HI-YO SILVER AWAY

HI-YO SILVER AWAY

There are times when you walk into history. There are times when history walks into you. Then there are times when you fall face first into history and history comes crashing down on top of you. Today was such a day for me. As I pulled myself out from under the weight of the history that fell on me I knew I would need to share the moment with you dear reader.

My wife Raychel and I decided to spend the day doing some random shopping in Lawrence. If you want to do random shopping Lawrence, Kansas is about as random as it gets, especially on Massachusetts Street. Downtown Lawrence is peppered with a wide range of random shops selling an eclectic mix of random items.

The eateries on Massachusetts Street are just as random. If you cannot find something to your taste in downtown Lawrence then you weren’t really hungry to begin with. Raychel and I were hungry and something to our taste was The Mad Greek.

I am not ashamed to admit that The Mad Greek is our favorite eatery in Lawrence. I am also not ashamed to admit that we happily devoured Gyros and Chicken Provolone washed down with ice cold beer.

We sat, talked and enjoyed each other’s company as we let our feast settle. Then we found our way across the street to The Toy Store. As we walked through the doors our inner child found its way out of our psyche. I threatened to buy Kazoos and start my own Kazoo blues band. Raychel bought a whirly gig throw off to occupy her very active mind.

We left The Toy Store and headed down the street to Love Garden. No it is not another restaurant. If you guessed that it is a floral shop you would be wrong. No it is not a bordello and it is not a Hippy Head Shop. However if you said music store full of vintage vinyl record albums then you would be correct. It was in this magical place that History jumped on me and beat me to the floor.

I browsed the thousands of albums not 100% sure what I was looking for. I have been trying to replace albums I sold or gave away a long time ago. I also keep my eyes open for albums my mother once had. I grew up listening to her albums so for me it is a matter of nostalgia. I also am a sucker for strange and unusual albums.

I found two Uriah Heep albums; Magicians Birthday and Wonderland. Uriah Heep is one of my favorite groups and if I would have left after finding those albums it still would have been a good find and a good day. But my day was about to get even better.

As Raychel held the Uriah Heep albums I flipped through the one dollar bin. Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Ventures and Henry Mancini all made it onto the stack in Raychel’s hands. I got excited when I found the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the soundtrack album to the movie The Great Escape. Then it happened, I took the first step into the attack on my person by history.

As I flipped through the one dollar rack my hand fell on a four album set. On the front of the box were two familiar figures; Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. Emblazoned across the top of the box were those magical, heroic words, “The Lone Ranger”.  My mind instantly took a trip back to those golden days of yesteryear.

The year was 1989 and I was driving a big truck over the road coast to coast. I pulled into a truck stop near the Arkansas/Oklahoma border on the Arkansas side. I pulled into a space next to a big silver Peterbilt Truck.

As I walked around the nose of the truck a movement caught my eye. There, clinging to the truck’s grill was a tiny brown bat. Horrified, I started looking for a stick to remove the little bat from the grill. While looking for a stick a man walked up and asked me what I was doing. I showed him the bat and said I was looking for a stick to remove it so it wouldn’t be injured.

The man pulled a pen from his pocket and carefully removed the bat. He carried the bat over to a nearby tree where the bat quickly transferred itself from the pen to the tree. The man said he was glad I had seen the bat as it was his truck and he would not want to pull out and hurt the little guy. I agreed. I told the man how I had once been a Zookeeper and how I had an affinity for animals, especially Bats.

As we stood there talking I could not shake the feeling that I knew this man. I finally asked, “Do I know you? Have we met before?” The man laughed, “In a way we probably have met.” His voice was familiar and mysterious.. “What do you mean, in a way?” The man laughed again and said, “Hold on this may help.”

The man opened the door of his big silver truck and reached inside. When he turned back around he was wearing a large pair of black Foster Grant sunglasses and a white cowboy hat. I looked at him, silver truck, white cowbo… “Dear God, you are Clayton Moore! The Lone Ranger!” He laughed, “So I guess you do know me.”

Mr. Moore offered to buy me a cup of coffee and I took him up on it. As we drank coffee and ate pie he told me how he had come to drive a big rig.

He said that he had signed a contract that had made it so that he could never make a public appearance without the mask. “It killed my film career but I receive a very nice pension and get paid for personal appearances; those are not as numerous as they once were.” 

Mr. Moore told me that the ranch where the series had been filmed had been given to him as part of the deal. He was bitter about the lawsuit that had forced him to remove his mask. “I am grateful that Foster Grant made it possible for me, in a way, to keep the mask. I am glad that awful movie failed.”

I asked him why he was driving a truck. His answer was simple and straight to the point; “I get bored. I have everything I want but having everything comes with a price. Before I was a successful actor I made ends meet by driving a truck. Seemed a logical way to ease my occasional boredom.”

All too soon it was time for us to go our separate ways. I headed for the eastern horizon while he drove his mighty truck into the western sunset. Who was that sunglassed man? Pretty sure I know and he left me with a silver memory.

Bringing myself back into the present I placed the Lone Ranger box set on top of the other albums in Raychels arms.

When we returned home to Topeka I immediately started checking the albums. Repairs to covers and checking for any scratches that might have to be dealt with. I saved my treasure, The Lone Ranger box set, for last. I opened the box and pulled the first album from its sleeve; perfect condition. I set it to one side and picked up the second album. It was at this point that the history I had taken a step into when I found the cherished set tripped me and fell on me with the force of a fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo Silver’.

Resting on top of the 3rd album was a greeting card size envelope. The postmark on the Twentynine cent stamp showed 12 December 1994. The envelope was addressed to Wayne Glenn at KTXR in Springfield, Missouri. The return address showed the card had come from Fred W. Foy in Reading, Massachusetts. 

Inside the envelope was a homemade Christmas card. The front had a deep green design of a stylistically drawn Christmas tree. Inside the tree were a pair of cowboy boots and intertwined in the boots were FWF in a Saloon font. Above the design was written ‘Merry Christmas’ in the same Saloon font.

The inside of the card featured a red horseshoe design. Above the horseshoe was written in the familiar Saloon font ‘…And A Hearty…’. Inside the top of the horseshoe the Saloon font proclaimed, ‘Happy New Year’. Between the two legs of the horseshoe was the name, ‘Fred Foy’. Opposite from the greeting was a date stamp, ‘Received Dec. 15, 1994 KTXR’.

The card felt like something important. I sent up an entreaty to the Google Search God and its Keeper of Fates the Mighty Wikipedia answered my call.

Wayne Glenn is known as the “Old Record Collector”. He had a weekly show on KTXR in Springfield, Missouri from 1977 to his semi-retirement in 2019. Mr. Glenn has more than 15,000 albums. He had 2,139 episodes of his “Remember When” radio program. The show ran for 7 hours on Saturday mornings and 3 hours on Sunday evening. On August 10, 2019 he scaled back to a one hour show on KTXR. 

Wayne Glenn has written 13 books on Ozark history. With 42 years as a radio show host and accomplished author Wayne Glenn has a lot to be proud of and has made his mark on broadcast history.. 

Fred W. Foy had felt that Mr. Glenn was worthy of receiving a Christmas Card and I needed to know who Fred W. Foy was. What I found was way beyond anything I could have ever expected or imagined.

Frederick William Foy (March 27, 1921 – December 22, 2010) was an American radio and television announcer and actor, who used Fred Foy as his professional name. Radio historian Jim Harmon described Foy as “the announcer, perhaps the greatest announcer-narrator in the history of radio drama.”

Fred Foy was a Corporal during World War II and did World Series play by plays for the GI’s. He was an accomplished radio announcer and pitchman doing narrations for shows such as The Green Hornet and Challenge of the Yukon. In 1948 he first uttered the words that would become the most recognized opening in radio and television history:

“Hi-Yo, Silver! A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty “Hi-Yo Silver”… The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early Western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof-beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!”

And there I sat, holding a Christmas card in my hand sent to one of greatest record collectors in America, Wayne Glenn, from one of the greatest radio and television narrators and announcers in American History, Fred Foy.

How this box set of the greatest hits of “The Lone Ranger” radio program, that had apparently belonged to Wayne Glenn at one time, ended up in a $1.00 bin in a Lawrence, Kansas bookstore is anyone’s guess. How the Christmas card from Fred Foy found it’s way tucked neatly between two albums in the box set is also anyone’s guess. What isn’t anyone’s guess is that this Historic piece of American Radio and Television History now rests in the hands of someone who will protect and preserve it.

Yes history fell on top of me and this was an important tale to be told. With that thought in mind I would like to leave you with this seldom heard song that played on The Lone Ranger syndicated television series in the 1970’s. It was heard just before the Fred Foy opening was played and featured edited scenes from the color pilot episode of The Lone Ranger from 1955 which retold the Masked Man of The Plains origin story:

“Six Texas Rangers (Hi-yo, hi-yo) rode in the sun (Hi-yo, hi-yo);

Six men of justice rode into an ambush, and all were killed but one.

One lone survivor (Hi-yo, hi-yo) lay on the trail (Hi-yo, hi-yo);

Found there by Tonto, the brave Indian Tonto, he lived to tell the tale.

(Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away! Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away!)

His wounds quickly mended (Hi-yo, hi-yo) and there in the night (Hi-yo, hi-yo),

Six graves were put there to hide from the outlaws that one man lived to fight.

He chose silver bullets (Hi-yo, hi-yo) the sign of his name (Hi-yo, hi-yo); A mask to disguise him, a great silver stallion, and thus began his fame.

(Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away! Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away! THE LONE RANGER IS HIS NAME!) 

-The GYPSY-

THE MIGHTY WURLITZER

Growing up in the 1960’s was amazing for a child, especially me. As the 1960’s was ushered in I was 3 years old. By the time 1969 gave way to 1970 I was an oversize 13-year-old on the verge of manhood with more testosterone than sense. But oh, those years in between.
I have so many stories of my childhood in the 1960’s that I could write everyday between now and when I take my final breath that I could never get to all of them. Today however I have time to share with you my tale of several Christmas’ where The Mighty Wurlitzer was the star of the season.
I always looked forward to Christmas time. From Thanksgiving Day until New Years Day my life was filled with wonderful surprises and amazing experiences. Several of those experiences took place at Pelletier’s Department Store in downtown Topeka, Kansas.
I spent a lot of time at Pelletier’s growing up. My Mother was Manager of the Toy Department. My Grandmother was Manager of the Children’s Department and the stores lead buyer. I could be found several times a week in the store but never quite as much as during the Holiday Season where I could be found in the Toy Department every day.
Coming in from the cold December air and into the warmth of the main floor of Pelletier’s my senses were always assailed by the sights, smell and sound of the season. Christmas lights and decorations from floor to ceiling. Chocolate cooking and candy being made behind the candy counter. The sound of The Mighty Wurlitzer filling the air with every Christmas Carol and Song known to man.
The Mighty Wurlitzer was an Organ but not just any Organ it was “The Organ”! The Mighty Wurlitzer was a pipe organ manufactured by the Rudolph Wurlitzer company from 1914 to 1943. These pipe organs were mostly used in theatres, churches, homes and other venues. One of these other venues was Pelletier’s Department Store. The Mighty Wurlitzer sat on the north end of the mezzanine and the Organist commanded the beautiful white and gold giant to bring forth tunes that reached down into every fiber of your being.
I have always loved organ music. I do not know what it is, but it touches something deep in my soul, I can feel every melodic note course through my body. I can hear each instrument that it imitates. The vibrations of its percussion thrill my heart. The music of the organ lifts my spirit and reminds me that the world is truly a beautiful place. You just need to stop for a minute and breath it in to be reminded of its beauty. The music from an organ will let you do just that; see the world as a beautiful place.
Christmas music played on an organ brings back memories of Christmas past. It stirs the air and produces visions of what Christmas is and what it promises to be. No organ never played Christmas Music fuller or more fulfilling than The Mighty Wurlitzer.
My child’s mind would fantasize about stepping up to The Mighty Wurlitzer, sitting down and playing music that would make Angels weep with joy. But alas, God had other plans for me. My hands manipulate, pencils, paint brushes and tattoo machine, not keyboards.
Memories of the Heavenly Christmas Music of The Mighty Wurlitzer at Pelletier’s Department Store have always stayed within my heart and soul. To this day I hear organ music and I smile as my spirit is once more lifted.
Imagine then my surprise when, while driving to the tattoo studio one December morning, I spied an organ sitting in front of a secondhand store. I asked my wife, “Did you see that?” She said she did and we both wondered why it was sitting outside like that. We finally concluded that they had probably just gotten it in and just had not moved it inside yet. That was until it was in the same spot the next day and the day after and the day after that.
This started causing me some concern. Several years previously my sister had left my mothers upright piano out on her patio and the weather had destroyed it. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that the piano had come from the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas. It was a loss that always haunted me. Now I had visions of this organ sitting out in the weather and being destroyed.
Now some may ask, “What is it to you if the organ get’s ruined, it isn’t yours.” That is true it is not mine but the music that it can produce belongs to everyone including me. A musical instrument is a work of art that creates art. As an Artist I cannot bear the thought of art lost. So, I went by the secondhand store to ask if the organ was for sale.
There was a sign in the window of the store indicating that the store is closed on Tuesdays and as luck would have it this was Tuesday. Next to the disheartening sign was another sign that invited the viewer to, “Visit Us On Facebook” so I did.
I found the secondhand stores Facebook Page and sent a message: “Is the organ in front of your store for sale?” A couple of minutes later they messaged back: “Its Free”. I immediately message back: “I’ll pick it up shortly.” Their response was: “Ok Cool. Thank You!!!” My response: “No Thank You.”
I was at God’s Storehouse, another secondhand store, dropping off a donation when I got the message. I rushed home, hooked up my utility trailer, grabbed a furniture dolly and headed over to the secondhand store.
I pulled up in front and got out to take my first good look at the organ. The bottom was wrapped in plastic wrap but that would do little to keep out bad weather. We had a light rain a few days before and I was concerned with the condition of the organ, but my initial inspection found no damage.
I tested the weight of it. It was heavy but nothing that I did not feel like I could not handle. I worked in a furniture warehouse when I was younger and worked at an appliance store years later. Though I am 64 years old I am in good physical shape and extraordinarily strong. Moving heavy objects has never been a problem for me and I was prepared to tackle this one.
There were 3 concrete stairs going up to the porch the organ sat on. I positioned the trailer so that I could drop the gate on the second stair. I maneuvered the organ into a position where I could get the dolly under the back. I strapped the dolly to the organ, leaned back and slowly lowered the organ off the top step, onto the tailgate and into the trailer. I strapped everything down and headed home.
After I got the trailer unhitched from the car I went inside and hooked up an extension cord to run out to the trailer and plugged in the organ.
The organ is a 1978 Baldwin Fanfare Deluxe #2167. It was sold for $5,350.00 in Flagstaff, Arizona by the Douseman Music Company on 20 September 1979.
I turned on the organ and hit a key. My heart soared, it worked. I unplugged it and got it covered with a heavy-duty tarp. Our home is small, and some rearrangement will have to be done to get it inside. But until that happens it is safe and secure on my utility trailer.
I did some research online and discovered that in 1971 the Baldwin Company purchased Wurlitzer. I also discovered that for whatever reason people practically give these organs away. I must wonder why. Is the art of organ playing a thing of the past? Do people do not want to take the time to learn this instrument? Is the video game, social media or regurgitated television more important than beautiful music? I do not know the answer. What I do know is we now have a Mighty Wurlitzer. It may say Baldwin on the label, but it is our Mighty Wurlitzer just the same. I now have a desire to step up to The Mighty Wurlitzer, sit down and play music that would make Angels weep with joy.
Yes, The Mighty Wurlitzer during the Holiday Season was a big part of my childhood and 60 years later it has once more become a big part of my Holiday Season.
-The GYPSY: December 14, 2020-

THE LAST GIANT

THE LAST GIANT By: J.A. George AKA; The GYPSY 

His name was Matthew Dillon Ceratotherium Simum. We just called him Matt and he was just 15 years old when he died. Matt was also the last of his kind. Matt was the last wild caught Southern White Rhino and he was my friend.

Matt stood 6’ at the shoulder and weighed in at around 5,000 pounds. Captured in southern Africa when he was just a year-old. Matt was shipped to the United States to the San Diego Zoo in California as part of a conservation of species program. After his capture international restrictions were implemented that kept any more Southern White Rhinos to be exported from Africa.

Matt eventually was loaned out to El Paso Zoological Park in El Paso, Texas. The hope was that Matt, whose bloodline was unique and not found in any other Southern White Rhinoceros in North America, would breed with the two female Southern White Rhinos also on loan from San Diego. The Two Females were Miss Kitty, a 17-year-old female who stood 5’ 6” at her shoulder and weighed in at around 3,500 pounds and Daisy May. Daisy was a young and vibrant 10 years old and weighed in at a trim 3,000 pounds and was a petite 5’ at her shoulder. Of the 3 loaned Rhinos Daisy was the most social. But Matt was King.

I received my introduction to my 3 charges when I became lead Keeper of the Hoof stock area in June of 1983. I was used to dealing with small and large species alike. Having come from Abilene Zoological Gardens in Abilene, Texas I had helped birth a Giraffe that was born breach. I had assisted the Herpetologist in getting the 10’ Alligator Humpy back into his enclosure numerous times. Humpy had a Gypsy Soul and liked to wander. My life had been saved by an Asian Elephant 9a story for another day), and I had assisted walking 3-year-old African Elephants around the Zoo Grounds. There are numerous more examples I could give of my work with large species, but you get the idea.

Yet when I was first introduced to these 3 giants, Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy, I do not think that I was prepared for the welcome I received. The Zoo’s Vet Tech, Claudia Newman, did the introductions. As we walked up the long drive to the central Hoof Stock barn, I could see the 3 Rhinos watching us from their enclosure to our left. This enclosure was large. It swooped down from the central barn towards a lower gutter that sat at the base of a 10’ concrete retaining wall. At the top of this wall and protected from the edge by a short fence and planter that surrounded the hoof stock exhibits the public could look down into the Rhinos curved 100’ x 50’ x 30’ exhibit.

The exhibits substrate was caliche dirt, commonly called desert concrete. This dirt was ideal for Rhino’s with one exception. Miss Kitty was allergic to the dust from this dirt.

As we entered the hoof stock barn the 3 Rhinos rushed up to the stockade fence. This fence was made from concrete anchored wooden utility poles. The poles showed wear from the Rhinos need, like overgrown cats, to rub against them. In this stockade barrier there was a cutaway that was 4’ high and just wide enough for two Rhino heads and that is what greeted us as we walked up to the opening, two Rhino heads belonging to Miss Kitty and Daisy.

Looking at Rhinos from a distance is not like being a foot away from them. It is a little disconcerting at first being nose to nose with a head that is almost as large as your entire body. Claudia made the introductions; This is Miss Kitty, and this is Daisy. Both animals snorted at the sound of their names. That, she indicated the large male Rhino standing back away from the females is Matt. I laughed, “Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty and Daisy?” Claudia nodded, “Yep, the saloon girl.” We laughed and it seemed as if the Rhino’s laughed with us.

Claudia showed me how to apply the Hydrocortisone cream around Miss Kitty’s eyes to help with her allergies. Miss Kitty was used to this routine and stood still as the cream was applied. Daisy nudged her big square upper lip against my forearm. “She wants you to scratch her nose.” I scratched her nose and she purred. I gave Claudia a look. “They are as intelligent as dogs but have many mannerisms like a cat.” She pointed at their wallow, a pit containing their urine and feces in the middle of the exhibit. “They always do their business in the same spot. They rub on things to scratch and leave a scent. They purr and…” Claudia scratched Miss Kitty behind the ear. “They love to be scratched behind the ear.” Miss Kitty half closed her eyes and purred.

Suddenly Matt moved forward and shoved the two females out of the way. His mass made Miss Kitty and Daisy look small. He laid his head on the fence and snorted stamping a rear foot once. “He let’s the females get attention first but when it comes to who eats first the Marshall of Dodge City is first up to the table.’ I laughed and said, “Being from Kansas and being a fan of Gunsmoke I can totally understand the Marshall exercising his rights.” Matt seemed to like the statement as he turned his head towards me and snorted.

Claudia handed me a bucket of sweet horse and mule feed and I held it for Matt as he happily chowed down. When he had enough, I repeated the scenario with Miss Kitty and then Daisy. The hierarchy was obvious, and it would be a scenario that was repeated twice a day in the upcoming months. We took a bale of alfalfa hay from the large stack in the center of the barn, broke it apart and threw it into the exhibit. Claudia said, “Time for the shit cart.”

We rolled the large metal cart into the exhibit and down to the wallow. Using pitch forks we began cleaning out the feces and throwing it into the cart. (I bet you thought a Zookeepers life was all glamour and playing with animals.) At one-point Matt approached us snorting and stomping. Claudia picked up a dirt clod and chucked it at Matt hitting his thick hide on the shoulder. The dirt clod exploded in a rain of dust and Matt ran back up to where Miss Kitty and Daisy were enjoying their breakfast. “Sometimes he likes to show his dominance, but dirt clods shake him up and put him back in his place. He is really a gentle giant” Claudia explained. “Let’s hope I never run out of dirt clods.” I said.

We dumped the Shit Cart in the Zoo’s large dumpster, hosed it out, put up our tools and moved on to care for the next animals; White Tail Deer, North American Bison, Dromedary Camel, Nilgai Antelope and Ostrich. This was my morning routine everyday but twice a day I got to spend quality time with the Rhino’s, and we became close.

June turned to July. July turned to August and August turned to September. Matt and I became close. He started liking the type of attention Miss Kitty and Daisy craved. I no longer had to use dirt clods to spook him; I had learned his language. When he challenged me, I challenged back. I stomped my foot and snorted. I commanded him, “Matt, Get Back!” He would turn and retreat. I had exercised my dominance. Matt was King when I wasn’t around, but I was King when present. But it was more than that. I had developed a deep respect for Matt and the females. I believe with all my heart that respect was returned in kind. In short, we liked each other.

Now do not misunderstand what I am saying. Rhinos are wild animals, and it should never be assumed that they are domesticated in any way. There is an old Zookeeper saying, “Never Turn Your Spine On A Bovine.” In other words, never let your guard down and I never did. One day Matt became agitated because of some unruly children in the public viewing area. His agitation was beyond my control to spook him back. I had to run up the 10’ retaining wall, a trick I had learned as a way to save my life long before parkour was a part of the English language. This skill would again come in handy at a critical time in the relationship between me and Matt.

It was shortly after Labor Day of 1983 that Robert Fulton, the Zoo’s Director, called me to his office. I had been at the Zoo for 3 months and was enjoying every day. I prayed that I was not in trouble. When I entered his office David Benavidez, the Zoo’s Foreman and Claudia were already seated. Mr. Fulton invited me to have a seat and I inquired as to what was happening.

“San Diego wants the Rhinos back.” I was stunned. “What? Why?” Mr. Fulton sighed. “As you know Matts bloodline is unique. We have been unsuccessful in our breeding program. San Diego is upping their program and they want them back. We must send them; they belong to San Diego.” I was stunned. The thought that I would ever lose my friends had never crossed my mind. Rhinos have a lifespan of up to 50 years in captivity and at the time I thought we would all grow old together.

Mr. Fulton informed me that 3 Rhino sized crates were being delivered the next day from Grand Prairie Animal Park. They would be lowered into the exhibit by crane and it would be my job between then and October 10th to get them accustomed to the crates.

So, the daily routine changed. They no longer got their sweet horse and mule feed at the stockade cutaway. Instead, I would pour the feed on the floor right inside the crate. Miss Kitty and Daisy would follow me and had no problem eating their feed in a new way. Matt was more wary. He would snort and stomp and wanted no part of these new arrangements. He missed eating from the bucket in my hand. But even with the trust that had developed between us I could not risk getting up close and personal with him without a barrier. So, I came up with a plan.

The crates had a double layer of bars at the back. There was enough room between these bars for a man to stand. Also, a man could get in between the bars but a Rhino could not. The reason for the spaced bars was to give a animal handler a means of escape or to give a vet safe access to the animal once they were crated. I started standing at the backside of the crate in between the bars and feeding Matt from that side. After a tedious week of on again, off again trust in these new arrangements Matt trusted me and easily came to the bars for his feed.

Since Matt was now use to the crate, I began introducing the feed into the crate. I started at the process at the open end of the crate and day by day moved the feed in deeper. I did this for all 3 animals, and it worked. Soon they were stepping into the crates to get their horse and mule feed.

October 10th came sooner than I wanted it to. The day broke bright and sunny. Fall in the high desert brings a mix of warm and cool breezes intermixed with each other and this morning was no different. The Zoo was closed until all 3 animals could be captured and loaded. Only 3 people were allowed in that end of the Zoo that morning; me, the transport driver and the Veterinarian sent from Grand Prairie Animal Park. The vet’s job would be to administer a tranquilizer if needed and to be with the Rhinos on the long trip to San Diego.

Zoo Staff mingled, anxious outside the zoo’s commissary. They could see down the driveway where the flat bed truck and crane that would load the crates sat. The transport driver had positioned himself on top of one of the crates. He was laying flat, out of sight of the Rhino’s, ready to drop the bar in place after a Rhino entered the crate. The Vet sat on the wall with a dart gun ready to tranquilize if needed. I stood in the driveway, a bucket of Horse and Mule in hand, ready to betray my friends. A mix of feelings filled me, nervousness, anxiety and fear. But mostly my heart was filled with sadness. I steeled myself and entered the exhibit.

Miss Kitty was first. I had treated her eye earlier and I had felt bad that I had not been able to feed her or the other two. They had been fasted since the night before so that they would be hungry and hopefully move into the crates quickly to be fed. I walked backward into the crate with Miss Kitty following me in her big square mouth trying to get the bucket of feed. I stepped between the bars, dumped the feed and as Miss Kitty lowered her head and started to eat the transport driver dropped the bar in place, I exited out the back and tossed a bale of alfalfa into the crate as the transport driver secured the crate.

Daisy and Matt watched with curiosity. Who were these strange people in their home? Why was Miss Kitty sealed in that box? Daisy was a little more wary when it came to her turn, but she entered the crate and was secured. I cannot tell you the feeling of being in a confined space with an animal that could stomp you like a bug or crush your internal organs with the hairy horn on their snout. The saving grace is that within the crate they cannot charge and if spooked they are more likely to back out than lunge forward. So it was with Matt.

As Matt entered the crate, he became anxious. He looked at me, he snorted his anger at being betrayed and backed out as the transport driver tried to drop the bar. Matt ran out into the exhibit and stood snorting and stomping. As I exited the crate Matt charged and I ran, right up the 10’ foot wall. I yelled at the transport driver to stay put and he gave me a thumbs up.

Mr. Fulton came down to see what had happened. We conferred with the Vet and decided we would wait a half hour and try again. We took a break to give Matt a chance to calm down. However, the second attempt to lure him into the crate was just as unsuccessful as the first.

The decision was made to tranquilize him. The idea was to give Matt just enough sedative to make him groggy then the Vet and I would use cattle prods to guide him into the crate. I exited the exhibit as the vet took aim and fired. Twenty minutes later Matt was still not showing any effects from the tranquilizer. He was stomping around the exhibit and letting me know that he was incredibly angry with me and the current situation. The decision was made to administer a second dose. The sound of the air rifle echoed off the steel beams of the barn as the dart entered Matts gray right shoulder just above the first dart.

The effect was almost immediate, and Matt started staggering around the exhibit. The Veterinarian and I entered the exhibit with our cattle prods. The Vet on one side and me on the other we goaded Matt into the crate. All the while I talked to Matt telling him how sorry I was that it had gone this way. The bar was dropped into place and Matt was crated. The Vet entered the backside of the crate where the double bars were located and administered an antidote. I threw a bale of alfalfa into the crate then I kneeled in front of the collapsed Matt.

I was crying and I asked Matt to forgive me for being his Judas. Now before you say that I was being too hard on myself please consider this; I had just broken the trust and respect I had built up with these animals. They had no way of knowing that we were not harming them. They did not know that they were being transported to the home they had once been at with others of their kind. They had no idea that they were going to live their lives under the best care any animal could ask for. They did not even care that they were possibly one of the pieces of the puzzle for the survival of their species. All they knew was that their trusted human had betrayed them. I had turned Judas for the 64 coins I earned daily for my pay.

I said goodbye to Matt, Daisy and Miss Kitty in turn. And as I cried my friends were craned onto the flat bed, secured and made ready for the trip to San Diego. Mr. Fulton stood next to me as we watched this final ceremony in the time that these magnificent creatures had spent at the El Paso Zoo. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go home.” I did not argue. I walked up to the commissary, clocked out and mounted my motorcycle but I did not go home.

I followed the transport and its 3 crates of precious cargo to the New Mexico border 20 miles away. At the sign that stated, “Welcome To New Mexico Land of Enchantment” I pulled over and watch my 3 friends disappear towards the horizon on Interstate 10 that would carry them to California. When I could see them no longer, I said, “our time together was enchanting, and I will miss you. I then turned my motorcycle towards the upper Rio Grande Valley and spent the rest of the day riding the sadness away.

I arrived at work early on October 13, 1983 to a gray day. A rare desert storm was threatening to hit, and I wanted to get my outside duties done quickly before it rained. It had been 3 days since I had said goodbye to Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy. I thought about them often and knew I had to finish the clean up of their former exhibit and get it ready for whoever the next occupant would be. I had been putting it off because it pained me to look at it. I could see the indentations of the crates and though the wallow was cleaned out and dry it would need to be filled with dirt. Looking at these things brought an overwhelming sadness to me, but I knew it must be done.

I had finished my morning duties and had just hauled the first wheelbarrow full of dirt down to the wallow when Mr. Fulton appeared at the gate. The usually jovial Director was sober and serious as he asked me to step out and talk with him.

“I just received a call from San Diego. Miss Kitty and Daisy arrived safely and are being acclimated.” I suddenly felt my chest tighten. “What about Matt?” Mr. Fulton lowered his head looking at the asphalt floor of the barn. “Matt died in route, right outside San Diego.” I sat down hard on a hay bale and started to cry. “No! What? How?” Mr. Fulton ignoring the crisp freshness of his three-piece suit sat down beside me. “The Vet only administered enough antidote for one tranquilizer. Matt never recovered from the second dose.” I jumped up and looked at Mr. Fulton, “So they killed him?” The Zoo Director stood up brushing off his slacks. “It was an accident.” I was furious. “An accident? How do you accidently forget to give enough antidote? Bull Shit!”

Mr. Fulton acknowledged that it would seem to be neglect. He told me that San Diego was not happy and launching an investigation. “They are not happy?” I shot back. “I am not happy but what good does that do poor Matt?” I started crying again. There was silence in the barn. After a few moments Mr. Fulton cleared his throat and said, “For whatever this is worth San Diego sent a team of Vets out to the transport which was stopped at a rest area alongside the interstate. They harvested Matts testicles while they were still viable. Matt may be gone but his legacy will live on through his offspring.” I looked up at Mr. Fulton and said, “But they are not Matt.”

Mr. Fulton said that he understood how I was feeling and suggested I take the rest of the day off. I said, “I have work to do.” I grabbed the wheelbarrow and went for another load of dirt. Mr. Fulton left leaving me to my work, thoughts and sorrow. As the rain started to fall and I wiped away all traces of my friend it was hard to tell whether my face was wet from the storm or the memory of my lost friend.


You have just read the story of one of the hardest moments of my life. It has been over 37 years since those events took place. Now here we are in 2020. A horrendous year where so many have died so needlessly just like Matt died needlessly. Human or Animal a needless death is still a needless death. It causes us to reflect on mortality, that of ourselves and others.

As 2020 was ending and the last week approached, I was trying to decide on a final painting for this year; a painting that would sum up what this year has meant for me and others. I was coming up short for a subject matter and so likewise was my time coming up short to do a painting before 2021 arrived. With only 4 days to go I saw a photograph by National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale. She has traveled the world over to show us not only violence and conflict but also the beauty and humanity of the natural world.

The photograph that I saw that Vitale took on March 19, of 2018 was of Sudan the last male Northern White Rhino left on earth. The photo was taken at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Northern Kenya, the emotional photograph shows Joseph Wachira, Sudan’s friend and keeper comforting The Last Giant moments before he passed away. It is not hard to imagine the impact this photograph had on me. Grabbing my canvas, paint and brushes I set to work.

Some of you have seen the photographs of my dog Kato Kite watching me work on this painting that is not only a statement on 2020 but also a tribute to Sudan and my friend Matt. It seemed fitting that I have a current animal friend with me as I remembered another animal friend from long ago.

I am an interpretive artist. I do not do photo realism. Though I can see the realistic aspects in a photograph that may serve as my inspiration I paint from the heart. I may overemphasize certain aspects of reality to bring forth the emotion I am feeling or trying to convey. Though my paintings have a base in reality, emotion is the base of my paintings. I could bore you by relating the creation process, but I won’t. What I will tell you is this; as the clock counted down to midnight on New Years Eve and the 1963 Classic Comedy Movie “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” played on the television I signed the finished painting.

I generally will allow the viewer of my work to interpret the painting in their own way. But in this case, I want to explain its motivation. This past year, 2020 caused a lot of pain and sorrow for so many. Such as the pain and sorrow me and Joseph Wachira experienced at the passing of our friends. Both animals were the last of their kind; one the last wild caught the other the last on earth. Both passing’s were traumatic and an immeasurable loss. Yet just as Matts testicles were harvested so that new generations of Southern White Rhinoceros may once again populate the earth so too was Sudan’s testicles harvested so that the great Northern White Rhinoceros may, hopefully, once more roam the earth.

The story of these two Last Giants so far apart yet so intricately linked together can serve as a lesson for mankind. From the travesty and traumatic crisis, the year 2020 has been we can harvest from it hope for a new beginning for future generations. All we must do is harvest the lessons we have learned and push forward into the future. From our pain joy can take root and grow.

I envy Joseph Wachira. He was able to be there in Sudan’s last moments and say goodbye. I could not be there in Matt’s last moments to say goodbye. I have however given Matt a proper send off by sharing with you his story. May this tribute to The Last Giant serve as my goodbye to 2020 and the hope for a brighter better future for us all.

-The GYPSY-