Underbit Bill and the Bachelor’s Ball
Date posted: March 25, 2014
Some old-time newspaper reporters found unique ways to report local news. For instance, in May, 1901, a Sheridan Post reporter invented a cow-puncher character called “Underbit Bill” to describe a Bachelor’s Ball held at the Sheridan Inn.
The “Cowpuncher’s Version” allowed as how old Underbit just wandered in off the range and found himself smack dab in the middle of some big “doins’” at the Sheridan Inn.
Underbit thought he “…struck it rich the first night…I run into a bunch of dressed up men who were in the hotel and they acted like a beef herd headed for a water hole and asked me to join them for lemonade.”
Underbit allowed as to how he didn’t much take to lemonade until he found that the “lemonade” was a concoction of “…juice on the bottom, red eye on top and soda on the side.” Then he “…licked it up like a yearling suckin’ water from a cow track.”
Underbit was asked to stick around and “…watch the big dance about to begin in the dining room;” to hang around and “…watch the herd mill for a while.” Underbit was persuaded and observed that: “The whole round-up was mighty well fixed for fine clothes and fancy rigging… they called it a bachelor’s ball but there was just as many old maids in the herd as there was stags…they wore dresses that were all mixed up with flowers and buttons, and double-rigged throughout. The men wore single-rigged coats with just enough tail a hangin’ to ‘em to cover the pistol pocket.”
Underbit felt out of place; like “…stray colts in a beef herd…” He went outside and “…pulled off my shapps (sic). I didn’t feel just right then but couldn’t take off much more as the shapps, six-shooter, spurs and hat was all the trimmins I had hanging on me.”
Underbit was then encouraged to watch the grand march. It was the “…first time I ever saw a march when they took the women along…” and was surprised when the march ended (without even an order) and the men “grabbed their partners and went to waltzin…” Underbit observed that if “…all marches end like that one then I want to join the army and go back to Texas where yellow haired girls are as thick as heel flies.”
The onlooker also made some observations about female fashions he had never seen before. For instance; “One woman had on a pinto dress that had little white spots all over it…” and “A lot of the stock had dresses that had slipped down and left their shoulder blades bare and the bottom was trailin (sic) about three feet on the floor but they was all in good spirits and didn’t seem to mind it but they’d just reach around and pull up a lot of dress and hung on to it until they got tired or set down.”
Apparently Buffalo Bill’s wife and daughter, Mrs. H. S. Boal, were guests at the ball but Underbit didn’t even know who they were until Longtime French (the Sheridan Inn manager) “…put me on.”
The evening went on for a long time. About 3 o’clock in the morning Underbit was a bit the worse for wear from all the lemonade. He found himself hanging onto the railing and Longtime French and the clerk, Billy Morgan, offered to help him but he declined and shooed them off. That’s when he discovered the punch. “I drank some of the stuff from the china wash boal (sic) and it didn’t agree with me. It was too blooded for a cowpuncher.” (I suppose he meant too fancy?)
Then, in an attempt to describe his helpless inebriated state, Underbit used the analogy of trying to blow out a kerosene lamp: “I tried to douse the glimm (gleam) but it was inside of a glass and my breath wasn’t strong enough to make it flicker.”
History didn’t relate how Underbit survived the Bachelor’s Ball, but when all was said and done he opined, “If I ever make a stake I want to go to the Inn and stay and have ice cream every day but no dances.”
In case you wonder where the reporter dredged up the name “Underbit,” it happens to be an earmark used to identify the ownership of bovine critters. Yep, reporters had a curious sense of humor in those days.
Tom Ringley was re-elected as a county commissioner in 2012. He is the author of four books. Ringley grew up in Sheridan and returned home in 1990 after 27 years as an Air Force officer. He has been involved with the local hospital foundation, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo and has been the facilities director at the county fairgrounds.