Butch was undoubtedly the most colorful character I’ve ever known — on or off the screen. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t a renowned actor, but the bit roles he played in two of my films served to highlight his uniqueness.
He drove a truck covered with animal skins. “Critters,” as he called them. I called them road kill, and wrote that into a script. Butch was a professional hunter and trapper who saved more animals than he ever killed. Where wild hogs were rooting up cornfields, farmers would call Butch to come trap them. After trapping them, Butch took them to the swamp and turned them loose. Sometimes he’d butcher them and give the meat to the underprivileged.
The animals whose skins adorned his truck were creatures he’d killed for food, or found dead in the swamp. He’d skin them, prepare their furry hides, and attach them to his critter truck — an old ’48 Ford. A line I wrote for him in “Mattie and the Meteor” had his character say of the mounted critters “It gives them a little dignity in death.”
When he made appearances at schools, rodeos, festivals, or whatever, he derived great satisfaction in pointing out the habits and habitats of various creatures. Kids loved it. Butch and I often met at a restaurant in Brunswick, Georgia, and if he drove his truck we’d always find a crowd assembled around it when we returned to the parking lot. He’d talk and sign autographs and pose for pictures with people as varied as the critters on his truck.
Butch wore all leather and a wide-brimmed leather cowboy hat with a Diamondback wound around the crown. He also carried two six-shooters holstered on each hip. He knew how to use them, too. With a lightning-fast draw and skillful aim he could send a bullet into any target within range, no matter how small.
Butch had some Cherokee blood in him and followed many of the traditional practices of a particular tribe to which he traced his ancestry. Honoring a creature shot or trapped by performing a strange ritual near a campfire never ceased to amaze me.
Butch kept two stills operating at all times. His ‘likker’ was the best in south Georgia by all accounts. The law seemed to turn their back on his operation. “That’s because I supply everyone from the mayor to the police chief with my likker,” Butch would say. He wasn’t a model human being by any stretch of the imagination. We got into it more than once over items he’d absconded from me. But the guy with the guns always wins an argument; and I really couldn’t fault him as he’d worked for me for peanuts and he no doubt sought to even the score a bit.
A crew from Sharp Entertainment came down from New York to film a pilot for a TV reality show featuring Butch as an enigmatic loner in a small town often used by the law to catch bad guys who’d escaped to the swamp. Butch was a natural.
He took the crew out through the swamp where they (according to what was scripted) encountered an old hermit. Butch’s character heard that the old man had an Eagle feather and he wanted it for his hat. Since it’s illegal to kill an Eagle, and they’re not in the habit of leaving their feathers lying around, Butch carried some supplies out and they bartered in the way swamp people do. Butch got his feather and everyone returned safely, despite the Water Moccasins and ‘gators encountered along the way.
Butch didn’t hear back from Sharp but he believed the call would come any day. Death called first. I won’t describe the spectacle that his funeral created. Whatever your imagination conjures up is probably fairly accurate.
Butch is the first actor I’ve worked with to pass away. I’d never given it much thought because at my age I assumed they’d all outlive me. When it came, my reaction wasn’t what I’d have thought. “Butch is just playing another role,” I reasoned, “and doing a danged good job of it. The best he’s ever done.” Sure, he won’t be around to entertain us again, but when you’ve done your best stuff, where can you go from there anyway?