The Day I Met Skeeter

by William Bell

photography by William Bell

August 2nd, 2012


William Bell's newly-acquired Smith & Wesson 5" Model 27. For you S&W collectors, it is a "five-screw" model with an S serial number prefix.


Recently I visited a favorite gun shop to borrow a pistol for a photo-shoot I was doing for a firearms magazine article. After conversing with the owner's son, I walked over to see what might be interesting in the used handgun display case. On the top shelf I spied a revolver that had just been placed there so recently, it didn't as yet have a price tag. I called the young man over I had been talking to and asked how much. I thoroughly examined the six-gun and managed to shave off about half a C-note before I became the proud owner of a great condition, 5-screw, 5" barrel, Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum. I'd had a Model 27 with a 5" barrel in the early 1970's and had carried it for a short time as a law enforcement officer, but as gun folks are apt to do, it got away from me in a trade. I had been looking for just the right one ever since and now I had it! Why a 5" Model 27 you ask? Because, it was among the top handgun choices of lawman Skeeter Skelton, who was and is, one of my all- time favorite gun writers.

I had been reading Skeeter's columns and feature articles in Shooting Times for a number of years and it was his influence, and that of Bill Jordan and Col. Charles Askins that got me into law enforcement, the U. S. Border Patrol (USBP), and eventually lead me into the field of firearms journalism. I'd worked as a deputy sheriff in southeast Louisiana for the better part of four years, when in the spring of 1982 my appointment came through as a Patrol Agent with the Border Patrol. I was assigned to the El Paso Sector, but ended up being stationed in Deming, New Mexico. At that time, the Deming operation was pretty small and we had our HQ in a cinderblock building near a Kmart, off the "main drag" just south of Interstate 10. The group of five other men I was hired with all did their in-processing in El Paso, so I never saw Deming before I went off to the USBP Academy, which at the time was at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia. 

Along with fifty other classmates of the 148th Session of the USBP Academy, we got down to southern, coastal Georgia just in time to get all the heat, humidity, sand fleas, and mosquitoes the "Golden Isles" area could provide. We spent a wonderful 17 weeks learning immigration law, Spanish, federal law enforcement procedures, self-defense, firearms, and best of all, physical training (PT), the obstacle course and 5-mile runs. You were afraid to eat breakfast for fear you'd toss your cookies on the PT field and during lunch you had to go change your sweaty uniform, polish boots and brass, then get to the afternoon classes. Needless to say I lost over 40 pounds at the FLETC. Then due to a semester of Spanish in college, I was placed in an advanced class and had to study twice as hard to "habla espaņol," but I graduated and made my way out to Deming.

My wife Teresa had relocated in advance of me, arrived at our new place of residence and found us a nice rental house near the town library. That library was a great place for me to study as my son William Jordan (yep, you're right!) was still in diapers and Daddy needed quiet to learn his "post-academy" Spanish and immigration law courses. I still had to pass two difficult tests at the six and a half and ten month levels of my probationary period to be a full-fledged Patrol Agent. Deming turned out to be "Mayberry" in New Mexico and as my wife and I were small-town folks anyway, it didn't take us long to adapt to the local scene. Signs and people speaking in Spanish took some getting used to, but in 1982, we were just a young family and still full of the spirit of adventure.

Being a "new hand" I was assigned to an "old hand" who would show me the ropes and give me a weekly evaluation. The Deming station covered all of Luna County on north to the Black Range and Silver City area. One afternoon I was riding with an agent named Jim and we were traveling east on a stretch of pavement that lead to a state park at the base of the Florida Mountains. As we whizzed past a brick house out in "El Monte" Jim says to me, "You know who lives there doncha?" Even though a "probie" I shot back, "Sure Jim, I've been here all of two weeks, I know everybody in Luna County!" "Oh. Well, that's Skeeter Skelton's house," he said, kinda nonchalantly. I was thunderstruck and I'm sure my mouth hung open in utter disbelief. I managed to verbalize, "I thought he lived in Horsethief?" Everybody who's read Skeeter stories KNOWS that! "That's horse-pucky," quipped Jim, "He lives right there." I made a mental note of surrounding landmarks, so I could find that house again in the future.

Back in those days, my better half was into cross-stitch and located in a row of shops near the town's biggest grocery store and close to Miniature Machine Company 
(MMC) where they made fine handgun sights, was an establishment called Sally's Stitching Post. The proprietor sold all kinds of thread, nettles, patterns and other supplies my wife used in her hobby and she got to know owner Sally Skelton rather well. One day Teresa mentioned to Sally that I was just in awe of her husband Skeeter and one of his biggest fans. She told my wife that I ought to call Skeeter and come out to the house for a visit and wrote their phone number on a small slip of paper. When Teresa gave it to me, it was like I'd just been presented an engraved invitation to do lunch with John Wayne!

I had passed my six and a half month test, got acceptable evaluations from the "Old Patrol" men and was headed to the grand finale; the ten month test that would be administered by several high-ranking USBP Agents at the El Paso Sector HQ. The immigration test was bad enough, as you had these charts that had to be memorized to properly answer the exam questions, then you had to verbally recite the "Jurat" a Miranda-like warning in Spanish, plus ask the "Brass" the questions from the I-213 form you used when processing an apprehended illegal alien. This had to be done a certain way; they would then answer you in Spanish and you filled in the blanks on the form. I stayed the night in El Paso with another "probie" who had been assigned there and I was sweating peanuts. I told myself that if I passed this ten month test that as a reward, I was going to call Skeeter Skelton and go out to his house for a visit. I passed. The next night, back home in Deming, I retrieved the slip of paper that had Skeeter's phone number on it and approached the wall-mounted rotary telephone in the kitchen as if it were a rattlesnake poised to strike. I gingerly lifted the receiver off the cradle and with a shaking hand and sweaty palm dialed the number. Skeeter answered on the 3rd ring. In a voice that I hoped did not tremble, I introduced myself, told him about our "wife connection" and what I was calling for. "Why sure!" he said over the phone, "Congratulations on passing, Agent Bell; come on out Saturday and we'll chat over a cold iced tea." 

On the appointed day I grabbed a special edition magazine that Shooting Times had published which was composed of nothing but Skeeter stories and articles. Naturally, if I was going to visit Skeeter, I wanted him to autograph it for me. I rolled it up and stuck it in the back pocket of my blue-jeans. I drove out to the Skelton estate, parked, got out, approached the house and knocked on the door; all without falling down. Skeeter opened the door, and then invited me inside with a big smile and a handshake. We chatted for around four hours and ever so often he'd disappear from the living room and return with a special handgun to show me. Nirvana! I don't remember everything, as time and the fact that I was sitting there "ga-ga" has allowed events to fade. Later, some other guests arrived and as I didn't want to chance wearing out my welcome, I politely thanked Skeeter and made my way outside to the car. It wasn't until I was most of the way back to Deming that I remembered the magazine, still rolled up in my rear jeans pocket! That was the first and last time I ever saw Skeeter Skelton...

William Bell

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