The crisp, cool morning air and valleys full of golden leaves will do it every time. For every cowboy that’s ever swung a leg over a colt that needed the attitude adjusting outside circle, the season will trigger a harvest of fall cattle working memories.
“At this time of the year for almost 40 years, I would’ve been gathering cattle somewhere. God bless you who carry on,” one cowboy commented as he recalled the impressive and lengthy resume of ranches he’d worked all over the West.
The recollection overload of places and faces tugs at his heart while sounds of bawling cattle, rattling trailers and wind through the trees swirl through the periphery of his mind.
He’s old enough to know he lived a life that’s not ever to be the same for him, or for most anyone in this day and time. He’s young enough to value the lessons and share the stories with those that “get it.”
He recognizes that being able to verbalize his stories and compare memories with others that rode as he did—the mesas, canyons and miles of open untouched country—is a blessing. His dad is 94 years old and full of stories of a hard life on hard ranches after coming home from World War II. All his dad’s friends from those days are now gone and those memories fall to a generation that can only try to understand them.
With wry wit and humor, the cowboy voices his quandary. “When I finally had to give it up, my knees hurt so bad it took all the fun out of it. I can walk a hundred miles and not hurt, but five miles horseback would kill me. Now I know why them old cowboys was grumpy all the time, unless they was drinking.”
The stories come in colorful descriptive phrasings typical to a cowboy: “I worked for a guy down in Arizona who decided to break some wild mustangs for cowponies. One of them I ended up with weighed about 850 pounds and had a head like a pump jack.
“He could stand straight up and scratch his ear with a back foot. He didn’t have much left for ears. Looked like he had been in a fight with Mike Tyson. I had to tie his mouth closed so he couldn’t bite me and loose hobble his front legs to get on and then pull the hobbles once I was in the saddle.
“He also gave me a 12-year-old stud that tore an eye up in the process. So then I have a 12-year-old one-eyed gelding. Third saddle out he sends me to wrangle the remuda. I was 22 years old. I kept the remuda on the blind side and downwind until I could get behind them. Then when he saw them, he ran off (as I knew he would) right into the middle of the remuda which spooked’em all. There we went. Thirty horses at a dead run off the side of the mesa through the boulders and me in the middle with my feet kicked out of the stirrups waiting for the wreck. So typical deal, the horses ran by the gate three times before they finally got settled down enough to go in the corrals. Fun times.”
Old and not-so-old cowboys look back and recognize it was but for the grace of God they didn’t die on many an occasion. They are also very thankful for the memories. Sharp, clear remembrances that take them back in bold living color.
Julie can be reached for comment somewhere in the land of fall cattle working memories or at email@example.com.