High Rigger Earl
Here’s a story told me years ago by Floyd Wallace aka the Greeley Kid, and I hadn’t
thought about High Rigger for probably a couple of decades. Then just today I saw a man who had that old Wobbly-turned-bindle-stiff look you just don’t encounter anymore. Floyd described High Rigger—whose moniker came from attending to the circus high-wire gear—as having a face like an old boot left out in the desert, which sort of described Floyd’s mug as well.
Earl had known the Swede, Joe Hill, the Wobbly songwriter executed by firing squad in Utah in 1915 after being falsely accused of a double murder. He had also met the Russian anarchist, writer and lover of Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, just before he was sent off to Atlanta Prison for an attempted assassination in 1892. Earl and Floyd had both known the Wobbly activist Carlo Tresca, assassinated by a gunman in 1943.
High Rigger was a good thirty years older than Floyd, just as Floyd was thirty years older than me. They drifted from town to town as we were doing, only tramping because Earl was no longer in train-hopping condition. He liked listening to High Rigger’s stories, just as I liked listening to his.
One evening when they made camp, High Rigger said to Floyd he was "plumb tuckered out" and "why don’t you tell a tale"?
Floyd got talking about Spain and the Civil War, and sparks from the fire crackled like ricochets. At dusk, he said, the plains of Oklahoma might have been those of eastern Spain and the skyline shadows resembled the town of Teruel.
Floyd talked and drank coffee staring into the fire. He looked over at High Rigger who seemed to have fallen asleep. Floyd sipped from his black and white speckled cup that resembled the night sky and rattled it against one of the rocks surrounding the campfire but Earl didn’t stir. Floyd then leaned over and shook him. The old Bo was dead.
Floyd went through High Rigger’s wallet, took out his Red Card, and left a few bucks. He knew that in Oklahoma a man with that card and no money wouldn’t even warrant a pauper’s grave.
Floyd finished his coffee, smothered the fire with dirt and set off towards the shadows of Teruel or Norman, Oklahoma.
|Teruel, Aragon, Spain|