James Arness died today. Gunsmoke was every one's favorite TV show back when I was a kid. For years, at my house, we watched every single episode that came on the TV. There's isn't any need to explain the show because I am sure that most of you have seen an episode of Gunsmoke at one time or another.
When I heard that Mr. Arness has passed away, I went online, because I wanted to read some quotes from the TV show - more specifically, I wanted to read some dialogue between Festus, played by singer Ken Curtis (Sons of the Pioneers), and the rest of the cast. Festus had a way of speaking, but he always spoke the truth and what he said always made sense, well in a Festus-sort-of way, I guess.
So, I went online to do that, and well, one click led to another click, and then another and another, and before I knew it, I found myself on YouTube, and that's when I heard, for the first time in many years, this beautiful story that I want to share with you.
If you paid close attention to Gunsmoke, you know that Festus took care of mules and all their names were Ruth -- even if they were jacks. Festus' mule was always a jack but HIS name was always RUTH!
In the words of Festus Hagen, here's why.....
You ask how come I call my old mule, Ruth, when in fact the solemn truth is that he's a jack, and not no jenny, that's for sure. Well, they's no call for you to know, but since you asked, I'll tell you so just settle back and heed to what I say.
It started in 1861, the war, well it had just begun to be a war. I wasn't much, so to speak, a mule skinner, not one to seek fame nor fortune, especially in no war.
Now, every man's got a pride. Most times it's deep inside about his job and mine was attending mules. My favorite was a long-eared jenny. Now, I reckon you'll think that I'm a ninny 'cause I loved her just like I'd love my mother. She was faithful, stout and she was smart, and friend, she had lots of heart. If she'd been a man, I'd a loved her like a brother.
Well, we'd fought back with all we had, but still the war was a going bad, for in '64 Schofield hit us Tennessee boys hard, and just thirty miles away, at dawn, near Spring Hill on a early 'morn, five generals that wore Confederate gray had chitin's and bacon and eggs and grits. Lord, they'd planned to give 'em fits but the tide of war just went the other way. The five brave men that led Hood's charge was met by a artillery barrage that mowed 'em down just like so much hay.
Now, somebody had to get them men and, by golly I can't remember when I've ever been so proud as I was that day. "Just take 'ol Ruth," the Captain said, and when it got dark, I slowly led my jenny to the Harpeth Rivers bank. I'd found them boys in gray and when on Ruth's back they stiffly lay, I started back, but then my spirit sorta sank. A dad-blamed sentry opened fire and them Yankee's did conspire to add me to their list of casualties. Well, 'ol Ruth, she just plowed along not a listening to the bullet song, just brushed 'em off like they was a swarm of bee's.
Well, somehow we got back that night, and I thanked God I was alright. I'd brought them boys from where they was a laying. I hadn't even got a scratch, so I lit my pipe and when the match flared up, I seen 'ol Ruth was just a swaying'. Blood was running down her side. My throat choked up and then I cried, and she looked at me and her eyes was soft and brown. She seemed to say, "Now, don't cry for me, we had a job to do, you see!" And, then 'old Ruth just seemed to slide right down.
There's a marker that I put on her grave that reads, "Here lies a mule that gave her life and that's the truth. Now, every mule I'll ever own will bare your name. So, be it known while I'm alive, they'll always be a Ruth "
Yeah, they'll always be a Ruth.
What a beautiful story, in the words of Festus Hagen. Now, to get the full effect, you have to click on the video below and hear 'Festus' tell it. It is a very moving and inspirational piece. By the way, Ken Curtis died in 1991.
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