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Sun, Feb. 23

Column: Ol' Budge Ruffner had Arizona history in his blood

Serendipity-doo-dah. Yeah, I know you won't find that word ... or possibly phrase ... in any self-respecting lexicon, but it seems apropos based on a nice surprise I received recently in the mail from Elisabeth Ruffner. Elisabeth, you see, is aware that I'm a bit of a word nerd, and she was kind enough to forward copies of a couple of Courier columns that her late husband, Budge, penned back in 1979, with one of the write-ups providing definitions of unusual terms gleaned from his saddlebag of Western lore.

The Arizona historian was christened Lester Ward Ruffner, but from my experience few have ever budged from "Budge" when referring to the jocular gent whose family ties date back to his uncle, George C. Ruffner, who served as Yavapai County's sheriff from 1895 to 1898. I won't go into any great detail on Uncle George's colorful background, only to say that the website describes him as a "revered county sheriff" who "arrived in the area at age 16 and later became Prescott's sheriff, undertaker and horse handler." Fleshing out that undertaker reference, the site explains that: "On the night of Jan. 3, 1903" he "chose to spend the snowy evening playing faro at the Palace Saloon. (Gambling was legal in territorial times.) It was on that night that he acquired the funeral home from Nevins, the undertaker at that time, with the winning hand." (The funeral home, incidentally, survives.)

After receiving Elisabeth's mailing of the columns I contacted her to ask if it would be OK to take the "Budgetary" route by quoting from his companionable word game fetish, and she flashed the green light and also provided some background material on him. Budge "was my husband of nearly 56 years when he died in May 1996," she wrote. "He was speaking to a group in Phoenix at the behest of an old friend, long after he had resolved to stop public appearances; he simply keeled over from a heart attack while regaling his audience on his favorite topic - Arizona history - with a captive audience at his feet!

"He and Bert Fireman, hired by the family to write the history of the Goldwater family enterprise in the Territory up to contemporary times, were the major speech writers for Barry in all of his campaigns when he spoke of history, trying to keep him from ad-libbing inaccuracies as he was often wont to do."

Courier editor Jim Garner referred to Budge as "clean copy Ruffner," Elisabeth wrote, "until he started on the word processor and got Jonne Markham to serve as his volunteer editor. He wrote on a typewriter, and would scratch it all up" before delivering it to the Courier ... "usually late," she mused. (As an aside, I was with the Courier in the late 1960s, and recall it being a laid-back time when Budge would stroll into the newsroom, armed with his latest written ruminations and always geared up for a gabfest with Garner. Their battle of one-upmanship wit for the quickest quip was quite the rage.)

Elisabeth went on to inform me that "I have Xeroxed all of his more than 30 years of newspaper columns, which I clipped and placed in 3-ring notebooks. Later she had a computer guru prepare his material, and she has created discs on which much of his later work is stored. The University of Arizona published his first collection titled 'All Hell Needs Is Water', and Melissa (daughter) and I republished it after his death, adding three chapters they had left out. That book is available at Peregrine Bookstore. The university would not publish his second collection because he would not change the title of his lead story 'Shot in the Ass With Pesos' and it is long out of print but available on ebay, etc. He and Melissa did a book together - 'Arizona Territorial Cookbook' - and Don Dedera published one called 'Ruff Country', again of his articles and pieces for newspapers."

And now, for edification and/or amusement, herewith are some samples of Budge's idiosyncratic idioms that appeared in his Courier column of May 18, 1979:

• "SOB stew, also called county attorney, is a cowcamp dish made with sweetbreads, marrow gut, tripe, brains and all the spare parts after a cow or calf is butchered. Most cooks thicken it with flour and added chiles, onions or both."

• "One of the most descriptive of all western expressions is 'tongue oil', meaning whiskey or any alcoholic drink."

• "The term 'anxious seat' refers to a seat at a revival meeting, the occupant of which is ill at ease when the subject of sin is mentioned."

• "Why a comb was called a 'Jerusalem undertaker' in the old west is not known, but the term appears in many early journals."

• "An Idaho cowboy once explained his long absence while working a roundup in Skull Valley, Arizona, by telling the boss man: 'My horse coldjawed and the cow couleed.' Translated to the Southwestern, it was understood that his horse had taken the bit and the cow had run into a canyon, gulch, ravine or barranca."

• "Brea is a pitch or tar used for roofing in California and the southwest. I once knew a girl by the name of Brea; she too was sticky and yes, somewhat pitchy."

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