I started paying special attention to the little ones, thinking I would always have to come home for the summers so they wouldn't feel I had abandoned them.
I do recall a really hard job of cow punching I did that spring when I was twelve at my dad's behest. Daddy said some of the young heifers needed to be gathered up from Kings Bench and brought home as they were not as good at foraging for feed as the older cows.
I was very wary of going with Daddy so soon again to Kings Bench but after he said he had not been able to find anyone to go with him, I said I would go. The very fact that he would try to find someone to take in my stead was a warning that this was not going to be an easy job.
As we were going to have to drive the cattle all the way home, we got an early start. We set out for Kings Bench at a pretty fast pace the next morning. I remember it was pretty cold but I hardly even noticed the chill. I was too worried about what I was going to have to do when we got there.
I had done right to worry, because after we got to King's Bench I could not believe what Daddy expected me to do. He started cutting out some of the young heifers who would be calving in the spring and as they were milling around in a bunch, he told me I was to keep them together while he went off and found more! He even dismounted and gave me his Sorly to ride and took my horse.
He assured me Sorly would be a great help in keeping the cattle together, but even though Sorly was a wonder horse, he could not do it all by himself. I was going to have to stick him and ride as they say 'hell bent for leather'.
That was the longest and hardest few hours I ever spent punching cows in my life. I thought Daddy would never stop cutting out poor heifers which Sorly and I were expected to keep milling around and headed in his direction without losing any! He did a lot of screaming and hollering and Sorly had to lunge here and there trying to keep a nervous heifer from taking off through the trees. When one did manage to escape, Sorly was after her in a flash with me hanging on for dear life. You could see Sorly had done this job before, but I sure hadn't! He knew he had to get that pesky heifer back under control fast before the whole herd scattered.
My nerves were pretty ripped before Daddy finally pulled up and said he guessed he had cut out all the ones that needed to go home.
As we headed back down the trail with the heifers running so fast we had trouble keeping up with them, I observed that these poor young cows acted pretty strong to me, so why did he think they weren't doing well? He told me to look close at one heifer when we caught up to the herd, and I could see she was shaking. He said she was scared of people, which was why she was running so fast, but she was so weak she couldn't stop trembling. She probably had not been feeding very well at all and might not have survived until the spring round-up.
I reflected that next winter I would not be there to go with him, so I had better enjoy the last cow punching job I would probably ever do in the late winter. Poor Dad had been patient with me up until now, and just when he deemed me experienced enough to do something difficult on horses, I was going a long ways away to school.
I figured it was probably a good thing before I got hurt doing some of the didoes on a horse I had done that day. When Sorly rounded up a cow he did it with a lot of authority.
All of Daddy's cow ponies had been trained to chase run away cattle, but none of them ever took the work as seriously as Sorly did. Nor were any of them as fast at bringing a critter under control as Sorly, despite being bigger than most cow ponies. Some horses I had ridden would act so skittish if they had not been ridden for a while you would think they had never been near a cow. Their training like mine tended to come undone.
We got home after dark, but Daddy was satisfied these heifers would all stay alive and have their calves in the spring. He had come back once more from the near dead and was acting like the great cow man he had it in him to be.
And for the first time, I thought, I had proved myself worthy that day of being a great cowboy's daughter.