High Bid—62¢


Based on a true incident in the life of Thomas Jefferson Murdoch.

The glistening morning sun cast its warming rays over the dilapidated old barn, transforming it into a painter’s dream. On the sagging barn door was a large poster—

  • STRAY-ANIMAL AUCTION

  • June 10, 1894—10:00 A.M.

  • All critters sold to highest bidder

  • CASH ONLY

Clouds of dust rose from all the roads leading to the barn as a colorful crowd began to gather. There were cowpunchers in worn chaps and ten-gallon Stetsons, sitting cross-legged in their saddles, and be-whiskered farmers in bib overalls and straw hats, tying their horses and wagons to fence rails. A sprinkling of better-dressed townsfolk arrived in black-top buggies. A pair of Navajo Indians had taken up squatter’s rights beside the barn, hoping to trade one of their bright handmade blankets for a goat or a sheep.

Wow! thought nine-year-old T. J. as he scrambled to the top of the high pole fence and stared down at the corral filled with animals churning about. This is better than a circus. He opened his little, ragged purse and counted his coins for the umpteenth time, “Fifty-nine, sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two cents. It’s not much, but I don’t care. I’m going to bid anyway!”

The old auctioneer chided him, “Back again, T. J.? Are you going to buy yourself a horse today?”

He’s just poking fun at me, T. J. thought and gave him a disgusted look. “I’ll show you,” he muttered to himself. “I’m really going to bid today.”

In the corral beneath T. J. were several large horses, three old milk cows, a young steer with long horns, two nanny goats, and four sheep.

The auctioneer climbed on top of the auction box. Just as he was about to speak, T. J. lost his balance and plunged headlong into the corral, landing on the back of the steer. The startled animal took off, kicking and bellowing. T. J. grabbed hold of its horns and managed to stay on top as it bucked and plowed in and out among the other frightened animals.

Everyone clapped and hollered, “Hang in there, T. J.” “You can do it.” “Whoopee!”

Suddenly the steer stopped, and T. J. sailed off, landing sprawled out in the dust of the smelly corral. Everyone cheered.

“Humph,” grunted the auctioneer. “Now that the show’s over, we’ll get started.”

A big, bay mare was led out for inspection. “How much am I bid for this fine mare?” the auctioneer asked.

Before anyone else could say anything, T. J. waved his arms wildly and shouted, “I bid sixty-two cents!”

Everybody snickered, and one of the men hollered, “Well, kid, I’ll just have to bid ten dollars and sixty-two cents.”

T. J.’s hopes were dashed. The horse was eventually sold for eighteen dollars and sixty-two cents. Then the next horse was brought forward.

“How much am I bid for this fine gelding?” the auctioneer queried.

Once again young T. J. bravely shouted, “I bid sixty-two cents!”

This time the crowd really laughed and hooted. After several bids, the gelding sold for twenty-two dollars and sixty-two cents. Still determined, T. J. bid unsuccessfully on the third horse.

For a change of pace the auctioneer sold two milk cows and a sheep. Soon there was only one horse left, another mare. As she was led out for display, T. J. could see big, shiny patches of hide here and there between dust and dirt where she had been rolling around in the smelly corral. “All she needs is to be brushed and wiped down,” T. J. sighed. “She’s just beautiful, and I want her.”

As he longingly gazed at the mare, he heard the auctioneer roar with feigned admiration, “I’ve saved the best for last! How much am I bid for this beauty?”

T. J. was shocked to hear Old Pete sneer, “The best? Why she’s the worst-looking critter I’ve seen in all my life. She must be sick, and you must be crazy!”

Pete’s son added, “Yeah, Pa! Worse still, I hear that she’s a stumpsucker.”

Someone else volunteered, “Besides that, I know for a fact that she has a mean streak a mile wide.”

Then they all stopped talking and looked at T. J. The boy felt sorry for that horse; he even loved her. And he didn’t believe one word of what he’d just heard. But he’d given up all hope of being able to buy a horse with sixty-two cents. He just sat there, staring sadly at the horse he wanted so badly. Then he heard a farmer say, “Tell you what—I’ll bid five cents for the nag.”

Somebody else hollered, “I’ll go you one better, Jake. I bid twenty-five cents!”

Old Pete jumped up and shouted, “I’m going to get that mare for fifty-five cents!”

T. J. came to life and wildly waved both arms and shouted, “I bid sixty-two cents!”

Dead silence followed. The auctioneer was very disgruntled to have the bidding go sour. In fact, he was furious. “I have a high bid of sixty-two cents. How about ten dollars and sixty-two cents?”

Not a single word was spoken; not a single head nodded.

“Then how about five dollars and sixty-two cents?”

When no one offered to up the bid, he exploded, “Well, I’m not going to sell this horse for sixty-two cents, and that’s final!”

“Oh, yes, you are!” Old Pete yelled. “You’ll sell to the highest bidder, or none of us are paying for our animals.”

The other men shouted in agreement.

Realizing that the men meant business, the auctioneer meekly declared, “I have a high bid of sixty-two cents. Do I hear any more bids? Going once, going twice, …” Down went the gavel. “Sold to T. J. for sixty-two cents.”

The crowed went wild. They whistled and clapped and threw their hats into the air and slapped each other on the back. T. J. was speechless. He scrambled down off the fence and reached into his pocket for his purse—but it was gone! “I’ve lost my money!” he wailed. He scurried under the fence and ran frantically in and out among the startled animals.

“Hold on, everybody. T. J.’s lost his purse!” shouted Old Pete as he jumped down and began to help T. J. search. Soon there were as many men in the corral as there were animals, all running hither and thither. Dogs were barking, cows were bellowing, and sheep were bleating.

All at once T. J. spied his purse in the muck under the hoof of a cow. “I’ve found it! I’ve found it!” he screamed.

“Hurray!” shouted the men as Old Pete lifted T. J. over the fence.

T. J. counted out his sixty-two cents for the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper gave him a leg up, and there sat T. J. astride his very own horse. “I’m going to call her Beauty,” he proudly announced, lovingly stroking her tangled mane, “‘cause she’s the most beautiful horse in the world, and she’s all mine.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mike Eagle