This story, from Deep Roots, is one of my favourites to tell to a live audience.
“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.”
The fight on MacArthur Drive was one-sided, and although it was over quickly, it’s never been forgotten.
To truly appreciate Donald Perkins’ famous lop-sided 1970 scuffle in the middle of MacArthur Drive’s four lanes, you must understand where he came from.
The place is called Pitkin.
Pitkin. I’ve always liked the way it rolls off your tongue. They say it there with two strong syllables, as in “Pit-Kin.”
Calling it a town is a gross exaggeration. It’s a village—it’s really not even that—just a caution light, several stores and churches. It’s full of good people who would do anything if you’re in need. It also has a well-known reputation for being a tough place. There is a saying about Pitkin people, “They’re the best friends you’d ever want, but the worst enemies you could ever have.”
There are many stories about Pitkin and its people, but none better than the one I call “Branded.”
Now, Donald Perkins was a Pitkin native who operated the DeRidder Sale Barn, where weekly cattle auctions took place. Tuesday was sale day and the barn would be crowded with trucks, trailers, cowboys, mooing cows, bleating sheep . . . in the middle of this dusty scene stands Donald Perkins.
On the day of my “Branded” story, Donald Perkins wasn’t at the sale barn. He was traveling through the city of Alexandria with a load of cattle. He wore his cowboy hat, and had the truck window rolled down. Tapping his brakes, he brought his rig to a stop at a red light on Alexandria’s main street, MacArthur Drive.
A car in the adjacent left lane joined him. It was a Muscle Car: a Dodge Charger. Fueled by a large V-8 engines, it was loud, powerful, and ready to roll.
This particular red Dodge had four occupants—longhaired hippies with scruffy beards and sloppy clothes. They sneered as they pulled up beside the cattle truck.
Two distinct cultures were meeting side by side on the pavement of MacArthur Drive. Because there were four of them, the hippies bravely began making fun of the short red-faced cowboy beside them. Their comments were low, but Donald Perkins heard enough—he knew they were making fun of him, his truck, and his load.
Fortunately, the light turned green and the Dodge Charger, with its loud glass-packed dual exhausts, roared away. Donald and his loaded truck took off much slower.
As fate would have it, the next red light caught both vehicles. As you can probably guess, they were once again side by side They arrived there ahead of the cattle truck, so the four hippies had plenty of time getting their one-line zingers ready for the cowboy. They directed their sarcastic remarks straight at Donald Perkins.
As I told you earlier, men from the Pitkin area are not the enemies you want. It was when the made a remark about his load of cows and directed it at him, that Donald had heard enough. Today we would call what he did next “road rage,” but that term had not been coined yet in 1970.
He calmly killed his engine—and reached back behind him on his gun rack and pulled down a weapon.
But it wasn’t a shotgun or rifle … instead, it was something even better: a cattle prod …or what we call a “hotshot.”
This tool is a thin pole about the size of a walking stick. On the business end protrudes two metal electrodes. When it is shoved against a conductive object, it gives a sharp jolt of electricity.
The hotshot is a prime tool for any serious cattleman. It is effective in controlling even the most stubborn bull. The shock doesn’t cause long-term damage, but quickly and completely gets the attention of even the most onery animal.
Now I know you are ahead of me on my story, so let’s get back to the scene. Donald Perkins jumped out of his truck, quickly approaching the carload of “rowdy animals” just as if he was back on the sale barn’s show floor.
The guy on the front passenger side was wearing a sleeveless shirt with his arm propped up on the door. His sneer changed as Donald stuck him in the armpit. He later said of the first guy, “That fellow bleated like a goat.”
In quick succession, he stuck all of them. With all of the hollering, cussing, and scampering around he couldn’t be sure, but Donald thought he got the two on the passenger side a couple of extra times for good measure.
The Charger was fenced in on sides, so they couldn’t drive off. Finally, the light turned green, the cars ahead moved off, and the hippies in the Dodge roared off, probably not slowing down until they got across the Red River and into Pineville.
I have told and retold this story hundreds of times since the day Donald’s nephew “T-Bone” Perkins first acted it out in detail for me.
Donald Perkins has now been dead for many years, but in my mind he is still alive—standing in the traffic lane of busy MacArthur Drive wielding his weapon like a skilled swordsman through the open windows of the hippie car.
. . . And probably somewhere in Rapides Parish, or maybe up in Pollock . . . or down in Bunkie, some fifty-something-year old guy will read this story . . . and feel a twinge of remembrance. Maybe the twinge will be felt under his right arm, or a jolt in his memory, as he remembers that day on the four lane in Alexandria—when the crazy cowboy attacked him and his buddies.
Yes, that day will be forever “branded” in his mind—a day when he was stuck by the hotshot by the short cowboy from Pitkin… That’s Pitkin, Louisiana, boy … And when you say it, say it with respect. Where the men are strong, the women are beautiful, and you don’t make fun of a man’s cowboy hat, his truck, or his load of cows.
Most of my stories have some spiritual lesson. I’m not sure about this one. I guess it’s a lesson on keeping your mouth shut and minding your own business, especially if you’re parked next to a cowboy with a loaded gun rack.
I love the book of Proverbs and try reading one chapter daily.* Solomon and the other writers impart much practical and common sense wisdom in its thirty-one chapters. It says, “Even a fool is thought to be wise if he keeps silent.” (Proverbs 17:28) That’s a lesson the four hippies hopefully learned. Or as my Uncle Quincy, who spent two tours of duty at Angola Prison, said, “They ain’t never sent nobody to the pen for keeping their mouth shut.”
Or as Solomon added in Proverbs, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
Keeping your mouth shut—a good lesson that should be branded into our minds. Be careful what you say and whom you say it to, especially if a cowboy is in the lane next to you.
Or as they say in Pitkinese, “If you ain’t got somethin’ good to say, keep it to yerself.”
Even King Solomon couldn’t say it better than that.
* A Bible reading plan I adopted years ago is called the “Daily Proverbs Plan.” Because Proverbs consists of 31 chapters, you can read the corresponding chapter on that day of the month. Proverbs is full of so much wisdom that re-reading it monthly never gets old.