It’s been a sad time indeed for sixgunners. Over the past month, we’ve lost John Linebaugh and then our own Tiger McKee. Now, this past week, I hear mi amigo, Bart Skelton has stepped on the rainbow to the great shootin’ range in the sky.
Losing Bart is especially tough, as I knew him personally and considered him a friend. For the past 10 years, I’d visit him in June when heading to Raton, NM, for my yearly pilgrimage to the NRA Whittington Center.
The first time doing most things is always the best, and our first visit with Bart Skelton was no exception. After the flight to Albuquerque, Doc Barranti and I headed south towards Deming, NM, for the 3-plus hour drive.
The dirt lane was a welcomed relief as the Pathfinder turned off the hard pavement. With temperatures hovering at 105 degrees, the hot, black asphalt, mixed with heat mirage, made you feel hot, tired and miserable. The further south we drove, the drier it got. The landscape was brown, vacant and hotter the further south we went. Bart texted final directions to his hidden desert hacienda involving a few turns and a locked gate. He lived 20 minutes from town, in the middle of nowhere.
The previous owner had the house custom-built. It was a single-story home with Spanish tile floor, high ceilings and a swamp cooler to stifle the heat. The large living room had an expansive bookcase covering most of the adjoining wall of the great room, leading into the dining room.
On the shelves lay the treasures any serious sixgunner would recognize. Various badges, credentials, and memorabilia of Bart and his dads lay scattered. A large wooden box containing several knives belonging to Skeeter from a variety of knife makers, along with a brown bear skull Bart had taken in Canada, were amongst the mix. Indian artifacts Bart found not far from the house, reloading books and old pictures rounded out the treasures.
A bearskin rug lay in front of the fireplace and was a favorite napping spot for Pippin, the incredible Skelton family dog. Next to it were two saddles on stands, with gun leather from various makers. There was also a red felt pool table near the south side of the room.
Looking to the south, one could see three mountain peaks, 35 miles away, called the Three Sisters. The backside of the Sisters is Mexico. A large display of arrowheads Bart and his dad found leaned against the wall.
The conversation flowed freely and easily. First-hand accounts of Skeeter stories, guns, hunts, and leather dominated the conversation. Show and tell started, with Bart running to the gun room, showing and telling stories along the way as to where the gun came from, who the previous owner was, how it shot, and the condition.
For dinner that night, we were treated to a traditional border meal of grilled flap steak fajitas. The fajitas were the lightest, fluffiest fajitas I ever had. Bart told us the secret was that they were from Mexico.
Doc and I wanted to see more of this beautiful country, and Bart obliged. He took us around to his old stomping grounds. We drove past his childhood home and the mountains he hunted as a boy. He showed us where he killed a few bobcats with his Colt .22 Mag.
In Skeeter’s “Handgun Tales,” there’s a pair of ivory stocks with a bison skull carved on them. They were thick, but Bart really liked them, saying they felt good. One day, Bart came home from school, and Skeeter was sitting at this desk, in his underwear with a glass of Henry McKenna nearby, filing away at the ivory stocks. The buffalo skull was gone. Bart yelled, “What are you doing?” Skeeter simply said,” They were too thick.”
A True Gentleman
What can I say about Bart? Hell, the man let me sleep with his dog. Pippin snuck into bed with me that first night. I’m a pretty good judge of character, and Bart Skelton was the real deal. A retired Southwest lawman, gun writer, historian and sixgun aficionado, he was a true gentleman. He enjoyed sharing tales, history, food, and drink about his native Southwest heritage.
He treated Doc and I like gold. He answered every question we had with a smile, telling us Skeeter was the best dad a boy could ever have and that he was a really good guy. Bart followed in his dad’s footsteps in this regard also. Skeeter would be proud of the man he became.
These trips continued for years. Most evenings found ourselves sitting outside the back veranda sipping the famous Skelton margarita as we watched the sun set, telling stories, or just enjoying the moment. Those times will be missed.
Bart’s longtime friend, JoAnna Zurinsky, said it best in describing life lessons she learned from Bart. She has granted permission to share them with you.
Lessons Learned in Life from The Gun Writer and Lawman
• It’s difficult to follow in someone else’s footsteps: If you’re expected to do this, it’s best to do it wearing a custom pair of Paul Bond boots.
• It’s bad luck to put a hat on the bed. It’s bad etiquette to touch another man’s hat, (certain concessions are made if you’re a lady touching a man’s hat.) God help you, if you should ever betwixt the two, hat or no hat.
• Regardless of whether you have a horse, always keep your saddle. A good saddle will get you through some rough rides in life.
• Spurring the wrong horse (Stories of Whistler… If you know, you know!) is akin to telling an already angry woman to: ‘Calm Down!’
• All the world loves you if you have a song to sing, or a story to write: Unless that narrative is a warrant, then expect you will piss some people off, and they will hate you.
• When it comes to Tequila, there is plata, reposado, and anejo. If it’s really good Tequila, it’s all gold, but too much of any kind, turns even the best of the best into a pendejo.
• A good bed roll under the right circumstances will give you a better night’s sleep than the world’s best mattress under the wrong circumstances.
• Even when it appears you’ve brought the only gun to the knife fight, don’t assume your opponent isn’t wearing an ankle holster.
• Finding a good heart in someone is as about as rare as a fine, unadulterated Colt revolver.
They’re out there: It’s a trifecta of sorts … part of finding one involves skill, luck, and knowing the right people.
As I close this chapter in my book of life, I carry each lesson as ‘the most valuable’. Some I will share with others, and the most sacred shall remain private. I am filled with gratitude to have known a person of your caliber, and to have shared a part of my life with you. Thank You for sharing a part of your life with me.
Always, Little Jo
So long, Amigo! Keep the tortillas hot and the margaritas cold. We’ll see you soon enough. In the meantime, we’re sure going to miss you!