every old-time photo of an early day pioneer or cowboy shows the
tell-tale tag of a sack of tobacco hanging from a shirt or vest
pocket. Smoking just seemed to go along with the Old West life.
Many a western novel has been enhanced by the scene of a "tough
customer" pausing to roll and smoke a "roll-your-own" cigarette.
I've known old-timers who could take out cigarette paper, pour tobacco,
then with one hand, roll, lick the seam, pinch the ends and light
the "quirly" with a kitchen match pulled across the seat of their
pants. Some could do it while sitting on a spooky horse in a high
My father smoked "Old Hill Side" tobacco because it was cheaper
and the sack held more product than Bull Durham or Prince Albert.
He changed to Lucky Strikes after shaking out a glob of bird manure
from a new sack one day. My brother and I fought over the privilege
of making cigarettes with a new machine ordered from a catalog.
It was red metal, with a red canvas, about 6 inches long by 3 inches
wide. At starting position you placed a cigarette paper into a deep
crease in the canvas belt. Next, you poured in the correct amount
of tobacco and pulled the lever to the second position, neatly rolling
a perfect cigarette. After careful removal, you gently licked the
seam, pushed the ends together to hold the loose tobacco inside
then placed the finished cigarette into a cigarette carrying case.
All this was done on the kitchen table under the glow of a kerosene
young boys started their cigarette experiences smoking wild grape
vine or pulverized cedar post bark rolled up in pilfered cigarette
If I remember right, such ingredients caused one to cough for several
days afterward. The big danger here was fire as the experiments
usually took place out behind the barn or around the hay stacks.
Once "ready-made" cigarettes became the norm, used butts could be
found with a few puffs left, especially if you spiked it on a toothpick.
Ivey Alexander of Lefors once said, "Me and my friends smoked so
many cigarette butts our breaths smelled like everybody's."
don't know why I never smoked, as tobacco products were
lying on the table, on every truck dashboard, in each glove box
and carried in most coat pockets. I watched all my heroes and mentors
light up a million times during my early years. I believe World
War II was the height of smoking in our family, as every veteran
returned with the habit.
Later, as I entered into professional music playing for dance bands,
every engagement seemed to be clouded with blue smoke hanging over
the bandstand. So between my family at home, buddies and employees,
and my fellow musicians on the bandstand, I have been exposed to
many hundreds of hours of secondhand smoke in my lifetime. Sure
hope it all turns out well in the end.
"It's All Trew" March
10 , 2004 column