As was common in those days, Bill was one of those young men who struck out to make his name in the cowboy world as a teenager. It was 1948.
At only 14, Bill spent the summer away from his Colorado home cowboying on a ranch in the Davis Mountains in Texas. When he arrived, the heavy summer rains were beginning to fill a large manmade lake at the ranch. The cow boss, Charlie Greer, was worried that it may wash out. He kept a close watch on the water level.
Bill and another young cowboy, Slim Benson, came by the lake about four one afternoon on their way to the headquarters five miles beyond. They ate a late dinner, hungry as the pups they were. As they finished their meal, Charlie Greer walked in and both boys cowered. To them Greer was the meanest son of gun they knew and they were both scared to death of him.
Greer spoke. “Bill, how much does the water level have to rise in the lake before it starts to run out the spillway?”
Bill, feeling like a big dumb kid, turned to his partner and said, “Oh I don’t know, what do you think Slim?”
Charlie Greer got right in Bill’s face and shouted, “If I had wanted Slim’s opinion, I would have asked him. If you don’t know, you get your butt back on your horse and trot back down there and find out. And you damn well better not come back until you find out.”
Bill saddled up and rode the five miles back to the lake, made his calculations and trotted back to headquarters. He made his report to Greer sometime after 10 p.m. and long after dark.
Whenever a new hand showed up at the ranch he was given an assigned string of horses to ride. That cowboy had to ride them no matter if they were sorry, bucked or were just plain dumb. The cowboys were allowed to trade horses with each other if they wanted.
Charlie Greer rode the best horses since he was the boss. He had one horse called Rocky that Bill thought was the best horse he’d ever seen. His mouth watered every time Charlie rode Rocky. Bill really wanted him in his string.
One day later in the summer Greer said to Bill, “Would you trade me Jughead for Rocky?” Now Bill knew Jughead was the dumbest horse ever born but he knew he’d trade any horse he had, real quick, for chance at Rocky.
The next morning Bill rode Rocky and he was everything he thought he might be. He was one happy cowboy. The following morning when the remuda came in, he saw that Rocky had a big swelled up place on both sides of his withers. He felt terrible and couldn’t figure it out. He hadn’t made a horse sore all summer.
Three days later Greer told Bill, “I know you feel bad about Rocky’s back, don’t you.” Bill admitted he did. Then Charlie said, “The next time someone offers to trade you a good horse for a dumb one, you had better run your hands over his back and legs and really look him over close. Rocky was getting a sore back when I traded him to you.”
Life’s lessons await us in every single day, every action. It can be a long stretch from teen to adulthood. Some make the trip in a reasonably timed fashion. Others never get there at all.
If we get to thinking too highly of ourselves all we need to do is try ordering someone else’s dog around. That’ll bring a rapid humbling.
Julie can be reached for comment at email@example.com.