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What are you gonna use for hands on this drive of yours, huh? Them little bitty boys down there? Come on, you know better than that, Mr. Andersen. You know what you're gonna need to trundle them boys across the prairie, don't you? A baby carriage.
~ Watts to Wil Andersen.

Asa "Long Hair" Watts is the main antagonist of the 1972 western film The Cowboys, which is based on the 1971 novel of the same name. 

He is portrayed by Bruce Dern.

Synopsis

Background

Beginning his Crimes

When Asa Watts was 13, he had already killed a man. He eventually became a rustler who got all of the names of the ranchers "he worked with", Oscar West at the Triple D. Andersen, George C. Thompson over at McNeil, and Dillard Fant, from the Stockman's Association Brand Book. He and his men also eventually got fresh out of jail and attempted to rustle Wil Anderson's cattle.

The Cowboys

Attempting to Manipulate Wil Anderson

Watts first appears in the film when approaches rancher Wil Andersen of the Double-O, who has just enlisted the help of some schoolboys to participate in a 400 mile long cattle drive. He and his gang have just been released from jail and are searching for work. He and 2 of his men watch as Anderson and the schoolboys pull one of the cattle out of the watering hole to prevent it from drowning. Watts then calls Anderson if he can help him, but the latter says the schoolboys are doing all right as they successfully pull the cattle out of the watering hole.

After that, Anderson asks Watts what he can do for him. Watts claims there's something they can do for each other, and introduces himself and his 2 men, Henry Williams and Red Tucker, saying they both ride with him. He tells Anderson he and his 2 men heard he was on a cattle drive and needed some help. Watts then says he and his 2 men are the very best helpers in the area, and that they come from Denton County; they have been at the Ruby River lands for a few weeks, panning for gold; this happened for 22 days, and they got nothing but $2.00 worth of dust and nothing more; now, they are ready to get back to what they know, which is cows.

Anderson asks Watts for he worked with, and the latter then lies that he's worked for several dozen ranchers, including every big outfit in north Montana; he mentions them being Oscar West at the Triple D. Andersen, George C. Thompson over at McNeil, and Dillard Fant at the Santa Rosa. He says he worked with Fant for the last 8 years. Anderson catches Watts in the lie when he reveals that he was the pallbearer at the funeral of Dillard Fant 5 years ago. Watts feigns remorse and reveals that he got the names Oscar West, George C. Thompson, and Dillard Fant, from the Stockman's Association Brand Book. Regardless, Anderson refuses to hire him. Watts, still feigning remorse, asks Anderson if he won't give him and his men to redeem themselves. Anderson tells Watts, "I don't hold jail against you, but I hate a liar." Watts then asks Anderson one more little question. He asks him what he is going to use in his cattle drive, maybe the schoolboys. Anderson tells him what he will get himself whatever he needs. After the long conversation, Watts rides off with his 2 men.

Later, he swears vengeance by resolving to take Andersen's herd by force. He and his gang begin discreetly following Andersen and his herd for days.

Threatening Dan

Midway through the drive, Watts encounters one of Andersen's adolescent ranchers, Dan, while the latter was riding his horse. He pulls Dan off the horse and grabs him. He tells him he is nothing but a small child, and lies that if the latter was a fish, he'd throw him back. He then shows the gang he caught Dan, and tells Dan to meet the gang (even though he already did at that moment). He and his gang then bully Dan, and he tells Dan that the latter surprised him and the gang, but they surprised him, too, and tells Dan he knows better than to scream out at that moment. He asks Dan what the matter is with him, and that he is looking at him like he has 2 heads. Watts then smiles an evil grin, and tells Watts the latter's wondering where he came from. He reveals he and his gang have been tracking Anderson and the schoolboys for days, but Dan tells Watts he won't say anything. Watts then tells Dan the's a quiet boy, and if he himself had a prize, he would give it to Dan, and he likes quiet boys. He then tells Dan he will let him loose, but tells him to listen to him.

Bruce Dern The Cowboys

Watts revealing his true nature.

He then threatens Dan that if he tells Andersen that they were following the herd day and night, he would kill him "some night when it's real dark" by using a knife sharpened on a stone to slice a grin on his neck. At the same time, he pulls out a knife as a demonstration, and starts to cut Dan's neck, and asks him twice if he made himself clear. However, when the boy doesn't speak, he grabs Dan and takes him to a river, where he thrashes him repeatedly in the river, angrily asking him if his threat is clear to him now. Scared, Dan says the threat is clear, and Watts throws him at the bank of the river, telling him to go home.

Stalking Anderson and the Schoolboys

Asa Watts and his 11 men watch Wil Anderson and the schoolboys herd the cattle, and ride along as they watch them. However, Andersen eventually figures out that they are being followed.

Meeting with Mr. Anderson Once Again

Whilst they were setting up camp one night in a forest, Watts and his gang encounter Andersen and his cowhands. Watts tells Anderson he and his men knew it would take a long time for the latter to herd his schoolboys and cattle, but they had no way they thought it was going to take that long. He tells Anderson that winter is coming, and they have to take the cattle to Belle Fouche. He asks Anderson how far away it is, but Anderson says that he himself didn't say. Then, Watts tells him to say it, which Anderson replies that it would take 4 or 5 days, but Watts says that it would more likely take 2 or 3 days. Watts tells Anderson he's hungry, telling him he had a chuck wagon and an African-American (Jebediah Nightlinger); he uses a derogatory term when he mentions Mr. Nightlinger. He asks Wil where the wagon and Mr. Nightlinger are. Wil tells Watts the wagon and Mr. Nightlinger behind them, and he sent a boy to find out what was holing him up. Watts tells Wil he knows the boy, and tells one of his men to bring the boy into the campsite.

After that, Watts asks Mr. Anderson if he looks like the kind of man that would assault an innocent boy, but Mr. Anderson says the b-word at him. Watts tells Dan to sit down with the rest of the schoolboys. He tells the rest of the schoolboys to sit down immediately as well. He tells Anderson to hand over his own gun. His men point their guns at Mr. Anderson. Then, Anderson tosses his gun at where Watts is standing. Watts picks up the gun and tells Anderson to give him his own belt as well because he won't need it. Anderson does so by tossing it at the same place where Watts is standing. Watts, however, stares angrily at Anderson, and tells him to pick up the belt and bring it to him. He then demands Anderson the same thing. When Anderson doesn't do what Watts says, the latter points out his gun at him. Eventually, he accuses Anderson of having stubborn pride, saying he admires that, and it is an admirable quality. He then says he wouldn't have picked it up, either. Watts then tells one of his men, Tony, to take the gun. Watts then asks Anderson how much the cattle are worth apiece, saying he is ready to be rich.

Speaking with Dan

He then tells Dan to get up. The latter does so, and Watts takes off the latter's hat. He asks Dan if he kept the little secret, and orders him not to listen to Anderson anymore. He asks Dan how old he is, and the latter answers that he just turned 13 years old. Watts reveals he killed a man when he was 13. He then asks him if he ever did that, but Dan says, "No, sir." Watts also asks if he is the runt of his family; Dan replies that he is. Watts tells Dan the latter was wearing some glasses, and asks him where they are. Dan takes out the glasses from one of his pockets, and gives them to Asa Watts, who inspects the glasses and sees that there is no glass in them. Watts puts the glasses on, and tells Dan that he must've broken them, and that he can see himself back at home with all the carpetbaggers calling him "mister". Dan reveals Watts that he wants the glasses back when he (Watts) is through because they have been in his family for a long time. Asa Watts tells Dan he can have the glasses back, but crumples them.

Fighting and Murdering Mr. Anderson

At that moment, Anderson yells at Watts, telling him he and the cowboys have seen what he (Watts) can do with a boy, asking him how it comes when the boy is a little bigger. Anderson then tells Watts to tell his men to sit out their conversation. After that, Watts tells Anderson he's a pretty old man, and the latter says he's 30 years older, and had his back broke once and his hip broke twice, and tells him that he can beat him up. Watts tells him he doesn't think he can do that, but Anderson tells him that he will.

The confrontation between Wil Anderson and Asa Watts becomes heated and soon becomes a violent fistfight between Andersen and Watts. Immediately after Anderson tells Watts that he will think he can beat him up, he gives him a violent punch, but one of Watts' men punches him in the back, causing Anderson to fall over. However, Watts tells the man to get away from Anderson (he wants to finish the fight without anyone's help, and believes he's a better fighter than Anderson). He tells Anderson that he will kill him alone, telling him to get up and saying the b-word at him. Anderson does so, and the two grab each other. However, Anderson grabs Watts, and thrashes him on the ground. After that, Watts keeps punching Anderson, causing him to fall over. When Watts tries to punch Anderson again, the latter grabs his arm, but Watts does a knee-kick, causing both of them to tumble over, and Anderson punches him again. Watts then punches Anderson repeatedly, and tries to bang Anderson against a tree in the forest. However, Anderson subdues Watts and pushes him against the tree. Anderson then bangs Watts against the tree thrice, before throwing him on the ground again. All of Watts' men look in shock.

When Andersen gains the upper hand and seemingly subdues Watts, Watts grabs Anderson's rifle from his pistol. He gets back up, with Anderson walking away telling Watts's men to mount up. However, Watts challenges him again, saying the b-word at him again, but Andersen refuses, telling him to "go to Hell". This enrages Watts even further; he demands that Anderson turns around and see the bullet shoot him. However, Anderson keeps walking away, and Watts shoots Andersen several times in the back, then stares at Anderson's dying body. Watts then tells his men that they're leaving the area. One of his men asks about the schoolboys, but Watts tells him they're not going anywhere, and tells him men to take everything but the fire. With that, Watts and his men take off with the herd and almost all of the schoolboys' supplies. Andersen ultimately dies from the wounds.

Defeat and Presumed Death

Andersen's cowhands resolve to take the herd back. As part of a plan, Andersen's cook, the African-American Jebediah Nightlinger, wanders into Watts's camp and allows himself to supposedly be executed by hanging. This provides enough of a distraction for the cowhands to ambush the camp. With the element of surprise, the boys kill every member of Watts's gang. Eventually, Watts is the only one left and has broken his leg after falling off his horse, and his leg has gotten tangled in the reigns. Watts desperately pleads with the boys to spare him, and at first, they appear to when part of the reigns trapping his leg is cut loose…but only the part connecting the reign to the saddle, which Watts doesn't realize until it is too late. Moments later, Cimarron shoots a gun blast into the air, which startles Watts' idle horse, sending it galloping off into the desert, dragging him by his broken leg and presumably killing him.

Personality

Mr. Anderson, do I look like the kind of man to you that would beat on an innocent boy? (Mr. Anderson: You look like the vermin-ridden son-of-a-b**** you are.)
~ Wil Anderson's response to Asa Watts's question.

While at first Watts seemed to be pleasant, though slightly standoffish, individual, he is later revealed to be a violent thug when he sadistically bullies Dan and threatens to kill him, showing that he has no problems with killing, even if it's a child. A vicious and psychopathic criminal, Watts also appears to be very arrogant, belittling Andersen for using boys as cowhands and believing himself to be a better fighter than Andersen, though this is soon proven wrong. Watts also appears to be somewhat racist, based on some of the things he says and does to Jeb Nightlinger, including slapping him in the face and desiring to hang him, all just because he "sassed" him (despite the fact that he was insulting Nightlinger himself.)

Out of all of the boys, Watts seemed to focus on Dan. (It's unknown why, though it's probably just because he was the first of Andersen's cowhands that he met.) He took a vicious pleasure in bullying and threatening Dan, crumpled Dan's glasses just because he wanted to (immediately after Dan asks him to give them back, because they were in his family for a long time) and was angry at him before begging to be freed from the tangled reigns.

Despite his viciousness, Watts was also, at heart, a coward. After Andersen beat him in combat, Watts shot him in the back, and after his camp was ambushed, he desperately begged for the boys to spare him, pleading for them to free his broken leg.

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