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Erlkönig: Worthless Luke's Dog

Old and gas tale from the Texas Panhandle, ~1920.
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Oil and gas were the magnets that drew the lawabiding and lawless to the Texas Panhandle. Everyone wanted in on the bonanza strike. The visions of sudden wealth overcame common sense, and the discoveries provided a field day for the con artists, stock promoters, and land speculators. Among them were Lucas Miller, known widely as Luke the Spook, and his oil sniffing dog, Clyde.

Lucas, born during the witching hour on Halloween, October 30, 1900, thus the nickname, never did well in school, and, in fact, didn't do well out of school, either. His father, a hard-working, God-fearing man, did his best to thrash some responsibility into Luke, but all he ever got for his efforts was exercise and more rebellion.

By the time Luke was thirteen, he was incorrigible-- smoking, drinking, and swearing like a mule skinner, and his father threw him out of the house. Luke apparently didn't mind. He moved into a deserted shack on a nearby creek and fished for his food. When the fish weren't biting, he'd steal chickens from the neighbors. Occasionally his mother would take him a pan of biscuits and a jar of preserves, and he would repay her by letting her chop some firewood for him. Luke brought new meaning to the word "worthless."

Time passed, and since no one would live with Luke the Spook except stray dogs, he had a whole pack of them in the shack and out of it. It wasn't long before he not only looked and smelled like his dogs, but acted like them, too. He did seem to have a special affinity for his mongrels and was able to teach them to do most everything--particularly steal. Luke and his dogs would enter town, and if the merchants didn't lock their doors fast enough, the pack would barge right in and practically sack the stores. Luke'd turn his dogs loose and they'd grab whatever was handy in their mouths and take off down the road. It wasn't long before the whole town would close down when Luke and his mongrels came to shop.

When the wildcatters poured into the area, Luke found a way to make the most of it. A braggart to begin with, Luke started telling some outrageous stories about the intelligence of his dogs, particularly Clyde. Clyde, he claimed, could tell if there was oil under the surface just by sniffing the ground. The snorts of derision and unbelief didn't faze Luke one bit.

One oil company decided to put Clyde to the test. If the mutt found oil, the company would pay Luke ten dollars. Off they went, Luke, Clyde, and several oil company officials to a company lease. Everyone stood on the edge of the lease while Clyde trotted aimlessly across the ground, sniffing. Suddenly he started running in circles, yelping loudly, and finally, howling to the blazing sun. Luke told them to drill where Clyde was sitting on his haunches. The driller did and hit oil!

Clyde's sensitive nose became a sensation, and Luke, always one to take advantage of his opportunities, raised the price from ten dollars to a hundred, then to a thousand. Money rolled in faster for Luke than it did for the wildcatters, and while Clyde's predictions weren't always true, they came through often enough to keep Luke in whiskey and chewing tobacco money.

Then one day Luke, who must have had around a hundred thousand dollars socked away following nearly nine months of Clyde's sniffing, bought a shave, haircut, bath, and a new suit of clothes--and left town, never to be seen again.

Some of the locals went to his shack and picked up Clyde. No sense in letting a good thing go to waste, they figured. They took him from place to place, but Clyde gave them nary a sniff. He'd just wander off looking for a shady spot and drop off to sleep. They were about to give up on him when one Or the men took off his hat to wipe the perspiration from his brow and Clyde went into his act, yelping and running in circles. The man put his hat back on and Clyde stopped, sat down and started howling. They tried Clyde out twice more and he responded instantly to the hat each time.

Worthless Luke the Spook had done it to them again.

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