cowpoke took a deep sip of lukewarm beer, then slid his mug down the
bar for a refill.
Casually glancing at the mirror behind the bar, he saw a young stranger
walk into the saloon. His bloodshot eyes warmed, radiating pleasure
and a glint of evil as he watched the neatly dressed drummer, a traveling
salesman, gingerly approaching the bar.
Not only did the drummer appear to be a dandy, more than likely he
hailed from that place Texans tended to dismiss as “Back East.”
The cowboy sauntered over to the young gentleman.
“Buy you a drink, bud?”
“Well, I might take a glass of water.”
“Hey, Joe,” the cowboy yelled to the bartender, “this gentleman would
like a glass of water.”
As the drummer sipped his drink, the cowboy assessed the dude peddler.
“Listen friend, I see you’re new in town. I bet you didn’t even know
we had a badger fight lined up today, did you?”
“Why no,” he replied, wide-eyed, “I didn’t. But what, sir, is a badger
“Well now, bud, you’re in luck. I think you still might be in time
to get in on this one. In fact, since you’re new in town, we’ll let
you have the honors.”
“Yeah, com’on, I’ll show you.”
The cowboy stood up on a chair and announced:
“Hey boys, this drummer’s never seen a badger fight. I told him he
was just in time for one today.”
At that, the other boys grabbed their drinks and began moving upstairs.
Quickly, the room above the saloon, used mostly for storage, was cleared
to accommodate a crowd.
Soon, a man came up the stairs hefting a big barrel. Another man came
in with a ferocious looking dog, straining on its leash.
A badger fight, someone explained to the drummer, was just that. The
barrel held one of the strip-faced animals known for its vicious temper.
As soon as the bets went down, the badger and the dog would fight
to the death.
“To show this here drummer a good ole West Texas welcome,” the lead
cowboy announced, “we’re gonna let him pull the badger outta the barrel.”
The drummer couldn’t believe his luck.
After placing a chair atop a table, a couple of the cowboys carefully
lifted the barrel and put it on the chair.
With great ceremony, someone then ushered the drummer to a point near
“When you’re ready,” his new friend told the drummer, “reach up and
pull that barrel down toward you. That old badger will come flying
out right past you and lit straight into the dog.”
Already composing in his mind the letter he would send his family
to tell them of the singular honor he had been accorded, the proud
drummer did as he had been told. Reaching up to put his hand on the
top edge of the barrel, he jerked it as hard as he could.
As the cowboys roared in delight, weeks of accumulated slop flooded
down on the hapless greenhorn.
Initiations like this happened all over the West. The modus operandi
varied from perpetrator to perpetrator. Sometimes a full chamber pot
(used as a “Porta Potty” before indoor plumbing) was inside the barrel
instead of slop.
My late grandfather, L.A. Wilke, who told me this story, says the
good folks of Sonora were
still laughing about this particular badger fight when he went there
Angelo in 1915 to buy a printing press.
Granddad would have only been 18 at the time. Makes me wonder why
the Sonora boys didn’t try
the stunt on him.
May 26, 2008 column
Texas | Online
Magazine | Texas Towns | Features
Mike Cox's "The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821-1900,"
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Kirkus Review, the American Library Association's Book List and the
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