Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 38: My horse Blackie falls down three times on one of my cattle drives, once with me on him!

When I came home from school after I graduated I was as mad at Daddy as I had ever been.  He had not attended my graduation from high school when I was just sixteen years old.  I was not surprised he tried to wiggle out of that but it was the smart eleck remark he made that bothered me which Mother told me, who had attended. She ordered him to come but he wouldn't do it.  He said, "I always knew she would graduate!"
I felt he had not come close to comprehending the sacrifice I had made that year to work for my room and board for a couple who left quite a bit to be desired as wholesome guardians.  Besides that, West High school had 2,000 students and only a junior and senior class, so I had made it nearly to the top student of my class as salutatorian.  I thought if only Miss Nelson had let me write my own speech and Daddy had attended, I would have said something that made him sit up and take notice.  He thought I had been thoroughly subdued, but he did not know how the many indignities I had suffered throughout my life as his daughter rankled.  I was like a little volcano building steam.  Sooner or later I was going to blow. 
Daddy I could see as soon as I got home to Boulder was mighty harassed with all the work he was having to do with the additional ranch property.  He asked me if I wouldn't go over to Salt Gulch and help out a couple of days  He was still gathering cattle from the winter range in Sand Creek and there were other tasks that needed doing around that ranch.
He had saddled his horse and went out west on the Sand Creek trail to bring a fairly small bunch of cattle home.  Pretty soon he came racing back and said he needed me to go do a cowpunching job for him.  Blackie, the horse his hired man favored, was over there for some reason, so he saddled him for me to ride.  He said that he had to take me out to where he had left three old cows.  As we rode out there to he told me that when he went back to get the last of the cattle he had been gathering yesterday, instead of trailing into the ranch, the three old cows got tired and laid down, and before he could get back out there this morning the other nine head split and went off toward Sand Creek.  He said another cow was probably leading them on a short cut to the mountain.
Cattle don't know they have to come home to get tagged so they will not be trespassed on the mountain range.  They just think get to the mountain anyway they can.  Daddy wanted me to track the runaway cattle up Sand Creek and turn them around and bring them back down the creek.  I was to take the trail back over to where the three old cows were poking along, pick them up, and bring them all home.  He said the old cows would probably still be there when I came back with the runaway cattle. I asked him why he didn't take those cows home with him, and he snapped that he had too much to do on the ranch and didn't have time to trail some old slow cows.
I noticed after he left that Blackie was beginning to act logy.  The hired man preferred to ride him for some reason, and probably had not traded horses enough to give him some good days of rest.  Usually a good cowhand's best horse was never that logy.  I was surprised.
Daddy's horses were usually spirited and fun to ride.  Well, Blackie was so rode out probably from the spring round up on the other ranches in Boulder that a dangerous thing happened.  We came out of Sand Creek up a sandy wallow, and I will be darned if Blackie did not fall down with me.  I felt him falling just in time to pull my feet out of the stirrups.  When he hit the ground I stepped off him.  I thanked God I'd had on my good cowboy boots that kept my foot from going through the stirrup. I always wore them if I had to do any riding. 
This fall was exactly why it was always wise to drive cattle in pairs so if one rider gets hurt, the other one can ride for help.
I shuddered to think what would have happened if I had not been able to jump off in time.  I could have laid out there all day if the horse fell on me before Daddy came to find me.  Somewhat shaken, I mounted Blackie again and kept tracking the runaway cattle.  It seemed like I had to ride quite a ways north to the mountain before I ran into them.  I did not dare push Blackie too hard trying to catch up with them.
Finally I sighted them. I managed to head them off, as they were tired, turned them around and headed them back down the creek.  I was moseying along down Sand Creek thinking how far I was going to have to drive these cattle to get back to the Sand Creek trail. 
I don't know what madness overcame me, but I suddenly decided I would just take this herd of nine animals, including quite a few heifers, up over the top of the long bench next to our ranch.  I figured we were coming onto where it was located, and within a very short time I could have these cattle back to the Salt Gulch ranch.  And I would not have to make that long drive.  Which later I thought showed I was too impatient to be a cowpuncher for life.  I had better find another profession.
Well, the nine head of cattle got rejuvenated with the chance to take off in still another direction, and pretty soon they had run up to the top of the hill which proved to be steeper than I expected.  That's when I noticed that one heifer was lingering behind, completely exhausted.  I had killed a heifer down on King's Bench by pushing her too hard on the trail to Sinking Water when I was twelve.  She fell into a deep canyon.  I sure didn't want to kill another one.  Daddy cussed about that one all the way home.
I jumped off Blackie and leading him, I started pushing that heifer up over the last little incline. She still had enough strength in her and enough fear of me to make it to the top. I mounted Blackie and we crossed the top of the bench quickly, me in a panic wondering where the rest of the cattle had gone.  I finally caught sight of them clear on the other side already tumbling down some steep shale hills that were not meant to be traversed by cattle or horses either.  The trembling heifer went tumbling after the rest of the herd, but I got off and started leading Blackie down the steep shale incline.
Just in time as pretty soon he fell down, too.  Oh my God, if something happened to this trained cow horse as a result of me taking this short cut, I just as well leave home, Daddy would be so mad.
Valuable trained horses regularly got lamed by falling in this rough country.  I held my breath as Blackie got up.  He seemed okay but pretty soon he fell down another steep shale slope!
I was praying by then, "Lord, please don't let anything happen to Blackie, and I will never take a short cut again." 
The sun was just starting to sink behind the western hills when the cattle ended up safe in my father's fields, coming in way to the north.  Well, at least I had saved myself a long cattle drive, and both Blackie and I were okay.
I finally found Daddy and rode up, meaning to tell him about Blackie's first fall, but not about his second or third one.  Once he heard I had found the runaway herd and they were back in his field, he interrupted me and asked if I had picked up the three old cows.
I swear I had forgotten them completely!  "Didn't they come home?" I stammered.
"Course they didn't!" yelled Daddy.  "In fact, as soon as they get rested up, they will head over to Sand Creek to the mountain.  You are going to have to go after them, now!"
Yes, he sent me back out on the Sand Creek Trail after those old cows.  It was almost pitch dark before I found them.  I was just lucky they were still on the trail and not headed for Sand Creek.  I rode along thinking about what an incredibly hard driving dad I had, when a silent dark shadow on horseback joined me.
He never said a word.  We just rode along driving the cows together, like two tired cowpunchers after a long day on the trail. Too tired to talk, but satisfied that another hard day of ranching and punching cows was done. 

No comments:

Post a Comment