Sturkie Family History
Johnnie the Jackass
~~by Paul D. Sturkie, Phd.

Johnnie, the jackass, was a donkey that my father acquired for me and my older brother, Ira, when we were about 10 and 12 years old. Johnnie was a large, black and brown male who was allowed to grow to sexual maturity before he was neutered; consequently his behavior and demeanor were those of a macho male.

Johnnie's main aim in life was to eat, sleep, and to outwit his young owners. Our father outfitted Johnnie with a fine western saddle and harness to pull a new light-weight wagon which we used to haul freight from the railroad station to my father’s general store where he stocked everything from wagons to caskets. Our rural village also had a bank, three other stores, and a postoffice.

Ira and I often visited my grandparents who lived on a farm about five miles away, and we usually rode our donkey. Johnnie had a mind of his own and often would let us ride him without problems, but at other times he gave us trouble; he would try to get us off his back by going under trees with low handing branches or among bushes or by stopping suddenly and ducking his head. As a last resort, he would lie down in the roadway.

On one such occasion, we saddled Johnnie and began our journey to Grandfather's. In order for both of us to ride in the saddle, one of us mounted with the left foot in the stirrup and the right leg and part of his behind extending over the saddle seat, while the other placed his right foot in the stirrup with the left leg extending over the seat, but in front of the other occupant's body. This crisscross posture allowed us to hold on to each other with one hand and to the horn of the saddle with the other hand. It also provided balance in the weight of our bodies, making it easier for Johnnie to walk or run.

Johnnie walked briskly and sometimes trotted and most of the trip was without incident. Suddenly without warning he stopped and began to lie down in the first road; we had to scramble to extricate our feet from the stirrups. We tried vainly to get him up. We applied the small quirt but to no avail; we cajoled, we thumped his ears; we tickled the bottom of his feet, but no luck. We saw a farm house not far from the road and decided to seek help. As we approached the house, the farmer came out from his barn, saw us and the prostrate donkey and inquired, “What is the trouble boys?”

“Our donkey lay down and we can’t get him up,” we replied.

After relating our unsuccessful attempts to raise Johnnie, he thought for a moment, walked into the barn and soon returned with a short piece of stiff lariat rope (the type used for roping cattle).
“Place this rope under his tail with each of you at the ends and gently saw back and forth”, he said.
The results were amazing. Johnnie came to with a start; raised his head, flicked his tail and climbed up off the road, alert and ready to go. After showing Johnnie the rope, we tied it to the back of the saddle, mounted and went on our way. We never had the “lying down” problem again.