed Chadwick. With the Leafs, he played rather decently on 3 consecutive Stanley Cup winners as the back-up to Johnny Bower.

Acrobatic Roger Crozier was another southpaw. His 14-year career spanned 3 years prior to expansion, in which he played his best hockey as a Detroit Red Wing. I have to chuckle because he used to make every save look so difficult, even the dribblers. But he was good, despite his stomach ulcers brought on by his stressful vocation. He was the Calder Cup Rookie-of-the-Year in 1965, and the Conn Smythe Award winner a year later for his brilliant play in a 6-game Stanley Cup loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He later went on to some excellent years with the Buffalo Sabres. It’s a wonder he too isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

We can’t forget Hall of Famer Eddie Giacomin, the epitome of roamers. It seemed to me he was out of his net more than he was in it. But he was fast. Like a deer on skates. In his 13 years of NHL play, only 2 were spent prior to expansion, with 1966-67 being his best, a season he shutout the opposition 9 times, his all-time seasonal high, and took the New York Rangers to the playoffs for the first time in 5 years.

There’s the cream of the crop, the best of the best (and some even better) in Original Six goaltenders. A bygone era that many fans still hold dear to their hearts. But, oh, playing without a mask? Yikes!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

“Original Six” Goaltenders…Part One


Turk Broda, Toronto Maple Leafs (courtesy www.beehivehockey.com)









Ah, the “Original Six.” To some people, it was the greatest of National Hockey League eras. It spanned 25 seasons from 1942-43 to 1966-67, before the first series of expansion in 1967-68. They called it “Original Six” because there were, basically, 6 teams in the NHL then. Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, New York Rangers and  Boston Bruins.

For most of those years, a goaltender had to be one of the six best at his position. Why? Because each team dressed only one goalie. And they went into action barefaced too. If a goalie was cut for stitches, the fans and players would have to sit around and twiddle their thumbs until the needle work was done by some butcher in the dressing room. And most netminders  were stand-ups, not the floppers we see today. Imagine that. In the 1960s, we did see some masks worn after Montreal’s Jacques Plante donned one for good in late 1959. Boston’s Don Simmons and Detroit’s Terry Sawchuk soon followed suit. Before the 6-team NHL ended, each team was allowed to dress 2 goalies. So, they did progress.

Who were some of the better netminders in that era, the ones who stood out? I enjoyed putting this piece together because I was a goalie myself at one time. And I have the bent fingers and bad knees to prove it.

 

Bill Durnan

Originally signed by Toronto as an amateur then released following a knee injury, Montreal Canadiens Bill Durnan played only 7 years in the NHL. But he packed a wallop in that short space of time by winning the Vezina Trophy on 6 of those occasions and was a First Team All-Star 6 times, too. Back then, the Vezina trophy was for the lowest goals-against-average, not the goalie MVP award it is today. In his last season, Durnan recorded 4 straight shutouts. His 309 minutes of shutout work stood as a record for 55 years. Lifetime, he had 34 shutouts, a 2.36 GAA in regular season play and an even stingier 2.07 in post-season. A major part of  2 Stanley Cup winners, he finally succumbed to the pressure of his craft part-way through the 1950 playoffs and was replaced by Gerry McNeil. For some strange reason, the Montreal Forum fans booed Durnan constantly throughout his record-setting career.

Durnan was ambidextrous. Now that’s something you don’t see today. He didn’t wear a blocker. Instead, he had 2 well-padded catching gloves. He could use his stick or catch the puck equally well with either hand. He would change back and forth throughout the game depending on who was shooting and from what angle.

Durnan entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1964.


Turk Broda

The Leafs Walter “Turk” Broda was in a class by himself. A true money goalie. Born in Brandon, Manitoba to a Ukrainian family, Broda received the nickname of “Turkey Egg” in his childhood for the many freckles he had. By adulthood, it was shortened to just “Turk.” Detroit Red Wings had his rights first but sold them to the Leafs for $7,500 in 1936. Broda was a pudgy, fun-loving, good-natured individual who seemed quite relaxed between the pipes. Relaxed enough to fell asleep before the occasional game, much to the chagrin of his coaches.

He also loved to eat. A lot. His weight was always an issue with owner Conn Smythe. Broda made headlines going into the 1949-50 season when Smythe ordered Broda to lose weight or he would lose his job.  Serious with his threat, Smythe brought up 2 goalies from the minors who were ready to go in on short notice. It may have been more of a publicity stunt than anything else, but it put the Leafs on the city’s front pages, something Conn Smythe always relished. Broda had fun with the so-called threat by jogging up and down Yonge Street to the delight of well-wishing fans who cheered him on. He eventually lost 10 pounds to keep his job, then finished the season with a 2.48 GAA and a league-leading 9 shutouts and 3 more in the playoffs in a losing cause to the Red Wings in a 7-game first round.

Broda won 2 Vezina trophies in his career (one time beating out Bill Durnan), but some people felt he should have won more. His regular season GAA was 2.53 lifetime. Every so often he would let in a bad goal, a “floater.” Only in the regular season, though. In the playoffs, something inside him kicked into high gear. He was a different man. He excelled to the point where his lifetime GAA dropped HALF a goal to 1.98. In 101 playoff games, he shutout the opposition 13 times. He also helped his team win 5 Stanley Cups, including 3 in a row in the late 1940s.  Another Hall of Famer. And perhaps the greatest clutch goalie ever to play the game.

 

Chuck Rayner

Around the same time as Durnan and Broda, Saskatchewan-born Chuck Rayner was minding the nets for the lowly New York Rangers. Rayner was ahead of his day. An excellent skater, he was an expert at handling the puck outside his net, thus helping out his lackluster defense. He also tried awfully hard--on several occasions--to be the first goalie to score a goal. He came very close 19 February 1950 in a game that the Leafs had pulled Turk Broda. Rayner took off with the puck and fired it at the net, only to miss by inches.

Blessed with sharp reflexes, Rayner was known for his acrobatic saves. If not for him, the Rangers would never have made the playoffs in 1950, the same year he won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, the first goalie to do so in 20 years. In 69 games, he collected 8 shutouts and a 2.62 GAA. The Rangers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in April, where Rayner was beaten in double OT by Detroit’s Pete Babando in the 7th game. With Rayner’s help, the Rangers nearly upset the Wings who finished 21 points ahead of them in the regular season.

Rayner’s career GAA is a not-that-great 3.05, but that’s due to the team he played on. The Rangers only made the playoffs twice in the 8 seasons he played in New York. In 18 playoff games, however, he did manage to keep his GAA a low 2.43. He actually did score a goal playing competitive hockey, but it was done while playing for a Canadian Army team during World War II in Victoria, BC.

Rayner’s Hall of Fame NHL career came to an end when he lost his Ranger job in the midst of  1952-53 to another Hall of Famer, Gump Worsley.


Gump Worsley
Gump Worsley, New York Rangers
(courtesy www.beehivehockey.com)

Lorne “Gump” Worsley took the Ranger job away from Rayner in high fashion by being named NHL Rookie of the Year  in 1953. Worsley was an odd sort at 5-foot-7 and 180  pounds. Given the nickname of “Gump” by his friends after comic-strip character Andy Gump, Worsley was a real character in his own right with a great sense of humor. He had to be good-natured because the poor guy put up with guarding the Rangers net for a solid 10 years, sometimes facing as much as 40 shots a game. The team made the playoffs only 4 times in that stretch. In those days of barefaced hockey, he would often say, “my face is my mask.” When someone accused him of having a beer belly, his calm reaction was, “I only drink Johnnie Walker Red.” Once asked by a reporter which team gave him the most trouble, he replied, “the Rangers.” Worsley ran a restaurant in his hometown Montreal during the off-season. On the menu was the “Ranger Special,” which was a chicken salad.

It wasn’t until the Rangers traded him to Montreal in 1963 (a trade involving Jacques Plante going to New York) that he was finally appreciated for his talents. He went on to help the Habs win 4 Stanley Cups that stretched into the expansion era.  Worsley finally called it quits at age 44 in 1974, while playing for the Minnesota North Stars where he finally put on a mask to protect his scarred face. Weird things must have been happening in New York in the early 1950s because as Chuck Rayner gave up his job to Worsley, Worsley then gave up his job to another rookie by the name of Johnny Bower, another future Hall of Famer, too.


Johnny Bower

From Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Johnny Bower came to the Rangers camp in the fall of 1953. Of Ukrainian descent (like Broda), his real name was John Kiszkan. Years before, he had changed his last name to Bower to make it easier for sportswriters. Almost 30, he had made quite the reputation in the American Hockey League with the Cleveland Barons as a goalie with no style who flopped around a lot. He was caught in the middle…too good for the AHL, but not good enough for the NHL. This time--1953--he made it and he played all 70 games for New York, whereby sending Worsley to the WHL Vancouver Canucks for the season. Worsley was probably SOL anyway because he asked for a $500 salary increase once he was named Rookie of the Year. The 1953-54 Rangers didn’t make the playoffs with Bower in net, but his GAA was 2.60 with 6 shutouts. Although it was the best GAA for a Ranger goalie in 12 years, it was still the 5th best in the league. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the next season, Worsley got his job back in New York after being voted the WHL’s MVP in Vancouver.

Bower then spent 3 more seasons in the AHL, where he was the league’s MVP all 3 years. At 33, Bower was picked by the Toronto Maple Leafs on 3 June 1958 in the Inter-League Draft. At first, Bower, content to stay in the minors, didn’t want to go back to the NHL. But coach-GM Punch Imlach talked him into at least giving it a try. This time around, Bower made it for good. A huge part of 4 Stanley Cups in Toronto in the 1960s, he played brilliantly in clutch situations using a stand-up style. Known for his lightning-quick pokechecks on opposing players, he could handle the puck with ease. I remember one game on Hockey Night in Canada when he banked the puck off the boards and missed an open net by a mere foot or so. Bower performed well into his 40s. When he left the AHL behind for good in 1958, he was the winningest goaltender in the league’s history with 359 victories. He still holds the record.

 

Terry Sawchuk

For three years in the mid-1960s, Winnipeg-born Terry Sawchuk was a teammate of Bower in Toronto. When Sawchuk played for Detroit the decade before, he was already considered by some hockey people as the greatest goalie ever. And with good reason. In each one of his first 5 full seasons (1950-51 to 1954-55) his GAA was below 2.00, including his first year when he won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. Nicknamed “Ukey” for his Ukrainian heritage--what’s with all these Ukrainian goalies--he recorded a remarkable 56 shutouts (plus one more in 7 games during 1949-50). He added 8 more shutouts in the playoffs, good enough to help the Red Wings win 3 Stanley Cups. Then out of the blue, Wings GM Jack Adams traded Sawchuk to the Boston Bruins in the off-season following the Wings 1955 Stanley Cup win, in a multi-player deal that netted the Wings, well, sweet bugger all.

It all came crashing down for Sawchuk after that. He contacted mononucleosis in Boston. He lost weight and turned irritable. Once a robust 5-foot-11, 200-plus-pounder in Detroit he could barely tip the scales at 165 for the rest of his playing days. He quit hockey part-way through the second season as a Bruin. In the off-season, Adams traded away future Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk to get his boy Sawchuk back in a Wings uniform which he remained wearing until the  Leafs Punch Imlach drafted him in 1964 to share the duties with Johnny Bower.

With Toronto, he played his best game ever--in my opinion--during Game Five of the first round of the 1967 playoffs when he shutout the mighty Chicago Black Hawks for 2 periods after relieving Bower who had given up 2 goals in the first 20 minutes. That 40 minutes of netminding by Sawchuk is still talked about today.

What made Sawchuk unique was his low “gorilla-style” crouch--to see the puck between bodies--in which his chin was almost touching the top of his pads. And this while still remaining on his feet. Sawchuk finished his career in 1970 with 447 wins (a league record for 30 years) and 103 lifetime shutouts, a figure I didn’t think anyone would ever reach. That is until Martin Brodeur came along to prove me and many others wrong.

Part Two--next week…

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’…



Pure-blooded Texas Longhorn (photo courtesy David Karger)


Anybody remember the song by Frankie Laine?

One of my favorite TV shows growing up was Rawhide, a popular Western that ran from 1959 to 1966, starring Eric Fleming and a young Clint Eastwood. I loved Westerns, especially this one which was set in the late 1860s, depicting the grueling Texas Longhorn cattle drives from Texas to points in the northeast. Although they apparently didn’t use real Longhorn cattle in the filming of Rawhide, the show did introduce my Baby Boomer generation to a new Hollywood star in Clint Eastwood--before his string of Spaghetti Westerns--and to the iconic breed of cattle known as Texas Longhorns with its characteristic massive horns.

So what about these Texas Longhorns? As you will quickly see, their origins are steeped in history like no other animal on the planet.

One source states that the modern Longhorns are direct descendants of about 20 to 30 Portuguese-Spanish cattle picked up in the Canary Islands and brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1493 when he landed on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola during his second expedition. For the next 20 years, the early Spanish colonists and explorers brought more European cattle to the Americas in several trips that arrived on the east side of Mexico and Central America. Two European longhorn breeds said to be involved were the Berrendas and the Retintos. Another source has the Texas Longhorns origins dating back to certain cattle--possibly of the all-black Andalusian variety--that roamed the open ranges and marshes along the Guadalquivir River Valley in the Andalusian Mountains of Spain. As the story goes, three bulls and 30 heifers from one of these herds were put aboard a ship and relocated to the Panuco River on the eastern coast of Mexico in 1521. Then they mixed in with the other breeds throughout that part of Mexico.

Whatever source is the gospel truth, or if both blended into one, historians are probably right about one thing. For the next couple centuries, the cattle were moved along through colonization--or roamed by themselves--into northern Mexico…then to what is now Texas. Somewhere down the line, they either escaped or were turned loose in Mexico or on the Texas grasslands to fend for themselves. By natural selection and survival of the fittest, the weak were weeded out. These ancestors of the Texas Longhorns toughened up, enduring winds, droughts, floods, heat spells and freezing weather to become a hearty breed resistant to disease and parasites, and were able to travel great distances in search of food and water. After centuries of natural interbreeding in the wilds, these self-sufficient hybrids had long legs, long horns, strong hooves, and came in a wide range of colors--yellows, browns, reds, grays, blacks, and specks. They also gained a reputation for being ornery, ready to use their horns on any approaching predator. Man or beast. Early settlers to Texas in the 1830s found these feral herds, and domesticated some individuals for draft animals and a source of beef.

After Texas gained statehood in 1845, thousands of these Longhorns were driven to California following the Gold Rush of 1849, fetching $20 to $30 a head. Other routes were set up for drives into Louisiana. That all stopped during the American Civil War. In the years 1861-1865, over 70,000 Texans joined the Confederate Army. General Robert E Lee of the Army of Northern Virginia thought very highly of their fighting abilities, especially those of General John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade during fierce action at Gettysburg and Antietam. After the war, the surviving Texas soldiers returned to their homes with very few sources of income and a bleak future for themselves and their state. But they saw dollar signs in the millions of Longhorn cattle strewn about the state. So, they rounded them up in large herds and drove them north along the “Chisholm Trail” and the “Goodnight-Loving Trail” to such rail heads as Abilene and Dodge City, Kansas, to be sold for as much as $40 a head. The cattle were then shipped east to satisfy the growing demand for beef in cosmopolitan centers like Chicago and New York City.

This man-made migration of cattle from Texas to the Kansas rail heads was the largest man-made movement of animals in the history of the world. The cattle drives weren’t without their risks, of course. Stampedes were one, which could be brought on by a rattle snake, a loud sound, a barking roundup dog or even a drover coughing. But the drives could also be extremely profitable for owners of the herds. As a result, Texas replaced the King Cotton era of the pre-war South with a cattle empire, giving Texas a sound economy for years. Until the Oil Boom came after the turn of the century to help out even more.

Twenty years and approximately 10 million head of cattle later, the gravy train came to an end when new ranchers along the cattle trails set up barbwire fences to keep their own herds in. Also, more railroads were built across the country, making the massive Longhorn cattle drives redundant. These new ranchers preferred the fatter eastern cattle which were ready for slaughter sooner than the Longhorns which took longer to mature. Americans were now acquiring a taste for beef with higher fat content than what the Longhorns were offering. Because of their huge horns, Texas Longhorns were also difficult to pack into rail cars.

A few ranchers held onto their Longhorns, mostly for nostalgia. Into the 1920s, Longhorns were extremely close to extinction, until the US Congress came to the rescue in 1927 to create a nationally-protected herd at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. It’s a herd that is still used for stock today. Other herds were soon set up in state parks around the country. Due to such positive action and hard-working people, the Texas Longhorns survive today. They have been a registered breed since 1964, when the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America was established.

Longhorn herds are now raised throughout North America and Australia, and parts of Europe by ranchers who appreciate these gentle, intelligent animals for several reasons. While commercial cows live to approximately 10 years, and produce 5 or 6 offspring, Texas Longhorns can live 20 years or more, and produce a calf every 10-11 months. And they give birth with ease, too. In grazing, ranchers can place just as much or slightly more Longhorns per acre than the commercial cattle, simply because Longhorns will eat almost anything, while the commercial cattle can tend to be fussy. Longhorns have minimal health problems and are still resistant to disease and parasites, one of the many traits they picked up from their Portuguese-Spanish ancestors centuries ago. They can handle all kinds of weather…the cold of Canadian and Montana winters, the heat of Arizona deserts, and everything else in between. And they don’t need antibiotics or added hormones before they go to market.

With health-conscious diets the in-thing today, Longhorn beef is in demand. Its range-fed meat has low cholesterol. It’s tender and just as lean as chicken or fish. Who says red meat is bad for you? And I hear that Longhorn hamburgers are absolutely delicious! Their horns are desirable commodities going for $500-1000 and their hides for $400-700. Skulls go for $200 uncleaned up to $1000 if finished by a taxidermist.

Despite the obvious advantages to owning and/or consuming Texas Longhorn beef, some American organizations keep a close eye on the survival of this extraordinary breed of cattle. The Cattlemen’s Texas Longhorn Registry (CTLR) and its sister organization, The Cattlemen’s Texas Longhorn Conservancy (CTLC), are 2 such groups  dedicated in keeping the original Longhorn bloodline pure and free of quick profit cross-breeding that could place these impressive cattle in danger of extinction once again in the future.

Working with both these organizations in different capacities, Debbie Davis of Hondo, Texas, informed me recently that fewer than 3,500 real, true-blooded Texas Longhorns--registered and that they know of--are living in the United States and Mexico. These are the ones “genetically pure and historically correct,” as David Karger, an associate in the Longhorn business, likes to put it.

Karger also added, “The cattle industry was built on the backs of Texas Longhorns. They endured all that nature threw at them and are products of the environment, not selective breeding for one trait or another (color, horn size and shape, etc). When you look at these cattle in the early days of Texas, you will see an extraordinary animal. The mamas looked like hell simply because they gave all they had to their offspring. This is what natured intended.”

You can look up both organizations at www.ctlr.org and www.ctlc.org respectively. While you’re at your computer…why not take a gander at the Rawhide theme on YouTube, too, and sing along to Frankie Laine?

It would be a shame to see the Texas Longhorn--this symbol of the great American West--in its truest form up and disappear. We should be like the mamas and do everything to preserve this breed of cattle that has done so much for us.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

After the Ambush



Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, 1933, on the road
during their crime spree (United States Public Domain)
This year is the 80th anniversary of an event to prove the old saying  “Crime Does Not Pay.”

On the morning of 23 May 1934, a 6-man force on special assignment led by ex-Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and 5 other lawmen accompanying him waited  in the bushes alongside Louisiana State Highway 154 near Gibsland, Louisiana. They could hear and see a beige 1934 Ford V-8 with 2 occupants in the distance, coming their way at high speed. This was the moment the six men had been waiting for since camping out at this spot for the past 48 hours. They were all armed with .30-calibre Browning MI918 automatic rifles, complete with 20 rounds of deadly armor-piercing shells, plus an equally impressive display of shotguns and pistols. The trap was all set.  All or nothing here. 

Hamer glanced directly across the road to the old Ford Model A truck jacked up on one side to appear it was in the midst of a tire change. As the approaching car came closer, the driver slowed down and along with the passenger looked over at the truck, a vehicle that the driver probably recognized as the truck belonging to Iverson  Methvin, the father of their most recent gang member, Henry. Little did the occupants know that Henry, his father, and the 6 lawmen hiding  in the bushes had carefully arranged this whole thing as a trap.

“It’s them,” one of the lawmen said.

Without missing a beat, all 6 lawmen remained hidden in the bushes and fired nonstop for 30 seconds at the occupants, who never had time to even reach for their weapons. The officers emptied their automatics, then quickly turned to their shotguns, before finishing up with their pistols. Over 150 rounds later, the murderous duo of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, otherwise known as Bonnie and Clyde, slumped dead, their infamous 2-year crime spree covering 11 states finally coming to a horrific end. Both were so young. Barrow was 25, Parker was 23. The solid gunfire was so loud that the lawmen were temporarily deaf for several minutes. In the car, they found rifles, shot guns, hand guns, thousands of ammunition rounds, plus 15 sets of US state license plates, such places as Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Ohio, and Oklahoma. To date, the couple had been responsible for 13 murders, 6 kidnappings, 6 bank robberies, one jailbreak, and approximately 100 miscellaneous felonies, including stealing cars, and robbing small stores and gas stations for a few bucks here and there.

Word of the ambush spread quickly once Hamer and 3 other officers--Hamer’s  subordinate Ted Hinton from Texas, Louisiana officers Henderson Jordan and Prentiss Morel Oakley--left for Gibsland to call their superiors with the news that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were now confirmed dead. The 2 Texas officers who stayed behind--BM “Manny” Gault and Robert Alcorn--could not control the circus-like mob descending on the ambush scene on Highway 154. With the sting of cordite still heavy in the air, a souvenir-hunting woman ran away with a piece of Parker’s dress and a lock of her hair. One man tried to cut off Barrow’s trigger finger, while another man tried to slice away Barrow’s ear. All around the V-8 Ford, others were collecting shell casings, and pieces of clothing and glass. Then Hamer returned to restore order before the spectacle really got out of hand.

The death car was towed into nearby downtown Arcadia and parked in front of Congor Furniture Store and Funeral Parlor, where an undertaker named CF Bailey began embalming. Within hours the town’s population soared from 2,000 to 10,000 folks, all coming to catch a glimpse of the bullet-riddled car and whatever else. Taking full advantage of the situation, enterprising town merchants sold beer, groceries and fresh sandwiches at inflated prices to the spur-of-the moment sightseers.

Two of those who arrived were HD Darby, an undertaker from nearby Ruston, and Sophia Stone, also from Ruston. Both had been kidnapped by the Barrow Gang the year before and came now to identify the bodies. Bonnie Parker had thought it quite comical that when she had asked Darby his profession, he replied he was an undertaker. “Maybe someday you might be working on me,” Parker answered. And that’s exactly what Darby ended up doing. Helping out in the funeral parlor, Darby along with Bailey soon realized that preparing the 2 criminals for burial while shot so full of holes was no easy task because the embalming fluid was not staying in the bodies. The official coroner report stated 17 wounds on Barrow and 26 on Parker.

Both from the Dallas, Texas area, Bonnie and Clyde had wanted to be buried side by side. But the Parker family wanted nothing to do with that.  Instead, they were laid to rest in different neighborhoods of the city. Buck was buried beside his brother Marvin, called “Buck,”  who was a member of the gang briefly until he was shot and killed a year before. Laws changed soon after the Bonnie and Clyde crime spree ended to make murder and kidnapping a federal offense. Later in 1934, authorities hunted down and killed 3 other notorious individuals…John Dillinger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd and “Baby Face” Nelson. The next year, the Barker-Karpis Gang crime spree ended also, thus bringing an abrupt halt to the Public Enemy era of the Great Depression.

If the 6 lawmen were expecting a financial reward for ridding the earth of Bonnie and Clyde, they didn’t receive it outside of $200 each and a few souvenirs. Louisiana lawman Henderson Jordan tried to keep the Ford V-8 death car for himself, until he heard from Mrs Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas, the owner of the vehicle that Barrow had stolen on 29 April 1934.  She wanted the Ford V-8  back that she had paid $785.92 for brand new. So, she went down to Arcadia in August and confronted Jordan who demanded $15,000 for the return of the vehicle. It took a court order and $3,000 (a large sum of money in the 1930s) in legal fees charged by a local lawyer whom she had hired named WD Goff. Federal Judge Benjamin Dawkins threatened to send Jordan to jail, if he didn’t release the car. He did.
The Barrow-Parker death car, the day of the ambush,
1934 (United States Public Domain)

Remarkably, the car was still running and the steering was intact after absorbing all that lead. Holes, blood, pieces of flesh and all, Mrs Warren had no qualms in driving it to Shreveport, Louisiana, then had it shipped by truck back to her 2107 Gabler Street home in Topeka.  There, the car sat in the driveway for a few days before she leased it to a hustler named John Castle of United Shows, who put it on tour. That didn’t work out so well because his sideshow went belly up in a few months. Getting the car back, she rented it to carnival promoter and anti-crime advocate Charles Stanley for $200 a month, until she finally sold it to him in 1938 for $3,500. The 1934 Ford made tours across America, appearing at state fairs, flea markets, circuses, auto showrooms, and schools, then was exhibited at a Cincinnati, Ohio amusement park from 1940-1952. Ted Toddy, another showman, bought it in 1952 for $14,500 and put it back on the road until he placed it in storage in Atlanta, Georgia in the early 1960s. By then, he felt the public was not interested in the story of Bonnie and Clyde anymore. Oh, yeah.

Then it came out of retirement when the movie Bonnie and Clyde was released in 1967, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. The public was suddenly interested again. For a time, the car toured Canada with a carnival. Toddy sold it in 1973 for $175,000 to Peter Simon, owner of Pop’s Oasis Raceway Park in Jean, Nevada, who put it on display where people could actually sit it in. As of July 2011, after making the rounds inside several Nevada casinos, it’s now in the lobby of Whiskey Pete’s Casino and Hotel in Verdi, Nevada, on the California border, behind protective glass.

Back to 1934…the 6 lawmen were looked on with suspicion by some people after the ambush for not giving Barrow and Parker a chance to surrender. But Hamer wanted no part in warning them. He had learned his lesson. The murderous duo had survived other carefully-laid traps before. Hamer died in 1955 at the age 71. His fellow-Texas lawman Robert Alcorn died 9 years later on 23 May 1964, exactly 30 years after the Highway 154 ambush.

The later deaths of collaborators Henry Methvin and his father, Iverson, were apparently under suspicion. Henry didn’t smarten up. Only a few months after the Parker-Barrow ambush, he was convicted of murdering a policeman in Oklahoma. He was paroled in 1942, then in 1948 was struck by a train when he had walked a little too close to a set of railway tracks after a bout of heavy drinking. His father was killed 2 years before by a hit-and-run driver. Foul play in both cases engineered by someone or a group seeking revenge on the father and son, on behalf of Bonnie and Clyde?

The longest surviving member of the Barrow Gang was Blanche Barrow, the wife of Clyde’s brother Buck. She and her husband had joined the gang for 5 months in 1933, until they were captured following a shootout. Buck died a few days later in hospital and Blanche stood trial for her involvement with the others. She received 10 years in prison, but was let out on parole in 1938 for good behavior. Blanche remarried in 1940. She was very unhappy with her character role in the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde played by Estelle Parsons, who by the way, received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Blanche said in a 1984 interview that the movie made her look “like a screaming horse’s ass.” You have to see the movie to know what she meant. A heavy smoker, Blanche died of lung cancer on Christmas Eve, 1988 at the age of 77.

Today, Bonnie and Clyde live on in country folklore. They made their name during the Great Depression when banks throughout America were foreclosing on people who couldn’t make their loan and mortgage payments. So, did anybody give 2 hoots if a bank here or there was robbed? To some, Bonnie and Clyde were like modern day Robin Hoods. You know, “steal from the rich and give to the poor.” Yeah, sure.

Today, Clyde Barrow’s Dallas, Texas gravestone reads, “Gone but not forgotten.” So right about that.