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Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

Smoking just seemed to
go along with pioneer, cowboy life


by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Almost every old-time photo of an early day pioneer or cowboy shows the tell-tale tag of a sack of tobacco hanging from a shirt or vest pocket. Smoking just seemed to go along with the Old West life.

Many a western novel has been enhanced by the scene of a "tough customer" pausing to roll and smoke a "roll-your-own" cigarette.

I've known old-timers who could take out cigarette paper, pour tobacco, then with one hand, roll, lick the seam, pinch the ends and light the "quirly" with a kitchen match pulled across the seat of their pants. Some could do it while sitting on a spooky horse in a high wind.

My father smoked "Old Hill Side" tobacco because it was cheaper and the sack held more product than Bull Durham or Prince Albert. He changed to Lucky Strikes after shaking out a glob of bird manure from a new sack one day. My brother and I fought over the privilege of making cigarettes with a new machine ordered from a catalog.

It was red metal, with a red canvas, about 6 inches long by 3 inches wide. At starting position you placed a cigarette paper into a deep crease in the canvas belt. Next, you poured in the correct amount of tobacco and pulled the lever to the second position, neatly rolling a perfect cigarette. After careful removal, you gently licked the seam, pushed the ends together to hold the loose tobacco inside then placed the finished cigarette into a cigarette carrying case. All this was done on the kitchen table under the glow of a kerosene lamp.


Many young boys started their cigarette experiences smoking wild grape vine or pulverized cedar post bark rolled up in pilfered cigarette papers.

If I remember right, such ingredients caused one to cough for several days afterward. The big danger here was fire as the experiments usually took place out behind the barn or around the hay stacks.

Once "ready-made" cigarettes became the norm, used butts could be found with a few puffs left, especially if you spiked it on a toothpick.

Ivey Alexander of Lefors once said, "Me and my friends smoked so many cigarette butts our breaths smelled like everybody's."


I don't know why I never smoked, as tobacco products were lying on the table, on every truck dashboard, in each glove box and carried in most coat pockets. I watched all my heroes and mentors light up a million times during my early years. I believe World War II was the height of smoking in our family, as every veteran returned with the habit.

Later, as I entered into professional music playing for dance bands, every engagement seemed to be clouded with blue smoke hanging over the bandstand. So between my family at home, buddies and employees, and my fellow musicians on the bandstand, I have been exposed to many hundreds of hours of secondhand smoke in my lifetime. Sure hope it all turns out well in the end.



Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" March 10 , 2004 column



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