El Campo de los Californios was founded in 1979 when some riders from several camps found common California roots, seceded and formed a new union. That was way before my time. But twenty-five years ago (when I was a greenie on the 50th Ride), we had a rich weave of bigger-than-life characters.
Mostly, we were guys from California and Arizona, who had their own horses, loved to ride, and tolerated some out of state flakes from New York. At one point, we were mostly law enforcement officers with badges and officers of the court without badges (attorneys).
We were called the “Cops and Robbers.” We were more of a rough and tumble group back them with some serious greenie initiation rites (weightlifting) and occasional casualties. (See the pictures, all from the 50th.) After many arrests and convictions over the years, no law enforcement official remains and the robbers and other looters who come to ride in the desert are from many more states, fifteen at last count (AL, CO, CT, GA, IL, IN, ME, MA, MI, NM, NY, OK, OR, TN, and WA) and even England.
Back then, most brought their own horses on the Ride, were real men and were known by their real names: Conacher, Rogers, Hill, Schrader, Powell, Rodriguez (“Samrod”) – to name a few big empty saddles. Now, we are mostly riding rentals, and nobody knows our real names – just our nicknames.
There’s usually a story or two behind each nickname. Mine is Midnight (or “Minuit” in its French version ‘cause my grandfather was in the French cavalry in WWI), but more about that another time – if you ask me nice and polite on the trail or in the long drop.
We have a process for getting the nicknaming job done. It’s called messing with the greenie. Rule #1 is you can’t be nicknaming yourself – although many have tried (and, truth be known, some have succeeded).
Rule #2 is that a cowboy consensus has to develop around a nickname for it to stick. Sometimes this results in much trial and error before the right handle hits us all in the kisser. For instance, we have a tall and proper Brit chap who joined our Camp, Ross Biddiscombe. So with his Duke like stature in mind, we started with “Itty Biddy.” We knew we were on the right track because it got big Itty to snorting in a huff. But “Itty Bitty” was a smudge long for a nickname. As it turned out, Itty took up the ukulele and made up songs to entertain us on the trail, so he’s now “Tuk” a/k/a The Ukulele Kid. Nicknames are a lot of work as you can tell. We’ll see if that one sticks.
“Tuk” does have some powerful appeal, nickname wise. It’s short and to the point, one syllable that you can get out quick. You know it’s a winner if it runs off the tongue along with other flattering words that rhyme and that we use liberally on the Ride. Take another one that stuck a long time back: “Duck” . . . sounds like. . . . It also fits because he makes lots of noise, tosses his arms around a lot, preens, and has a funny accent which sounds quacky. It‘s not entirely his fault: he’s an Aussie who lives in Baahston, MA. After we noticed him spending lots of time in the outhouse working on his dump management, we called him L. D. Duck or just “Long Drop.”
As you can see, we are very creative and able to think out of the can. One of our guys who wrestles with his cowboy attire and equipment selections brought several steamer trunks on his first ride, so he’s known as “Cargo.” Another one named Dinardo with Italian roots kept beggin’ to eat Mexican so he’s “Taco,” a variation on the famous dish known as Taco Dorado.
We have “Pale Rider” on account of the outdoor makeup he favors to keep the sun off.
We have “Nieto” because he’s the grandson of the “Judge,” the legendary Al “Hang’m High” Margolis. Then there’s “Boots” because he doesn’t ever use his given name of Justin. Unlike Cargo, Boots manages to pack all of his gear into a small duffel with any overflow getting stuffed into his… boots and is somehow surprised when his toes cramp up on account of his stuffing job. He’s also our bean counter and cooks our books mighty fine ‘cause he’s cheap (some have called him “Penny”).
One of my favorites is “Moon.” On his greenie initiation night, after being freshly branded, he showed all of us and the innocent women folks what the Scotts showed the English in Braveheart just before the goring got started.
We have a bunch more creative nicknames, but you’re probably getting tired of this. We have “Dang,” “Scooter,” “Peanut,” “Stache,” “Cheese” and “Bondo,” “Sparky,” “Click,” “Kork,” “Snard,” “Drag” and “Tag.” We even have “Cowboy”! Two more are worth one more minute of your time if you’ve made it this far.
There ain’t nobody nowhere who can grow a thicker beard faster than “Chewy” (that’s for Chewbacca in your favorite out of this world space western) and Chewy is our camp’s bearded mother.
Lastly, we have “Oklahoma.” Now that nickname is a powerful mouthful and a major violation of the twosyllables- or-less, keep it short rule, like this piece. But Oklahoma really fancies it, is one of our former Camp Captains and now a mighty Director of the Ride, so we’re kinda stuck with it. He’s also a judge and you don’t want to be messing with the law. Plus, he’s got a ton of SWAG, including a Camp buckle, with “Oklahoma,” so there’d be big money involved with swapping it out for some other nickname. But we’re a resourceful bunch and have been known to take shortcuts. That’s why you might hear us on the trail calling out “Okie” or “Okie Dokie” if we’re feeling really chummy. You can see that even our nicknames get nicknames for our really special people. It takes years for our greenies to figure out who’s who.
By the way, if you picked up that Okie Dokie is also four syllables – just like Oklahoma – we might call you “Sharp.” But you gotta admit that, unlike “Oklahoma”, ”Okie Dokie” rolls off the tongue real smooth and slick, which is the whole idea behind a nickname. Besides, it’s always good to let Ride Director Oklahoma know that you’re listening.
Okie Dokie, see you on Ride #75!”