By Bruce Mastracchio
All I can say is WOW! The story on Swamp Rat Jackson prompted more responses in the quickest amount of time than anything I have ever done. One reader came back at me six times with questions, guesses and other things to add. This could propel Mr. Jackson’s story right up their with all-time favorites: “The Hawkman and The Nun,” “A Father’s Day Song,” “How Do You Spell Love?” and “The Summer of Marvin Ghost Bear.”
I was going to include a couple of Swamp Rat anecdotes but forgot. Old Age Disease or CRS set in.
One time old Swamp Rat, whose family owned a farm outside of town, walked a cow down to Main Street, went to a local drug store, and walked right into the drugstore with the cow in tow. Went right up to the counter and ordered a glass of milk for the cow. (True story )
Another time he brought a small pony and walked it into the police station. He backed the pony right up to the face of the sleeping desk sergeant and left it there. The message being that particular police officer was a horse’s a– to him. ( Also true – the story. I always thought the sergeant was a good guy )
I was also going add a couple of other local “lore” stories and attribute them to Swamp Rat, but will add now, that another character walked his pig down Main Street one day, and another day same said individual walked a turkey down same said street at the end of the Memorial Day parade.
As I said, I have had the character of Swamp Rat in my head for a long time, just waiting for the opportunity to spring him on you. I wanted to give you an original, and I wanted to see if I could do it in one setting right off the top of my head. Did it in two hours right off top of my head, which is filled with more stories than Carter’s has little liver pills.
The story is what I call a “stretch.” That means that it is mostly true. In this case the whole middle of the story is dead, spot on true. Swamp Rat did all those things, got himself thrown in jail, lived in a packing crate.
The “stretch” is in the beginning and the end. I knew that Swamp Rat wore an old Army fatigue jacket as I had seen him in it. Did he serve in the Army to get it? Who knows? He might have stolen it for all I know.
Same with the boots.
It is also a “stretch” at the end. Did they find a citation and war medals when they cleaned out his packing crate home? I knew they found a lot of things. Could have been condoms. Or packs of chewing gum, or subscriptions to Playboy. Who really knows? I knew they found “things” but being a young man and not an officer of the law, I was not privy to their knowledge. So I used my imagination to “stretch” it.
But the backstory does not end there. You all know my propensity for music. Though, as my father used to say, “I couldn’t carry a note in a bushel basket,” my whole life revolves around music. I listen to it, sing it, hum it and if a song captures my fancy I will memorize it.
A while back I was captured by a song titled “Matthew” by John Denver, who sang of his uncle who had a farm just south of Colby, Kansas. (Here’s a link to a live version.)
So guess what this Townie from EG did? On his sojourn back to Las Vegas he drove through Kansas (500 miles and one of the two most boring states to drive through; Nebraska being the other) just so he could stop in Colby and see where Matthew’s farm was.
Well, you know it was an adventure. I stopped in the local coffee shop and it was packed. Just by my look they knew I didn’t belong there and, of course, the minute I opened my mouth it confirmed it.
Funny thing is 90 percent of those farmers never heard of John Denver, and only one person, a waitress, knew the story and the song. She directed me to Uncle Matthew’s farm “just south of Colby, Kansas.” (True.)
For Swamp Rat’s story, another tune was stuck in my head. Roughly 37 lines of a little known tune by Garth Brooks, “Cowboy Bill.” It was the ending of this song that gave me the inspiration for the ending of Swamp Rat’s saga. And here I share it with you :
Cowboy Bill by Garth Brooks
He told a good story and all us kids listened ‘bout his life on the border and the way it was then
And we all believed him and when he would finish
We’d ask the old cowboy to tell it again
You could almost hear those prairie winds blowing, his saddle a creaking ‘neath his old, faded jeans
You could taste the dry dust from the trail he was riding
As he sat there and painted those West Texas scenes
And the grownups would tell us, you boys keep your distance
That old man’s just telling you lies
But, to all of us kids Cowboy Bill was a Hero
Just as true as his Blue Texas skies
He told of a time when he rode with the Rangers
Down on the Pecos, when he saved the day
Outnumbered by plenty, they were almost to cover
with thirty banditos head their way
He looked back in time to see a horse stumble
The Captain went down and Bill pulled up on his reins
Through a flurry of bullets, he rescued the Captain
And they rode toward the sunset, just the story remains
And the grownups would tell us, You boys keep your distance
That Old Man’s just telling you lies
But, to all of us kids, Cowboy Bill was a Hero
Just as True as his Blue Texas skies
Well, I still remember the day that it happened
We waited and waited, but Bill never showed
And the folks at the feed store said they hadn’t seen him
So we all set out for his place, down on Old Grist Mill Road
And we cried when we found him, lying there with his memories
The old trunk wide open, things scattered about
He was clutching a badge that said TEXAS RANGER
and an old, yellow letter said, Texas is proud!
And the grownups that told us, you boys keep your distance
that Old Man’s just telling you lies
Well now they were saying, Cowboy Bill was a HERO!
Just as true as His BLUE TEXAS skies
Just as TRUE as HIS BLUE TEXAS SKIES!!!
At one time I knew every word and every line of this song. Being someone who grew up looking for heroes, I took them in any way, place or form I could find them. I never forgot the ending and then incorporated in the story of Swamp Rat Jackson.
Sure hope you liked it.
Author’s Note: Coming soon will be a type of thing I call “sparking” or “playing with the keys,” where I take the nuance of a true story and turn it into a whimsical, magical piece, kind of like Bruce meets Bilbo Baggins, or Gandolph, and appears as a Lord of the Rings.
The one I do will deal with two brass frogs (Macon and Malcolm McGillicuddy) brought to life by The Spirit Warrior, Crazy Horse, who frees them from a dark dungeon of the deep and transports them to serve the Lady BAD, wife of USMC Colonel KT “Dynamo” Dykes, on the West Coast of this great country.