The cowboy world is full of hired hands. Most who have lived in the cowboy world have either been one or hired one—or both. And, like everything else in the world, there are good ones, bad ones and those that fall somewhere in a category of “all the above.”
Skeet Becker was a bad cat cowboy with a reputation or two he’d sure enough earned. He was always available for day work, but only those desperate for help or who didn’t know better would give him a call.
Skeet had been married any number of times—both formally and informally. Even he didn’t know for sure how many of either. If you ever happened to run into Skeet when he was all dressed up, that is, he had on a clean silk wild rag, he likely was on his way to get married.
He traditionally bought one pair of Wranglers and wore them until they were worn out. He didn’t own a washing machine and didn’t have time to go to a washateria. The other punchers knew to stay upwind from him when they worked cattle in the same vicinity.
Handling cattle slowly wasn’t in his resume. He liked to stir up the occasional wreck with the cattle so he could do some strategic roping. Known to drink a little, he mostly settled discussions with his fists and his reputation was to be a dirty fighter.
One of his many wives had previously been married to a very well-known professional boxer and she’d gotten a ranch in the divorce. This place had a swimming pool but no pens that were handy for the horses.
Skeet kept up a jingle horse that he’d use to drive his riding horses into the swimming pool beginning at the shallow end. Holding them in the deep end, he’d throw a houlihan over whichever horse he wanted at the time and lead it on out of the pool.
When he got tired of that wife, he threw her out of her own ranch and lived there forevermore. She was happy to get out alive and no one, including the pro-fighter, was brave enough to evict Skeet. He put his brand up over the entrance gate and that was the end of it.
One guy told me that working with people like that is why they made cowboys quit wearing guns. I’ve often thought the same about working some particularly stupid cattle, but I can see his point.
Being on the boss end of the hired hand business can also be a little tricky.
One time the head honcho at a big feed yard, full of cattle at the time, had his entire cowboy crew come to work severely hung over. It was a cold, miserable Amarillo winter morning and the cowboys were lingering in the break room, hunkered down next to the stove.
Finally on his last nerve, he told them, “All you S.O.B.s either get out of here and go to work, or else go home.” Directly he found himself with 50,000 head of cattle standing in pens and not a cowboy in sight.
Mr. Last Man Standing was thinking he might have to rephrase his orders next time.
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org