Friday, July 31, 2009


By Julie Carter

John Wayne taught about every cowboy I know how to be fearless. It's the movies, but they believe it anyway.
They will fight to get on a horse that clearly has blood in his eye and rope wild cattle that would love nothing better than to run a horn through them or their horses.
They will climb windmill towers in a blizzard wind and track cougars through the snow, fly crop dusters like a wild man, and generally undertake most any dangerous activity they can dream up.
On occasion, they will even go so far as to order their wives around.
When not endangering themselves, they love nothing better than to help their pards out along those same lines.
Button was running a big working crew and had already put in a full day. With great concentration, sitting astride his cowpony, he was counting cattle out the gate.
"Button," came a voice from behind him.
Button went on counting; ignoring the idiot that would dare interrupt.
"Button," came the voice again and getting the same response as before.
This continued, but Button just kept counting.
When the last cow got through the gate, Button turned and said, "What do you want, Reese?"
Reese tossed a big rattlesnake onto Button's lap and the wreck was on.
When the horse was back under control, the snake shaken off and his heart rate back below the critical stage, Button rode over to Reese.
He gave him a mean, squinty-eyed look and said, " I might not could whup you, but I can surely hit you up side the head with this saddle gun."
Reese took this statement under thoughtful consideration.
The next week Reese was horseback counting cattle while Button was slowly driving the feed truck along and putting out feed.
Reese tossed another big snake in the front seat of the truck.
Button bailed out the other side, the truck continued on, and Reese beat a cowboy-retreat for parts afar.
During the rather colorful discussion that followed somewhat later, it was determined that Reese would not give Button any more snakes, no matter the circumstances.
At the next cattle working, Button seemed to have misplaced his gloves.
Nobody would admit to anything, even with Button's threats about what he'd do if he found out someone had assisted the gloves in going missing.
At the break, Reese brought out a Banty rooster he had brought from home and carefully put him in the large cardboard box full of ear tags.
When the cowboy crew started working again, he fessed up to Button about his gloves and told him they were in the ear tag box.
The flapping, squawking rooster moment when the box was opened was not nearly as good as the rattlesnake chaos, but it would do.
The next day Button told Reese to saddle up the new bay colt and put some miles on him. He specifically told him to ride across the tank dam and show the colt how to do that, get him used to it.
Reese rode the skittish, scared colt onto the dam - fence on one side, water on the other- when a big Canadian goose, whose nest was disturbed by this intruder, raised up, flapped her wings and hissed loudly at Reese.
You can break a colt to a lot of things, but a mad momma goose on the fight is not one of them.
It had taken awhile, but it was in this moment that Reese had an epiphany. He was thinking maybe it was time to give Button a break.
Julie can be reached for comment at

Friday, July 24, 2009


By Julie Carter

Is dancing on a dirt floor and laughing in the rain a sign that, maybe, perhaps, we the people are headed back to some basics in life?
Through my job, I've paid pretty close attention to rural trends and traditions for the past decade, hot on the trail of fun with a camera and keyboard. I recorded, documented, cussed, discussed and inquired myself through event after event throughout the years.
In the beginning, the families that had young children they watched and worried over, have now seen them off on their first date followed too soon, by seeing them off to college.
Those who had toddlers that crawled in the dirt under the bleachers at the 4th of July rodeo and dug in the sand pile at the county fair are now waiting late for them at the rodeo dance.
Year after year, it was the same, sometimes a few new faces, but life moved through its paces like a filmstrip on a steadily turning reel.
Country folk have always been able to find a way to enjoy life using what was at hand. All it took was family and friends with a dose of food and some music. Ingredients for happy moments.
None of that has changed much. Even this far into the age of high-tech living where those same kids own iPods, cell phones and laptop computers, the basics of rural family entertainment still remain.
Those boot-scootin' teens will happily show up at a country dance - hats on, belt buckles shining and smiles that light up a barn.
It started when they were barely big enough to walk. Momma or Daddy took them out on the dance floor and danced with them.
By the time they were in the fourth grade, they were finding their own dancing partners, usually someone they had played with in the mud under the bleachers when they were toddlers.
A huge part of this country is living in situations and circumstances that are far from entertaining or uplifting. Fear and worry feed the stress they wear on their faces.
I believe the majority of people in those places have forgotten how to have fun. They have no way to fight it except with what ends up as addictions and a boiling rage at life in general.
I know people have been dancing in barns on dirt floors since they invented barns.
They've laughed and smiled in the rain since the beginning of rain, except for, maybe, those folks stuck on the shore while the ark floated off over the horizon.
However, what I see now, and I could just be all dusty and/or wet, is a new levity of spirit as folks gather to celebrate something worthwhile, something simple.
It seems to me the smiles come easier, folks laugh more readily and there is an elevated appreciation for friendships and the freedom to be happy.
A joyful spirit is a generous spirit and when there is a need, even the poor will pull out their pockets and empty them for a cause. That fuels even more joy. Pie auctions and passing the hat are two of the original bailout plans.
Is this the upside of a disastrous economy and uncertainty for tomorrow? Are we, the people, finally realizing that what we have right here in front of us is precious and that simple things can bring great pleasure?
I'm just saying, I'm convinced those folks dancing in the barn and smiling in the rain have something figured out.
The recipe isn't new, but the enthusiasm is renewed.
I'm all for passing a little more of that around.
Julie, who never did learn the Cotton-eyed Joe, can be reached for comment at

Friday, July 17, 2009


By Julie Carter

There is absolutely not anything funny about a grass or forest fire but often in the midst of the firefight, humor arrives.
One night on the remote plains of the far side of the county, a lightning strike started a fire in a ranch pasture.
Not anything much out there except miles of ranchland and what remained of a teensy town that had retained only a few deserted buildings and a name.
It was also at least two hours by highway from any real fire-fighting agency.
The nearest rancher to this ghost-stop on the highway served as mayor and fire chief by title and reputation. High desert ranching requires a great sense of humor and the occasional ego boost that an elevated title can sometimes provide.
One of the items remaining in the long-deserted town of Ramon was an ancient fire truck. The battery required constant charging, which didn't happen, and the water tank leaked so it was never full. Other than that, it was in fine shape.
The night of this specific grass fire, the phone calls went out to a few ranchers. Waking up the chief of the Ramon Fire Department took some doing, but he finally answered the phone.
Pulling on his britches and his hat, the usual rancher's lid that needed an oil change months ago, he hollered at his nearly adult son and out the door they went.
The process of charging the battery and finding a hose to fill the water truck began.
Meanwhile, over the hill back to the west, another cowboy who had always been a addicted to farm sales, knew he had a cattle sprayer parked somewhere "over yonder on the hill."
The most recent endorsement of this piece of equipment had been at a cattle-spraying event.
A cowboy commented that he could pee further than the sprayer could spray, leaving its validity as fire fighting equipment certainly at least questionable.
However, it did hold water, so after the tires were aired up, the cowboy hooked onto it with the pickup and off he went over the hill to fight the fire.
By this time, the fire had gotten so big, that in the dark, it alone summoned folks from near and far.
Back at the Ramon Fire Department, aka the chief's house, the fire truck was revved up and headed out to the fire. It was very dark and hard to see where exactly to drive as the truck made its way through the pasture toward the flames.
The chief was at the wheel of the truck, barreling through the night to the rescue like a caped crusader, while his eldest son was riding fireman-style on the truck fender hollering "EEEE, HAAWWW," at the top of his lungs.
About that time, the chief drove the truck off in a wash and it came to a sudden, solid halt, nose down. The son on the fender was tossed through the air, landing somewhere in the near vicinity. But he came up dusting himself off. No harm done. Nothing broke, except the fire truck.
Nearly everyone in close proximity of the fire left what they were doing to go check out the fire truck wreck.
Meanwhile the cowboy with the sprayer, coming to save the day, blew out a tire. So when the chore of dragging the chief and his fire truck out of the wash was finished, the crew all went to see what the problem was with the cowboy.
In the meantime, the rancher with the fire on his property had put his road grader into operation and made a fire-line circle around the fire. The flames eventually died out on their own.
It was still the wee hours of the morning, everyone was wide-awake and nobody wanted to go back home. So they circled their rigs, drug out the food they'd brought (another standard thing for country folk) and had a version of a block party.
The rancher thanked everyone for their help, and exhausted, headed off to tend to his livestock and ranch chores.
All this while you slept.

Friday, July 10, 2009


By Julie Carter
Common cowboy cooking is widely acclaimed to be the very best, spiciest, most original and filling of all cuisines of the world. At least that's what the cowboys will tell you.
For the rest of us mere mortals, skepticism is a healthy recommendation.
However, in the spirit of fun, I want to share with you a couple of cowboy recipes provided by the already famous for his cooking, Dan the Team Roper and his roping partner Jess.
Speed in preparation is the first priority for Dan, a confirmed bachelor. Second on the list of importance would be a meal that can be shared with his trusty cow dog, who also helps him cook.
Dan and his dog had been on a steady diet of burritos made of Spam, Velveeta and mayo.
His preferred delicacy had always been pig-lip baloney, but he had not been able to find the delicacy anywhere this side of the Mississippi. He was heartbroke about that.
Learning by experience, Dan recommended using the genuine Velveeta because in his vast experience with cheeses, the cheap substitutes would not work.
After roping practice, he and Jess were comparing notes from the long-ago time when Jess had also been a bachelor.
Chili and eggs was Jess's masterpiece, but both agreed that only Wolf Brand Chili would qualify for the main ingredient.
The number of eggs to be added was dictated by the number currently in the icebox. Optional ingredients would include ranch style beans, pork and beans, potatoes, if any were cooked, onions, the occasional stray sock or whatever else got in the way.
It was especially critical that the chili be put in an iron skillet, thoroughly cooked down to the burrito-fold stage before adding the eggs. This would result in a scrambled look. If added too soon, the eggs would vanish.
Several likely pointers of this nature were passed on.
The next evening Dan reported that both he and the dog gave this meal a five-star rating.
Encouraged that Dan appreciated his culinary achievements, Jess imparted his recipe for fried deer meat, instant mashed potatoes and gravy thick enough to make everything stick together.
It was understood that it, also, would all be wrapped in a flour tortilla.
As the roping practice progressed, the cooking lessons kept pace, and then the subject of milk came up.
Dan had tried powdered milk with no luck. The dog was pretty picky, and so was he. Once again, he was adamant it was necessary to buy the good brand and possibly, even necessary, to mix it according to the directions. That depended on the available time.
On those days when it was a good idea to start out with actual food for breakfast instead of an adult beverage, milk was a essential.
Jess was a planner and a logical, organized man. Willingly, he shared his secret time-saving breakfast method with Dan.
It was necessary that perhaps some female had left behind a collection of small Tupperware dishes for this efficiency. Then one could put a measured portion of Grape-Nuts, powdered milk and sugar in each of the containers, seal them and stack. Then the only additional ingredient would be water.
The major drawback to this gourmet meal was it was not one to eat while driving, and the dog didn't like Grape-Nuts.
However, it was noted by Jess's wife that he had somehow quickly overcome his bachelorhood eating habits and adapted quite nicely to her cooking.
Although on stressful days, he still preferred Wolf Brand chili and eggs.
Julie can be reached for comment at
She suggests sticking with canned peaches.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


by Julie Carter

Old Glory will wave majestically in rodeo arenas across America this holiday. It's the Fourth of July and cowboys, if they are anything, they are patriotic and optimistically greedy.
This particular holiday is his "Cowboy Christmas," the most lucrative run of rodeos of the year.
Don't misunderstand. It doesn't take a holiday for the cowboy to bring out the flag. It's there at every rodeo. Honor to the stars and stripes happens first, before anything else.
Even the rodeo livestock seems to know the routine. Watch as the cowboys stand at the chutes, hats held over their hearts while colors are posted and the national anthem is played.
The bucking horses in the chute will snort and kick the gate behind them adding to the music's percussion.
For the rodeo contestants, it's a sound that echoes in the recesses of their rodeo memories long after they no longer compete. Like the ringing of Pavlov's bell, it invokes a hunger for the competition about to begin.
Add that to the smell of the fresh-worked arena dirt, the banging of the gates as bucking horses and bulls are moved around, the rattle of arriving trailers as they ease across the parking lot and the sound of hoof beats as a horse lopes across the hard surface to the arena.
I want to believe that almost all of us honor America, our freedoms and the price paid for both. This weekend, I also honor the cowboy for keeping tradition year after year and in economic times that boggle the mind.
Rodeo rigs are progressively bigger, fancier, and technology has kicked rodeoing up a notch from the days of standing at a pay phone along the highway to enter a rodeo or find out when you drew up.
As much as there is that is different, there is still so much the same.
It still requires the basics. First, the cowboy has to get there, and second, he has to have brought his cowboy skills with him.
Fourth of July rodeoing is defined by road-weary cowboys, tired horses, pickups filled with dirty clothes, fast-food wrappers and muddy boots.
The pickup dashboard is full of rumpled programs, Copenhagen cans, empty coffee cups, dust-covered sunglasses, gas receipts, a ball cap or two and a road map. But in every rig, there rides great hope, unlimited optimism and a belief that this time, this rodeo, things will get better.
For me, it wouldn't be the Fourth of July if I wasn't standing in the hot sun, beating rain or dusty wind waiting for the next event to move the entertainment along.
Years past paying entry fees and waiting for them to call my name, now I carry a camera and put what I know of rodeo into print.
I don't suppose I'll ever be anywhere else but at a rodeo grounds somewhere on the Fourth of July. In a mental check of the past 40 years, there have been no more times than I can count on one hand that I haven't been at a rodeo somewhere, in some capacity. Not likely it'll change anytime soon.
Join me at a rodeo for a look into the heart of the rodeo cowboy at his best. Today would be a good day to start.
Julie can be reached for comment at