ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’,
Tho the streams are swollen
Keep them dogies rollin’
Back in the early 1960s, the opening words to the theme song of “Rawhide,” sung by Frankie Laine, had kids and their parents scrambling to their TV, likely the only set in the house in those days, to watch one of the top Western series of all time.
Shot in gritty black and white, “Rawhide” told about the adventures of men driving cattle from San Antonio, Texas, to Sedalia, Mo. And yes, they were pushing cattle. The dogies (pronounced dough-gies, with a hard g) referred to in the theme song are motherless or stray calves, not canines.
“Rawhide” aired 127 episodes on the CBS network from 1959 to 1966, making it the sixth-longest running TV Western in history. It was also one of the most highly regarded. The Western Writers of America rank “Rawhide” third best, behind “Gunsmoke” (1955-1975) and “Maverick” (1957-1962).
What some of even the most ardent fans might not know is that “Rawhide” got rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ in and around Tucumcari, N.M. Parts of the first five episodes were shot on the rugged rangelands near the old Route 66 town 173 miles east of Albuquerque.
That’s a fact being celebrated Thursday through Saturday, May 4-6, during Tucumcari’s second Rawhide Days, a festival that includes Western music, gunfighter shows, rope tricks, games for kids, chuckwagon food, arts and crafts, a blacksmith competition, a cattle drive through town and appearances by relatives of the “Rawhide” cast. Series star Clint Eastwood probably will not be at Rawhide Days, but his daughter, Kimber Eastwood Midkiff, is expected.
Rawhide Days, launched last year, is the branchild of Karen Alarcon, a disc jockey and sales person at Tucumcari radio stations KTNM and KQAY.
“I moved to Tucumcari in the summer of ’78 and had always heard that ‘Rawhide’ had been filmed here,” Alarcon said. “My father-in-law was a bartender and told me he served ice-cold drinks to Clint Eastwood and the film crew while they were here for ‘Rawhide.'”
Alarcon said she thought an event built around the popular TV series would be a good way to boost the economy of Tucumcari, a town of 5,100 that serves as Quay County’s seat of government. She recruited co-worker Russell Braziel, a disc jockey and promoter at the radio stations, to help.
An estimated 1,200 people attended last year, and Alarcon anticipates another strong turnout this time around.
“Last year’s Longhorn cattle drive and non-motorized parade is being talked about to this day,” she said.
‘That must be Tucumcari’
Albuquerque’s Boyd Magers, author of the soon-to-be-published “A Gathering of Guns: A Half Century of TV Westerns, 1949-2001,” said Tucumcari’s primary contribution to the “Rawhide” series is location shots and scenes of cowboys working cattle.
“What they actually did was they would take a second-unit (film) crew, and maybe a couple of the stars would be with them, and they would go out into hinterlands and film cows (and cowboys),” Magers said. “They would film 50 cows, 100 cows, cows in every possible situation you can think of. They would have (the cattle) going left, going right. They had them going fast, going slow.”
Magers said while all the Tucumcari-area location shooting was done during the first few “Rawhide” episodes, it is likely the cattle-drive footage collected then was used throughout much of the series’ seven-year run.
“Every time I see one of those long shots of cattle, I think ‘That must be Tucumcari,'” he said.
However, most of the dramatic action between the “Rawhide” cast and guest stars was shot in studios around Los Angeles.
“Rawhide’s” main cast members were:
• Eric Fleming as trail boss Gil Favor. The 6-foot-3½ Fleming got his start in movies doing construction and carpentry at Paramount Studios. He drowned in 1966 while acting in a movie in Peru.
• Sheb Wooley as Pete Nolan, the cattle drive’s scout. Wooley, an Oklahoma native, was a working cowboy and rodeo rider. He was also a singer best known for the 1958 novelty hit “The Purple People Eater.”
• Paul Brinegar as Wishbone, the crusty but good-hearted cattle-drive cook. Brinegar was actually born in Tucumcari, where his father worked for the courts. The family moved to Santa Fe soon after Brinegar’s birth. He finished high school in Santa Fe and attended Pasadena (Calif.) Junior College (now Pasadena City College).
• Eastwood, as drive ramrod Rowdy Yates. Eastwood’s “Rawhide” role got him the lead in a series of spaghetti Westerns helmed by Italian director Sergio Leone. That exposure eventually catalpulted him to legendary Hollywood status and to Oscars for directing “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
“They really expected Fleming to come out of ‘Rawhide’ a star, but it did not work out that way,” Magers said. “Eastwood was pulling in more fan mail.”
Thanks for the memories
Besides Eastwood’s daughter, others expected at Rawhide Days this year include Brinegar’s widow, Shirley, and his son Mark, and Wooley’s daughter, Chrystie.
Mark surprised his mother, 88, with Rawhide Days last year, taking her to Tucumcari on the pretext of seeing the place where her husband, his father, had been born.
“As we got close and she started seeing the signs, she got excited,” he said. “They treated her like a queen. My favorite part of this is providing Mom with memories.”
Like her father, Chrystie Wooley has made a life in music and now makes her home in Nashville. On Friday night at Rawhide Days she will be part of the Next Generation Band show, which features performances by the sons and daughters of country music legends. Others on that bill include Jett Williams, daughter of Hank Williams, and Dean Miller, son of Roger Miller.
“My dad was a real cowboy,” Wooley said. “I heard he got the role on ‘Rawhide’ because he taught Clint how to ride.” She said she was never on the “Rawhide” set.
“My dad did not drag me around to these things,” she said. “I knew that he was in the show. His bandana, chaps and holster were hanging in the music room. But I had a pretty normal life. The phone would ring and it would be Clint Eastwood, but I never thought twice about it.”