A humbling experience
The story is told that many years ago a star-crazed fan approached Rex Allen and asked for his autograph. The only problem was that it soon became clear that it was a case of mistaken identity: the fan thought Rex was Gene Autry. The last thing the always-gentlemanly Rex Allen wanted to do was disappoint a fan of the genre, but he agonized over how he should sign. Should he make the fan happy and forge Gene Autry’s autograph, or sign his real name and disappoint the fan? In a moment of brilliance Rex wrote, “Gene Autry… who will never be the cowboy that Rex Allen is.”
(I’ve also heard another version of the story in which Slim Pickens was the mistaken man but I can’t envision Slim being mistaken for the regal Gene Autry.)
I have seen celebrity worship and autograph hunters up close, not personally mind you, but I have followed Baxter Black around and have seen how people idolize him. I was a fan of Baxter’s after the first poem I ever read of his and have since become a friend. I cherish our friendship and readers will be glad to know that Baxter is everything you think he is. And then some. Just like his writing, he’s one of a kind.
Back in 1986 our paths crossed for the first time when our newspaper helped sponsor Baxter to entertain a cowboy crowd. As always, he was a smash hit and afterwards he autographed his books, as he always does. Baxter has since perfected the art of writing upside down, where he turns the book he’s autographing facing the buyer and then he inscribes it. Try it sometime and you’ll become aware of another talent that Baxter has that few other people have been able to master.
Back in ’86 Baxter autographed his books in a more traditional style and a nice ranch couple I did not know bought a book and when they came face to face with Baxter for him to sign it they acted like they were meeting God for the first time. So dumbstruck were they that when Baxter asked them who he should inscribe the book to they mumbled their names. So Baxter wrote, “Allen and Margaret.” The problem was that the man’s name was Arvin, not Allen. Now, another thing you need to know about Baxter is that he’s almost as frugal as I am, so I was surprised when he just grabbed another new book and signed it correctly. I thought Bax was going to throw the tainted book away but later that evening he made a big fanfare of giving me one of his books as a sign of our endearing friendship. The inscription reads: “Allen and Margaret… close personal friends of Lee and Diane Pitts. Baxter Black, 1986.”
I vowed to one day get even with my amigo. That day came last month when a friend of mine introduced me to some fine folks from Nebraska by saying of me, “This is the guy who does those funny things in the newspaper.”
I shook their paws and puffed up with pride until I realized, like Rex Allen had, that they thought I was someone else. At first I wasn’t sure if they thought I was Baxter, Mad Jack Hanks or Gwen Peterson, two other cowy columnists whose work I greatly admire. When the nice couple handed me their cattle sale catalog to sign I took a guess that they thought I was the immortal Baxter and then I faced the same dilemma as Rex. Having lower morals than Rex, I would have forged Baxter’s name in a heartbeat but I can’t write with his beautiful flourish or write upside down. So, I took a page from Rex Allen’s book and wrote, “Baxter Black… will never be half the buffoon that Lee Pitts is.” Boy, did I get even with Baxter!
When I handed the catalog back to the folks from Nebraska their smiling faces turned downward when they read the inscription. The disappointed husband looked at me and said, “Baxter Black! Lee Pitts! We thought you were Jerry Palen. We just love his cartoons about Elmo and Flo.”
So do I, by the way.
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A strong windstorm blew through Garfield County, Nebraska, the afternoon of May 12, bringing damage to the rodeo grounds in Burwell, the home of Nebraska’s Big Rodeo.