We called Jack and Billy Jack the Twins because they were both from Louisiana. When me and Player had got up the partnership, we'd needed two other sources of $10 a month, and Jack and Billy Jack had been afoot and willing to put in that amount. We owed Player's daddy $50 a month for the pickup, and we figured that the best way to pay him was to have five partners at 10 bucks a head. That'll reinforce your idea of just what a classy outfit we were.
But, to tell you the truth, Jack and Billy Jack weren't all that bad. As a matter of fact, Billy Jack later developed into a pretty fair saddle bronc rider. But at that time they were both kind of square built, both in the shoulders and in the head, and we treated them accordingly—especially by making them ride in the back most times.
But now to bring you to the man whom this story is about, J.B. Kingman. He was what you'd call an all-around good fellow and a wonderful chap. He was also the best rodeo contestant among us, and he never let us forget it. He'd been without transportation just like the rest of us until we'd put together the deal to buy Player's daddy's pickup, but he'd somehow forgotten that. After we'd got on the road and he'd been winning a little more than the rest of us, he'd sit up in the middle of the three of us in the front seat of the pickup and say, darkly, "I name no names, but since I'm carrying this outfit and some of us have not been winning as much as others, I ought to be riding on the outside."
I always took that personal since I had the seat by the window.
I'll give you an idea of J.B.'s loyalty to the group. As poor as we were, we'd always send in one guy to rent a motel room as a single, and then the rest of us would slip in on the sly and bunk down the best we could. J.B. once went down to the front office and complained that there weren't enough towels. Naturally we all got thrown out, but he never admitted it was his fault.
On another occasion me and Player were trying to borrow gas money from a rodeo producer. At the exact second that we were into making deep and serious assurances about our reliability, J.B. walked up and folded his arms and said, "Huh! Well just be damn sure you get enough to cover that four dollars I loaned you three days ago." Ah, yes, he was a wonderful human being.
But he did have a hell of a hat.
Now a good-looking hat, a quality hat, is a rodeo cowboy's main show-off. RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association—now called the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association) rules required that all cowboys in the arena be attired in a representative Western hat. We pretty much all wore the same jeans and the same shirt. And we all wore fairly cheap boots because they were going to be cut and scarred by our spurs and by the way we treated them.
But a hat was different. When we weren't getting ready to go out on a bronc or a bull, we'd all stand in the arena with our backs up to the bucking chutes and our arms folded, staring up into the crowd for any good-looking girls that might catch our eye. We figured that a good-looking, high-quality hat was the best possible advertisement for what was underneath. So you could depend on the fact that a cowboy was more careful of his good hat than he was of his mother's picture in his billfold.
And in the first (and last) year of our partnership, J.B. bought himself an M.L. Leddy Supreme. It caused a little bit of a sensation on our circuit. Now, of course, rodeo cowboys like Casey Tibbs and Jim Shoulders could afford hats like that and never turn a hair. But for brush hands like us, cowboys who found out what rodeos the good contestants were going to and then went the other way, that hat was a sharp stick in the middle of a sore eye.