Our first out of town rodeo was the Bridgeport Rider’s Club Rodeo in Bridgeport, Texas. We found it in the Cowboy Sports News. Bridgeport was only 70 miles from home, but we thought we were really striking the rodeo trail as we drove up Highway 287 that afternoon.
We pulled into the gas station when we came into the city limits. Travis ran in to ask where the arena was. That became our normal routine—why call ahead for directions? In a small Texas town, anyone can tell you how to get to the rodeo arena. “Just look for the lights,” they’d say.
As I said, this was our first rodeo away from Kowbell, so we were surprised when we saw the bulls. It was a “junior rodeo,” but the bulls didn’t look like junior bulls. They didn’t look any different from the bulls we watched at the local pro rodeo.
After we sat there a while not talking, Travis said, “They look big, but they’re still just bulls.”
Yeah, just bulls, I thought.
The excitement and adrenaline helped us overcome our fear, but it didn’t help us ride better. We both bucked off. Travis’s knee was hurting, and I got stepped on. We hadn’t had anything to eat, and it was cold. Both of us were irritable as we walked to the dance on the patio behind the arena.
At the dance—the dance where we were both sore and tired and cold and hungry, Travis smarted off, like he had a habit of doing.
I had enough. It’s time to put him in his place, I thought. Besides, I’m tired of hearing about how tough he is. That’s all probably a bunch of talk anyway. Why should I put up with this kid that I outweigh by at least 10 pounds?
“I’m tired of your smart mouth,” I said. “If you think you’re so tough, let’s go behind those pickups and see.” I don’t know what made me think I was so tough. I hadn’t been in a fight since the seventh grade.
“I’m not playing,” I said. “Get up.”
He quit smiling, clenched his teeth, and got up. Travis followed me to an area behind the parked pickups where no adults could see us.
“I’m not fighting you,” Travis said as I swung at him with a right hook.
Before I could blink, Travis ducked the swing and “pop- pop-pop!” All three punches hit me in the same spot. I never saw them coming.
“John, I warning you—” I swung again.
Travis moved out of the way and pounded me again with his jack hammer quick fists. “Have you had enough?” he asked.
“No,” I said, as my eye was starting to swell, “but I can’t see you, so I’m going to have to quit.”
My 1977 Ford pickup had a three-speed standard transmission. The shifter was on the column, a “three-on-the- tree” they called it. Not many of my friends knew how to drive a three-on-the-tree. Luckily, Travis did. Since I couldn’t see out of one eye, he had to drive us home that night.
We didn’t say much. I was feeling too humble and stupid to talk.
“Are we going to Kowbell tomorrow?” Travis asked when we got to his house.
“Yeah, if I can drive.”
“Okay, see you tomorrow,” he said.
When I walked in the house, my mother was still up. “What happened to you?” she asked.
“Well,” I lied, “we went to the dance, and some guy beat me up for dancing with his girlfriend.” My story wasn’t convincing.
“I told you not to be fighting with Travis Beasley,” she said.
We couldn’t afford to enter the rodeo at Kowbell the next night. Bridgeport took all our money, so we went to Mansfield just to be there and help. We opened the bucking chutes during the bull riding and set up the barrels during barrel racing. We untied the calves after the ropers tied them down during the calf roping, and we took ropes off the steers during the team roping.
The guys gave Travis a hard time for giving his friend such a pounding.
Travis felt bad, but said he didn’t have a choice and had gone easy on me.
It was true that I had started it.
It was also true, I later learned, that he went easy on me.
I never picked a fight with Travis again.