Mom and dad's buckaroo
Gene Ayers settled into her “Whiskey chair”. Her small home, a combination box car and mail order house, once sheltered the Depot Agent of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad Company; the “Katy” Line, which traversed the south edge of Keyes, not 100 yards from where she sits.
On the walls are a mirror made from a horse collar and pictures of Cowboy stars Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Tex Ritter and Tim McCoy, some of them signed personally.
Ayers has been a fixture in the Cimarron County area for more than 50 years. Either by breaking horses, trick-riding and roping or building fence and driving a tractor; she's lived, dressed, and worked in a man's world since she left home at 12 years-of-age.
Her short sidewalk is made of bricks and discarded mud flaps from semi-trucks.
The driveway to her home is a work in progress; at it's entrance is a pile of rocks and clay sewer pipe which she breaks into chunks and packs into the soil with her pickup truck.
“I'm doin' it, [making a driveway] the old fashioned way; makin little rocks outta big ones,” she giggled.
She was born into a sharecropper's family in the rural area between Oklahoma City and Tulsa on Jan. 13, 1925.
“I started milking cows when I was four years old. We had to live through the winter on what we raised that summer.”
With a wave of her hand she shows her disgust with opulence and many of our modern conveniences. “We never had these ‘puters to help with our homework. Kids these days, they don't ‘preciate what they have.”
I'm the only one of my people left. There was just me and my sister; and my mom and dad...they wished so hard....so I guess I became their buckaroo,” she said with a lopsided grin.
She picks up a guitar and sits back into the Whiskey chair, strums and yodels.
“I'm not really good at playing and yodelin' at the same time like Rogers [Roy] was. Now Eddie Arnold, he did it like this,” she said breaking into an acapella version of “Cattle Call.”
She puts down the guitar and sits at the piano to play a boogie tune and then transfers to a double-sided Honer harmonica.
“I've been all over the place; lived back east durin the war. I worked at a riding academy.
I tried to volunteer for the war. I was already doin' things a man done...figgered I could help; but I'd lost my inner ear cause ah sickness when I was just a baby,” she explained.
She turned serious and opinionated, with the memory of the illness and the reaction of her then beleaguered mother.
“My fingers were all curled up, like an eagle's claws; and my head...it was about to pull apart [with pain] and all that old woman could do was scream at me to shut up. I think she marked me. You see some of these kids today that keep gettin inta trouble...ya look behind it all and I think some old woman has marked them. Some people have no business having kids and shoulda been culled. We cull our cattle better than our people,” she said with a shrug.
Ayers attended a country school, in North Central Oklahoma, it was she claims, the only time she has worn a dress.
Ya see we had work to do that was easier done in pants and a shirt. We had to ride a horse and I've always rode like a buckaroo than the way girls was supposed to ride [side saddle].
“So, I wore a dress when I was at school and as soon as I could I left there and got out on my own. School was always hard for me, I think cause of the fever; but I can read a little, write a little. But I can keep up with what's goin' on in the world. I gotta friend that lives and works down in that big city [Oklahoma City]. He's got a picture of those buildings that went down in New York; says he can't believe they're gone. It's just like that building they blew up in that big city, or the hurricanes in Florida; it's a topsy-turvy world; and every now and then, when we get too smart for ouselves, The Greater Power...He's gonna come down here and re-arrange his furniture,” she said.
Asked if at sometime when she was young there had been a boyfriend, Ayers replied, “Nah, just two or three buddies; one lives up here in Colorado, another, Jerry,...he got shot outta the air by the Japs.”
“Nah, I've always lived alone; never had to worry about anyone. I didn't care about the other way [marriage].”
Leaving the east, Ayers came back to Oklahoma after WWII and eventually gravitated to the Panhandle, obtaining a job as a horse trainer with the Four Corners entrepreneur and showman Jim Jordon.
“I worked for Jordon about six years. I was there the day the guy from California came lookin for him cause he [Jordon] had all kinds of animals.” Snapping her fingers, she tried to pull a name from her memory, “Ya know, he built that big thing out in California...Disneyland. Walt Disney, that's him. I thought he was lyin to me till he showed me his driver's license,” she smiled and shook her head.
“I was there when Hoxie [silent movie star Jack Hoxie] came around wantin to sell a saddle...he was askin $2,500. I'd a loved to had it, but it might as well a been a million.”
“Then I worked for John Krone for five years, drivin' a tractor...I've driven ah lot ah tractors through the years.
At the Krones I always had plenty to eat and the food was really good.”
“Then I worked ten years as foreman for Clyde Adams.”
She stands and walks into her bedroom, pulling out photo albums, pointing at one page she said, “I made those chaps out of two goat hides; made that gunbelt outa boot tops.” She reaches for a handgun and gunbelt slung over her headboard, I made this holster, and this gun, my .22 long rifle, that's what ya'll see if you come in the door unannounced.”
“I make lotsa things; I plan to make my own coffin, soons as I gather up the stuff to make it.” she added.
“Here's my boot collection. I got lots ah boots and saddles.”
Ayers has made saddles, boots and firearms her form of retirement investments, having stored some, sold others
Pointing at another picture she explained, “I made the holster and belt for that .45 pistol; but I had ta sell ‘em ta survive. I may have to sell more.”
She pulls one pistol from it's holster, puts her finger through the trigger guard and does the classic cowboy spin.
Flexing her hand, she grimaces, “That's not so easy anymore; my fingers got sickness in them,” she frowned.
“They ain't been the same since last year when I spent a month in the hospital. I took a lot of medicene to kill the germs in me and got real friendly with a commode. They [The doctors and nurses] didn't expect me to get up and walk so soon. But ya gotta toughen yourself up when ya get down.”
She'd like a video made of her performing rope and whip tricks before her fingers are too crippled.
“The rope ain't so bad; but the whips...they'll try to take off your ears or cut yer back. I'd go to circuses and watch them do rope tricks and stand in the saddle and I'd think ‘I can do that.' so I'd come home and practice. On my whips, I weave in a wire hook at the end. Finally I got where I could strike a match and if a guy'd hold it tight, I could take the top off a coke bottle.”
“I'd like ta get that movie made ‘fore I'm gone.”
Boise City News, P.O. Box 278