The set up:
…and you thought Kinky Friedman was the only Jewish cowboy in America. Ha!
The legend begins… While on one of our many backpacking trips into the eastern High Sierras, my good friend Bull thought we might vary it up a bit by going to Wyoming for our next venture. After researching the Wind Rivers, he arranged for a meeting of the usual suspects to plan the trip which would ensue the following summer. In mid July of 1990, seven of us found ourselves in Jackson Hole with lots of gear, two rental vans and mild anxiety about just where we were headed since no one had ever been to the area. After a long day, we finally located the trail head at dusk and began our trek…in the rain…muddy trail…but in good spirits.
We hiked until we could find a clearing where we might lay out our bags and try to sleep although that was a bit challenging. It was around midnight and pretty wet and cold, but we had endured such conditions before. The next morning we continued on to our campsite which was comfy and close to a lake where we had easy access to fresh water and fish. It was a great trip…lots o’ stories, good fishin’ and great camaraderie. Five days later, we came out of the mountains and observed backpackers coming up the trail on horseback with wranglers assisting those “dudes.” Our collective thought… “we are stupid. Next time, it’ll be on horseback.”p>
Rather than going directly back to Jackson Hole once down from the mountain, we were advised by some locals to spend the night in a little burgh called Duboise. I made the mistake of pronouncing this hamlet as ‘Doo Bwa’ where I was corrected directly by some ol’ boy who informed me of the error of my ways when he said… “that’s ‘Doo Boys’ with the emphasis on the Doo.” After checking into the Black Bear Motel (very cool place with the Wind River running through the back of the site) we showered, ate a great meal, drank some beer in the local honky tonk and went to bed. The next day, we learned that the Duboise Volunteer Fire Department hosts an Annual Mountain Man Rendezvous at the local park. We wandered around the venue for quite a while and enjoyed the local color. There was great BBQ, a black powder rifle contest, a black powder canon contest, a knife and hawk competition, ‘wrasslin’and drinkin’ along with a plethora of characters hawking their wares at trading posts throughout the park. It was really a great event to watch and we were determined that next year we would come back to the Wind Rivers for another backpacking adventure and we’d spend some real time at the Rendezvous once out of the mountains.
Now to the back story:
In August of ’91, the “Seven Spanish Angels” returned. And yes, it was on horseback where I personally got to observe the underbelly of my horse, up close and personal, when my saddle slipped due to poor cinching…a story for another time. Once at the campsite, we unloaded our gear and the wranglers headed down the trail with a departing salute while sayin’…“we’ll see ya’ll in a week.” We had a great time hiking new trails, fishin’ and generally enjoying good times with good guys. The atmosphere was light and everyone did their best to assist the other guy if assistance was necessary and… without the other guy ever having to ask. Now, here is where it starts to get interesting.
I was on fish cleaning patrol with my good friend, Bill who is also known as the ‘ol cowboy.’ He got that name ‘cause it’s who he was as young man. Bill quite thoughtfully handed me one of his knives to begin cleaning fish. Upon completion of our task, I firmly grasped the handle and enthusiastically plunged the knife deeply into the ground whereupon the ‘ol cowboy’ let out a scream with , “WHAT THE **** ARE DOIN’ WITH MY KNIFE?” I responded with an emphatic, “WHAT WHAT!” “ARE YOU CRAZY?” he yelled. Who said you couldn’t stick a knife in the ground? In every old western movie I ever saw, someone always did that. Who Knew?
Later that evening, we finished dinner while casually sittin’ on the most comfortable rocks we could find. Think of that scene in “Blazing Saddles” where all the guys are around a campfire tellin’ stories, lyin’, scratchin’, and you guessed it…doin’ that other thing when you’ve had some beans. The ‘ol cowboy’ was barely talking to me. He said something to the effect that he owned that knife forever and honed the blade daily for three or four decades. I attempted to row my way back with Bill by telling my Boy Scout experience with knives and it went like this: I was a boy scout for maybe 10-12 minutes in a troop of all Jewish kids in Philadelphia. This alone could make for a 60 episode network comedy. We rarely went on overnight hikes because our mothers wouldn’t let us. A test we had to take to advance to Second Class was “Knife and Ax.” I studied my scout manual and was ready whereupon the Scoutmaster asked me several questions and I answered them correctly. He then handed me a knife and asked, “Albert, how do you throw a knife into a tree?” While I had never thrown a knife into a tree or anything else for that matter, I leaned back and hurled that implement and missed the tree altogether. The Scoutmaster said, “you fail.” No kiddin’.
I practiced throwing a knife into a tree for several weeks and believe it or not, I could stick a knife into a tree right handed, left handed, behind my back, under my leg or blind folded. I was ready. The Scoutmaster then retested me with questions while I anxiously waited for him to ask me to throw my knife into a tree. He then handed me an ax and asked, “Albert, how do you throw an ax into tree?” Ummm…that wasn’t what I expected. I leaned back and dispatched that ax which did hit the tree but with a weak thud and it promptly fell to the ground. The Scoutmaster, “you fail.” No kiddin’. The ensuing weeks were occupied with very little else other than throwing axes and knives into trees. I had the rotations down to a science and couldn’t miss with either weapon. The Scoutmaster retested me. This was now my third time out and I was so ready and my attitude was…’bring it, dude!’ After answering his questions correctly AGAIN, he handed me a knife and asked, “Albert, how do you throw a knife into a tree?” Well, I had him now. I very casually leaned back, and threw that knife with great confidence and force. You could hear it whistling through its revolutions on the way to that tree and it stuck dead center. It took three guys to free that knife. Impressed with my skill, I then looked at my Scoutmaster as if to say…”yeah, now what?” He then said, “you fail.” “WHAT?” I exclaimed. His reply…“Schmendrick (not Albert), you never throw a knife or an ax into any living thing.” The guys sittin’ around the campfire howled with laughter and the best I could get from the ‘ol cowboy’ was a half assed but polite smile.
We found our way back to the Mountain Man Rendezvous once down from the mountain and spent most of the day just havin’ a ball watching all the activity in the park. We were dressed in our cowboy duds and looked liked we belonged…that is most of us. I was wearing my yellow warm-ups. I couldn’t look like a cowboy if Roy Rogers’ costume guy suited me up. Loud speakers were strategically placed throughout the venue and about 20 minutes prior to each event, the announcer called for registrants to report to the site. The next event was the ‘Knife and Hawk” contest. Five minutes or so prior to that event going off we hear the announcer blaring, “BUCKY GOLDSTEIN PLEASE REPORT TO THE KNIFE AND HAWK STATION.” I know this is me. How do I know? ‘cause there are only two Jews, maybe three, in the state of Wyoming and it was Shabbas (Saturday). I’m sure it was Jon (The Finemaster) Pomeroy who thought this might be fun and six of the ‘Seven Spanish Angels’ were waiting for me to line up since I had shamelessly bragged about my extraordinary skill with a ‘knife and hawk.’ I couldn’t not go. Once at the station, the judge handed me a hawk (ax) with a sheath over the blade. I had a hellova time getting that cover off and while struggling to do so, some ‘ol mountain man who had too much fire water yells out to me, “DOES YA ALWAYS HAVE TROUBLE GETTIN’ YOUR THING OUT? I responded quickly with , “not when I’m over at your house, and by the way, you’re low on Scotch.” The crowd loved it and now I had to throw that ****** hawk into a target some 15 yards away where a playing card was placed in the middle of a large cut log to serve as the bull’s eye. There were a dozen or so contestants and each of us was given three opportunities to get closest to the center.
When handed the hawk, I leaned back and hurled as hard as I could. The great speed with which that ax left my hand should have been measured with a pitcher’s radar gun. My follow through was text book like in both form and style and I watched the trajectory through the target with laser accuracy. It seemed to take forever for my hawk to hit that target. As I write this, I’m reminded of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s words in the last paragraph of “Casey at the Bat” where he says “Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.” I purposefully stop at this place in the poem without quoting the last line because this is where Casey and I part ways. My ax stuck in the dead center of that log and cheers went up like I had just hit a walk off homer in game seven of the World Series. No one in that park was more surprised than me. I could not believe my stroke of luck and the guy cheering the loudest was the ‘ol cowboy.’ Everyone insisted that I do it again. And in keeping with my spate of unbelievably good fortune, I responded with, “no, I only do this once” and walked off with my prize. The best part of that entire experience was twofold: I couldn’t buy my own drinks for the remainder of the trip, and more important, the ‘ol cowboy’ and I were good.
I celebrated my 50th birthday in 1992 and the “Seven Spanish Angels” procured the Mountain Man Rendezvous poster from the ’91 event and presented a birthday gift. What is attached as a side bar in this framed and mounted piece of lore is a poem written by one of the “Spanish Angels.” It reads like this:
The Rendezvous of ’42
Was the best that’s ever been,
Fifteen hundred people strong,
With booze, and blood, and sin.
There was Lefty Janes and Barking Dog,
And Dirty Jake LeGrew.
They slung the hawk and shanked the knife
Like none you ever knew.
But then the crowd grew silent
And soon began to hoot.
A stranger came up slowly,
In a yellow warm up suit.
They’d never seen one like ‘im,
Probly never will.
His name was Bucky Goldstein,
But he ain’t up on Boot Hill.
He’s more the mausoleum type
Remembered in hereafter,
“I’ve come for hawk and knife,” he said,
And the crowd broke out with laughter.
“You go first, pretty man,
We’ll watch and quench our thirst.”
But Bucky couldn’t get the leather
Off the hawk at first.
“Do you always have that problem
Getting you thing out?”
“Never over at your house”
Bucky bellowed with a shout.
He finally unsheathed the hawk
And to everyone’s surprise
He split the mark and centered the card
They couldn’t believe their eyes.
Three for three, he stuck ‘em all,
And took first prize that day,
A hush fell over all that saw
As he rode away.
“I circumcised myself with a Bowie knife
And ate raw meat for years.
I was raised by a pack of old wild dogs
And I ain’t got time for tears”.
Someday you’ll realize one thing
As you read them history books,
Bucky Goldstein/Mountain Man
He’s just as good as he looks.
— Jon (The Finemaster) Pomeroy, Covina Sunrise Rotary
Now see the Movie!…
The adventures of Bucky Goldstein have been captured on film (actually YouTube video) that you can now see. Click on the links below to bring up these two great episodes!