Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 16: Daddy trades for my first horse in Salt Gulch, and I start falling in love with cowboys at a very young age

Daddy came back from a trip out over the mountain in the truck and told me quite casually that he had a new horse for me to try out. I ran out to the corrals to see him and was overjoyed. There couldn't have been a more beautiful horse than Don. He was lean and well formed, brown with a long wavy black mane and tail. Daddy warned me he was an old horse but gentle. He would not be able to take him out on the range to ride because he had been ridden out. The gentleman who traded him to Daddy had been kind enough to tell him Don didn't have the stamina to travel long distances anymore. But I knew Daddy had been looking for a horse  gentle enough for us girls to ride. Don was that horse.
He did not have one trait of 'acting up' unless you counted the fact that he was hard to catch. Daddy said I might have to use an oat sack if I was alone and wanted to ride him. Otherwise I might be chasing him around the corral a long time trying to get a bridle on him. 
I spent as much time as possible riding the new horse. I told Daddy he had the most beautiful sound to his gait when he loped. It was the most rhythmical lope in a horse I ever experienced. I just loved everything about Don. I daydreamed about what a magnificent horse he must have been when he was young, about how many hours of pleasure he must have given his owner before he played out.
Daddy knew a lot about overworking horses. He knew how to pace his horses' working life so they would not give out for years. After all, he and other cowboys spent years training 'cow horses' to work with cattle in this rough country. A well trained horse with a lot of stamina was worth gold. 
Daddy was an expert calf roper who always did the roping when they had to brand calves every year. He caught his calves so fast they got done with the work a lot quicker than if they had not had a top roper. Daddy and Grandpa King were known for their expertise in working with cattle.
We used to laugh at how soon some of the 'tough' cowboys in town would wear their horses down and out. One bunch of young brothers were known for their 'skinny' cow ponies. They always rode their horses on a dead run. The horses didn't last long, but the brothers got there sooner. But they were tough cowboys and when their ponies played out they just went down on the range where the wild horses ran and roped another cow pony, brought him home, and run him til he was very slim. 
I was always very solicitous about my horses' well being. I observed my dad's and granddad's ways with horses very closely, and when I started school I found myself attracted only to the boys who loved horses. One boy and one boy only loved me and claimed me for his girlfriend but he did not love horses so he could not capture my heart. Instead I loved his cousin who was a horse lover nicknamed Dynamite. In fact, I was never to know another boy more obsessed with horses. But his nickname kind of gives you a clue as to his explosive temper. He had the worst disposition of any boy in school. His cousins had named him in self defense, but he was proud of his nickname and probably lost his temper all the more after he became known far and wide as Dynamite. 
Keep in mind that I had developed sexual feelings at a very young age, probably from being jolted ahead in my development by molestation, so loving a boy was agony for me, especially when he loved another girl. I think my passion for Dynamite just confused him since he was not nearly as far advanced in his passionate feelings for girls. What he did not feel he was bound to reject. I would day dream about us riding the range together on our horses, while he day dreamed about another girl who must not have been any more advanced in her passions for boys than he was because she hated his 'love' for her.
He carved their initials everywhere. He allowed his cousin to love me but Gordon was forbidden by Dynamite to carve his and my initials on any tree higher than his and Elaine's. Neither Elaine nor I really wanted our initials carved with either one of the boys who claimed us, but there they must still be on those old trees in the school yard. 
When Dynamite was old enough to ride horses further from home he was able to carve their initials even further away. His and Elaine's initials turned up everywhere even in King's Pasture on the Boulder Mountain! Since Gordon did not ride horses he never managed to get as far from home. His family never owned a car.  He had to walk everywhere.
There were a lot of obstacles in the way of Dynamite riding horses, too. When he first went to school he carved willows into horses he rode between his legs on a gallop. When he wasn't busy he drew horses and pictures of a princess all day. Sometimes he would draw Barbara and me, too, but we would always be less beautiful than his princess Elaine. He would show me the pictures and ask me to give Elaine hers. I was almost afraid to give them to her she would respond with such chilly disdain, but I did not want to displease Dynamite.
Finally Grandpa King noticed a horse loving boy if there ever was one and told him if he would come down and exercise his horses on the ranch, he would give him a horse to break of his own. He said he would have to wait until he was ten though. He couldn't employ a boy that was any younger.
Dynamite could hardly wait, but until then he had to be content riding his dad's only horse, which was actually a big slow work horse not even close to a riding horse to RayL's disgust. He probably expressed so much contempt for his dad not being a cowboy, they never got along. 
His dad became the local carpenter instead. He just had not taken to horses as RayL did. I figured RayL took after his Uncle Cecil, his mother's cowpuncher brother. Cecil was one of the young cowboys who had learned the trade working for ranchers like my granddad. He was a horse lover and Rayl bragged that Cecil would help him break his bronco when he had earned him so he would be trained right.
In the meantime I am sure that I talked about my horse Don and how beautiful he was, because Marilyn and I even rode to Boulder with me on Don, and guess what, Marilyn on one of her stepdad's mules. 
We were used to the big burly Morias cutting a comic figure on his mules. He and his brother Merlin purchased the mules when they got the mail contract one year, and when the upper road over Hell's Backbone made it possible for a truck to carry the mail and they lost the contract, Morias just went on riding the mules. 
Riding mules was practically never done of in that country. All the ranchers but Morias had too much pride ever to be seen riding a mule.
Now Marilyn had taken to riding one of Morias's mules to Boulder as often as her mother would let her. I really admired her because I doubted if I could be humble enough to be seen riding a mule, especially by Dynamite who would have sneered himself silly. Marilyn was beautiful, too, but she was above caring what people thought about her riding a mule. She just wanted to go to Boulder, away from her Mom and Morias and their growing family. And naturally a great deal more work for her. 
I knew how that life went. I jumped up and ran out to help my dad every chance I got, partly to get away from Mother, the kids, and the endless housework. I drove the team, stomped the hay, and eventually I even started cooking for the haying crew in Salt Gulch when Mother made her escape altogether from a ranch she had never grown to love. 
 Daddy was promising me I would be soon be old enough to ride to the Salt Gulch winter range with him in the spring roundup.  I could not wait to get on a horse and go up that trail to Sand Creek and Death Holler country. I dreamed about Death Holler trail for years. I dreamed about running with horses up the long cow trail into the land of adventure on the open range.
But I was not to ride the range in Salt Gulch for a while. I still had to come of age like Dynamite before I could punch cattle with my dad and granddad in the roundups. Then I would be given a working cow horse to ride and I would be expected to show no fear. I wondered if I could do it. 
 Poor Daddy was never going to have any sons now that Mother had been 'fixed.' We daughters were all the kids he was ever going to get, and we were not made like boys. I wasn't even the tom boy type, lean and wiry and tougher than iron. I knew my limitations. Daddy knew my limitations, too, and was careful not to push me beyond where I could safely go. But I loved horses. I loved horses. And that was all that mattered to the cowmen in my family in the horse age of long ago. That and that I was their blood, and the Kings and horses went together.  

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't heard of Old Don. Nice to have a horse to ride. Good chapter.