Western Short Story
Bezball at Its Roots
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Carla McCullough, widowed for three years, dropped in front of her ready stance in a field on her ranch to start the first game of Bezball in all of Nevada, a round object she had fashioned from wound string and rope, stuffed unknowns of a rubbery nature, and held together with a skin from an animal, for a game she had called Whacko. It was a Sunday in June of 1867, the Great War over, and a huge roast on the fire for her ranch hands, her treat for them on a glorious day.

Without a doubt, she was a gracious and considerate owner on her own in a tough life, heading up a tangle of men of all kinds of make-up, doing and done.

They had earned it from her in a relentless drive to move cattle to market through three states or territories, under stressful conditions, two men lost to The Devil in the mix. Carla loved them dearly as human specimens of the breed. One Mexican hand had told her one idea of the game and she created the rest of it, and wanted to run it together for a thank you celebration and a day of fun for her crew; feed them royally. Have fun doing so.

In explanation, she showed them what to do when she whacked the object more than 150 feet over one player’s head where he was placed on the field. “Chase it down,” she yelled, “throw it back,” as she raced to what she had called The First Tag, an old flour bag full of sand, and the first tag of four on the field. The object, for the first time called a Ball, came flying back from the far part of the field as she stood with her foot on the first tag.

Over her shoulder she challenged another ranch hand to follow her lead; “You try it now, Harry. Knock the feathers out of it! This is Bezball, our first time at it. Have some fun with it. Forget you’re the foreman for a while. Pitch in with a whack at Whacko. It’s real fun.”

The gaiety in her voice had already touched men she controlled as the owner, and now as chief cook, bottle washer, and first knocker in the game, then standing atop the first tag, proud of her swing with a fashioned pick handle one old timer had spent hours honing away at it, to her final satisfaction.

Harry Lotter, rugged, handsome, challenged by his boss, picked up the old pick handle, now smooth as a new-born calf. He proceeded to drop the object down in front himself and drove it, with a mighty swing, all the way past a man in the left corner of the field as Carla, owner, ran toward the second tag, yelling back at Harry, “Way to go, Harry. Nice swing. Now chase me around the tags as quick as you can, as she yelled at the man in the left corner, “Throw it back, Barny, quick as you can to see if you can stop us from running around all the tags and touching them on the way, I bet I beat your throw to the batter’s place.”

She was still running when Barny heaved the round object, in flight, all the way to the batter’s place. At the batter’s place, the object was caught and Carla was touched before she herself touched the final tag. “I’m out of the play,” she hollered.” I did not score. That was a magnificent toss, Barney, you keep doing that and they’ll be talking about you all the way to Mexico! Three cheers for Barney! Hip, hip, hooray!”

All nine batters on each side had a chance to get in a swing at Whacko, some of them meek and weak, and a few producing prodigious blasts to the far edges of the field. Carla was full of joy and a sense of new glory, and ran to tend the great roast on the fire, make sure the tables for all were set up, every one of her men with a whack at Whacko.

When that first game of Whacko was completed, Carla’s whole crew enjoyed a sumptuous meal at her set-up, nothing like it ever happening before in all of Nevada, or elsewhere most of the players believed, shouting their own hurrahs into the joyous air.

The whole crew, in pieces, found time in nearby towns to explain what had happened when they played their first game of Whacko, other cowhands thinking about the impact, the joys delivered, the newness of it all, they requested their own owners to issue a challenge.

So, they came, one set of ranch hands at a time, one Bezball team at a time, to Carla’s ranch in their direct challenges, their vocal disputes about how far an object can be driven, who will hit it further than all others, what such a person ought to be called if he’s good enough to get a nick-name out of it all, the file of names and questions and attributes swelling saloon talk, trail-rider conversations, town talk in one town and then another town, until the whole territory was abuzz with Bezball, nick-names already in the mix of talk, history of its own being created with each game, the meals of roasts and such all accompanying the games of Bezball.

Before Nevada knew it, scores and standings between ranches or teams were being kept, now and then a most contemporary newsman managed to get an article and a series of standings between ranches, teams, into his newspaper, each time celebrating a new player, a new character in the mix, a new slugger for the new ages of Bezball, a single mention of a slugger of great repute actually building a history of his own.

Carla, of course, gloried in all the moves, all the fame, where even a couple of her first players stood at the top of the mountain when it came to Bezball. The intractable Barny being unmovable, extending his talents to an extreme level and bringing glory to the ranch and to Carla McCullough.

It was difficult for her to deflect such an attraction, his winning ways, his grand smile, his stature in the sweeping world of Bezball, that she succumbed to his talents and his charm and married him, who went from left fielder and speediest tag runner to ranch owner in the same blazing speed, the way things in the old west were apt to happen for the good of many.