Grant Keltner

Slap Happy Sal the horse shoe gal

As a kid, my father would tell me tall stories while lying up late at night in my bed.  He would tell stories about the west, tales of cowboys, cowgirls and assorted folklore and foibles.  The following short little yarn is from a bedtime story that my father used to tell me when I couldn’t sleep at night.  It always seemed to work in helping me get a good snooze.  I hope you enjoy it.

This little tale starts and curves, flows, and nestles along Johnson Creek, east of town, around Powel Butte, up over to a ranch on the west side of Mt. Scott, around and through to where the mountain touches the sky and the wind blows and whistles through the trees.

Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal lived up near the tall Doug firs that meandered up along the west ridge of the mountains on this particular noted location, sacred land overlooking the rolling creeks and streams that weave through the countryside.  Her spread faced out to the south, towards Clackamas County.

Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal had freckles, wore western duds, sported a big ten-gallon cowgirl hat, wore a western shirt with glittering silver snap buttons, a sassy little blue jean skirt, and a pair of old brown cowboy boots that reached up to her knees.  She wore a blue bandana scarf around her neck.  Her hair was dark red, and she had cherry red lips.  She had a snow-white complexion and her eyes were bright blue and glistened like two car headlights beaming through fog in the cold Oregon night.

She had three brothers named Martin, Luke, and John.  They were noted for playing banjo, accordion, and harmonica.  Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal had several horses (naturally), goats, chickens, buffalo, and a few roosters on her ranch.  She had an old International red tractor that she drove around the farm to do chores in and to haul hay and feed for her hungry livestock.  She drove a steam shovel and even had an old dump truck to do her grocery shopping.

Her cabin was made from the finest, oldest timber that grew on her land.  Her Ma’ and Pa’ helped cut and trim the fallen timber with a sixteen foot saw that was handed down from generation to generation.  They then took the logs and cured the timber to withstand the cold, harsh Oregon weather.  They took river rock from Johnson’s Creek and built the foundation for her cabin.  Her friends Cisco, Sunny, Bo Diddley, and Lead Belly helped her with the hardest of chores.

Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal was as big as a house and as tall as a young pine.  She liked to wrestle and roll in the mud with her cowgirl and cowboy friends.  She’d pick herself off the ground, take her cowboy hat, and brush herself off.  She came with the dust and left with the wind.  She had a pair of six shooters that hung above her fireplace.

Her parents taught her how to throw horseshoes when she was just a young kid.  One day, her Pa’ pounded two stakes in the ground about thirty yards apart under an old oak tree on the family spread.  He grabbed some old boards that he had in the garage for the backboard of the horseshoe pit and measured out a specific area for players to stand in.

When she was ten or so, her Ma’ bought her a pair of horseshoes for her birthday, small horseshoes that were made for a small Shetland pony.  They fit in her hands just right.

“You get one point for the closest horseshoe thrown to the stake, two points for a leaner, and three points for a ringer!” squawked her Pa’.

You could hear the clank of the horseshoes when they hit the stake as she practiced.  Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal learned to throw the horseshoes high up in the air.  She learned to throw the horseshoes just right, in the shape of an arc when she released them.  They would hit the ground with a thud, roll, and dart close to the stake.  Her friends loved to gather after school just to watch her toss the pieces of handcrafted iron.  They watched right up until she reached the score of twenty-one.

As she got older, Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal got horseshoes that were bigger and heavier.  Once in.  While, she wrestled one of her horses to the ground, took a piece of rope, tied the scared animal’s legs together, and took off the horseshoes right then and there…right off the startled horse!  She took the new horseshoes and headed over to the horseshoe pit and practiced.  She wanted to be the best horseshoe thrower in the state.

She was painting her family’s old shed one day when her Ma’ came running around the corner of the cabin.  “Sal, Sal!  There’s going to be a state competition in tossin’ horseshoes!”  She looked surprised.  “Yippee!  Yippee!  Yahoo!” exclaimed her Pa.

Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal ran and grabbed her best pair of horseshoes.  “Pa’, can we pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease go to the state fair!  I can win the horseshoe contest!”

Her father rubbed his shin, squinted, scratched his head, spat on the ground, and looked at her.  “O.K. Sal, you can go but ya’ better practice.  You have about one month before the competition!”

“Yippee!  Yahoo!” shouted Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal.

For the next few weeks she spent all of her spare time tossing horseshoes in her big backyard.  Her trusty dog Sam would run after them.  Once, he got in the way and was hit in the noggin’.  “Yowie!  Ouch!  Yahoo!” cried Sam.  He learned not to get too close to the horseshoe pit.

Sal practiced and practiced.  She practiced until the horseshoes got too heavy to throw and her hands turned red.  She practiced leaners and throwing ringers.  She would throw all kinds of tosses.  Her friends would watch in amazement as she refined her technique.

Finally the day had come.  They woke up early that day and ate a big plate of pancakes.  The state fair was held in Salem and Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal gathered all her family and friends, jumped in her dump truck, and proceeded to head down to Salem.  Her father grabbed his old cowboy hat and away they flew down the road.  Dogs and chickens chased after them.

Sal, Cisco, Sunny, Bo Diddley, and Lead Belly made sure she had all of her horseshoes.  She had some beautiful horseshoes, some of the rarest in the land, some made as far away as Pendleton.  She wore her finest clothes, a bright white cowboy hat with a long feather in it, a beautiful white scarf, a bright blue cowboy shirt with silver snaps, a red denim skirt, and white cowboy boots.  She painted her horseshoes red, white, and blue.

The truck wound down I-5 toward the state capital.  People waved as they saw Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal and all of her friends and family in the dump truck.  They soon arrived in Salem.  Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal jumped down off the truck followed by her friends.  Sam, her dog, barked as they ran up to the check in area for the competition.

The horseshoe pits were beautiful, well-manicured lawns.  Fresh chalk lined the official horseshoe area.  Red, white, and blue ruffled banners were lined all around the grandstands.  Bleachers were set up to hold close to ten thousand fans.  A large brass band was playing old favorite music.  The conductor had a big white beard, a big belly, and a tall hat on his head.

The stands were full.  Kids munched on cotton candy.  Balloons were dotted throughout the crowd.  Dogs barked and the concession stands were packed with people buying candy, lemonade, and corn dogs.

All the best horseshoe throwers in the state were there at the fair.  There was Big Boom Boom Batlin’ Joanie Weston, noted horseshoe thrower Ramblin’ Tamblin’ Bobbie Magee, Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie, and a few other noted highly skilled throwers.

They were known to be the finest horseshoe throwers in the Pacific Northwest.  Most of the competitors for the horseshoe contest were found warming up in the official horseshoe pits.  Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal grabbed her horseshoes and began to practice.  Everybody stopped to watch her toss.  It was obvious that she was a natural at horseshoes.  Everybody clapped and screamed when she scored a ringer.

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Oregon State Fair woman’s horseshoe championships!” roared the announcer’s voice through the big speakers that were placed throughout the crowd.  Everybody cheered.  The competition would include the first round, second round, semifinal and final matches.  Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal would compete against one of the best horseshoe players in the tournament.  She would face Bouncin’ Trouncin’ Wilma Walker.

They dusted off their horseshoes and started play.  Wilma threw first and scored a ringer right off the bat.  Sal followed, throwing a leaner.  They continued to throw and rack up points.  The score was tied fifteen to fifteen going down the stretch.  Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal threw a ringer and finally pulled away and won her first hard fought match of the day.  All of her friends cheered.  Her Ma’ and Pa’ started to cry.  It was a fantastic match.

She cooled down and had a big tall glass of lemonade made by an old maid in the shade.  “Great job Slap Happy Sal!” exclaimed Cisco, Sunny, Bo Diddley, and Lead Belly.

The second round would follow, and Sal would now face Big Boom Boom Batlin’ Joanie Weston!  They started to throw their horseshoes one turn after another.  The excitement mounted and the crowd roared as each gal racked up points.  It was nip and tuck as the match dragged on, Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal found enough gumption and vigor and threw a ringer to pull away and leave Big Boom Boom Batlin’ Joanie Weston in the dust.  She was exhausted by the end of the match.  Her Ma’ and Pa’ came over and flapped a towel to try to cool her off.

“Remember to throw your horseshoes so they land close to the stake!” yelled her Pa’.  She nodded her head and tried to stay calm.  She had now made it to the semi-finals and her next opponent would be Ramblin’ Tamblin’ Bobbie Magee, one of the most famous horseshoe throwers in the state.  Slap Happy Sal was the first to throw.

“Don’t forget to tie your shoe!” yelled Bobbie Magee just as Slap Happy Sal threw her first horseshoe.  Slap Happy Sal lost her concentration and committed a foot fault.  Sal gave Bobbie a mean look.  The match went back and forth.  It was a real battle of expert horseshoe masters.  Near the end, through sheer determination and will power, Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal pulled away and won the match.  The crowd went wild.  Sal fell to the ground.  Her dog, Sam, licked her face.  The final would be played the next day.  Everybody was exhausted from the competition.

That night, Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal had trouble falling asleep.  She tossed and turned worrying about her championship match.  She knew she would be facing the reigning champion in the horseshoe state competition.  She would be matched against Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie!  People from all around feared Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie.  She was known for always trying to intimidate her competitors, she would growl, claw, scream, and yell just to win her matches.  She had the local radio and television personnel in her back pocket.  She paid them money under the table in turn for them saying favorable comments about her.  She drove a pink Cadillac.

That morning Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal’s mama came walking up to her while she was lying in her bed.  “Slap happy Sal, I want you to know no matter how the championship match turns out, that I…I…I…well, that I want you to know that I will always love you even if you lose and leave the family penniless.  I’ll still cherish the day you were born.”

“Gee, thanks Ma’” replied Slap Happy Sal.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it’s now the time for the Oregon State Fair championship horseshoe throwing contest!” yelled the official announcer.

“Yahoo!” yelled the crowd.  Kids let go of their balloons, dogs barked, and everyone was worked up into a wild frenzy.

Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal looked at Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie.  “Watch yam’ lookin’ at ya’ old nag!” barked Susie.

“Oh, I ain’t lookin’ at nothin’ except an old piece of poop!” replied Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal.  As soon as Sal said those words, Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie jumped at Slap happy Sal and the two gals started to wrestle right then and there.  They rolled back and forth, tether and fro.  They dragged each other all over the horseshoe pits.  They knocked over the carefully placed decorations and ran over a little old lady holding a fifteen-year-old cat.  They even rolled over the official scorekeeper and finally were broken apart by one of the local fire fighter brigades that were sitting in attendance that fine day.

“Now lookie’ here you two young wildcats…we will have none of your shenanigans at this here competition!  Now, either you act like gentrified ladies or we’ll stop this horseshoe event right here and now!” exclaimed the official Oregon State Fair horseshoe judge.

The crowd was at a fever pitch.  Local dignitaries were in attendance, including the owner of the local doughnut hut and the honorable Governor Waldo John Hossenfeffer.  The governor had a long handle bar mustache that decorated his bright red face.  He sat in the very important section at this fine event, centered right behind the grandstand, located just behind the backstop of the east horseshoe pit.

Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie threw the first horseshoe and naturally, she threw a ringer.  Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal threw her horseshoe and also threw a ringer.  They threw ringers, leaner’s, in betweeners; heck, they threw all kinds of shots.  They went back and forth and up and down the horseshoe pits.  Poor Slap Happy Sal’s Pa’ chewed his fingernails to the nubs.  It was a very exciting match.

Well, after about an hour it came down to the final few throws for each gal.  Slap Happy Sal had dirt and grime covered all over herself.  Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie looked like a truck had hit her.  The gals had played a great match.  It would go down in state history as one of the finest matches ever recorded.

Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie took aim, threw her horseshoe, and it landed right up against the stake at the east

end of the horseshoe pits.  She had a score of twenty.  She needed but one point to win the match.

Slap Happy Sal knew she was in trouble.  She had eighteen points and needed a ringer to win the match and it came down to her last toss.  She took a deep breath, smiled at her friends and family, and started to prepare to throw her horseshoe into the air.  Right then, at that very instant before she threw her horseshoe, Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie pulled one of the oldest, meanest, low down, dirtiest tricks known to man.  She looked at Sal and stuck out her foot.  Sal slipped and lost her balance and threw her horseshoe with such might and velocity that it flew into the crowd, hitting the honorable Governor Waldo John Hossenfeffer right in the noggin’.  It bounced off his poor head, hit the ground in a thud, rolled, and came to rest right around the stake sticking out of the ground.

The crowd was at a gasp.  The governor fell to the ground, dropping his twenty-ounce microbrew and the crowd roared.  Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal jumped for joy.  Ragin’ Cagin’ Susie Ooochie Canoechie kicked the scorekeeper’s judge right in the shin.  Cisco, Sunny, Bo Didley, and Lead Belly put Slap Happy Sal on their shoulders and took her to the winner’s circle.  The band began to play old favorite tunes.  Her parents were so proud.  The honorable Governor Waldo John Hossenfeffer staggered to his feet and rubbed his sore head.  He had a lump the size of a large walnut.  He handed Slap Happy Sal a six-foot gold trophy, a big blue ribbon, and a check for $5,000 made out to the Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal.

“It’s my pleasure, my fellow Oregonians, on this beautiful warm spring day in May, to award the first-place trophy to Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal!”  Everybody roared, had a fine time, cheered, screamed, and finally the crowd started to dwindle and made their way home.  Slap Happy Sal the horseshoe gal went down in history as being the finest horseshoe thrower in Oregon.

Usually, just about at this time in the story, I’d be fast asleep, tucked away, and warm under the covers of my bed.  My father would quietly walk back to his bedroom and turn off the hall light.  My father always had a great sense of humor and I figure he’s probably still telling stories to this day.

Link to the national horseshoe pitching website:

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