The Trail

Did Johnny Cash Fight An Ostrich? 10 Outlandish But True Cash Stories

9/14/2023 | By Johnny Cash Trail| Johnny Cash

The legacy and impact that Johnny Cash left behind is no mystery. However, during his time here, a couple of adventures left people wondering, could that really have happened? Question yourself no longer and get the answers you've been waiting for. Here are 10 outlandish but entirely true stories that happened to our Man in Black.

1. He Really Did Fight An Ostrich…And Almost Died

In the early 1980s, Johnny Cash's career had slowed, causing him to spend more time at his home in Tennessee, known as 'The House of Cash.' The house contained a studio, museum, and a farm on which numerous animals called home, including ostriches. 
One of the ostriches froze to death one winter as she didn't want to enter the barn, and her male mate, Waldo, was unhappy. Though Waldo had been pleasant to Cash beforehand, this time was different.

After walking his property one day, Waldo confronted Cash, who was holding a big stick to defend himself. Unfortunately, Waldo's speed and height advantage got the best of Cash, and Waldo clawed through Cash's stomach severely while also knocking him to the ground, breaking a total of 5 ribs. He was able to shoo the bird away with the stick and run away, but not before getting seriously injured.

2. He Once Released Over 500 Chicks In A Hotel

Keeping up with the bird-related stories, this one is too fun not to tell. Cash got into quite a few antics in his early days before his name was known across the country, especially during his struggles with sobriety.
One stunt by Cash and his 'Tennessee Three' bandmates Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins took the cake. After buying over 500 chickens from a local hatchery, the three men returned to the hotel and released 100 chicks on each of the hotel's 5 floors.

3. Johnny Cash Isn't His Real Name

When Cash was born, his parents were still deciding the name he would have. His mother's maiden name was Rivers and his father's name was Ray, so they both agreed on the name JR to avoid conflict. Though this was uncommon in the South, it remained his name throughout high school until he joined the Air Force in 1950. When he got there, the recruiter wouldn't allow candidates with initials for names, and so John R. Cash was born.
Sam Phillips, the producer of his first records, thought Cash had made up his name. However, the family name can be traced back thousands of years to Scotland, in the ancient kingdom of Fife.

4. He Was One Of The First Americans To Hear About Stalin's Death

During his service in the Air Force, Cash spent 4 years rising to the role of Staff Sergeant, working in security service in Germany. In fact, his first band was called "The Landsberg Barbarians'' as a tribute to his time there.

While stationed, he was working as a Morse Code Intercept Operator, monitoring transmissions from the Soviet Army. Around March 5th, 1953, he was at work translating signals when the message about Stalin's death came through. Due to its top-secret classification, he was only allowed to talk about the events a few years later.

5. He Helped Dig His Brother's Grave At 12

Johnny Cash's brother, Jack, was an immense force in his life growing up, both as a protective entity and one of inspiration that he carried with him. Jack worked as a woodcutter at a local lumber mill to provide for the family. One day at work, he accidentally was pulled into an unguarded table saw and severely lacerated his midsection. Jack was in the hospital for a week before succumbing to his injuries.

This took an enormous toll on Cash, who went to the gravesite early on the day of his funeral and helped workers dig Jack's grave, according to his sister, Joanne. Cash's devotion to his brother Jack remained constant and intense throughout the rest of his life, both spiritually and emotionally.

6. He Was Arrested 7 Times

Of all the albums Cash released, the two most popular and best-selling albums were the live albums he recorded at Folsom Prison and San Quentin Prison. Although he never spent time behind bars in prison, he spent his fair share of nights in jail, solidifying his sympathy for American prisoners.

Between 1959 and 1968, Cash was arrested 7 times. However, one experience didn't make it to a song and was only mentioned in his autobiography. After an arrest in Carson City, Nevada, he described how he shared a cell with someone who had no belief Cash was who he said he was. He had to spend the rest of the night singing his big hits and gospel music to pacify and appease the man.

7. He Was An Ordained Minister

Of course, Cash was well known for his outlaw image throughout the 1960s, but once he met June Carter, a lot changed for him. Cash's spiritual side was already a big part of his life after his brother's passing, but his love for June reignited his devotion.

In the decades following, Johnny Cash had a large reexamination of his life and rededication to his Christian roots. In the later years of the 1970s, he dedicated a lot of time to studying and received a degree in theology, followed by being ordained as a minister.

During these years, Reverend Billy Graham was a significant influence in his studies and became a close friend of the Cash family. Although Cash never attempted to lead a congregation or host a church service himself, he did preside over the wedding of his daughter Karen.

8. His Biggest Hit Was Written By June

Cash and his music were well acquainted with the Billboard charts for pop and country genres. However, despite having composed and written a large portion of his music, his most iconic hit, "(Love's) Ring of Fire," was written by his wife, June.

In 1963, Cash recorded the song, initially released by Anita Carter a few months prior. Carter, Anita's Sister, and singer-songwriter Merle Kilgore, who had some of his own hits of the time, all co-wrote the song together.

The song wasn't a hit initially, but once Cash heard it, he immediately thought to add Mexican-style mariachi horns to the arrangement and released it as "Ring of Fire." The song shot up the charts and became #1 in the country genre and pop's top 20. It remained in the #1 spot for over 7 consecutive weeks and became a staple at every one of his concerts.

9. He Was Tempted to Start A Riot

At Cash's second biggest prison concert at San Quentin in 1969, he introduced a new, never-before-heard song named after the prison. Johnny Cash always had a soft spot for prisoners and would let his feelings be known through music or speech at these concerts.

However, in this song, particularly bitter lyrics written from the inmates' point of view ("San Quentin, I hate every inch of you") started to rile up the crowd more than intended. His producer, Bob Johnston, claimed, "He realized that all he had to say was, 'Let's Go!' and there would have been a full-scale riot."

10. He Was A Movie Star

In the late 1950s, Cash moved to California. He was friends with Elvis Presley, who had begun to make his big break into film and was inspired to pursue it himself. His first appearance was in a famous Civil War drama called The Rebel in 1959. After that, he appeared and sometimes starred in several motion pictures and TV shows throughout the 60s and 70s, but none ever took off like his music did.

His most significant achievement was The Johnny Cash Show, running for two seasons from 1969 to 1971 on ABC. The show featured guests like Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Joni Mitchell. Along with a similar program hosted by Glen Campbell's, they both helped bring country music to a more mainstream audience.

However, the project closest to Cash's heart was a movie he financed and produced titled Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus. Cash, enamored with the holy land, took a crew and filmed the life of Jesus on location in Israel. The film didn't meet much success, with most showings presented to church groups, though Cash still considered it his finest cinematic achievement.

Johnny Cash, the iconic Man in Black, was not just a legendary musician but also carried an arsenal of fascinating stories and experiences with him. From his unexpected encounters with ostriches to his rebellious antics in hotels, Cash's life was filled with moments as unpredictable as they were memorable. His deep connection to his family, his spiritual journey, and his unwavering commitment to his craft and beliefs made him a multifaceted figure in the world of music and beyond. Whether he was translating Morse code in the Air Force, presiding over his daughter's wedding as an ordained minister, or producing a film about Jesus in the Holy Land, Johnny Cash's legacy is a testament to a life lived fully and fearlessly.