By Julie Carter The white stallion was sky-lighted on the ridge top, his proud head held high. Poised, his beautiful body stood still for a fleeting moment before he took one mighty jump and landed fully 25 feet away in an alkali bog that would become his grave. It is an old story told around campfires for 100 years. Its origins came about in 1879 when some cowpunchers rode into the camp of a buffalo hunter who was known to be quite the spinner of tales. That night around the campfire the grizzled hunter pointed a roughened finger in the direction of a heavily loaded wagon of buffalo hides he was preparing to freight to market and said, "I would gladly give every hide for the 3-year-old white stallion I have seen upon these plains. He's as fleet as the wind and is a purebred, not a native mustang." "I've been trying to catch him for two years without any luck. He ranges from here to the Black Water Draw, south, and as far as the Tierra Blanco on the north. I first saw him when he was a yearling running with his mother. Both were pure white." The hunter went on to say he didn't see the mare and colt for a year and when he caught sight of them, the mare had a filly by her side and the young stallion, now a yearling , was still running with her, wilder than ever and fast as an antelope. After a failed attempt to capture the mare and colts, the stallion disappeared, "as if a mirage." The hunter never saw him again. The tale of this ghost-white stallion held the cowboys spellbound and they knew they'd never be satisfied until they could ride the plains and hunt the white mirage. After the fall works were done, they traveled to Fort Sumner to meet with the Trujillo brothers, Pedro and Soledad. The brothers said they had often seen the white stallion on the plains "He is too fast to catch; we have all tried and failed," they said. When we get close to him, he vanishes, so we have named him "The Ghost." Agreeing to help hunt the stallion, the brothers told the cowboys to meet them at Gato Montes Spring on the Blackwater Draw in March. "We'll find him if he's still alive." True to their word, when the cowboys got to the spring, the brothers were not only there, but they had learned where the white stallion was watering with his band of heavy-bred mares. The next morning they saw the horses out ahead of them feeding on lush grass but quickly scattering as the men approached. Pedro took in after them while Soledad marked the grazing spot with a long pole with a red flag on the end. In the distance, "The Ghost" dashed over the plains, his white mane and tail blowing in the breeze. Pedro was away all day and said he must have chased the horses 70 miles. They made a huge circle, eventually returning to their home range. The following day, one of the cowboys chased them all day, returning late to say the band was now near Spring Lake. The cowboys, Trujillo brothers, two other vaqueros and a half-blood Apache with a reputation for his ability to rope, headed out the next day. When they spotted the horses, they didn't crowd them, but struck a long lope and followed behind. They ran by the old buffalo hunter's camp near Running Water and headed north. By noon, they had reached Tule Draw, the south prong of the Red River, and headed west. Sometimes they'd slacken down to a trot and then return to a lope or a run. The mares began to fall out as they tired, but The Ghost never weakened. By sundown, all but 10 mares had dropped out, soon to be only three and then none. The Ghost was headed south to Yellow House Lake and just when they thought they had him headed off, he turned south. Yellow House Lake is a big alkali sink on the Llano Estacado. Its water, not fit for man or beast, covered a bottomless bog by a bare few inches. A large animal could never conquer the horror that loomed below the deceivingly tranquil surface. For four days, The Ghost had been running in the lead, but when he headed down the backbone of the ridge that lead to the lake, cold chills ran up the spines of his pursuers. They turned back from the chase, hoping that perhaps then the stallion would turn as well. The animal's free, intelligent, noble spirit preferred death to capture, and the stallion knew as well as his men, that death lay in Yellow House Lake. He floundered briefly as the bog sucked him under. The bitter water filled his nostrils and oozed into his mouth. A few bubbles was all that was left on the surface and The Ghost of Llano Estacado was no more. A tragic end to a free spirit, but even ghosts should have their freedom. This story in it's original telling appears in Frank Collinson's "Life in the Saddle." Julie can be reached for comment at email@example.com
Sometimes the only required items for cowboys to fix anything are baling wire, duct tape and some old-fashioned sweat. Occasionally, specialty items are required and that means assuming the role that in corporate America is labeled "Purchasing Agent." In a corporate situation, that title would get you a corner office, but in the cowboy world, that gets you a pickup seat on the way to town. One particular morning, Jess was faced with the 4-wheeler being out of commission. This vehicle was critical to his ranching operation because it was used daily to gather the roping cattle. He dropped everything and headed to the NAPA store for a new battery. There, he was told by the knowledgeable parts man that the exact battery he needed would be $75, but kindly added that they were cheaper over at Walmart. Ever frugal, Jess took his advice and headed that way. At the Walmart battery department, located at the very back of the store, he was faced with a lady clerk. She told Jess that in order to buy a new battery, it was store policy that he must trade in an old one. Jess was parked out by the place in the parking lot where they sell the puppies and park the big rigs, but he dutifully walked all the way out of the store and the five miles to the back of the parking lot, making the return trip with his old battery in hand. The lady clerk promptly uncrated a new battery, showed Jess the instructions in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French and finally American. Together they tried to decipher them. As it turned out, in order to activate this battery they needed a vial of acid, something to pour it in the battery with and a trickle charger. Faced with this complicated problem, Jess asked what the charge would be for all this equipment. The total with tax was $119. Quick with the math, Jess lugged his old battery back out past the "puppies for sale" and returned to the parts store. There he discovered the NAPA man had forgotten to mention all the extra equipment that would also be needed for the NAPA battery, although he did not require an old one be turned in. All said and done, the register rang up about $20 more than the total Walmart price. Jess added that to the price of six-pack it would take to help him recover from the entire experience. One would think that if one were at work, minding one's own business, trouble wouldn't be any closer than one's plans for the weekend. And then there is Dan As per the aforementioned minding one's own business at work, Dan was tending his at the implement dealership that pays him to fix and sell things along with providing him with respectable employment. High marks for a cowboy. One day the Fastenal rep stopped by, as sales reps tend to do. This company peddles nuts, bolts and small, seemingly useless but somebody buys it, hardware. The dealership is a regular stop for the Fastenal guy. However, likely in a plot to create an income stimulus, they sent a blonde. As Dan reported it, "Her waist was this big (thumbs together, hands spread out about 10 inches), and her chest was about this big (hands spread out at arms length and Dan has very long arms). His eyes grew along with the description of the measurements. With that, he admitted that he bought a couple hundred dollars worth of bolts. Carol, his secretary and buddy came by and said, "Dan you know we never sell bolts." Dan replied easily, "We're fixing to start." He reported that the shapely blonde rep went into the parts room with him, looked everything over, dusted off some of the things that had never in this lifetime been moved, and then told him the store looked to her to be pretty low on inventory. He ordered them all. Now every time somebody comes into the store and up to the parts counter to get something, the store employees are required to ask the customer if they need any bolts with that. Stop by the store and tell Dan you need some bolts, but only if the Fastenal rep this there to preview them. Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
For most people, fall is the season of turning leaves, cooler weather, and the last bloom of summer flowers. For the cowboy, like Monday starts a new week, fall begins a new year. It is the time of year for gathering the cattle and turning sassy calves into weanlings. The long days in the saddle, the billowing dust of corrals full of cattle, the long lines of cattle trucks all mean one thing. Pay day. That reward for a year of work that started this time last year. For one more year, they have watched a cow buyer drive off down the dusty road, knowing that they probably won't see him again for a year. One more time, they heave a sigh of relief as the last cattle truck rolled over the cattle guard headed for feedlots and wheat pastures. Yearling cattle operators have shipped the summer cattle and are looking to get the fall stockers received and tucked away in winter pastures. Fall is when you get out all the jackets, down vests, wild rags and leggings. You make every effort to find the winter gloves, all of them, including the right and left one of each pair. It's commonly known that while empty cardboard boxes multiply in captivity, winter gloves in matching pairs are an endangered species. My first concession to the season is giving up my sandals in trade for full-cover footwear. It usually doesn't happen before I've been seen in public a number of times wearing a turtleneck sweater and the aforementioned shoes with no tops. The horses begin to grow furry coats and spend more time at the feed bunk. They have little interest in working, socializing or doing anything but soaking up the afternoon sun. Fall is when you start breaking the two-year-old colts and hope they retain just a little of it before you turn them out for winter. It is hard to maintain any cowboy athletic prowess with a bucking colt when you are dressed with enough layers to resemble the Michelin man. Preferred menu changes move from sandwiches and salads to pots of chili and a complete assortment of crock-pot ready-to-eat cuisine options. Pumpkins are everywhere. Pumpkin cake and pumpkin bread are a favorite whether it is for the taste of cinnamon and clove or simply a good reason for the cream cheese frosting. While I happen to think pumpkin comes in a can, the real thing does look pretty sitting around next to Indian corn or bundled corn stocks. It is not yet calving season and there is not yet any ice to break on the water tanks. The feed pickups stand by ready for work. However, the season is too short to start any major fencing, pipelining or corral building. It is not that winter is an idle season but it has a specific list of jobs that, for the most part, leave no time for special projects. Fall is the time to review what has been accomplished during the year - you can't get it back but you can always hope to improve on it. Ranching is like that. A rancher is always looking forward to getting this year over with so he can start on the next one. He simply is able to start a little earlier with his New Year resolutions. And those almost always begin with a prayer for full water tanks, good grass and decent cattle prices. Julie can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
He was only 6 years old when he first hit newsprint; a hazard of having a mother who is a writer. The story titled "Life doesn't get any better than this" told of the country-boy things that filled his days. Like most ranch kids, this young cowboy's days (when not in kindergarten) were peppered with activities involving dogs, horses, cattle and miles in a feed pickup or in the shop learning guy stuff like welding and fixing broken vehicles. The remoteness of the ranch sheltered him from the cutting edge of the "normal" '90s kid-life. Power Rangers and Nintendo were the rage and he nothing of either. His TV viewing left him thinking that the Lone Ranger and Scooby Doo were suitable heroes; no matter that they'd already been heroes to four decades of kids. He was 7 before he ever saw a movie in a theater (Star Wars) and not far into it, he asked if he could change the channel and watch Scooby Doo. He entertained himself daily by hooking up his red wagon to his bicycle with some well-engineered baling wire and loading up a hound pup to teach the pup to "trailer." He would ride at breakneck bicycle speeds, the pup's ears flapping Snoopy-style, from the upper side of ranch headquarters to the bottom where the road curved to the barn. It was here he'd make a hard turn-around, usually rolling the wagon and launching the puppy, but without missing a beat, he'd set everything back aright and get rolling again. He began riding in the pasture during cattle workings at the age of 3 and by the time he was 6 his lack of fear kept my teeth clenched. He learned to weld and use the cutting torch by first cutting his name, "LANE," in a metal plate and then wanted it mounted on the ranch entrance gate. One day he leaned on his elbows on my desk as I was writing, hands under his chin, and very seriously said, "Mom, do you think it's time for a raise in my alangance?" "Alangance?" I asked. "What is that?" "You know," he said gesturing with his hand. "Money." Ah, he meant allowance. However, he didn't get an allowance so I wasn't sure why he thought he needed a raise. I quickly listed for him the work required for him to receive an allowance, and he just as quickly lost interest. He wore only "snap shirts" (his name for Western shirts) and was al-ways geared up for play with toy guns, a worn out straw hat, gloves and usually a bugle and an American flag. Those old Westerns on TV will show a guy how to dress. His favorite was the one I made for him out of flag-printed fabric that he selected. He called it his United States of America shirt. A few things have changed but as many have not. He's much larger now as he turns that magic age of teenage drivers, standing 6 foot 3 inches and weighing in like a line-backer. He owns and operates most of the teen gadgets from iPods to cell phones and can text while he talks and runs a Google search on his laptop computer. He still loves the American flag and still loves "snap shirts." The old Westerns on TV are still his favorites and his excitement is in hunting, riding, roping and dinner. Girls have hit his radar and his dreams are now of bigger toys, like a pickup to call his own and giving a worthy name to his new horse. He can make a hand on the flanking crew at the brandings and isn't afraid to spend countless hours on his own at the ranch doing whatever needs done. I hope the next 10 years of his life find him as grounded in the reality of what is important as he is now. My work is almost done. Happy 16th, son.
If you have ever crawled into a cowboy's pickup, you know that the passenger seat is obviously considered the "storage place on the right side of the cab." A cowboy's wife related her woes to me. "Any time I go anywhere with my hero, he has to have the console down so he can set his beverage there, plus the phone, any important papers, his hat and any other junk he is toting around. "Excess necessary equipment, such as rope bag, gloves, over reach and skid boots, saddle pads, water bottle, coolers for burritos, drinks, slicker, extra boots, spurs and anything else he happens to own, all end up in the passenger seat and floorboard. "I'm not all that wide but still I do require some place to park my butt and my feet. I clearly remember back before full time roping bum days, when all the necessary working equipment, leggings, extra coats, vests, wild rags, etc., were parked there, too. He does own a two-seater truck. The single cab truck does have a bed that could possibly be considered to haul some of this junk and there is a storage space in the trailer. "What I carry, fits in my pocket - the entry fees. What on earth would happen if I had to take a ton of make-up, books, clothes and possibly a watermelon or two for snacks?" Traditionally, cowboys also fully utilize the storage space under the pickup seat. One can find almost anything ranging from empty medicine bottles serving as reminders to buy more, to the excess adult beverage cans consumed during the course of a business week. Usually a number of unidentifiable items suggest forgotten food from times gone by. Storage priorities for cowboys are very easily established. They start and end with "his." The kitchen table is a repository for all things that are of immediate importance in the Western Hemisphere. This would include the syringes, balling guns, ear tag pliers, any part of the knife sharpening equipment to include whet rocks and an assortment of things they simply don't want to put away. In the filing process, but still on the table, are receipts for anything from a hamburger to a new piece of land. In addition, there are endless lists of things to be accomplished, checked on or fixed, projects for the future and anything that might be put on any other list. A list of list, of sorts. Buried in this cowboy's mound of important things, which will almost preclude serving any meal on the kitchen table, is the insurance bill dated two months ago that has now guaranteed cancellation of coverage and the BLM lease with the same results. In the barn, there are entire rooms devoted to storage of left over pieces of leather that are too small to use, ropes which have lost their vitality or had a miss in them. There is the kid saddle he had from 50 years ago and several pair of old leggings that are too heavy, too stiff and too patched to be worn. Hanging are jackets fringed in tatters from wear along with a pile of old hats that are "too good to throw away," but obviously not good enough to wear. Under dust is the packsaddle that came with plans for a camping trip "one of these days." And certainly, there are those sealed boxes of mystery content holding treasures of some great value. "I might need these some day," he will say. At least one other room is devoted to storage of "spare" parts from the various pieces of equipment, furniture, watches, tools and toys. Parts that were left over after assembling. "Some assembly required," are three very dangerous words for a cowboy, ranking right up there with, "I want you to meet my mother." Julie can be reached for comment at www.julie-carter.com
A Bunch Quitter is a hard-workin', honest, kind individual who is visionary in his or her pursuit to build, take risks, and lead; an independent thinker and doer who doesn't run with the crowd/herd; an adult who's charitable towards the community and beholden to no one but God. A Bunch Quitter...