The origin of the password, “you bet your sweet ass I am” has its own backstory. We call it the Legend of the Turtle.
Jim Hatcher has a shorter version of this story in his Turtle Club Handbook. This long version was edited by J. Wheeler Hammontree.
The Turtles were founded on the Isle of Tortosa off the coast of Great Britain in the year 222 AD. At that time on the Isle of Tortosa, there existed none of the means of transportation that we have today. There were no automobiles. There were no subways, no buses, no trains. Indeed, even no airplanes. The only means of transportation were beasts of burden left behind after the Celtic invasion of the 5th Century B.C.
Yes, every man, woman, and child on the Isle of Tortosa had a donkey. And every place they went they took their ass along. If they went to work, they went on their ass. If they went to school, they went on their ass. If they went to the supermarket, they went on their ass. And since their asses meant so much to them, they took tremendous pride in their asses. Some communities held contests to see who had the nicest ass in town.
Here, today, you will find people with pride in their cars. On the Isle of Tortosa, it was asses that held their interest. Today you will see whole families on a sunny Sunday afternoon out in the yard polishing up their cars. Over there they would be buffing asses. Today you will see young fellows standing around watching the girls go by in their convertibles. Over there they loved to stand on the corner and watch the girls’ asses go by. On the Isle of Tortosa, they could hardly wait until they were old enough to get a little ass. As you can readily see, asses were of great importance on the Isle of Tortosa. In fact, some even tried to make asses of themselves.
Of course, everyone went to church. And naturally, when they went into the church, they left their asses outside. And everyone had a particular place that he left his ass – including the minister, who always left his tied right by the well. At the tiny church in the wee community where history was to be made that famous August Sunday, The Rev. George McYertle was the minister. On that particular day in the middle of the service, the church caught fire.
To this day, the cause of the fire is still undetermined, although defective wiring has definitely been ruled out. When the church caught fire, what was everyone’s concern? Naturally, everyone wanted to save his own ass – and they all rushed outside, with the exception of Rev. McYertle, who was caught in the front of the church with no place to go but up into the bell tower.
And so he did, feeling assured that his parishioners would be putting out the fire. Imagine his dismay when he looked down at the scene below! All his parishioners were just sitting around on their asses watching the church burn! And so he started to cry for help. They heard his cries – and now, the problem: How to get him down? No ladder would reach so high. Someone got the idea that perhaps he could jump on a load of hay which would break his fall. They brought up a load of hay, but alas, it too caught on fire. Someone thought of a net, but no nets were available.
And then one fellow got a brilliant idea. The history is not quite clear as to who it was, although we believe that it was Enus McPheely, who got the idea that if the Reverend were to just jump and land on his ass, it would break the fall and he would be saved. So they all took up the cry: “Jump and land on your ass! Jump and land on your ass!” You can imagine the minister’s terror at this point. He certainly didn’t want to leap that tremendous distance to where he could see his ass tied by the well so far below. But as the smoke and flames rose higher and higher, he had no choice.
Finally, with tremendous intestinal fortitude, he took a mighty leap and down through the heavens he hurtled. Unfortunately, instead of landing on his ass, he went into the well. It is from this momentous event we get the phrase “He doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.” After they got him out of the well and dried off and back on his ass, he started back to the parsonage. As he was going down the dusty road, out from under the lapel [show pin if worn] of his tunic crawled a little golden turtle. He took this turtle home and started to feed it and nourish it and give it tender loving care. And under his care, the turtle grew and thrived.
Now with his church destroyed, the good Rev. McYertle, being a man of good and noble character; without a trace of impurity in his thoughts looked around him at the world and saw persons with crude and vulgar minds unable to think of anything, except in obscene terms. He bemoaned his inability to find others with a similar high-mindedness to his own. Like a turtle, he retreated into his shell.
Then one day, while partaking of a pint of ale (for purely medicinal purposes of course), he realized that there must be others like him. Forced into bars and saloons; imbibing alcohol as a balm for the ills inflicted by obscene and vulgar persons. He resolved to locate all the other pure-minded individuals that he could, even if this meant spending his every waking hour crawling from one tavern to the next. This was the beginning of the Turtles. He embarked upon this quest with vigor and determination, but, since he was a man of limited means, quickly ran out of money.
Then one day, he got a tip on a horse running at long odds at the local track. The problem was that he had no money left with which to gamble. So, in desperation, he wagered his last and most prized possession, the donkey which he had raised from birth. Now, this ass was a particularly gentle and temperate animal, with a kind and loving disposition; the sweetest ass that ever was. To lose his donkey would have been devastating, and yet what choice was there if the quest was to continue? Fortunately, he won the wager, and with the money was able to continue in his search for many more years and form the association of Turtles we know today.