Buggy Whip Justice
by Norris Chambers
The brush had been cleared from a space approximately 200 feet in either direction, and the school house placed in the center. A three-wire barb wire fence surrounded the clearing and served to keep livestock off of the school grounds. But one rather important thing had been overlooked - there were no rest rooms. The first day of school the teacher announced that the boys would go to the woods on the west side of the yard and the girls on the east. She said she did not want any boys on the east side nor any girls on the west side during recess or lunch. This was no big deal, for many of the students had no better facilities at home. This was the center of learning for grades one through eight in the middle twenties. There were many such schools in Texas, spaced so that no student was more than five or six miles from school. Many traveled on horseback, and a few families came by buggy.
One group that came by buggy was the Storm family. The older brother, and buggy diver, was Tom. He had three sisters and a little brother. The girls were spaced about a grade apart, starting in the third and the baby was in the first grade. Tom was in the seventh. There were perhaps fifteen or twenty horses with saddles tied to the trees along the fence row. Many of the riders had to climb a tree to get on the horse in the afternoon. The saddle cinches were loose, and many young riders took a tumble on the way home because the horse jumped sideways when alarmed by a snake, rabbit, roadrunner or some other unseen menace. There were other buggies than Tom Storm's, but this tale is about Tom.
It was a beautiful Spring day, and everyone came running out of the little school at 4:00, when classes were dismissed. Students began climbing on horses, and the buggies began to fill with riders. But Tom's family stood around their buggy in amazement. A rear wheel was missing. A crowd soon gathered around it, and Miss Johnson, the young teacher, appeared to be as shocked as the Storm's.
"Did anyone see what happened?" she asked. For a moment, no one spoke. Then a youngster volunteered: "When Kent and Darwin had to be excused, I saw them messing around Tom's buggy." Kent and Darwin were standing near the bare axle, apparently as shocked as the others. Tom spoke.
"Where's the wheel and nut. Kent?" Kent was the older of the boys, and was perhaps twelve years old. Darwin was, maybe, ten. Kent didn't answer, but Darwin spoke up. "We threw the nut out there," pointing to the brush on the east side, "and rolled the wheel to the creek. It was Kent's idea!" Tom's face turned white. He grabbed the long buggy whip, backed off and snapped a hard lick that hit Kent just above his right knee. Before anyone could protest, another lash popped on Darwin's arm, bringing a trickle of blood.
"Darwin," Tom commanded, "you find the nut, and Kent, you go get the wheel. I'll follow you." Another crack missed Kent, but he got the message and crawled under the fence. Darwin began his search for the nut. Miss Johnson was trying to restore order, but no one was listening to her. The crowd was shouting and cheering. Some protested the harsh lick, and some were asking for more blood.
Kent was now running, and Tom was right behind him, cracking the whip and connecting occasionally. A dozen or more onlookers were running behind Tom, not wanting to miss a single lick. A few had mounted their horses and were galloping around the procession in circles.
They soon reached the creek and Kent pointed to the deep water below. "It's down there." Tom ordered him to jump in and retrieve it, and a close pop of the whip removed any thought of hesitation. Kent jumped into the water and disappeared. He came up occasionally for air, and submerged again. "I found it," he exclaimed, "but I can't lift it up." One of the mounted boys threw one end of a rope to him and suggested that he go down and tie in to the wheel.
This worked nicely, and the wheel was dragged out, covered with mud.
"Clean it up," ordered Tom. Kent spent a few minutes carrying water up in his hat and washing the mud off the buggy wheel. Then, upon Tom's orders, he started rolling it back to the school house.
There were still several kids at the buggy, and several yelled and told them that Darwin couldn't find the nut. Darwin was standing in the crowd, and when Tom turned toward him, everyone ran away and left him alone.
"Why aren't you still looking?" Before he could answer, the whip popped again and the culprit yelled in pain. But he renewed his search. Several boys lifted the buggy, and Kent slipped the wheel on. "Now, go help find the nut," directed Tom. Kent crawled through the fence, and Tom was right behind him. Many of the school kids joined in the search, and it was soon found. Then Kent and Darwin put it on and tightened it with the utility wrench.
"Tom," said Miss Johnson, "you shouldn't have been so rough on the boys. They were just being playful."
"Next time they can play with somebody else's buggy," returned Tom.
The show was over, and everyone started the homeward journey. Miss Johnson began the half-mile walk to the Stone's place, where she had room and board for the school term. She had seen her first bloodshed at the little school, but it would not be her last. Two weeks later, someone placed carpet tacks under the saddle of Kent's horse, and he was bucked off when he mounted for the homeward trip after a hard day at school. When he got up, his arm was bent almost double, and the tip of a bone was protruding from the middle of his forearm. This required a trip to the doctor, and Tom was the one who drove him twelve miles in the buggy to get it set. He was back in school the next day, and the arm healed nicely, although it was always a little crooked. Another small boy was trying to hold a dog that saw a rabbit outside the fence, and his hand was caught on a strand of the barbed wire. The fleshy part of his hand between the thumb and forefinger was cut almost to the wrist. Again, Tom stopped the bleeding and hauled the boy to the doctor for several stitches.
The moral of the story? There may not be one, but if there is, it is probably that no one is all good or all bad. There is a little good in the worst of us and a little bad in the best.
Just be glad that we now have the conveniences and comforts that we enjoy, and that buggy whip justice is no longer required. Every time you count your blessings, remember that you are HAVING FUN!
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