Most of the boys carried an old Russell Barlow pocket knife. You could get a one blade at a store for fifteen cents and a two-blade—that is, a long blade and a short blade—for a quarter. So every boy around, practically, carried a Barlow. Not the brand of Barlows that you see for sale in stores, because the manufacturers of the old Barlow discontinued that line many years ago, because they could not maintain the quality and still sell them at the cheap price that they were selling them at.
There was a big beech tree situated on top of a little hill that you had to go up going out to the schoolhouse. The tree was in the bend of the road, not too far below where that old house was recently torn down over from the graveyard there on the old county road.
On that big beech tree, I know the first time I saw it, it looked a little weathered then, someone had carved a magnificent picture. It was a large cowboy, from the waist up. He had a strong profile, he wore a sombrero, he wore a kerchief around his neck held by a ring in the kerchief, he wore a leather shirt with fringes hanging down from the sleeves, he had on cuffs.
The cuffs he wore were up above the wrist, maybe six inches long made out of leather. It showed those so plainly. He also had some gloves which had fringes hanging down. He was delicately carved in a realistic manner. If I remember right he had on cross gun belts with a pistol in each holster. It didn’t show all of it. The artist didn’t go that far. He was in a natural position.
It was a magnificent carving on that big beech tree. Thousands of people over the years saw the carving. I was never able to find out who carved it, but no one seems to know. But, it must have taken a great deal of time. I remember it was there for at least twenty years, maybe not hardly twenty years, but nobody tried to carve anything else on it or spoil it.
Probably if it were today and when someone had carved it, it would have been vandalized that night or the day after. This is just a comment on our society the way it is this day and time and how it was at that time. I passed it many times going to and from school.
The old state road up Elkhorn Creek was not built until 1936. When the road was built out there the beech had already begun to die and the bark was shredding up and breaking, and the cowboy’s torso and all of the magnificent details were drying out and obliterated.
I think the state people, the state contractor, had to cut down the beech in building the road. I have regretted so many times that I did not go out and take that bark off that tree when they were getting ready to destroy the tree. I don’t think any objections would have been made because the tree was going to be destroyed anyway.
But I have never been able to find out who carved that picture of that cowboy. Apparently, it was someone from out west and a person of great artistic talent, because it was in such intricate detail. In fact, just about every time I went by there as a boy, I had an urge to go west and to become a cowboy and dress like that. You know how boys are.
Clyde Mullins (1914 – 1989)
Elkhorn City, KY
online at www.dickensoncounty.net/clyde.html