Byron “Cowboy”ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล Wolford

In this segment “Cowboy” Wolford’s doing all the talking, and I’m listening to him like a school girl hearing the Beatles sing “Yesterday” for the first time. “Bakersfield” Bill McKenzie, tournament player and golfer extraordinaire, joined the entertaining cowboy and me as the master storyteller reminisced about how he and Titanic Thompson opened up a cardroom in Texas in 1960. And that’s when the fun began…

Cowboy Wolford: We were playing in Dallas and Ty said, “Let’s go down to Tyler and open up one of these Red Men’s clubs.” So we got a charter and opened up a club right across from the courthouse in downtown Tyler upstairs in the old Elks Club building on the corner.

Ty was quite a character. He was a scratch golfer left or right handed and, in general, a proposition man. Any time it looked like you had the nuts, don’t worry, brother — you couldn’t win! One time he won $10,000 off a guy at a bowling alley, Ty did. He told Dick Cooper, who owned the alley, “You know, I’ve got arthritis but I used to be able to play pretty good.” Cooper was the best bowler in that part of the country. Ty said, “I’ll bowl you if you give me back all of my splits.”

To make a long story short, Ty beat him at this and beat him at that, making every kind of proposition in the world. The last bet he made him was for $1,000 — that if they blindfolded Cooper, he couldn’t break 100. Ty told everybody to be real quiet (of course, so that Cooper couldn’t keep his bearings) and they got the bet on. The last ball he rolled, Cooper threw right at the front door because he had gotten turned around.

Ty had all sorts of propositions. He had rented a house there in Tyler out on the Troop Highway and stopped at a little grocery store out that way everyday to fill up his new Lincoln with gasoline. One day Ty says to the owner, “What’s that out there?” He says, “Oh, I pitch horseshoes.” Ty says, “Boy, I’d like to learn to do that.” Well, Ty could ring one with a sheet up and blindfolded. “What do you do for a livin’?” this guy asks Ty. “Oh, I’m in the oil business up in Indiana,” Ty says. “I’ve made so much money I’ll never be able to spend it all.” Finally, Ty says to the guy, “I wish you’d show me how to pitch them horseshoes.”

So the guy gets out there and says, “Now, you hold it like this…” And Ty would turn it around sideways and ask, “Like this?” The guy would answer, “No, no, like this…” And so, Ty got to throwing the shoes around and one day he says, “You know, I just can’t do anything unless I gamble on it. I don’t know what it is … I’ve got plenty of money.”

“You wouldn’t have a chance of beating me,” the guy says. “Oh, you’ve got kids and everything,” Ty answers, “but it won’t hurt me to lose some money. Like I told you, I’ve made so much money up in Evansville in the oil business I’ll never be able to spend it.” So, he finally got the guy to betting. Ty ended up winning $6,000 off of him, just a square guy that didn’t even hardly gamble, you know what I mean? “You’ll be lucky if they don’t run you out of town,” I said to Ty, but nothing ever came up about it.

That’s the way Ty was. He ran around all over the ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล place making propositions. In another deal, Ty had a checker board down at the club. A lot of those ol’ East Texans think they can play checkers — that’s all they’ve done for half their lives. I forget exactly how this deal went, but Ty would give you all the checkers and he’d just take two kings. If you got one of your men to the king row, you’d win the game – but you never could do it. You know, he had deals like this all the time. He was an incredible proposition man.

Dana Smith: How about the scam with the “poker psychic?”

CW: Ty had a deal back then where he’d be sitting around poker places that he’d never been to before and he’d say, “Guys, I know this woman who’s a psychic. I’ll tell you how good she is: You take a card out of that deck and put it on the table in front of us. She doesn’t live in this state, but I’ll bet you that if you go call her, she’ll tell you what the card is.” Well, back then there wasn’t any TV, no shortwave stuff , and Ty had been right there with them all the time, hadn’t gone anywhere. Might near anybody would go for that deal.

So, he bet $1,000 that they could call this woman who was a psychic and she could tell them over the telephone exactly what that card was. Then somebody would take a card out and put it on the table. “OK,” he’d say, “here’s the long distance number. Just ask for Miss Brown.” They’d call and say, “Is

Miss Brown there?”

“Just a moment,” someone would answer. In a minute another voice said “Hello?”

“Miss Brown, we’re down here in so-and-so and we’ve got a bet on. This gentleman says you’re quite a psychic.”

“I think I am,” she’d say.

“Well, we’ve taken a card out of the deck and laid it in the middle of the table and he bet that you could tell us what card it is.” She’d answer, “Give me a moment.” After a short pause, she’d say, “The four of diamonds.” And the guy would almost faint. Of course, Ty had a different name for every card in the deck. If it was the four of diamonds, he’d tell them to ask for Miss Brown. If it was the nine of hearts, it might be Miss Ruby.

But one of the funniest stories about Ty was when he was out at the races in Santa Anita, California. After it closed he’d go to the races in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which used to be an open gambling town and it was a real nice place. There was an old waiter at Santa Anita who always waited on Ty and after the season, the waiter would travel on to this big gambling joint down in Hot Springs where he waited tables during the races. All the gamblers and the bookmakers and proposition men from all over the world would meet there — I was there myself back in ’55. They’d gamble high on poker and the races and just about everything.

Well, Ty asked the waiter if he’d like to go with him on the train to Hot Springs. This waiter, they say, was a big ol’ dumb-looking guy. (He was kinda like me…I can’t hardly spell a word.) But all the way to Hot Springs, Ty drilled him on how to spell rhinoceros and hippopotamus, and the ol’ waiter learned to spell them perfectly during the five-day trip. Well, Ty was gonna win a big bet on this deal … he was out there every year and he knew all the gamblers.

OK, they got down there and Ty started to set up the deal. They were all sitting around and this ol’ waiter was waiting on everybody. Ty had a guy in the crowd to bring up something about spelling and then Ty said, “I wonder what two words are the hardest to spell?” And this shill said, “Well, I would imagine they’d be rhinoceros and hippopotamus.”

“You’re probably right,” Ty said. “I don’t think I could spell those two, but it’s hard to tell who can spell and who can’t. Look at that ol’ waiter over there — I tell you what, I bet the hell he could spell either one of them.”

“Oh, Ty, you’re crazy,” they said. “Hell, he don’t even know what town he’s in.” Ty says, “Well, you can’t tell by looking at a guy whether he can spell or not. I’ve just got the feeling that as dumb as he is, he could probably be a good speller.” So, Ty bet them $3,000 that the waiter could spell both words perfectly. In advance, they all picked out “rhinoceros” for him to spell.

They called the ol’ waiter over and Ty says to him, “Don’t get in no hurry now. Got a little bet on you and if you win it, I’m gonna take good care of you. You think you can spell rhinoceros?”

“I think I might,” answers the waiter.

“Just take it easy now … no hurry,” Ty says. “OK, go ahead and spell it.” And the ol’ waiter spells out hippopotamus! He’d gotten the two mixed up. Ty wanted to kill him on the spot. And that really happened, you know.

DS: Do you miss those days, Cowboy?

CW: Yeah, I do. I’ve got a thousand stories and they’re all true. Stories about lots of famous ropers and gamblers, one about “Mac” McCorquedale who brought hold’em to Las Vegas. He was playing at Redman’s in Dallas and wanted me to go out to Vegas with him but I was too busy doin’ nothin’. He was a good player — he’s in the Poker Hall of Fame — and he was quite a character. Mac opened up at the California Club when he came out to Las Vegas and introduced hold’em to everybody.

Bill McKenzie: He must’ve made a fortune because nobody in Vegas really knew how to play the game.

CW: Yeah, he did. I heard about some of the games; in fact, I played in a few of them but they had learned pretty good by the time I got there. I was playing out at the Horseshoe, you know, before it had the World Series. They had a no-limit game there one time that lasted nine months and never broke up. There were guys from Louisiana and Texas in it…Sid Wyman who owned the Dunes, and Bernstein…they were all playing hold’em.

They had played in the game at the California Club for a while, but when they first started they’d take two fours and it didn’t make any difference what came on the flop, they’d call you. And it was no-limit! They were stud players, you know, and they didn’t understand about outs and all that. Sid Wyman would bet $25,000 on a baseball game and that was pretty big back then. McCorquedale knew Johnny Moss, who had already been in Vegas for a while, because we had all played no-limit poker together down in Texas around Waco and Dallas, me and Moss and all of ’em.

BMc: Did any of those gamblers who were making all that money put anything away?

CW: Most of them didn’t, I believe. Of course, Moss used to give his wife Virgie so much money after he’d win and they were in pretty good shape. The first time I ever met Moss was in ’51. I’d come in from rodeoing and he had a game in Waco. They all liked me because I was a cowboy, I was young and strong and friendly.

I used to play $10 limit with Doyle Brunson in Dallas and I met Sailor Roberts in ’55 while I was there during the winter training my horses. Then when I went out to Vegas, I met Benny and all of ’em. I didn’t stay in Vegas all the time, but I’d go there for a month or two and play poker. Benny liked cowboys, you know, and he knew cowboys that I had rodeoed with and we got to know each other real good.

DS: Why did you get out of rodeoing? Did you just get too beat up, or what?

CW: I’ll tell you what happened. About 1960 these guys started jumping off the right side of the horse. We had always gotten off on the left and legged the calf and stepped over to tie him. Then they started jumping off the right and flanking him … that’s two seconds the best of it because you don’t have to jump over the calf. I said right then that I’d never flank one. I was 31 years old and could see that I had no win. I’d rather try to beat eight people playing poker.

Like I said, and I’m not bragging, I was the best in the world. In 1951 they took the 15 top ropers in the United States and had ’em put up a $550 entry — Audie Murphy (the movie star) and Ray Woods put it on. We roped eight calves apiece and I beat ’em all by 12 seconds.

Then there was a jackpot roping event with 96 ropers in it where I won second for about $4,500. I hadn’t been on a horse for 30 days ’cause I’d been playin’ poker at home and my daddy told me, “Son, you ain’t got no chance under these circumstances.” But I was a natural roper. “Them suckers can’t beat me!” I said.

We arrived there just in the nick of time and saddled up a horse. They had a Calcutta like in golf where they auction off the golfers and the winning teams. Toots Manfield, Troy Fort and every world champion was in it. Some of them were selling for $800-$900. Well, my daddy and I, we didn’t even know what a Calcutta was. Two country birds like us — what did we know? We didn’t realize that we could’ve bought a ticket on me. Mine sold for $50 and it paid $4,000!

DS: You and your father were pretty close?

CW: Yeah, we were. I have two younger brothers and a sister, although none of us are too young now. My daddy taught me poker and roping, and he taught me to say, “Yes, ma’am and no, ma’am, be polite, and tip my hat to the ladies, which I still do every chance I get. I think that’s the only way to be.

DS: And all the time that you were roping, you were also playing poker?

CW: Yes. I just roped because I could rope. I’d go out there and get some money and then go back to the poker game. I’ve been in towns where I’d find a real good game and stay there two or three weeks and not even go to the rodeo, just play poker.

DS: So you might be making your money playing poker or rodeoing, whichever was better.

CW: Either way, it didn’t make no difference.

DS: I heard that you once lost your horse in a poker game.

CW: Yes, ma’am, I did. I’ll tell you about that one next time.



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