Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Pictures to Words: Reflections Week 2: The Cowboy


“There were so many people at the funeral and it was only a few days ago that he gave his last interview.” Paul James should know, he was the journalist that was assigned to make the interview. Paul was writing a series on child film stars from earlier days and in this connection he was reminded of the television series “My faithful horse”. One of those films where week for week you were confronted with a school boy and his horse that went through all sorts of adventures and always came out top.

He arrived at the Quiet Valley nursing home just a week ago with an appointment to see Sammy Dexter the boy star of the series, but this was sixty years later and he had heard that Sammy was seriously ill. The nurse told him at the entrance that he was only allowed to make the interview because Mr. Dexter had given his express permission. Paul found a thin grey haired man in a wheelchair breathing his life from an oxygen cylinder. Yes, Sammy Dexter looked years older than his seventy two years.

“Take a seat Mr. James, and don’t worry about these contraptions I have around me, they are keeping me alive and that is all that concerns the nurses in this place, just having a celebrity as a patient; makes good advertising for the home. I hear you want my life story.”
“That sure is why I am here Mr. Dexter.”
“Just call me Sammy like everyone else and then we will get on ok together Paul.”
“Well that’s fine by me Sammy. Perhaps we could start at the beginning. I have an old photo here showing you pictured together with your horse, Hurricane. You certainly captured the hearts of the people at that time. It was one of the first successful children’s series to be shown on the television. Where did you find such a fine horse?”
“My father actually found the horse. He was the owner of a large ranch in Indian country. He specialised in horses. Grew up in the area and could almost ride before he could walk. The farm had been in our family for many years and it was obvious that his son rode in his father’s footsteps. There was only one little problem. His son was allergic to the four legged brutes and didn’t even like them. From my first days I remember the smell of having horses in my nose; the hay, the stables and the smell of their shit if you can excuse the language, but that was how it was. Yes Paul, Sammy Dexter just hated horses. Hard to believe I suppose.”
“Then how come you had such success with the film series.?”
“Well you have to go back a bit for that. My mother died when I was born and Big Sam, my father was left to bring up a son and look after a horse ranch. I think the son made more problems that the ranch. I was given in the hands of one of the squaws that worked at the ranch. She also bore a son a few weeks before I was born, so I was sort of weaned on her milk together with Tamtam her boy. Now Tamtam was different to me. Him being from Indian folk, he could tell what a horse was thinking before the horse knew it himself. We grew up almost as brothers. Tamtam was one of those Indians with fair skin and blue eyes, although he had black hair, he just didn’t look like the real Indian. It was at the time when cowboy films were all the fashion in the television. Wells Fargo, Wyatt Earp, Jessie James: their life stories came to you in a weekly series. Characters like the Lone Ranger, Hoppalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers were the stars of the day, so it was only natural that they had to come up with something new. One of the film scouts visited our ranch looking for some horses for their films and had the idea of making a series starring a boy like myself with his trusty horse. Rin Tin Tin had been such a success showing a boy adopted by a fort with his dog, so they decided to take the plot further showing a boy, an orphan naturally, growing up with his horse.

It was then that they saw Tamtam doing his tricks with Hurricane his horse. They approached my father but Big Sam, as my dad was known, did not want to know anything about an Indian boy being used as a film star for a film. He told the film scout he could have Hurricane as the film horse, but only on the condition that his son Sammy filled the role as the boy. So if you look at the photo you brought with you from the magazine of the day you can see me standing next to Hurricane dressed in my cowboy clothes and that was how people knew me from the film.”
“But I thought you were allergic to horses Sammy.”
“I was and the only pictures you ever saw were when I was standing next to the smelly creatures. Oh how I hated horses.”
“But the scenes in the films where you were riding?”
“No problem, Paul, that was where Tamtam came into the whole thing. They used him for the action parts of the series.”
“In that case the whole series was sort of based on a lie.”
“Just be careful what you say Paul James. If my daddy was here now you could be happy if you were allowed to write for a sex magazine spreading rumours like that. Everyone was more or less happy. Big Sam was glad that his son got the fame he had earned and his Indian squaw was pleased to have a son like Tamtam that was being paid for doing something he had done since he started walking, riding a horse and even being shown on the television. Of course the scenes on the horse never actually showed my face, you just saw me when I had saved a lady in distress, or perhaps a farmhouse from burning down. My faithful horse Hurricane always showed me the way to go and I was there following. Tamtam was just the kid that sat on him and guided him through the tricks and the film.”
“So where is Tamtam today Sammy?” asked Paul.
“What do I care where he is today. You are here to make an interview with me and not with a half Indian like Tamtam who tried to cheat me out of my fame and fortune.” It was then that Sammy Dexter went red in the face and had a coughing attack. The nurses came running telling Paul James that the interview must come to an end as their patient had an attack and needed to rest. He was seriously ill and the excitement coming with the interview was just not necessary.
Paul got ready to leave but amongst the fit of coughing Sammy told him in a few spluttering words to be back in two days where they could finish the interview in peace.

Paul James went home that evening with a feeling that there was more behind this child film star than met the eye. As he had two days to spare before meeting Sammy Dexter again he decided to do some research in Indian country. The next morning he arose early and took the five hour drive upon himself to the old Dexter ranch. He was surprised to find that it had become one of those fashionable riding schools for the sons and daughters of the upper class. He explained why he was there and was taken to meet the owner, a young man about the same age as Paul, dark skinned and long black hair down to his shoulders. He could have been an Indian himself were it not for his blue eyes.

“Can I help you Mr. James?”.
“I was wondering if you could tell me anything about the previous owners of this riding school. I believe it used to be a horse ranch.”
“There is not a lot to tell Mr. James. My parents worked here when it was a ranch and I grew up on the ranch. Horse farming came a bit out of fashion and that was when I decided to develop the place and it became the successful riding school it is today.”
“But what happened to the owners of the horse ranch. I am working on a interview with the child star Sammy Dexter and he seemed to get slightly excited when I mentioned one of his friends Tamtam.”
“Got slightly excited Mr. James?”
“Just call me Paul.”

“OK Paul, if you have time I would like to show you something. I haven’t yet introduced myself, my name is Shawnee Dexter.”
“I am here to do some research on my interview with Sammy Dexter and would be pleased to have any assistance.”
“Just follow me Paul” and he lead the way to a path behind the riding school up on a hill where there were two graves. Paul was astonished to read the name on one of the tombstones of Hurricane, the horse, who died after an unfortunate accident and laying next to him a grave bearing the name TamTam Dexter died at the age of 22 through an accident. The inscription read on the tombstone“May they never be parted in death as they were always together in life.”
“Can you explain what the two graves are” asked Paul
“Mr. James, Tamtam was my father and Hurricane was his horse.”
“I feel somewhat confused.” answered Paul. “Why is the name on the stone TamTam Dexter?”
“Do you have to ask Paul? I would think the solution to the mystery is clear.”
It suddenly dawned on Paul that TamTam was also the son of Big Sam Dexter. TamTam and Sammy were half brothers.
“I see what you mean, but what happened to them both. TamTam seemed to have died at the same time as Hurricane.”
“Paul, the story is a bad story and shows what greed and envy can do to a man. Sammy Dexter became famous as the boy who rode Hurricane and Big Sam died leaving the ranch to my father TamTam knowing that TamTam would be capable of looking after the horses. Sammy never showed any interest in the ranch. Big Sam had acquired a lot of wealth during his life and his son Sammy inherited a lot of money and property. Unfortunately Sammy Dexter just gambled the money away and was left without a penny. It was then he came to my father and demanded half of the ranch as his rightful inheritance. My father was in the stable looking after Hurricane. There was a fight and somehow Sammy Dexter drew a gun and fired at TamTam hitting him in the heart. Hurricane leaped at Sammy and Sammy ran for his life, the horse chasing him. Witnesses at the court case said that the horse had lost his mind and would have killed Sammy if it had not been that the horse fell and broke its leg and had to be killed. Sammy was found not guilty of murder. There were no witnesses at the fight except for the horse, and it was found to be a case a self defence. Sammy Dexter was acquitted after a verdict of not guilty. So you see Paul I never really got to know my father as I was only a baby at the time. He had married one of the Indian girls working at the farm and it is from my mother and father that I have inherited my features and the gift for looking after horses. You may print your interview in your magazine with Sammy Dexter, but from what I have heard he is an old broken man. Time is running out and when he meets his maker I am sure he will get his just sentence.”

Paul left the ranch with mixed feelings. He had to go back the next day to the nursing home where Sammy Dexter had promised him the remainder of the story. He was wondering what he would be told; whether Sammy would tell him the truth or just invent something for the public. As things happened Paul did not have to worry about the last paragraphs of his story.

The next day Paul arrived at the nursing home in the afternoon as arranged and was met in the entrance hall by the head nurse.
“I am sorry Mr. James but Sammy Dexter passed away in his sleep yesterday afternoon. He was a very sick man and there was little that we could do. We found a letter addressed to you which he had written before he died.”

Paul took the letter, and sat down on a bench in the gardens of the nursing home.

"Dear Paul,

When you read this I will no longer be amongst you. All my life I have been plagued from the ghosts of the past. Tamtam was my half brother and is no longer with us through my own foolish mistakes. He was a good man and perhaps if we had met under other circumstances we would have been the best of friends. I have just one wish. In this envelope there is a key to a bank safe and here I write the numbers you will need to be able to access the safe. Please bring its contents to his family in Indian country, the address is written below. They belong rightfully to his children. I heard that they have made something of their lives and they are good people.

When you write your words then please write only the good things about my half brother. I do not deserve to be remembered as an idol for the generation that grew up with my films. They were not mine, but those of TamTam. Write about him and the good life that he led.

Sammy Dexter”

Paul read these words through many times and of course he did what was required of him.

What he did not know and the nursing home did not tell him. On the afternoon that Sammy Dexter died he had removed all the tubes leading to the devices keeping him alive in the hospital himself and within five minutes had taken his last breath.

Pictures to Words

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