Bill Jordan’s Legendary Legacy
By Walton P. Sellers, III
How do you write about a legend? One of my favorite John Wayne movies has a quote in it that says, “when the legend makes more sense than the truth, print the legend.” I can’t do that, because in this case, the truth and the legend are one and the same. Bill (William Henry) Jordan was known for his honesty, love of the shooting sports, courage, and generosity to family and friends. Thanks to my friend “Dark Canyon” (aka Bill Roser), I am going to get the chance to write about him as a personal acquaintance and a beloved hero. Skeeter Skelton, in one of his stories, once said that “when Jordan wants something good to read, he writes it himself.” Bill, I’m not as accomplished a wordsmith as either you or Skelton, but I hope you enjoy this as you pause from a hunt or an exhibition shoot in Heaven. Oh, and I don’t believe that the Good Lord has overlooked your service as a Border Patrolman or US Marine, either. He knows that the Devil wouldn’t dare try anything with you at His side!
Twelve years ago, in 1995, I was fortunate enough to run across one of Bill’s friends at a local gun show in Lafayette, Louisiana. He was selling a few copies of Bill’s books as a personal favor to Bill, and when he realized just how big a fan of Jordan’s I was, he gave me Bill’s phone number! All of Bill’s three books, No Second Place Winner, Just Huntin’ and Tales of the Rio Grande, have achieved collector’s status since his passing ten years ago. If you run across one of these in a book store or online, snap it up. Don’t sell it, because you will be cheating yourself forever of some of the most straightforward, informative, and humorous prose ever penned by any American.
Now, I realize that most people in today’s 21st century American society do not accord American gun writers with celebrity status, but I do. I literally floated back to my home in Opelousas, Louisiana and called Bill at a reasonable evening hour. During the initial conversation with him, I did not anticipate his marked hearing loss, which had occurred as a result of many years of law enforcement work, hunting and exhibition shooting. Naturally, I repeated my questions and words of praise several times, which, I’m sure, began to wear on us both. Bill almost hung up on me that first time, too, because he believed that I was an insurance salesman! After convincing him that I was an avid shooter as well as a historian, Bill got used to me after a couple of months and set me a task.
Bill’s assignment (which was no easy chore) was to locate a couple of his old friends that he hadn’t seen in about 40 years and investigate the possibilities of a reunion at Jordan’s home near Marshall, Texas. I eagerly began looking, and, after a diligent two-week search, contacted Messrs. Kelly Powell and Col. Jeff De Blanc (USMC, Ret.) in Cheneyville, Louisiana, and St. Martinville, Louisiana, respectively. Jordan graciously offered us the use of his home and that of his relatives, the Vernon Glenns, for our weekend reunion, which took place in mid-July, 1995.
I assembled a small entourage, which included my wife Christine, my two-month-old daughter Caitlin, a fellow shooting buddy named Steve Kewley, the Messrs. Powell and DeBlanc, and yours truly. We piled into my van early one Friday afternoon and made the five-hour trek to Jordan’s residence. I will never forget the huge smile of joy that creased Bill’s features as he met his old friends once again after so many years apart. That smile made the entire trip worthwhile. Bill’s six-foot-six-inch frame, gaunt with age but still powerful, framed the doorway, Jordan was the only man I ever knew who had to duck his head while entering a doorway lest he injure himself! His gnarled old hands, which had shucked many a S&W Model 64 or Model 19 out of its holster to fire at .28 of a second, were size 13. This meant that they made two of mine or Steve’s.
Steve, Chris, Caitlin and I left them alone for awhile as we stowed our gear in the Glenns’ home a short distance away. Dr. Vernon Glenn, a local physician and lover of fine Mausers, proved to be a very interesting and affable man. He is also now deceased, and I hope his lovely wife will also enjoy these words. Upon our return to his home, Bill gave us a tour of his residence. A pair of magnificent elephant ivory tusks and a grizzly-bear rug graced the living room, as did mounted specimens of each of Africa’s “Big Five.” The gun cabinet was a sight to behold, as it contained a host of Remington and Winchester longarms. Bill was one of a very few people, I am sure, to have a personal serial number registered with Smith and Wesson. After all, he designed the Model 19 for S&W back in 1956! Bill readily consented to photographing wee Caitlin on the bearskin rug, and even cradled her in his arms a time or two. His gentleness and love of small children was readily apparent , despite his imposing size. We also had a chance to visit with Bill’s wife, the former Anne Hendricks. Her family was one of the original pioneer clans of Alexandria, Louisiana back in the nineteenth century.
Saturday morning dawned clear and bright, and we prevailed upon Bill to show us his fast-draw skills. One of his favorite NRA stunts was to place a Ping-Pong ball in the holster of his favorite elephant-hide belt rig alongside the Model 64. “If I do this right,” he intoned, “you won’t see my hand move, and the Ping-Pong ball will stay in the holster.” Guess what. I was less than two feet from him at the time, and my eyes never left his right hand. I never saw it move, but the gun was up, cocked, and lined up on an imaginary foe before I could even blink an eye. It came as quite a surprise for me to learn that back in 1955, Bill had been one of the fast-draw experts who had instructed James Arness (TV’s Marshal Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke) on the finer points of getting a single-action Colt into battery quickly and accurately. Jordan’s .28-second time has since been bested by current fast-draw aficionado Jerry Miculek, but I’ll wager that Jerry had to use up a lot of elbow grease (and cartridges, too!) before he did it.
That evening, Bill treated us all to a sumptuous catfish supper at a local restaurant. For dessert, we went back to his home and were entertained by more hunting stories and personal anecdotes than we could count. The tales ranged from boyhood reminiscences with Kelly to wartime adventures with Col. Jeff to hunting exploits in Louisiana, Texas, and Africa. Once, at the end of one of Steve’s accounts, in which a whitetail and a turkey bit the dust simultaneously, Bill grinned hugely. His eyes twinkled, and he quipped, “Who told you that lie?”
On Sunday morning, we all purchased books and had Bill sign and inscribe them. I even remembered to bring my dad’s S&W revolver box for his Model 19 along, and Bill signed it with a flourish. (I hope that those two have shared many a laugh and a woodcock hunt together in Heaven by now.) Jordan had another surprise waiting for us. An ancient mobile home in his yard served as an office and writing retreat, and in it we would find personal commendations from three US Presidents, as well as The Medal of Freedom, conferred upon Bill by former President Ronald Reagan.
Regretfully, but with fond memories and new friendships forged, we left Bill’s place around noon, after I presented him with the first copy of “No Second Place Friend,” a poem that I had written to show our gratitude to Bill for his hospitality. As the van cruised out of his yard, I remember looking back and seeing a wistful smile creep across his face, as if he knew that this would be the last time he would see these friends—both old and new—again.
As it turned out, this was exactly what happened. After our visit, my phone conversations with Bill became fewer and fewer, since he was in and out of hospitals with pneumonia and heart problems. The sudden death of his wife Anne did nothing, I am sure, to improve his outlook on life. Bill Jordan died in 1997, and I mark his passing every year in the same way that I do when a member of my family shuffles off the mortal coil. He was my friend and my hero. Thanks to people like him, countless Americans today can enjoy the privilege of living in a free country with a place to shoot well-designed, accurate sixguns. Adios, Bill. Leave the light on for me, because I’ll be seeing you again one of these days. Between you, my dad, and I, we’ll have a lot of yarns to spin. I’m looking forward to that!
No Second Place Friend - A Tribute To Bill Jordan
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