Tooter the Cowboy was there, representing the rank and file of Terlingua society. Tooter is a wiry, hell-raising drifter who looks something like an insensitive Montgomery Clift. When he is sober he trains horses for Ranch Manager Harold Wynne. Tooter wasn't sober this particular weekend. He was what Wynne called "mean drunk." Tooter drank and played poker until the last chili head fell out, and he was waiting on horseback, a beer bottle in one hand, when CASI delegates staggered to the outdoor breakfast tables of Walter Jetton. While chili heads spooned their eggs and asked each other what could be worse than a hangover, Tooter showed them what, galloping his cutting horse between the crowded tables and over the sleeping bags where some of the frontiersmen were still crumpled.
The following night Tooter took more money from the Dallas folks and terrorized Father Duffy and his friends. Ranch Manager Wynne explained that Tooter sometimes has trouble sleeping. This time the trouble was two Mexicans, brothers of a boy he had pistol-whipped in Study Butte, who were hoping to shoot him.
By high noon Saturday an estimated 500 chili fanciers had materialized out of the desert and pushed up to the front porch of the Terlingua Inn. They were overwhelmingly pro Fowler. They had come to drink free beer, sample chili and inspect firsthand "the elderly challenger H. Allen 'Soupy' Smith of New York," as Tolbert called him—though, in fact, it was CASI that had issued the challenge.
Smith appeared fit and rested. He wore a fresh open-neck sports shirt and had a sidearm strapped low on his hip. Fowler had slept in a garage under the ranch house and had been sick all night with a virus. While he made jokes about Smith's ancestry, particularly about the fact that Smith learned about chili in Decatur, Ill., his heart wasn't in it. Fowler, who at 58 is a year younger than his opponent, started appreciating chili during the Depression, when a bowl of red cost 5� in south Texas.
"It was cheap and greasy, and it saved my life," he says doggedly.
Precook ceremonies opened at 11:35 a.m. with a blessing originated years ago by a Negro cowpuncher and chuck-wagon cook named Bones Hooks.
It begins like this:
"Lord, God, You know us old cowhands is forgetful. Sometimes I can't even recollect what happened yestiddy. We is forgetful. We just know daylight and dark, summer, fall, winter and spring. But I sure hope we don't never forget to thank You before we is about to eat a mess of good chili. We don't know why, in Your wisdom, You been so doggone good to us. The Chinee don't have no chili, ever. The Frenchmens is left out. The Rooshians don't know no more about chili than a hog does about a sidesaddle. Even the Meskins don't get a good whiff of it unless they stay around here. Chili eaters is some of Your chosen people...."
When their praying was done and Master of Ceremonies Bill Rives had led the 500 in the singing of Hello, Terlingua, a song of his own composition, Rives tossed off a couple of one-liners accusing Smith of violating several city ordinances and read a letter from the governor making Smith an honorary citizen of Texas—an honor that Smith declined.
At noon they got with it. For two hours two pots boiled, two reputations simmered. The contestants watched their pots and posed for pictures, offering ladles of chili to Father Duffy or holding their noses at the misfortune of being so close to their opponent's entry. The hot Texas air was thick with spice. At one point Smith seemed dispirited. "What chance do I have?" he asked. "Last week Tolbert claimed in his column that a Texas Baptist preacher invented the airplane. Before this is over he'll be saying that Wick Fowler invented caviar in Swampnose Park on the Pecos River. There is no end to what these people will do."