Every summer in Wrightwood, California, in the mountains above Los Angeles, where my parents had a cabin, folks would be treated to performances of knife and tomahawk throwing by George “Skeeter” Vaughan, better known in this role as Grey Otter.
He was a regular feature at Mountaineer Days and over Labor Day Weekend, bursting balloons with knives and tomahawks and trimming a cigarette held between the luscious lips of his beautiful buckskin bikini-clad assistant. Her flawless, unscarred skin — prolifically on display — was evidence that Grey Otter never missed. Believe me, I checked. For proto-Frontier Partisans research purposes, you see…
Grey Otter was charismatic, funny — and massively talented. He’d growing up hunting with throwing knives, and he really was all that with a blade. I saw him countless times, talked with him often. I don’t think I could get a word out in the presence of the assistant though…
Skeeter gave a mini-history lesson on the tomahawk during his show, and when he’d show off a pipe tomahawk, he’d always say, “You could get stoned with either end of this thing.” His grin was so infectious that you’d laugh the hundredth time you heard the line.
Vaughan was a Western showman and a Hollywood actor and stuntman — and he was also a warrior. In World War II, he took out a German sentry with a downhill bayonet throw of 87 feet. He drew bead on a spot about three feet over the sentry’s head and let fly, the bayonet rotating end-over-end and taking the German at the base of the skull.
Now, that sounds like a tall tale, but I see no reason to disbelieve it. Skeeter himself attributed the accuracy of the throw to luck and prayer. It’s like Billy Dixon’s extreme long-range shot at Adobe Walls — a skillful man has a better chance of getting lucky.
And in his late 50s, early 60s, when I saw him, the man could throw. I’m a close eyewitness, remember? I’m a believer.
Hadn’t thought of Skeeter Vaughan for years. What a grand thing, to remember Mountaineer Days, the heat of summer and the flash of spinning blades.
Skeeter Vaughan’s 1989 obituary from the L.A. Times:
Skeeter Vaughan, 66, who appeared as an actor and stuntman in more than 100 films, television shows and commercials. As a film actor, he was seen in “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Revolution” and “Like Father, Like Son.” Vaughan, a Cherokee whose Indian name was Grey Otter, also had parts in a number of television shows including “Magnum P.I.,” “Gunsmoke,” “Happy Days,” “Remington Steele” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.” He was born on a California Indian reservation and grew up on the Umatilla reservation near Pendleton, Ore. Known for his prowess with knives and tomahawks, Vaughan’s skills were often featured in television and movie performances even when he was not seen on screen. He also was a charter member of the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame. In Sequim, Wash., on Wednesday following a heart attack.