"He stood six foot two, weighed 195, was kinda broad at the shoulders, narrow at the hips, and everyone knew you didn’t give no lip to Don Woodbeck"…
Play that back in your mind to the tune of the Jimmy Dean song, Big Bad John.
I had approached Woodbeck to be my partner and go after the prairie pirates that robbed me and years earlier tried to murder Don and his partner Jim Woyt. They got away, but their two friends weren’t fast enough and were shot dead.
That was the Arizona I knew in the early 1970s.
I was a student at Arizona State. Woodbeck and Woyt were former military from Vietnam. Woodbeck was decorated for Bravery, twice.
Woodbeck said after I pitched my idea, "So you want to pose as the law and go after these Mexican/American Bandits, huh?" I nodded. He was in his early 20’s and I was just 18. If Lee Marvin and Charlie Bronson would have had a little brother, it woulda been Woodbeck.
Tall, lean, thinning blonde hair, steel blue eyes. And deadly.
He asked me if I’d ever shot at a man. I said, "I’ve been hunting with my Dad."
So Don and Jim took me out in the desert with a trunkfull of guns. Woodbeck took out two Salute targets, walked about 20 feet and placed one on a cactus. He came back toward me and placed the other one near me on another cactus. Maybe four feet or so off the ground. He handed me a holster, shoulder holster and a six-shot Smith handgun. A revolver. It was loaded. He walked with his handgun to the other cactus.
Then Woodbeck said, "You need to practice shooting at a human. It ain’t the same as hunting a bird, son. I’m gonna draw my pistol and fire at the target right by your head, all six shots. When I draw, you do the same and fire at the target next to me. Got it?"
I turned white.
"Uh, Don man, I don’t know. What if I miss and hit you by mistake?"
"Then my friend Jimmy will kill you," Woodbeck responded. "Don’t worry, if I miss you’ll be dead. Ready, NOW!"
THE SOUND, THE GUNFIRE, I JUST REACTED.
What else could I do? In a blink it was over. I remember smelling the smoke as Woodbeck walked towards me looking at his work. It was all in black, six shots only inches apart. We walked over and looked at my target. Not bad, five hits all over the target but only one miss. Woodbeck smiled at Jim. "Well, he’ll do."
Then Woodbeck said "le’ts try it again."
Christ. See, now I understood better what it was like to shoot at a man. Woodbeck already knew.
My career as a gunman was just about to start.
I knew Woodbeck was brave. That’s not something one can learn. You either are or you aren’t. In time I would find out about my own guts. Woodbeck was the baddest man I’d ever met, ever. Everyone feared him – the pirates, the Mexican Mob, Woyt, me.
You just couldn’t take your eyes off of him.
"One day we rode the mountain crest and he rode east and I rode west, I took the law and wore a star while he spread terror near and far…..all through the west they feared the name… "