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Clay Coppedge

Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Milt Hinkle,
the South America Kid
aerial bulldogger

by Clay Coppedge

We could marvel at the life and times of Milt Hinkle even without references to Old West legends like Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Just accepting the fact that he was born on the XIT Ranch in Bovina, Texas in 1881, the son of George Hinkle, who listed his occupation at that time as "buffalo hide dealer and saloon owner" is enough to pique curiosity. That he was born when there was such an occupation as "buffalo hide dealer" and didn't die until three years after humans walked on the moon tells us this man must have told some great stories. And he did.

Many of Hinkle's stories were true. Others might have stretched the resilience of actual fact a little bit, but were true to the spirit of the tale. And some, including the ones that have come down to us through the years, are unadulterated malarkey.

Late in his life, Hinkle related his stories for magazines like True West, Old West and Frontier Times. He had barely a third grade education and hired ghost writers to polish his stories for the magazines, which eagerly published his first-hand accounts of being on a first-name basis with people like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Bat Masterson.

According to Hinkle, he rode with Butch and Sundance in Bolivia and went by the rather unimaginative name of "The South America Kid." He always claimed that Butch Cassidy didn't die in Bolivia in 1908 as the wildly popular 1970s movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman would have us believe. Hinkle said he promised to keep Cassidy's secret as long as he - Cassidy - was alive. In fairness, we note that Hinkle is not the only one to make the same claim.

Hinkle's father, the aforementioned buffalo hide dealer George Hinkle, supplied Milt with some of his most enduring stories. Apparently, George wasn't much of a presence in young Milt's life, but he must have stopped by long enough to spin a few yarns about his time in Dodge City, where he defeated incumbent Bat Masterson for sheriff in 1877.

Other stories passed down from one generation of Wild West cowboy to another don't stand scrutiny. George told Milt about how he threw a rowdy Bat Masterson out of a saloon one night, and got the drop on an agitated Wyatt Earp the next night.

Robert K. DeArment, Masterson's biographer, doesn't trust the tale. DeArment notes that George Hinkle was, at various times, a cowboy, scout, soldier, hide and bone buyer, prizefighter, wrestler, railroad worker, blacksmith, teamster and bartender in addition to serving four years as chief law officer of turbulent Ford County.

"(George Hinkle) did not lack sand, and he must have had many exciting experiences, but it appears that, to impress his young son, he concocted a story that had him running over Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, the most well-known of Dodge's gunmen," DeArment wrote with skepticism intact.

Some people familiar with Milt Hinkle have suggested that historian Kerry Ross Boren got hold of a 15-page memoir that Hinkle wrote for "Old West" magazine in the 1960s, inserting outlandish references to Old West figures that weren't in the originals. Others suggest that Milt is so full of baloney that George Hinkle wasn't even his father.

Milt Hinkle claimed to have met some of the men that George Hinkle knew, including Earp and Masterson, and it's likely that he did. DeArment relates that when Milt met Masterson, the old gunman asked him, "Which one of his women was your mother?"

Later, in New York, Masterson told Hinkle that his father had some serious trouble back in the day. When pressed about the nature of the trouble, Masterson clarified the matter only a little by saying the problem had to do with women.

Milt Hinkle spent the majority of his childhood in Fort Smith, Arkansas and Grapevine, Texas, where he started working on a ranch at the age of nine. He won a bronc riding contest when he was 15 and aligned himself with rodeo and various Wild West Shows for the rest of his life, including the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show.

After moving to Kissimmee, Florida in the 1920s, Milt founded the Silver Spurs Rodeo show and might have continued rodeoing if not for the outcome of one of the most outlandish Milt Hinkle's stories, which writer Gene Fowler chronicles in his book "Mavericks."

Fowler found a Laredo Times story from 1931 that previewed an upcoming rodeo in Nuevo Laredo by announcing that Milt Hinkle, owner of the world's record (69 miles per hour) for bulldogging from a speeding automobile, would appear. A cowboy who was scheduled to go Hinkle one better by bulldogging a steer from an airplane came down with a sudden but understandable illness the day of the event.

Hinkle reluctantly agreed to take his place - a terrible mistake. The steer didn't take too kindly to the low flying aircraft or the cowboy - Hinkle - hanging from the landing gear. The enraged steer managed to wreck the plane and injured Hinkle severely enough to end his career as a performer. But he kept on being Milt Hinkle for the rest of his days.

Well into his 80s, Milt would offer his hand to awestruck youngsters and say, "Shake the hand that shook the hand of Wyatt Earp."

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" January 13, 2018 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

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  • Quotable Sheridan 10-16-17

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