Friday, January 22, 2010

Unheralded Scams -- II

*Part II from the archives, and a rather bad one, but hey...I be bad, too*

Not all scams are well-planned; some come about as the result of spur-of-the-moment opportunism, and someone low enough to seize and run widdit. Witness the following account:

The Great Tortoise Stampede of 1888. The place of origin: (rumored to have been) near present-day Las Vegas, New Mexico.

It was pretty barren looking then, too*.

The set-up: Natches "El Tortuga Grande" Libre owned a somewhat sprawling, if impoverished ranch about 20 miles E/SE of present-day Las Vegas, NM. Something of a maverick immigrant from the Galapagos Islands, Libre had tried to corner various and sundry markets he felt would be unique and hugely popular with the fad-oriented American upper-class Easterners.

After costly and futile attempts at raising and herding to market such exotic creatures as Amazon taratulas, New Guinea Carnivorous hamsters and Southwestern Jack'n Jillalopes, Libre turned to his home island for the answer: the Clapper.

Alas, in an age of kerosene lamps, it was ahead of it's time and sucked when it was introduced later anyway, but I digress.

Instead, what Libre chose to import and raise to eventually herd to a upper-class culinary market in the high society Northeast, was something totally unique from home: the Giant Galapagos Tortoise. Thus it was that Libre imported and raised the largest herd of Galapagos tortoises to exist outside of the Galapagos Islands.

The New York Livestock Exchange was underwhelmed.

But Libre would not be deterred. Once his herd was of sufficient size to warrant it, he and his highly-specialized tortoise wranglers and their faithful herding dogs -- border bassett hounds -- would make the long, thousand-mile trek to Dodge City, Kansas, where from he'd ship his herd off to gourmet Eastern markets.

And at a premium price per pound, he reckoned.

On a fateful April 1, 1888, Libre and his wranglers began their drive to market of the largest herd of Galapagos Giant Tortoises ever assembled in one place on Earth: 25,000 plus. Libre anticipated the drive to take 200 days and nights, planning for (ie., hoping beyond hope) 5 miles-a-day progress.

Word soon spread of this first-of-it's-kind event. Folks miles off the chosen track, eagerly anticipating the massive rolling dust clouds that had once heralded the passage of massive herd of buffalo in migration, were to see nothing like it. Folks closer to the track began to catch a sense of anticipation, as they marked the days on their calendars until the arrival of "the Herd". And then forgot about it as time went by, and "the Herd" didn't.

Libre was somewhat nonplussed by it all. He also became a bit nonplussed at the unanticipated slowness of the passage, and some of the nuisance pests his herd was experiencing on the trail. So as to receive help with the latter -- in hopes of speeding passage -- Libre telegraphed ahead to have a veterinarian meet with him on the trail ahead, near the town of Rocky Edsel, Colorado.
He became even more nonplussed as his ponderous, pest-infested herd plodded past the thriving town of 900, and he found it deserted. Nary a soul to welcome or witness the most unique drive of its' kind in human or reptilian history, let alone a veterinarian he'd urgently sought.

The same thing happened a few days later, in a town a few miles away.

Meantime, he would have been even more nonplussed by the reaction in the southwestern Kansas border town of Boggsville (now a county landfill): a few unscrupulous entreprenuers -- with a more literate telegrapher -- seized upon the unique opportunity the telegram had provided, and unlike their down-the-line Colorado brethren, chose to make the most of the pending event.

They set up bleachers for seating thousands of onlookers. They manufactured and marketed t-shirts, posters, picture-postcards and other assorted bric-a-brac. Vendors prepared an impressive array of concessionary booths to feed and beverage the anticipated throngs of curious and excited visitors. They advertised far and wide about the upcoming event.

They drew thousands from all over the Midwest.

And on the expected day of the arrival of "the Herd", thousands waited in tingling anticipation in the stands, looking to the SW horizon for the first signs of IT: The Great Tortoise Stampede of 1888. They watched. They waited. They napped. They knawed at increasingly stale prairie dog jerky and fajitas.

Meantime, many of the opportunistic t-shirt and bric-a-brac salesmen -- taking a page from Kenny Rogers as The Gambler a few generations before Rogers was born -- knew when to "fold 'em", take their profits and vamoose.

Gradually, so began the disgruntled exodus of the first of the losing-hope throng, who'd already found that they were stuck with bogus t-shirts and silly bric-a-brac. Slowly they began to drift away, wishing there was a Better Business Bureau they could write to about the "here-today, gone-today" concessionaires. The more resilient, the true believers and those determined to get something for the cost of the stupid t-shirts (I Survived The Great Tortoise Stampede of 1888) and vile rabbit hootch they'd consumed at two bits a throw, remained hopefully on their perches, not wanting to miss the first sight of IT: The Great Tortoise Stampede of 1888.

Until eventually, all but the most resolute gave up in disgust and went home. The most resolute remained in those stands until they died, their bones going pale white in the sun and snow of a savage Kansas winter.

For the message that Libre had telegraphed ahead had been misread up the line by a fledgling Colorado telegrapher -- and he had spread through his misunderstanding with the speed of today's Reuters faked photos -- by misreading and passing along this: Help, I have stampede in my tortoise herd.

What Libre had actually telegraphed was: Help, I have damned fleas in my tortoise herd.

As for Libre? He and his herd perished in a blizzard near the Colorado/Kansas border in December, 1888. One droop-earred border bassett hound survived -- Booger -- and was taken in by a rural SE Colorado family, proving to be the one and only survivor of and witness to the mythical Great Tortoise Stampede of 1888.

When asked about his memories of the event in his dotage, he is rumored to have put both paws over his eyes and brought up his dinner.

* which might upset a former visitor to this blog, who don' like me vewy well after I made fun of any part of his adopted state


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Do you think this is where the Tortoise and the Hare story comes from? Maybe Libre started the rumor of the race to help his pockets?

Just asking. :)

06 January, 2007 11:19  
Blogger Raggedy said...

Great post!
Have a wonderful day!
(=':'=) hugs
(")_ (")Š from
the Cool Raggedy one

06 January, 2007 15:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rocky Edsel? I was rolling when I hit that part. What a sad story. Really. That was sad. (lol. I loved it. Many people don't know these histories from the real Old West.)

07 January, 2007 06:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You made that whole thing up, didn't you?

09 January, 2007 22:46  
Blogger Skunkfeathers said...

I prefer to think of it as creative embellishment to the far reaches of credibility... ;)

10 January, 2007 07:51  
Blogger Miss Cellania said...

Why does Blogger hate me? I keep showing up as anonymous!

And the verification is odflaw: how weird is that?

11 January, 2007 20:31  
Blogger She Writes said...

Okay, gullible me (sp?), at the t-shirts I thought "What the?" t-shirts in the 1800's :)! Oh dear, how will I ever get the otherside of where I am if I am so easily taken in ?! :). Still, had to laugh. Poor dog!

22 January, 2010 13:56  
Anonymous Leeuna said...

Head 'em up. Move 'em out.

Love the story.

22 January, 2010 14:44  
Blogger Hillbilly Willy said...

Strange but True?

10-4 Hillbilly Willy

23 January, 2010 07:20  
Blogger Debbie said...

They watched. They waited. They napped. They knawed at increasingly stale prairie dog jerky and fajitas.

I'm picturing it now.

Right Truth

23 January, 2010 11:50  
Blogger Skunkfeathers said...

Hillbilly Willy: definitely strange. True? ;)

23 January, 2010 17:30  
Blogger Paul Champagne said...

I can't think of anything scarier than being caught in a tortoise stampede ... oh the humanity!

23 January, 2010 18:58  
Blogger Nishant said...

Great post!

Work from home India

08 February, 2010 08:04  

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