I had the opportunity last school year to substitute teach for a coach at Blanco High School. The last period of each school day was spent in the weight training room with a group of boys, some of whom were there because of off-season football and others were there because they needed physical education credit.
I noticed that most of the P.E. boys, with a few exceptions, were less than motivated. Some of them were content to pass the time doing as little as possible, pushing and shoving each other around, laughing and generally goofing off. I was struck with the fact that the biggest and strongest boys working at the weights were seriously dedicated to the task at hand. I also noticed that the biggest and strongest of those boys were also the most courteous and polite when addressed. When I spoke to them it was “Yes, sir, no sir,” and “thank you.” They followed instructions without complaint and were helpful not only to each other but to the smaller P.E. boys who wanted to do their best. I was impressed.
Now, I’m sure we have all seen, at one time or other, the opposite to be true. We have seen the bigger boys bully and intimidate the smaller boys. Perhaps we have even been the recipients of such behavior. Maybe we have been made stronger when finally forced to confront the bully. But how refreshing it is when the big, strong guys assume the role of protector and mentor to the weak. How refreshing this would be in the arena of international relations!
When I was serving in Uruguay in South America, a native Uruguayan, noticing how little some of us norteamericanos knew about their county, asked, “Why do we study all about the United States in our schools while you seem to know so little about our history, culture and politics?” My companion replied, “It’s kinda like the elephant and the ant. The elephant doesn’t really care where the ant is but the ant better darn well know where the elephant is!”
My favorite gunslinger of the old west is Orrin Porter Rockwell. He was a frontier marshal; he rode shotgun on Wells Fargo stagecoaches; he carried the mail between the settlements of the Great Basin and the eastern states; he tracked down bank robbers, horse thieves, cattle poachers, marauding Indians and other various and sundry characters who chose to live on the fringes of the law. He purportedly “always got his man.”
There was one occasion, however when he almost didn’t. A man successfully held up a stage and made off with $40,000 in gold bullion. Rockwell tracked him for days and finally located his camp in the rugged badlands of Utah. Porter was clever enough to conclude that the thief was merely biding his time now that the gold was carefully buried somewhere. This way no one could find him guilty if his pursuers came upon him.
Rockwell watched the bandit for two weeks without proper food or sleep, not once permitting the man to become aware of his presence. The old scout’s patience was rewarded when the outlaw finally broke camp, packed up his things and then began digging under a cedar tree. Porter got the drop on the busy bad man and recovered the stolen loot.
Porter stopped at an isolated ranch house and asked the proprietor to watch his prisoner while he got some much needed sleep. Needless to say, the rancher fell asleep also and the outlaw escaped. Porter lost his trail in the trackless wilderness but he did return every single gold piece to its rightful owner.
When the bandit got as far as Fort Bridger, Wyoming, he sent a telegraph message to the express company informing them that Porter had taken the gold from him. I suppose he thought Rockwell would keep the money himself. That was all Rockwell needed. He headed for Fort Bridger, picked up the bandits trail and followed it to Butte, Montana, where he got his man.
Not withstanding the many attempts of Rockwell’s critics to slander him, there is not a single proof of his ever having taken a life wantonly. Nor is there evidence that he ever took a life except as an officer of the law and in self-defense.
In spite of his faults, it was said of Porter Rockwell that he was, “A man full of heart and greatness, capable of the grandest devotion, ready to sacrifice himself in behalf of anyone who gained his esteem, without regard to sect or person, whether Jew, Pagan, Moslem or Mormon. If there was a perilous service to be rendered, a crime to be avenged, or a sacrifice to be made for the oppressed, Porter was ever at hand.” (“Porter Rockwell, the Mormon Frontier Marshall” by Nicholas Van Alfen, 1964)
A man like that could have been a formidable outlaw. But instead of the bully, he opted to be the defender of the good guys. Louis L’Amour said, “Strength never made right, and it is an indecency when it is allowed to breed corruption.” (“The Daybreakers”)