Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Skunk showdown in Fort Sumner

Skunk showdown in Fort Sumner By Ollie Reed Jr. / Journal Staff Writer Wednesday, March 9th, 2016 at 12:02am ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fort Sumner is no stranger to showdowns. Back in the late 19th century, there were some involving Billy the Kid. In December 1880, a posse led by Pat Garrett captured the Kid after some gunplay at Stinking Springs, a few miles east of the town. And after the Kid broke out of jail, Garrett shot and killed Billy in July 1881 at Pete Maxwell’s house in Fort Sumner. Legendary showdowns, for sure, and nothing like the one in Fort Sumner just last month. Except that they all involved skunks of one kind or another. And that the hero of the most recent encounter is about as colorful in his own way as any figure in the Old West. The Great Fort Sumner Skunk Showdown pitted Jerry “Porkchop” Webb against a skunk of the black-and-white striped, four-legged variety. In case you’re wondering, Webb is the hero, the one who tried to avoid the altercation. It was the skunk that pushed things until they got ugly. “It was the most exciting thing that has happened around here since Billy got killed,” Webb joked. Webb, 67, has a 20-acre farm in the valley south of Fort Sumner where he raises alfalfa and watermelons and he and his grandchildren show calves and pigs. The showdown took place Feb. 17 on a neighbor’s farm, where Webb had gone to see a calf. “I was going into the barn to look at a calf, and when I opened the door that son of a buck ran right between my legs,” Webb said. “I stood right still. I thought it was going to spray me. But then it got hold of my right pants leg. I pushed it off with my left leg.” Webb, who realized the skunk was rabid, retreated to his truck, a brown 2012 Ford F-350 dually. “Anytime a skunk is out in daytime and won’t spray you, it’s got rabies,” he said. “Anytime a skunk will chase you, it’s got rabies.” The skunk chased Webb as he ran for the truck. “I’m trying to get in my truck and it grabs hold of my left pants leg,” he said. “Here I am, sitting in the seat and I got a skunk hanging on my left leg.” Webb was shaking his leg vigorously and his dog, Roscoe, who, fortunately, Webb had left in the truck, was barking furiously and the skunk was flopping around but holding tight. “I finally kicked him off,” he said. Webb, a Fort Sumner resident most of his life, is a retired “cat skinner,” aka bulldozer operator. “I’ve worked in every state except North Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii,” he said. “I know people all over the United States, and they all know me as Porkchop.” Webb said he got the nickname when he was about 10. “My dad raised pigs in Fort Sumner,” he said. “A rancher came by and said, ‘You look like a porkchop.’ I’ve been Porkchop since then.” For a time, that’s how his name was listed in the Fort Sumner phone book. He is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 260 pounds. He chomps a cigar he never lights in the corner of his mouth and wears short-brimmed hats and bib overalls every day and everywhere. He wore the overalls to his son’s wedding and he was wearing them during his faceoff with the rabid skunk. A couple of days later, the skunk was found dead under some brush about 50 yards from where it had attacked Webb. It tested positive for rabies, prompting the state Department of Health to issue a notice urging pet and livestock owners in De Baca County, which Fort Sumner serves as county seat, to vaccinate their animals. Dr. Paul Ettestad, state public health veterinarian, said the skunk that attacked Webb is the first ever tested positive for rabies in De Baca County. Since the incident, Ettestad said, other people in the area have reported seeing skunks acting strangely, but no more of the animals have been taken in for testing. The showdown was front-page material in the weekly De Baca County News in Fort Sumner. In the words of publisher Scot Stinnett, when you have a skunk chewing on a man named Porkchop, you’ve got a story. While the incident is fun to recount, it could have been anything but funny. Ettestad said that once a person develops rabies, the disease is almost always fatal. Infection can be prevented by vaccine administered promptly after a bite. The skunk got its teeth into Webb’s overalls and boots but not into him. Even so, health officials insisted Webb go to Clovis to get his blood tested. He did not like that, and he admits the skunk dust-up has brought him more attention than he needs. “I had never been attacked by a skunk before,” he said. “And if that ever happens to me again, I’m not telling anybody.” UpFront is a daily news and opinion column. Comment directly to Ollie at 823-3916 or oreed@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/newto submit a letter to the editors.

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