Itís almost impossible to believe today that once there was an America in which kids wanted to grow up to be cowboys, but there really was.
I know. I was there.
I was there, and heavily armed. Like most men my age, I was firing guns from the age of three. Not real ones, of course, but marvelous toy six shooters that popped and flashed and spewed out coils of wondrously sulfurous smelling red cap paper each time I shot the pistol out of an outlawís hand.
Thatís the way Roy Rogers did it ó and thatís the way I did it.
I remember this one, particular argument almost as clearly as if it were yesterday, but it wasnít. It was the day after school let out when I was eight years old, the first full day of the summer of 1954.
I had spent much of the spring building a tree house. A maple tree at the back corner of the side yard had a convenient three branched fork in it about fifteen feet off the ground, and as luck would have it, my dad had replaced the front porch in April, leaving behind an extremely satisfying pile of partially rotted floorboards and joists which ultimately made their way into all sorts of boyhood projects, the first being the tree house, a ramshackle, raft like, more or less square platform about four feet by three. A little wobbly, but fairly safe in spite of my lack of nail driving skills.
Like I said, it was the first full day of summer, a soft, balmy West Tennessee morning that found two other boys and me up in the tree house savoring our newly acquired freedom from the clutches of academia and eating a nutritious breakfast of barbecued potato chips, Twinkies, and something this kid named Ronald brought, one of those igloo shaped cakes covered with pink marshmallow and coconut stuff. I think they were called Snowballs.
Anyway, I hated Snowballs, if thatís what they were called, but I loved barbecued potato chips, and I was sitting there, dangling my legs over the side, washing each bite down with a swig of Red Rock Cola. It was an extremely satisfying repast.
Then suddenly, this other guy, a kid named Jerry, says, right out of the blue, "Gene Autry can whip Roy Rogers any day of the week!"
"He can not!" blurted out the kid named Ronald, spewing cake and coconut shreds over the tree house floor, "Roy Rogers is king of the cowboys!"
"Youíre stupid." the kid named Jerry returned coldly. "Thatís only the name of a movie. Gene Autry is the real king, and Champion is twice as smart as Trigger!"
On and on they went, just one of the hundreds of arguments I must have heard or taken part in during that era over whether Roy, or Gene, was the greatest cowboy of all time.
For me it was a tough question. I loved them both, and if I gave Roy the nod, it was because I liked his partner George "Gabby" Hayes better than I did Frog Milhouse, Gene Autryís favorite sidekick.
But now the king of the cowboys is dead; Dale is wheelchair bound, and Gene Autry is so old and ill he couldnít even attend Royís funeral. Things arenít going too well back at the ranch.
Here in town, things arenít so good for their young fans, now middle aged, either. The trails have not always been as happy as Roy wished them to be. Drug abuse, Vietnam and the highest crime rates in history lay in ambush just around the bend when Roy and Gene traded their guns and saddles for baseball teams and business empires, but how could anyone know?
Who would have ever guessed, watching Song of Arizona or The Cowboy and the Senorita, or any of the other 85 movies Roy made where he never, never, never kissed the girl and where he never, in spite of firing his gun repeatedly, ever actually killed a single outlaw, who would have thought that the children of his young fans of the 40's and 50's would be routinely and repeatedly exposed to movies and television shows where simulated sex and grotesque, graphic violence would be so common as to seem almost obligatory.
compete in such a coarse arena, so thRoy and Gene, of course, couldnít, and wouldnít even try, toey rode off into the professional sunset 40 years ago.
But for millions of former tree house dwellers and riders of broomstick palominos, they will gallop across the landscape of our hearts forever, and no matter how revolting our times might become, weíll always know that somewhere back beyond that stand of cottonwoods we just passed is another America, one that will always live in our hearts.
One in which law and order still reign supreme, because the peace is kept by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and in the America they watch over, crime doesnít pay, cynicism is never rewarded and the good guys are always gallant and brave. Always.
Today not even a picture of the tree house remains, and we never settled the arguments over whether Roy or Gene was the greatest cowboy, but after all these years, I can still not resist their movies. If I pass by the television when one is playing I inevitably stay till the end, even though, or maybe because, the end is always the same. The good guys always win, and the bad guys never claim to be innocent.
Maybe itís true, as some critics say, that the real American west was never that way, but thanks to Roy Rogers, American childhood once really was.
Happy trails, Roy. Till we meet again.
When the Good Guys Always Won
for publication the week of August 3, 1998
Columns written over the years by District Attorney General Clayburn L. Peeples
regarding the Criminal Justice System.
They are personal opinions, reflecting the thoughts and ideas of General Peeples.
They do not necessarily reflect the official policy of either
the District Attorney General's office or the State of Tennessee.
They are offered to stimulate thought and conversation
about ways to improve our criminal justice system.
Hope you find them interesting.
Please note that the views presented not necessarily those of Peeples Ranch.
We cannot take responsibility for the validity or implications of any information expressed here.