Black SplatThe Cowboys (1972)

"On my worst day I could beat the Hell out of you!"

The Cowboys -  John Wayne battles cattle rustler

Description: The defiant words of John Wayne as cattle drover Wil Andersen to cattle rustler Asa Watts (Bruce Dern) in the western film The Cowboys (1972).

Wil Anderson is a rancher with a problem. He needs to run his cattle to market, but all of his crew have run off to the gold fields. His solution: recruit and train school boys, ages nine through 13 for his drovers. Jebediah Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne) comes along as the cattle drive cook.

As Wil addresses his band of green recruits, he tells them, "I don't expect to get to Belle Fourche with one single head of beef, but I'm cornered, so I'm taking ya on. Now this is the way it's gonna be: I'm a man and yer boys. Not cowmen, not by a damn sight, nothing but cowboys just like the word says. And I'm gonna remind you of it every single minute of every day and night."

Wil Andersen: Now... this is the "Double O", this is Belle Fourche. In between is four hundred miles of the meanest country in the West. And the only way we're gonna get through is if you take orders. Is that clear?
School boys: Yes, sir.
Wil Andersen: Bring a bed roll, couple of good ropes, horse if ya got one. You'll get the best food in the territory, no rest, damn little sleep. And fifty big silver dollars, IF we make it to Belle Fourche. Now, you'll show up at my place first Monday after schools out at 5:00 a.m. And come with grit teeth, 'cuz gentlemen, that's when school really begins.

When a desperado called Asa Watts, aka "Long Hair" tries to rustle Andersen’s cattle, Wil speaks his mind: “You look like the vermin’ bitten son of a bitch you are.” Then Wil says, "I'm thirty years older than you are. I had my back broke once, and my hip twice. And on my worst day I could beat the hell out of you."

When Long Hair begins to taunt a young boy, Wil shouts, “We’ve seen what you can do to a boy. How are you when they come a little bigger?” “You’re a pretty old man”, replies Long Hair. “Yeh, thirty years older than you are. Had my back broke once, my hip twice and on my worst day I could eat the Hell out of you.” Watts smiles, and says, "I don't think so." Anderson replies, "You will."

Jebediah: You know in the late war between the states I served under an officer just like you.
Wil Andersen: Is that right?
Jebediah: As a matter of fact I shot that military gentlemen in the buttocks. Just outside Vicksburg.
Wil Andersen: I'd of hung ya.
Jebediah: They gave me a medal.
Wil Andersen: In my regiment, Mr. Nightlinger, I was known as 'Old Ironpants'. You might keep that in mind!

Andersen started the fight with a punch to Long Hair’s face. Unfortunately, the defeated desperado reaches for his gun and put five bullets into the man who had bested him. On his dying bed, Wil says, “See the boys get home. Summer’s over.”

After he dies, the young boys finish the cattle drive but not before dispatching all the rustlers, including Long Hair (he dangled upside down off his saddle as his horse dragged him and his broken leg through the brush and to his death).

Note: On a segment of TNT production Big Guns Talk: The Story of the Western (1997) Bruce Dern recalled that just before he filmed the killing scene, actor John Wayne leaned into him and said, “Eww, they’re (the American public) gonna hate you for what you about to do.”

The Cowboys - Movie Poster

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