It must be recorded that there are any number of hardy folk, often healthy and even unscarred, who refuse to go along with the notion that everything in Texas is badder and bolder, hotter or colder, than it is elsewhere. Some of these skeptical citizens spend much of their time in smoky arenas watching bull-like young men try to knock each other's brains out, and they are called boxing writers. Texas won its greatest victory since the Battle of San Jacinto a few weeks ago when most of these gentlemen rapturously reached for their typewriters to agree that, come what may, never before had they met the likes of a broad-shouldered, pleasant young fighter named Robert Roy Harris.
Harris, of course, is the relatively unknown 25-year-old Texan who will meet Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship in Los Angeles next week. Admittedly, he has some peculiar handicaps. He is a college graduate, a former Army officer and, worst of all, a schoolteacher. From a purely statistical standpoint, he would have a more promising future in the beak-busting business if he were, say, an unemployed artichoke picker who never finished the eighth grade or an ex-Army yardbird who spent most of his time in the stockade for brawling. But it would be a mistake to place too much emphasis on Roy's cultural accomplishments. He comes from Cut 'N Shoot, Texas, of a fine old family of knife, knee and knuckle fighters who believe in putting first things first. As his mother, Gladys, tartly reminded a reporter not so long ago: "Roy started fightin' long before he ever went to college."
Roy, a modest, intelligent young man, who looks deceptively small until he starts shucking clothes off his 6-foot, 192-pound, finely muscled frame, is looking forward to his meeting with Patterson with a measure of confidence. Last week as he lolled in the California sunshine on the patio of his plush $100-a-day villa at the Arrowhead Springs Hotel, where he is training, he tugged thoughtfully at his bare toes. "Ah don't see why Ah can't beat him. You can't ever tell until you get in there, but Ah've been fightin' longer than he has. He's been a pro longer, but Ah've been fightin' amateur ever since Ah was 12. Ah'm a little bigger'n he is and Ah think Ah'm probably stronger. People are always askin' if Ah can hit as hard. Well, now, Ah don't know. All Ah know is Ah hit hard enough to knock somebody out if Ah get the chance."
Roy may well be the best heavyweight fighter Texas has produced since mighty Jack Johnson went from the docks of Galveston on to the world's championship more than 50 years ago. But since he has never fought beyond the friendly confines of his home state, nor even been seen on national television, he will have to try for the top crown in fistdom before he proves his true worth.
Without question, however, as the nation's leading boxing writers discovered when they sought Roy out last month, he has the most colorful background of any fighter of this century. "This is the first time I've ever had to tone down a true story so my readers would believe it," admitted one harassed New York sportswriter.
Cut 'N Shoot, which Roy calls home, is a community of 194 carefree souls. It lies only four and a half miles east of the little modern and oil-rich town of Conroe and only 40-odd miles from Houston's skyscrapers, but it is dominated by the Big Thicket of Texas—a mysterious, wooded country heavy with wild orchids, palmetto swamps, loblolly pines, alligators and herds of wild horses. There are many stories about how Cut 'N Shoot got its name. The one most generally accepted is that it started when rival factions in a local church couldn't settle a matter of ritual and gathered together one evening to "cut and shoot it out." Some visitors find Cut 'N Shoot a dead ringer for Dogpatch in L'il Abner. Others think it has sprung full-blown out of one of Erskine Caldwell's novels. Folks still live in log cabins in Cut 'N Shoot, brawl in lumber camps, make moonshine whisky in the thickets, consider themselves well-dressed in a new pair of overalls.
SEVEN KIDS, THIRTEEN HOUNDS
The fist is still the law of the land in Cut 'N Shoot and, nowadays and for some years past, the focal point of the community has been the home of the Harris clan. Originally it was a four-room log cabin, but years ago Big Henry Harris, Roy's father, bought a yellow clapboard shotgun house and attached it to the southeast end of the log house to help accommodate his growing brood of seven children. A sagging single porch, partly shaded by a wisteria vine, now joins the two buildings. A hunting horn to call the thirteen hounds which sleep under and around the house hangs from a peg on the front porch. Razorback hogs grunt about the front yard. Part of Big Henry's herd of 75 woods cattle lazily chew their cuds in the shade of the house. Countless chickens mill around under the front porch and occasionally wander into the house.
The first Harris to settle in the environs of Cut 'N Shoot was Roy's grandpappy. He came from Oklahoma in 1913, and his signing name was John Wesley, but nobody ever called him anything except Cussin' because of his awe-inspiring swearing. When Cussin' was really riled, his language reportedly wilted swamp lilies and sent man and beast high-tailing for cover. "He never talked ordinary-like hardly a-tall," recalls an oldtimer. "He jes' cussed. But nobody ever had to ast him twice't what he meant."
Cussin' topped six feet by several inches but was as thin as a first-growth pine. He fancied himself something of a dandy and always wore a bright red bandanna around his neck. "Fact of the matter were, Cussin' were as ugly as something the buzzards left," said a former neighbor, "but in his mind he were a mighty handsome man and he'd whup hell outta anybody who said different."