As a child of the ’50s, I appreciate the western genre in movies and TV; while some were forgettable by the following day, others became classics. Writers would often add a yarn within the show, typically presented by the sidekick since the hero could not be seen as a yarn-spinner. Andy Devine, with that gravelly voice, was a master yarn spinner.
Yarns are stories about incredible and fantastic and often implausible events although my favorites are based on a kernel of fact but stretched to unbelievable dimensions. Abe Lincoln was a yarn spinner of some note and published many of them. Jim Bridger and Joe Meek of the mountain man era were known to stretch the truth on occasion when telling stories around a campfire. Mark Twain was among the best yarn writers – my favorite of his is about a frog entered in a jumping contest. Charles M. Russell, the western painter, wrote many yarns about cowboy life. Robert Service, the poet, had several great yarns about life in mining camps in Alaska and the Yukon. The Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill stories were yarns.
The story I included in my October post from last year, “Wildcat Jack’s Bridge,” was a yarn. Here’s another yarn that I just finished.
“Grampa, is it true the bridge was named Swingin’ Bridge ’cause so many outlaws was hung there?”
“Far as I know, no one was ever hung there, Amanda. Let’s eat ‘fore that food goes bad.”
The family had decided to stop by the bridge for a picnic on their way home from church. They soon had the horses watered and picketed in the meadow. They spread a blanket on the grass and dined on fried chicken, potato salad, and apple pie.
Rock Creek poured through a narrow canyon just wide enough for the stream and a path, although the creek overflowed the path during spring floods. It widened into a small bowl with a pond and meadow surrounded by cottonwood trees. Swingin’ Bridge was nearly directly above them as a connection for the solid rock wall that extended about thirty-five feet above the creek. It wasn’t impressive as natural bridges go, being about fifteen-feet long, eighteen-inches wide, and six-inches thick. Still, it was pretty, especially when morning or evening light turned the pink sandstone a deeper red.
Billie leaned back against a boulder and lit his pipe. “Amanda, now I’ll tell you ’bout the bridge. Back in ’75, when I got out of the Army, I was wanderin’ around looking for some good land to settle on. Hadn’t had a decent meal for a few days and was lookin’ for a deer or elk. I was atop the mesa there and decided to come down through the canyon and found this little holler. No game though so I kept ridin’. I rode up that little knoll that sits about a half-mile east of town.
“I seen dust on the trail which turned out to be the stage headin’ my way. But, I also seen three men on horseback hidin’ behind a big ol’ boulder. As the stage got closer, they pulled their kerchiefs up to hide their faces and checked their Colts. Well, I was packin’ that big ol’ Sharps and I aimed a shot at the boulder and it went right ‘tween those men. That upset ’em a little and they started shootin’ at me but I was outta range of their Colts. The stage driver heard the ruckus and stopped the stage. Since it took a while to reload that Sharps, I took off back toward the bridge, hopin’ I could fort up in them rocks. My horse had been on the trail for a few weeks and was a little tired and them outlaws was gainin’ on me.
“I’d seen that little knob on top of the bridge and got me a idea. I pulled out my rope, and luckily I had a sixty-footer. I roped that knob hopin’ it would hold my weight. It did and I held on with both hands as the rope tightened and pulled me off my horse. I went swingin’ way up on the back side’a the bridge and I could see over the top’a the bridge. Then I stopped swingin’ an’ started down. I managed to get turned around and face ’em. They was so surprised to see me flyin’ and their horses were goin’ so fast they couldn’t do nothin’. I raised my feet and kicked all three of ’em off their horses. Thump, thump, thump.
“Hittin’ them boys as hard as I did slowed me down an’ I jus’ let go of the rope and landed on the trail. I pulled my Colt and was waitin’ for ’em to wake up when the station master an’ a couple fellers rode up and tied ’em up. They took ’em back to the station all trussed up and waited for the sheriff to come get ’em.
“And that’s how the bridge got its name-from me swingin’ on it.”