The cowboy dream is gone, but not forgotten


by Steve Eighinger

“I should’ve been a cowboy
I should’ve learned to rope and ride
Wearin’ my six-shooter, ridin’ my pony on a cattle drive
Stealin’ the young girls’ hearts
Just like Gene and Roy
Singin’ those campfire songs
Whoa, I should’ve been a cowboy

— Toby Keith “I Should Have Been A Cowboy,” 1993

During my early years, I was torn between pursuing two careers.

Growing up in northeastern Ohio, part of me wanted to play centerfield for the Cleveland Indians. I figured by the time I was old enough, I could succeed Vic Davalillo and lead the Tribe to their first World Series championship since 1954.T he only problem, as I discovered by the time reached third or fourth grade, was hitting a curveball required far more talent than I would ever possess.

At that young age, my other option was being a cowboy.

That idea had some problems, too. Cowboys were few and far between in the 1960s in and around Cleveland, Ohio, and in addition I didn’t really like the idea of having to dodge bullets from the “bad guys.” So what was a kid to do?No problem. I learned at that young age to live vicariously through the family’s TV set when it came to baseball and cowboys.

Although I continued to plod along at my baseball goals, I eventually “retired” after hitting .169 as a sophomore third baseman in high school. I was advised by the high school coaching staff that “retirement” would probably be my best option when considering my athletic future. Fair enough.

And by that time in my development, the cowboy thing was also in past tense, but that had never stopped me from enjoying cowboy movies and made-for-TV westerns. Through the years, I never lost that attraction to the cowboy life (albeit that attraction was tied to the couch in my family’s living room, and to this day I have never ridden a horse outside of a pony at the county fair when I was about 8 years old). Considering my love affair with the wild, wild west, I grew up at precisely the right time.

There were more than 100 western-themed shows on network TV from the late 1950s into the early 1970s. My fondest memories of those cowboy years? That’s actually quite easy. Here are my all-time favorite heroes whp emerged from the small black-and-white screen TV that occupied so much of my attention, especially after I figured out I was not going to be the next Vic Davalillo. 

Gold medal: James Arness, who played U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years on the “Gunsmoke” series. Arness, who was 88 when he died in 2011, was a man’s man and the ultimate lawman. Marshal Dillon, Chester, Festus and Miss Kitty were a big part of our family’s Saturday night lives for many, many years. When “Gunsmoke” ended in 1975, so did my cowboy aspirations.

For the record, Toby Keith also paid tribute to the marshal in that “I Should Have Been a Cowboy” classic:
I bet you’ve never heard ol’ Marshal Dillon say
Miss Kitty, have you ever thought of runnin’ away?
Settlin’ down, would you marry me
If I asked you twice and begged you, pretty please?
She’d have said, “Yes”, in a New York minute
They never tied the knot, his heart wasn’t in it
He just stole a kiss as he rode away
He never hung his hat up at Kitty’s place

Silver medal: Chuck Connors, who portrayed widowed rancher Lucas McCain in “The Rifleman.” The show, which ran from 1958-63, also had a great theme song and strong supporting cast, including Johnny Crawford, who played McCain’s son, Mark. Crawford died earlier this year at age 77. Connors died in 1992 at age 71.

Bronze medal: Clayton Moore was the driving force behind the success of “The Lone Ranger.” From the iconic opening theme to the ‘Hi-yo, Silver! Away!’ the Long Ranger is one of the most iconic television characters of all-time,” writer Chris Foster notes. The show ended in 1957, but is still seen today in syndication. Moore was 85 when he died in 1999. Jay Silverheels, an indigenous Canadian actor who played The Lone Ranger’s familiar Indian sidekick, Tonto, died in 1980 at age 67.

Found on Facebook
I’ll be the first to admit it would be hard to go through a day without checking on Facebook. Here are some of the Facebook finds that brought a smile to my face over the weekend:

“Every day, thousands of innocent plants are killed by vegetarians. Help end the violence. Eat bacon.” (This is a cause I could get behind.)

“Pun enters the room and kills ten people. Pun in, ten dead.” (Oh, how I wish I could take credit for that one.)
“I thought the dryer was shrinking my clothes. Turns out it was the refrigerator.” (I know the feeling, all too well)
“Is it just me, or does no one disappear anymore in the Bermuda Triangle?” (That is actually a great question …)

“A pun has not fully matured until it is full groan.” (Did I just hear a drum roll?)
“The skeleton went to the party alone because it had no body to go with.” (Come on, it’s not that bad.)
“Met my honey on a dating site. We just clicked.” (Love at first byte?)
“If someone calls you fat, don’t even acknowledge them. You’re bigger than that.” (Yes, yes I am.)

Happy birthdayIf you would like to send out some birthday cards, here are some folks who are celebrating this month:

Patrick Stewart: The talented British actor, who turned 80 this week, has gained a new lease on his acting life in recent years as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in the ongoing “Star Trek” movie series.David Haselhoff: Don’t hassle the Hoff. The former “Baywatch” star turns 68 this month.
Will Ferrell: Happy 54th birthday to the guy who gave us “Elf,” “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby” and “Semi-Pro.”
The following who had July birthdays may be gone, but they are certainly not forgotten:
“Curly” Joe DeRita: If you loved the Three Stooges growing up, you loved this guy. He was 83 when he died in 1993.

Don Knotts: Knotts’ Barney Fife character was as much a part of the success of The Andy Griffith Show as Andy himself. Knotts was 81 when he died in 2006.

James Cagney: My all-time favorite movie gangster, Cagney was 86 when he died in 1986.

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