Tales of the future, straight from horse's mouth
In Irish folklore, the Pooka is a changeling that is both feared and respected, and often considered a harbinger of changing fortune. And though it can take many forms, it most commonly appears as jet-black horse with sulphurous yellow eyes and long wild mane. Folklore expert Douglas Hyde called it a “plump, sleek, terrible steed” which appears out of the hills and speaks in a human voice to people gathered to hear its prophecies and warnings on the first day of November. Binlaughlin Mountain in County Fermanaugh (home of the original Carrigans) is also known as the “Peak of the Speaking Horse.” According to Hyde, it offered “intelligent and proper answers to those who consulted it concerning all that would befall them until November the next year. And the people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill …”
Forty years ago, when I was 12 years old and beginning in February of 1974, as I delivered copies of Durango Herald every afternoon in Dolores, Colo., I befriended an old man by the name of Don Wallace that would wait for his paper every day on the back porch of his Pepto-Bismol colored house near the river.
He was a former ranch hand, cowboy, and veteran of various other vocations, that (although I didn’t really understand it at the time) was dying of cancer.
Don followed with great interest the unfolding saga of kidnap victim turned bank robber Patty Hearst and Sybionese Liberation Army.
Waiting for the paper was a pretty regular thing for the folks on my paper route through that summer of 1974, as President Nixon faced possible impeachment and eventually resigned in early August. Among other events, there was the Dixie County sighting of a Florida Skunk Ape in July that year. It really wasn’t what you would call a slow news period.
But the Patty Hearst story was compelling.
“Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people,” was the slogan of the SLA and a seven-headed cobra snake its symbol. The members of the army were known on occasion to use cyanide-laced bullets.
Patty Hearst’s conversion from the straight-laced heiress of the Hearst newspaper fortune to a bank-robbing “fundraiser” renamed Tania, sporting automatic weapons at various robberies and car jackings with the terrorist group was a hot topic. In May, Patty (aka Tania) fired a series of warning shots at a storeowner that was trying to detain SLA members, Bill And Emily Harris, when they were caught shoplifting in sporting goods store in Los Angeles.
The next day, in a two-hour gun battle between the SLA and 500 Los Angeles police officers, where nine thousand rounds were fired, and six SLA “soldiers” were killed, the SLA sealed their international notoriety. Hearst was eventually arrested in 1975 and brought to trial in a sensational legal event, in which she was defended by superstar lawyer F. Lee Bailey.
I think Don Wallace was struck by the changing nature of the world that summer and the newspaper that I dropped every afternoon, was his way of dealing with it.
He would tell me stories of the wild west of his childhood, talk about his dreams for the world and suggest books that I should read.
He claimed, among other things:
• He could kill fruit flies at a distance of 15 feet with the .22 caliber revolver that rested on the table next to him out there on his porch as he waited for the paper.
• He also swore that his former acquaintance Brushy Bill Roberts was really Billy the Kid.
• A revolution was in the works with the emergence of groups like the S.L.A.
• Tom Horn was the opportunistic alcoholic assassin hired by absentee English cattle barrons and eventually got everything he deserved.
• He once had a shootout in a New Mexico chicken house.
But Don also told me of a wild-eyed, jet-black stallion that he once owned. He swore up and down, that the horse could talk to him.
I remember asking him what they talked about and he said that the horse told him about dreams and such — about things to come.