Stumpy had tried to jump a freight train in Tucumcari when he was 18, slipped and fell under the big steel wheels of a boxcar. He’d pushed himself away and that had cost him his little finger too.
“Came home to die—couldn’t rodeo anymore, play football, nothing,” he said when Greg Caldwell asked about the leg. “But my coach told me to quit feeling sorry for myself. He bought me a crutch and took up a collection for my wooden leg.”
“Worst part is when my big toe itches. I can feel it, but it ain’t there.”
Newcomers to town would be shocked when they’d see Stumpy without his wooden leg on the rare times his stump got irritated. He’d hobble down the sidewalk with a pant leg penned up, hopping along on crutches with a peculiar clop-plop sound, alternating with the one cowboy boot.
But if he was crippled, he wasn’t handicapped. Caldwell had heard his father Don, owner of the Panhandle Index, tell one story over and over.
Several years ago, a drunk cowboy had been thrown out of a downtown bar and landed at Stumpy’s foot as he hobbled along.
The cowboy stood up, cussing loudly as a crowd gathered at the door of the bar. People from the adjacent Phillips department store watched from the window and he started threatening them.
Stumpy told the drunk to shut up and leave, that he ought to be ashamed.
The cowboy turned on Stumpy and pulled a knife.
What happened next happened so fast people weren’t sure it did, and the legend grew. Greg’s dad had been in the department store and saw it all.
Balancing on his one leg, Stumpy swung one crutch and quickly caught the cowboy in the groin. As the drunk bent over in pain, Stumpy brought the crutch around and slapped him on the side of the head with a loud pop, knocking off his dirty Stetson.
The cowboy slumped to the pavement, out cold. Stumpy hobbled over to his rusty pickup and drove off, while the bar owner called the police.
The next day the Index carried the story, with the headline: "A Crutch to the Crotch." The first two sentences still made Greg smile: “Stumpy stomped a drunk, leaving him out cold. He may be handicapped, but he’s not foot-capped.”
Stumpy was so proud of the article he had it laminated and tacked to the wall behind his cash register.
“That’s when we became friends,” Greg’s dad told him. “Only time he got his name in the paper. 'Course it embarrassed your mom to use such language in the paper, and the ministerial alliance thought I was giving him free advertising.
“They’re all for the First Amendment when they agree with it,” Greg said.
“Yeah, remember to put out the paper for the little people—the Stumpys,” his dad had said.