Texas Trails

Clay Coppedge, Southern Livestock Standard

January 21, 2024

We could marvel at the life and times of Milt Hinkle even without references to Old West legends like Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Just accepting the fact that he was born on the XIT Ranch in Bovina, Texas in 1881, the son of George Hinkle, who listed his occupation at that time as “buffalo hide dealer and saloon owner” gives him some Old West bonafides. 

That he was born when there was such an occupation as “buffalo hide dealer” and didn’t die until three years after humans walked on the moon tells us this man must have told great stories. And he did. Late in his life, Hinkle related his stories for magazines like True WestOld West and Frontier Times. He had barely a third-grade education and hired ghost writers to polish the stories for magazines eager to publish his accounts of being on a first-name basis with a Who’s Who of Old West history and mythology. 

According to Hinkle, he rode with Butch and Sundance in Bolivia where he went by the rather unimaginative name of “The South America Kid.” He always claimed that Butch Cassidy didn’t die in Bolivia in 1908 as legend and lore would have us believe. Hinkle said he promised to keep Cassidy’s secret as long as he—Cassidy— was alive. In fairness, we note that Hinkle was not the only one who believed that reports of Butch Cassidy’s death were greatly exaggerated.

Hinkle’s father, the aforementioned buffalo hide dealer George Hinkle, supplied Milt with some of his most enduring stories. Apparently, George wasn’t much of a presence in young Milt’s life, but he must have stopped by long enough to spin a few yarns about his time in Dodge City, where he defeated incumbent Bat Masterson for sheriff in 1877. He really did. You can look it up. 

But George also told Milt about how he threw a rowdy Bat Masterson out of a saloon one night and got the drop on an agitated Wyatt Earp the next day. Those stories don’t hold up as well. Robert K. DeArment, Masterson’s biographer, acknowledges that George Hinkle was a rough and ready kind of guy, but he doesn’t buy the stories concerning Masterson and Earp.  “(George Hinkle) did not lack sand, and he must have had many exciting experiences, but it appears that, to impress his young son, he concocted a story that had him running over Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, the most well-known of Dodge’s gunmen,” DeArment wrote, skepticism intact.

Milt Hinkle met some of the men that George Hinkle knew, including Earp and Masterson. DeArment relates that when Milt met Masterson, the old gambler and lawman asked him, “Which one of his women was your mother?” 

Later, in New York, Masterson told Hinkle that his father had some serious trouble back in the day. When pressed about the nature of the trouble, Masterson clarified the matter only a little by saying the problem had to do with women. 

Milt Hinkle spent the majority of his childhood in Fort Smith, Arkansas and Grapevine, Texas, where he started working on a ranch at the age of nine. He won a bronc riding contest when he was 15 and aligned himself with rodeo and various Wild West Shows for the rest of his life, including the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show. 

After moving to Kissimmee, Florida in the 1920s, Milt founded the Silver Spurs Rodeo show and might have continued rodeoing if not for the outcome of one of Hinkle’s e most outlandish and ill-advised escapades. A Laredo Times story from 1931 previewed an upcoming rodeo in Nuevo Laredo by announcing that Milt Hinkle, owner of the world’s record for bulldogging from a speeding automobile (69 mph) would appear. 

A cowboy who was scheduled to go Hinkle one better by bulldogging a steer from an airplane came down with a sudden but understandable illness the day of the event. 

Hinkle reluctantly agreed to take his place— a terrible mistake. The steer didn’t take too kindly to the low flying aircraft or the cowboy— Hinkle—hanging from the landing gear. The enraged steer wrecked the plane and injured Hinkle severely enough to end his career as a performer. But he kept on being Milt Hinkle for the rest of his days. 

Well into his 80s, Milt would offer his hand to awestruck youngsters and say, “Shake the hand that shook the hand of Wyatt Earp.” 

Southern Livestock

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