Riding the Range (This is one of my favorite stories)
The following is a narrative written some 65 years after the summer of 1930: ...........
I awoke this morning in the same spot where most of my visions of the past seem to germinate and as usual there was a song running through my head. This morning the song was "drinking coffee from an old tin can while riding out on the range" and sucks, I haven’t been on a horse or ridden the range since the summers of 29 and 30.
During those summers my oldest brother Bob McGrew (who was my mother’s first born and a beloved half-brother to all of the Bodenhamer kids) was working on a ranch not too far from my sister and brother-in-law’s ranch near Christoval. And while visiting with them I would quite often ride over to see my brother and ride the range with him, so to speak.
He batched (or lived alone) on this ranch therefore he had to learn to cook, keep house and do his own washing. The fact that he could cook came in handy when he and I made our pilgrimage out west some years later.
While visiting with him on the ranch I watched him do things that turned my stomach. For instance, we would be out riding the range in the hot summer time and would get thirsty as the devil. Upon coming to a windmill with a water trough for cattle, Shorty (that’s what I called him in those days) would get off his horse and say "Come on bud, let’s get a drink." "How can we get a drink when the windmill is not running?" I asked.
"We’ll drink out of the trough" he said as he pushed the old green moss that was covering most of the water out of his way.
"You have to be kidding" I said, shuddering at the thought. "You’d have to be crazy to drink that stuff."
"No," said Shorty, "When you get thirsty enough you will drink out of it just like the cattle do," and putting his head into that trough he drank his fill while I sat there on my horse spitting from thirst and disgust. My God, I thought, how could a civilized person do such a thing.
But that’s the way Shorty was, he was very unpretentious in his feelings toward existing circumstances as you will note in this next encounter with working conditions.
On this particular occasion while visiting with him I found him busy "cutting" or "neutering" the male goats. (Now at this point I must pause for a word of explanation about the description of his project which will follow.)
When the one who critiques my writing read the description of the neutering procedure which I defined in basic English she pulled the hoss she was riding to a complete halt and said some words which I translate as follows:
"Whoa up there cowboy, as long as I am ramrod of the 37 oak tree spread at 1300 Wall Street the "BB" brand is not about to go out of here on a narrative detailing that disgusting procedure. So run that sucker through the dipping vat of clean and refined language before dropping it into the branding chute at The Brady Standard."
Thus, with purified language my story continues:
This was the first time that I had been there when Shorty had a helper. His helper would catch a goat and hold it for my brother would then "neuter" the goat in accordance with the current and accepted method, then, tossing the residue of the operation into a nearby bucket, he turned to the next goat.
Again I thought, how could a man reared by a mother who held strictly to a code of conduct acceptable to a civilized society do such a thing. I will say at this point that the remnants of that operation which were thrown into the bucket were later washed cleaned and cooked as small mountain "oysters".(Ugh!! — while others have declared these items to be a range delicacy I have never been able to force myself to eat even one of them.)
"How can you do such a thing?" I asked, referring to the neutering procedure.
He grinned and said, "Listen bud, in these depression days a job is a job and I am darned glad to have one. Now my advice to you is........." and I knew immediately what was coming for I had heard him give this advice before....."when things get so bad that you have to scratch sh-t with the chickens then by golly you get in there and out-scratch them all." And, as I grew older I tried to do just that.
Another thing that he did that fascinated me was to roll a Bull Durham cigarette while riding a horse. We would be out riding, looking for wormy sheep or cattle, and while jogging along he would reach into his shirt pocket, pull out a sack of Bull Durham and while holding the reins under his left armpit get out a cigarette paper, pour some tobacco into the cigarette paper, roll it up, lick the paper so that it would hold the tobacco, stick it into his mouth and then strike a match and light the cigarette.
Well sir, this fascinated me so that when I got back to my brother-in-law’s ranch I darn near rode a horse to death trying roll a cigarette while riding. I tried all one summer and was unable to do it even after I changed from Bull Durham to Target (which was a stringy tobacco and easier to keep in the cigarette paper). Even after the change in tobacco I was still unable to roll a cigarette that was decent enough to smoke. So, I finally gave up, and boy, I’ll bet that horse was glad.
So you might say that during those visits I learned three things that some cowboys could do that I "could not do": (1) I learned that he "would" drink out of a horse/cow trough when really, real thirsty — Ugh !!
(2) I learned that a cowboy had to neuter goats using the accepted method. Something I "could not" do. Ugh!! Ugh!!—and
(3) I learned that I "could not" roll a cigarette while riding a horse!!
At this point my days in the golden west came to an end and still singing "I’m drinking coffee from an old tin can" I got up to join my wife and we drank our coffee from two china cups while I wondered if I would really like to ride the range again.(Very, very doubtful).