As far as kids in and around St. Louis are concerned, this guy Hopalong is strictly a second-rater. When it comes to choosing cowboys, they’ll put all their dinero (that’s money, pardner) on St. Louis’ own cowhand, Texas Bruce, who conducts a daily fifteen minute yarnin’ session known as “The Wranglers Club.” Harry Gibbs is the fellow’s check-signing name, but to his many wranglers, he’s known as “Texas Bruce” and, in their opinion, what he has to say about Western lore is law.
When Harry says “howdy” to his fellow wranglers every day at five o’clock, he’s dressed in a get-up that is as Western as a Bar-X brand on a chuck wagon. Sporting a ten-gallon hat, high-heeled boots, and a brace of six-guns that, incidentally, he knows how to use, the six-foot-two Gibbs perches atop a studio-made log, and by way of his yarns, which he relates in a slow and easy-going drawl, lifts the kiddies right out of St. Louis and deposits them deep in the heart of the rough-riding west.
His small-fry followers may not know it, but Harry’s background makes him the most logical choice as their boss cowboy in these parts. He was born in Wagon Mound, New Mexico, and began riding horses as soon as he was old enough to swing a leg over the horse’s back. From Wagon Mound, his folks moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where, after graduating from high school, he worked as a ranch hand and chased cattle all over the surrounding countryside.
Harry learned a long time ago that improper handling of a rope can result in tragic accidents, so every now and then he reminds his would-be cowboy followers that it is a dangerous sport to lasso each other. “I try to convince the kids that there’s no fun in roping a cat, or a playmate,” Harry says. “I show them how to spin a rope – it’s a fun and cheap sport.”
In addition to passing along useful hints on woodsmanship, inside dope on Indians, and tips on the cattle business, Gibbs teaches his wranglers the Spanish language via the one-word-a-day method. Harry’s Spanish isn’t the variety that one learns out of books. It’s really a rich mixture of Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and English which he had to learn as a boy in New Mexico. “Half the kids spoke English,” Gibbs says, “so we learned Spanish, and they learned English – that way we doubled the number of our friends.”
After the man-to-man type of discussion with his wranglers, the little guys see a portion of a carefully censored western film. In Harry’s opinion, children should be brought up to believe that all sheriffs are honest men, so when he screens a movie to be shown on his program, any sequence even suggesting that the sheriff is a crooked hombre is snipped out of the film with his often-used scissors. Also classified as taboo are such scenes which include wiggling can-can girls, or those involving a bad man whose gunslinging results in murder.
Harry’s job as Texas Bruce does not end with the five-day-a-week telecast – that is, more or less, the beginning. Gibbs is often called upon to perform before various organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and groups of underprivileged children, as well as taking part in benefit shows of all worthwhile civic undertakings.
It’s during these personal appearances that Harry has the opportunity to display his western know-how such as fancy shooting, roping and horsemanship. Tex also gets a kick out appearing in-person because it gives him a chance to let his fans see the one member of the “Wranglers Club” who is often mentioned, but isn’t seen on the television show. We’re talking about “Trusty,” Harry’s beautiful and talented horse.
When Gibbs bought “Trusty,” who stands about fifteen hands high and is between five and six years old, he bought a five-gated American saddle horse – which corresponds to a thoroughbred in racing lines. This sort of horse is fine for the fellow who intends to use it strictly for that Sunday morning ride along the bridle paths, but, according to the kids, a cowboy’s hoss has to be able to perform a few tricks, for example, counting up to ten, stealing handkerchiefs out of the cowhand’s pocket, nod yes and no, and a few others. So after many hours of working with “Trusty,” Harry transformed him from an aristocrat of horsedom to what is known as a rodeo horse, or one that does tricks in addition to looking beautiful. The name “Trusty” is the result of a contest that Gibbs conducted on the “Wranglers Club,” and for submitting the winning name, wrangler Sumner Patterson, Jr., of Ferguson won a handsome pony.
Every now and then during a personal appearance, some young buckaroo will exercise the right of all Missourians and will call upon Harry to show him that Texas Bruce actually knows how to use those six-guns he carries. When that happens, former Marine major Gibbs doesn’t make with the excuses such as “my powder ain’t dry, pardner.” Instead, if at all possible, he puts on a pretty convincing exhibition of fancy shooting – thanks to the pistol training he received while in the Marine Corps.
Harry’s popularity among his fans is on solid ground now, but some time ago, the versatile Gibbs took a modeling job that nearly had his Wranglers deserting the ranks about as fast as a Communist during a Red investigation. The kids just didn’t cotton to the idea that their bossman was going dude on them. When Gibbs heard of this minor revolution within his fold, he lost no time in shucking the dude clothing in favor of his cowpuncher duds. – at least while standing in front of a TV camera.
About the only time of the day he doesn’t have to lead a double life is when he gets home to his wife Jean and their three boys Christopher, David, and Buckner. His sons aren’t too impressed with his television status. “I’m only the guy who puts them to bed,” says Harry, “and personally, I like it that way.”
(Originally published in TV Review, 10/6/1951)