When I was a kid, my Uncle Howard Childers, told me a story about a Mexican boy who lived in Payson during the 1920s. Although Joe Hurtado was of Spanish ancestry, his knowledge of that language was limited. He had been educated in the Payson School system and, like the rest of the Payson kids, Joe was quite at home with the English language.
Work was hard to find in Payson during the 1920s. Most folks had a garden and a pocket full of 30-30 shells and made out fine, but cash was hard to come by. With his school days behind him, Joe found a job working in one of Payson’s light industries. After a year, he knew the bootleg business – from growing the corn to corking the bottles.
It was a fine spring day and Joe had an operation going down in some cypress trees a few miles East of Payson. The Mexican boy had fired up the still and was running White Mule when he heard voices and popping brush. He picked up enough talk to know that the intruders were Prohibition agents (Prohis), so Joe abandoned his moonshine apparatus and got out of Dodge in a hurry. He ran down the trail in the opposite direction from which the Prohis were approaching.
Joe had heard the band of sheep all morning. They were shepherded by Basque herders and were on their way from their winter pastures in the lower country to their summer grazing allotment atop the Mogollon Rim. The herders were napping and the sheep were grazing at their leisure.
Joe eased into the large band of sheep, over a thousand. There he shed his shoes and socks and rolled up his pant legs. He found a tree limb suitable for a staff and walked back to the still where the Prohis were wrecking his bootleg operation. Joe watched, leaning on his staff as the Prohis dumped the finished product along with the mash, then proceeded to destroy everything in sight.
Having completed their wrecking job, the two men came over to Joe and started questioning him. Joe turned his head and with a forlorn look solemnly stated, “Loose some sheeps.”
The Prohis took Joe over to the trail he had just used to leave the scene of his crime and pointed to his tracks. They asked him if he had seen anyone running away from the operation.
Joe had another look around and again stated, “Loose some sheeps.” This was Joe’s answer to every question he was asked. He later told that he wished he had known just a few Spanish words he could string together to insure that the Prohis would think him a bona fide Mexican sheepherder. But his ruse worked fine in any event. Joe walked back down to the sheep where he drove a few strays back into the band. Again he turned to the Prohis, “Loose some sheeps,” he told them.
The Prohis thought Joe was a bubble off plumb, but Payson folks knew him as a pretty level-headed fellow.
*Story told by Jinx Pyle
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