After nine months away from home Daddy was used to doing without me to help him, so when he asked me to get on a horse and go down in the draw to bring up some stray cattle he accepted my excuse that I was urgently needed somewhere else that day. I had planned that he would not be suspicious enough to try to track down my real reason for refusing to help him. I was still certain that if any crisis brought on by Cecil's interaction with me surfaced, a possible murder might result, whose I wasn't sure, Cecil's or Daddy's.
A few days later, however, Daddy told me that he had something urgent to do and he needed me to drive a herd of cattle to Sand Creek, his Salt Gulch range. This time he seemed determined I wasn't going to get out of it. He suggested I call and ask my friend Barbara in Salt Gulch to see if she could not use one of the Coleman horses that day, so she could trail the herd up the mountain while I went on lead and eventually guided them to a gate near a cattle guard, which I was to open so they could be driven through to the right range. The directions sounded awfully complicated to me, but Daddy insisted that he could not go.
He told me I could ride Sorly and he would help me drive the herd across Home Bench to Big Holler. But I was still pretty much stunned when the herd turned out to be the largest one I had ever managed by myself, around fifty cows with calves, and what turned out to be a small demon-possessed herd of five dry calves and a bull.
Right away this wild bunch moved out ahead of the slow cows and calves. I was alarmed and asked Daddy how I was supposed to keep the two bunches together. He said I would need to push ahead of the herd from time to time as when there was a wash ahead the wild ones might take off from the road and run up the wash toward the mountain!
I remembered there was a wash down to the bottom of Big Holler. Surely they would not run away so soon up that wash, but oh yes, they did.
Daddy was long gone. Mercilessly he had turned back at the top of Big Holler. There was no way for me to push ahead of the herd as they headed down Big Holler. The road was too steep and narrow. I doubted if even Daddy would have pushed ahead on this road so he could hold up the dry cows and the bull. I thought the slow cows and calves would never reach the bottom of Big Holler.
When we did, I could not see the dry cows and the bull anywhere. I rushed up the wash a little ways to see if I could spot fresh tracks. Sure enough, there were tracks, but the demon possessed herd must have run fast because I could not see them. The further up the wash I raced Sorly the more alarmed I became. Finally, finally I caught up with the wild bunch apparently headed for the mountain as fast as they could go just any old way they could get there.
I managed to get in head of them so I could turn them back around. To my horror, instead of running obediently back down the wash, they started climbing up the steep sides of the wash. Oh drat.
I simply did not dare try to scale that steep hillside on a horse, coward that I was, so I jumped off the horse and tied his reins to a bush, and headed up the side of the hill on foot! I finally got the cows and bull headed back down, so I ran back and jumped on my horse again, and whoops, they turned, once I was no longer behind them, and headed back up the side of the hill again. I jumped off my horse again, and in my haste I must have tied Sorly very insecurely to the bush.
I had barely left him and started running as fast as I could up the side hill again, when I turned and out of the corner of my eye saw Sorly pull loose from the bush. Oh my God I had forgotten that Sorly tended to bolt when his reins were down. He wasn't like a long line of King horses you could have walked up to and caught in the open fields. He headed down the wash very fast! He acted like he meant business. He was through with my amateur cow punching. He was going back to the barn.
The demon-possessed cows and the bull, I am sure, laughing all the way, proceeded on up the hillside and disappeared over the top, headed I was certain, all six of them, for the mountain and a trespass.
I ran past the slow cows heading slowly out to the other side of Big Holler on their way to Salt Gulch, hollering for my horse, who was not paying the slightest bit of attention. I never did catch up with him the whole five miles home.
When he arrived home, if he could have talked he would probably have told the whole horrifying story to Daddy, who by the great grace of God, had not left for his other urgent job whatever it was. You can imagine how happy he was to see me and Sorly show up.
He did not say a word to his prize horse as he caught him and waited for me to mount him again, but he said plenty to me after he had saddled his horse to accompany me back to Big Holler.
"We won't know any more than a pig where all those other cattle have gone!" was one thing I vividly remember him saying. I think he was as surprised as I was when we rode fast down into Big Holler and all fifty cows and calves were laying down taking a rest by the side of the road, having never left Big Holler at all after I disappeared. Maybe they were waiting for me to come back and drive them!
Daddy turned and headed his horse straight up the steep east side of Big Holler and said he would try to catch up with the dry calves and the bull before they got too far away. I was mighty surprised when I had driven the main herd out of Big Holler and down the road aways, to see him come racing back driving four dry cows and the bull.
"One of those dry cows is headed for the mountain as fast as she can go," was all he said. "I couldn't catch her!" Then he pulled up his horse.
"Where are you going?" I all but screamed. Surely he could not be thinking of leaving me with this giant herd and that little demon possessed wild bunch again!
"I told you I've got things to do," he said firmly. "Just don't get off your horse!" he added, as if I would. "And make sure you go ahead of the herd when you come to any kind of wash or turn off. Your main herd isn't going anywhere. It's the dry cows and the bull you have to keep up with."
Yes, they headed up another wash just after we came off the little Rocky Hill, but I was ready for them. And so was Sorly. He went after that demon possessed bunch with a vengeance. All I had to do was stick on him. He knew what to do, oh did he ever, and he made sure this time, when I gave him the chance, that he got it done. We ran that little wild bunch back into the main herd hard!
But I had a mighty strained mind before we arrived to the Coleman ranch in Salt Gulch, rushing ahead to every possible turn off those cattle might take a notion to go down. I was so happy when I saw Barbara's horse tied up outside the Coleman fence.
As soon as Barbara saw me pass with my cattle she rushed out and got on her horse and joined me. She was a great help just herding the slow cows along who were inclined to meander and graze while I ran Sorly ahead, keeping up with the wild bunch.
I was still mighty worried about losing the dry cows and bull once we got to mountain terrain, but Daddy said that was why he had included some of the dry cows in the herd because some of those old dry cows knew where they were going. They had been there before.
I hardly even had a chance to say hello to Barbara I was so busy. It still seemed like an eternity before I spotted the fence Daddy said we would come to. I rode quickly ahead and found the gate by the cattle guard. I was even able to unlatch it and open it without dismounting, thank goodness.
Somehow or another we had arrived to our destination with all fifty head of the cows and calves and four dry cows, instead of five, and the bull. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when they crowded through the gate and scattered. There they'd be all summer growing fat and sassy.
Barbara and I had time for a few words as we turned our horses around and started back down the mountain. I was telling Barbara a little bit about my morning's ordeal when I noticed something strange and wonderful. Sorly was dancing. Yes, that darned horse danced with me all the way down the mountain.
Sorly could not have said in any plainer words that he was celebrating our mission accomplished. His trainer and my dad had not allowed us fail. He never let either one of us fail when it came to handling cattle, if he could possibly help it.
Sorly had learned I was a greenhorn. And he had bolted. Daddy forgave him, but he made him and me go back and finish the job that only he thought we could do.
Mother brought the pickup truck over to pick me up so she could give Sorly a ride home, too. I thought he had earned it.