The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001 Page: 496
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Staked Plains where Vaisquez de Coronado had achieved similar status
four centuries earlier.
I have been told more than once that you could not sit around a west
Texas campfire forty years ago without hearing one Bell Cord story after
another as the embers lay low. Jack Lewis, himself a legendary cowboy,
told Tom Linebery, who told Evetts Haley, "Why, Tom, you just can't tell
a lie on Bell Cord Rutherford."2 Asked to describe the most outrageous
stunt Bell Cord ever pulled, Linebery shot back, "Roped a locomotive
right here in Midland." What did he do with it? "Rode it." Paul Patter-
son says that, in his own salad days, he heard far more Bell Cord stories
than stories about all the world-champion cowboys put together. And
that part of the world produced a host of champions.4 The generation
that knew Bell Cord personally, those who had firsthand knowledge of
his antics, has all but disappeared.
Aside from diminishing sources there are other problems attendant
on preserving Bell Cord lore. Paul Patterson, after suggesting possible
interviewees, warned me that I should not count on Elmer Kelton for
any good Bell Cord stories, although Bell Cord had worked for Elmer's
dad on the McElroy Ranch near McCamey. Taken aback, I asked why.
Bell Cord, it turns out, had a remarkable command of profanity.
"Elmer's such a gentlemanly cowboy," says Paul, "that he won't even cuss
in a mixed herd, much less a mixed crowd."5
Capturing Bell Cord's essence has proved a challenge. He had been
dead a dozen years or so when Patterson, himself the author of such ti-
tles as Pecos Tales and Crazy Women in the Rafters, put down some two
dozen Bell Cord stories and sent his only copy to Bell Cord's ex-wife.
Perhaps foolishly, he told her that, if she found anything objectionable,
then she need not return them, because, in deference to her feelings,
he would not publish them. He never saw those stories again. The ex
seems to have cared little for Bell Cord's literary immortality. When Do-
gie Rutherford, Bell Cord's brother, found out what had happened, he
told Pat, "You should have sent them to me; I could have added a bunch
So one does not go to a written record to ferret out Bell Cord sto-
ries-one depends on oral tradition. The Texas State Historical Associa-
tion began over a century ago with a strong reliance on personal
2 Repeated byJ. Evetts Haley at his seventy-fifth birthday celebration, July 5, 1976. Audiotape
available at the Haley Library, Midland, Texas.
a Interviewwith Tom Linebery of Kermit, Texas, Sept. 28, 2ooo, at the Haley Library in Midland.
4 Interview with Paul Patterson of Crane, Texas, Sept. 18, 1998, at Saddle Ridge Assisted Liv-
ing Center in Midland.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/m1/574/: accessed August 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.