Friday, March 29, 2024

The Cowboy Surfer War of 1966 & The Battle of Perfume Pass

 March 29, 2024

   When I was a freshman at the University of Arizona in 1966, word came from home that war had broken out in my hometown. According to my mother, the upstart community of Lake Havasu City did not have any schools built, so the high school age kids had to be bussed to Kingman. They were not alone. At that time there was only one high school in the fifth largest county in the country and many kids, like those on the Big Sandy (Wikieup) had to get on the bus in the dark—in the wee hours of the morning—and got off the bus, in the dark, at night.

   If you believe my Kingman cowboy kin, the kids from Havasu were a snotty-commie bunch because they identified as surfers (Exhibit A: "Surfin' U.S.A." 1964), and this created a bit of a culture clash with the Kingman cowboys who ruled the roost at Mohave County Union High School where I barely graduated the year before, in 1965.

   According to one of the Havasu survivors, Rick Kingsbury, who wrote about this war in a book he published, "Livin' at The End of Old 95," the Havasu kids were often kicked out of stores in Kingman merely for the way they looked. Also, the high school cowboys daily threatened them in the hallways and in the bus parking lot of Mucous (our petty nickname for MCUHS). The threats escalated and a showdown grew imminent.

Looking North Towards Perfume Pass, 1940

   On a Friday word came down that the cowboys were going to ambush the Havasu surfers at the bus turnaround in front of the old building and rather than wait for the massacre, the surfers took off for home, on foot.

The Battle of Perfume Pass

   On foot, the Surfers fled the high school grounds and ended up at Perfume Pass on old Route 66 with several carloads of cowboys careening down the pungent highway looking for a rag tag gaggle of Surfer Joes to fight. According to eye-witnesses, rocks were thrown, threats were issued, but fortunately for all involved a sheriff's deputy got the call ("Surfers on the rampage!! All car proceed to Perfume Pass! I repeat, The one car we have head to Perfume Pass Pronto!") and, thus, with the arrival of an adult with a badge, bloodshed was avoided.

   So, all this past week, as I sought to make sense of the "war," and as I was talking to eye witnesses and a few of the participants it became crystal clear to me, that these must have been rough kids with unruly hair and crazy clothes and, well, you know, out-of-control-radical types. 

    This morning, thanks to Toby Orr, of Kingman, I finally got a look at one of the ringleaders in the Havasu Surfer Gang and here he is in a 1966 class photo.

Can You Spot The Punk, Radical Surfer?

That's him, in the bottom row, second from right. Unruly? Yeh. Maybe, perhaps. Sideburns? Yeh, kindah, sortah. In those innocent bygone days, the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly, is, well, I think it's safe to say, pretty slim.

"In war you win or lose, live or die, and the difference is just an eyelash."

—Douglas MacArthur


  1. Anonymous6:46 AM

    YES I WAS A MCUHS AT THAT TIME. THERE WERE LOTS OF COWBOY- SURFER FIGHTS IN THE PARK JUST BEHIND THE HIGH SCHOOL. I REMEMBER IT WELL. BEING FROM PEACH SPRINGS, I WAS ALWAYS WAITING FOR THE BUS AFTER SCHOOL, I was the white boy from the Hualapai, I pretty much hung with them just to avoid some surfer dude wanting to rough me up!!!

  2. Anonymous1:55 AM

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