Now, expanding the truth slightly is a time-honored tradition in the old west. Our tale-tellers consider it sacrilegious to allow facts to interfere with the telling of a good story. The use of hyperbole to expound the wondrous wonders, not to mention the humorous happenings is a cherished right reserved for those who sat around campfires or leaned on a saloon bar and sipped five fingers of red-eye.
If you lived anywhere in the west before, say, the turn of the century (1900 that is) you probably were around to have heard of the dehydrated cow down in Yuma who gave powdered milk – and the laying hens in Glendale, Nevada who had to be fed crushed ice in the summertime to keep them from laying hard boiled eggs.
And then there was a lady in Guadalupe, Arizona Territory who made tortillas so thin they had only one side, and enchiladas so hot they burned holes in the iron skillet. Yep, they swear it’s true!
Cowboys over in Kanab used to render rattlesnakes harmless by sprinkling black pepper around their bedrolls at night. Any snake that got within striking distance would get to sneezing and wheeze out all its venom. Why one such varmint bit three cowboys and the camp cook then died from frustration when none of them took any notice.
There used to be a story going around Clark County, Nevada boasting about the fertility of the farmland out near the vegas. They could make any kind of crop flourish except watermelons. It seems the vines grew so fast that the melons got worn down to the size of olives from being dragged along the ground. The saloons in Las Vegas, before gambling took over the town, were the only ones in the country where the thirsty customer would order a martini and the bartender would ask if they wanted it with or without a watermelon.
Farming in the Utah desert calls for a great deal of creative ingenuity. One old timer near La Verkin outwitted a long drought by planting onions and potatoes under his grove of peach trees. During the hot summer he scratched the onions, creating vapors which brought tears to the eyes of the potatoes. So much, in fact, that the peach trees were sufficiently watered.
Water has always been a sparse item in the western deserts. The average rainfall in Yuma, Arizona is only about three –inches. In 1897 it only rained a half an inch the entire year. The citizens got mighty conservative in the use of water. Even the churches got into the civic mood – declaring henceforth, until the drought is broken, the harvesting of souls would be conservation minded. The Baptists agreed to sprinkle while the Methodists would use a damp cloth, and the Presbyterians issued rain checks.
Exporting the desert’s wonderful weather can have tremendous effects. A Utahn from Duck Creek in Iron County drove back to new York where his ailing 90-year-old aunt was in a hospital sick from asthma, tuberculosis, arthritis, rheumatism, allergies, and sinus trouble. He took one look at the poor woman, then rushed out to his car, removed the spare tire from the trunk and hurried to her bedside. He removed the valve core and allowed her tired lungs to fill with pure Cedar Mountain air. It was said the old lady was immediately revitalized, came back to Iron County with a young intern, and lived thirty-three more years.
Of course, we’d never let ourselves fall into the terrible habit of stretching the stores we relate as tales of the old west. That just wouldn’t be honest.