Buster and Sheryl Stories
I'll tell you a story about the first thing that Ray Hunt ever said to me... The first time Ray came to the Sixes to help us start our colts, we'd run one in the round pen, and he'd rope it and work it horseback. Then he'd get off and wool 'em around afoot a little and ask someone to bring him a saddle. He'd pitch the coils of his rope out in front of that horse, saddle 'em with just that rope around their neck, and most of them just stood there like an old broke horse. I could see what I was seein' , but I didn't understand what the heck was goin' on. He kept talkin' about "getting' 'em ready" — whatever the heck that meant.
I was right near thirty years old and had been about as far horseback as anyone my age and further than most. I think I had the reputation of being a pretty good cow puncher who rode pretty good horses. All that said, I had saddled one bronc in my life without tyin' a foot up. He was a stud the ranch had bought off the Pitzer Ranch, and he'd been halter broke, kept in a stall, brushed al over, and I don't know what all else.
When I went to catch him the first time, he met me at the gate. He led like an old horse and was so gentle on the ground, I just saddled him without tyin' a foot up. That was a couple of years before I met Ray, and I don't guess it ever crossed my mind that that could be duplicated on a "real" bronc.
That first day, I watched Ray saddle 18 or 20 head before we finally got mine run into the round pen. He liked it better on the far side of those other broncs, away from humans.
When it finally came time to saddle him, I drug my wood in there and asked Ray, "Would you mind if I saddle this one, and you just coach me a little? I'd like to learn a little more about this." I didn't know for sure what Ray had with a horse, but I'd decided I wanted some of it.
There was a hint of skepticism in his voice when he said, "Well, I usually like to saddle 'em myself the first time and try to keep 'em out of trouble. That seems to help later on. But, he's your horse. If you want to saddle 'em, just have at it."
He's settin' there a-horseback, and he hands me his rope and says, "Just ease up to him and pet him a little bit." Well, I know this business. I've been down the rope to a bunch of 'em, and a feller's got to watch 'cause some of 'em will try to paw the pockets off your shirt if you ain't careful. Bein' snubbed to a post or another horse could've had somethin' to do with that. I don't know.
So I'm a tip-toein' down this rope, and when I get to his head (off to one side, of course), I real easy reach out to touch him. He turns his head away, which ain't uncommon. There's a lot of 'em you can't touch on the face to start with. Ray ain't said a word.
So I ease back a little further to maybe pet him on the neck. I know you don't just reach out and touch one of them things. That'll get you pawed. So I kinda ask permission, and when it looked like I could touch him, I kinda patted him on the neck real easy.
He kinda flinched and took a step backwards, so I thought we's off to a pretty good start. He didn't paw at me or whirl and run off.
Ray says, "Oh hell boy! You don't even know how to pet a horse!"
I looked around at him like maybe I'd misunderstood. I hadn't.
He said, "You didn't do nothin' but scare him! You see him flinch?"
He's ridin' toward me. I didn't say anything, but I'm thinkin', "Why, heck! They all do that to start with! He'll get over it one of these days."
Ray rode up beside that colt and looked down at me. "Think! (That was one of my daddy's favorite words too!) What's the first thing he ever felt in his life?"
"He felt his momma's tongue lickin' 'em off." Ray rubbed the colt along his mane, and the colt just melted and worked his mouth. "She didn't take her tongue and go to bangin' on 'em like you did!"
I said, "Oh."
We took the colts from the Moorhouse Ranch to the CS Ranch at Cimarron, NM, one summer so we could get them started in a little cooler climate. The CS also had a few colts to start, and Sheryl and I brought a couple of our own. All in all, we had quite a few to ride, but we had plenty of cowboys, too. Tom brought the chuck wagon and a cook, the cowboys brought their families and camped out, and we had quite a little bronco bustin'.
At the end of the week, they decided we'd haul all these colts and some saddle horses to some CS country up above Eagle Nest and ride around in the mountains and maybe see some elk. That sounded like an adventure to us Texans, so we loaded the truck and two or three gooseneck trailers with horses and pulled out. With all the cowboys, wives, kids, and a couple of folks who'd heard about the deal and come to visit, we had somethin' over 40 head of horses up on the mountain. We were going to drive the extra colts along with us and hold 'em up and change horses when the colts we were riding had had enough.
We found a good bank to back the truck up to to unload the colts and jumped them out into a corral made up of cowboys and lariat ropes. We had them pretty well rope broke, and they were pretty good to saddle, so it wasn't long before we had everyone mounted.
There wasn't much of a slope where we unloaded and saddled up, but about a hundred yards away it got pretty steep in a hurry. Tom took the lead on an older saddle horse (I think he was a 3-year-old.) Now these colts had never been driven much, and the ones we were riding hadn't been ridden much, so when I say it got a little western when we started off the side of that mountain, I'm not exaggeratin.' We were movin' some rocks around.
Sheryl was riding a little sorrel colt that she had about 10 rides on. He was pretty gentle, but had lots of life. He was kind of runnin' horse bred anyway, and when all those loose horses started off the side of that mountain, I guess he figured he'd found his calling. Mister, he was headed for the lead. When she passed me (and I thought I was going plenty fast enough), I squalled at her to keep him pointed downhill. I doubt if she heard me.
A little ways in front of her were two big pine trees about six or eight feet apart. Their limbs intertwined between them. Ol' sorrelly never slowed, and he was sure goin' too fast downhill to bend him around. I didn't see any way those limbs could keep from draggin' her off, but she put her head down and hit them just like you would a big mesquite in Texas. She was wearin' a palm leaf straw hat with a big, wide brim, in fact, the cowboys said she looked like a piss ant carryin' a potato chip, and when she hit that tree, the brim just folded down on both sides of her head and she never got a scratch.
We finally hit the bottom of a big draw and got our remuda throwed back together and slowed down a little. Sheryl stayed up in the front with Tom and looked to be givin' her colt plenty to do since he was still pretty excited about the deal. After a couple of miles, we had these horses ridin' and drivin' pretty good. Then we came to a creek with runnin' water in it. These Texas horses ain't never seen any runnin' water. This creek wasn't over ten or twelve feet wide, but it looked like the Mississippi to them.
Tom got his horse boogered across pretty quick, but Sheryl's wasn't havin' any part of it. The loose horses crowded up around her, and none of them cared to cross either. We were in a pretty narrow place so we could mash on 'em pretty good. Finally, Sheryl's colt couldn't stand the pressure, and he jumped as high and about as far as a sorrel horse can jump.
The only thing wrong with that was that her left toe hung on the horse crowding her on the left, and it turned her leg backwards when he jumped. I saw her bend him around and lean over her saddle horn when they reached the other side. I just figured it jarred the air out of her, because pretty quick she raised up and she and Tom rode on. That was enough bait that the rest of the bunch followed.
We toured through the mountains the rest of the morning, and one of the CS punchers guided us to a spot where the cook was going to bring dinner to us. We threw the colts up in a stand of pines and used our lariat ropes to make a corral.
I'd been watchin' Sheryl ride her colt, and she had him ridin' real nice. She could turn that booger around and never get the slack out of her bridle rein. I was sure proud of her and told her so. She turned him both directions and backed him up. He was real nice.
Then she said, "Can you help me get off of him?"
I said, "Heck, he's all right. Just get off!"
She said, "I know he's all right, but I'm not. I twisted my knee when we jumped that first creek back there."
I got off and held her horse, and when she stepped off, she dang near fell down. Then she, Tiffany, and Misty, went off behind some bushes. I noticed she was limping pretty bad while I unsaddled her horse. Directly, Tiffany came back and said, "I think you need to come check on mom."
I walked over there, and her left knee was about twice the size of her right one. I said, "I believe we'd better take you to the doctor." She wasn't having any part of it. She said, "I'm riding my other colt off this mountain." After quite a discussion, we decided to make a decision after we ate dinner.
After dinner, we were catchin' horses and saddlin' broncs when one ran over the ropes. He started out scared, but when he hit that rope he really got motivated to vacate the premises. He ran right at my daughter, Misty, and Joe Leathers' two little girls, who were already horseback. They were on older horses who had experienced a few wrecks and were wise enough to get their feet movin' and avoid this one. Sheryl had been sittin' on a big rock waitin' for me to get her horse because she wasn't getting around too well. When she saw what was happening, she got in a hurry to come help and made it about two steps before she fell face down. Her leg wouldn't hold her up.
She rode back down the mountain with the cook.
We took her to the emergency room late that evenin'. The X-Rays didn't show anything broken, but the doctor said she'd probably torn some ligaments in her knee and possibly her ankle. He said it probably would have healed faster if it had been broken. They put a big splint on her leg and sent her back to camp.
We finished up our deal the next day and were ready to head back to God's country. That evenin' we were sittin' around the wagon visitin' when Bubba Smith said, "Sheryl, you've shore made a hand a helpin' us start these colts this week. I believe you've earned a cowboy name. From now on, we're just gonna call you Sheryl Bob."
Earning a "cowboy name" is a big deal in West Texas. The name stuck. It's carved on the cantle of her new saddle.
Tom Blasingame Bridling Horse
When I first went to the JA Ranch up in the Palo Duro Canyon, there was a feller named Tom Blasingame working there. I had met Tom at the Texas Ranch Roundup, in Wichita Falls, but I didn't know him well. Tom was 90 years-old when I went there in the fall of '88. He had first come to the JA and gone to work in 1916.
The first morning we caught horses, and I led a horse out to Tom, I noticed that after he bridled the horse, he took his headstall up three or four holes. I didn't think much about it, just figured he had it on a different horse before. But the next horse, he did the same thing. I got to watching him, and he did it on every horse. Tom was a good hand with a horse, and none of his horses were hard to bridle, so I couldn't figure out why he did this. But I knew there must be a reason.
One day when were alone, I mentioned that I'd noticed this habit, and that I couldn't figure out why he did it. I asked him if he'd share the reason with me.
He replied, "Oh yeah! Buster when I first rode in here, they didn't have nothin' for me to do, but they said I could hang around awhile and work for my meals. When they finally put me to work, that first morning, we's catchin' horses an' that wagon boss led me out a big, ol' brown horse that was hard to bridle. "Course I didn't know that. I rassled around and' finally got the bit in his mouth, but my headstall was a little too short, and' when I tried to get it over his ears he jerked loose from me and run off.
"That ol' wagon boss chewed me out purty good for not bein' ready to bridle that horse. I been ready ever since.
Last Thing You Learn
I was visiting with Ray Hunt late one evening after we'd finished working a bunch of horses. This was about the third year Ray had come to the 6666 to help us with our horses. I told Ray that I was sure trying to figure this horse deal out, but I was havin' trouble gettin' a hold of all of it. Some things were workin' out pretty good, but others things maybe not so well.
Ray knew that I was workin' on this, and he was real good about tryin' to help me understand. He said, "Well, I'll tell you something Tom told me a long time ago: 'The first thing you need to know will be the last thing you'll learn.'"
I said, "Well, that sorta makes sense, Ray. Could you give me a hint as to what that last thing might be?"
Ray looked me right in the eye and said honestly, "I don't know yet."
When I was running the Johnson Ranch, up in the Panhandle, the owner traded my daughter, Tiffany, a yearling colt for helping out on the ranch. Tiff was about 11- or 12-years-old at the time. I helped her get him caught 2 or 3 times, and then she'd fool with him a little after school, under Mama's supervision. Pretty soon, she had him gentle and leading by all four feet. He was a nice bay colt by Doc's Oak and out of a Clark's Doc Bar mare.
When it came time to start riding him, I told her I'd put a few rides on him for her. He started easy, and I was prowling up and down McClellan creek on him right away.
It was in the fall, and we were busy weaning calves, so I didn't get to ride him every day. Late one afternoon, I decided I'd better run down to the south end of the ranch and trot around the fence of a trap (small 640 acre pasture where cattle can be kept overnight) we were going to put some cattle in soon. I thought that'd be a good job for that little bay horse. So I saddled him and loaded him in the trailer (Tiff and Sheryl had the trailer loading good already.)
It was 15 or 20 miles around the road to this little trap, and I got there about an hour before sundown. I thought, "This is just right. I'll have plenty of time to trot around this four miles of fence before dark." I was sure tickled to get to ride this bay colt.
I stepped on him and eased around a little, then started up the fence. About the time we struck a long trot, I just happened to think that nobody knew where I was but ol' bay. I worked alone a lot, so it wasn't anything out of the ordinary — just a thought.
About half a mile from where I started, a little creek over on the neighbor's had been washing into a hill for a number of years, creating a little cut bank about 60-80 feet long and 12-15 feet high. The fence just hung out in the air probably 15 feet from the edge at the widest point. I knew about the place. There was no danger of the cattle getting out there as the bank was straight off. It is a common occurrence in rough country.
When we got to this hill, I pointed him out away from that cutbank 8 or 10 feet and slowed to a walk. It wasn't terribly steep, but was maybe a pretty good pull for a bronc that hadn't had much experience packing a man in such places.
About half-way up that hill, it felt like he stepped in a hole with a hind foot. That kinda scared him on that steep place, and he tried to lunge forward. When he did, I'm guessing that old badger hole (I never went back and looked) caved in, swallowing both hind feet. A split second later, I felt him overbalance. He was gonna fall over backwards.
I didn't have to get out the book and read the instructions to know that I was in a bad place. I was pushin' on that saddle horn and thinkin' "Fall away from that bluff - away from that bluff!"
I hit the ground right flat on my back, and my immediate thought was "I didn't fall off that bluff, and I'm not under my horse."
About that time, he rolled over the top of me. The momentum carried us both over the edge.
I remember opening my eyes while I was falling. I was falling facing upward. I could see lots of blue sky, and I thought, "This is where they'll find me dead."
About this time, I hit right on top of my horse on my back.
Both of us got real busy getting untangled from one another and getting to our feet. When we both found our feet, we were about two feet apart, facing one another. My bridle rein was run up between his eyes and ears. He as standing on the end of it and had his left ear pulled down about perpendicular with his head.
He'd given to the pressure of that rein, and his head was only about three feet off the ground with his left ear pulled down. It was such a comical sight, I burst out laughing.
I said out loud, "Damn, Bub, that happened pretty fast, didn't it?"
His eyes were as big as a bay horse's eyes can get. He was frozen in place. I gathered up the reins, moved him around a little, and we both seemed to be OK, so I stepped on him and started up the fence to a gate where we could get back on the ranch.
When I got in that night, I called my Daddy. I said, "I know you've been in and seen a lot of wrecks in your life, but did you ever hear of a man fallin' off a ranch a-horseback?"
"No," he said, "that's a new one to me."
"Well," I says, "let me tell you a little story."
When I was about 12- or 13-years-old, me and my Daddy were trying to put some ol' trotty cows through a gate in a pretty good brush thicket. One ol' cow finally broke and ran down the fence. I tried to cut her off and got to the fence just behind her and she got away. After we got the rest of 'em put through the gate, Daddy asked me why that cow got by me.
I whined a little excuse, "Well, I couldn't get my horse to run on up there quick enough," or something like that. It was the horse's fault anyway.
He said, "Son, if you're gonna punch cows for a livin', you're gonna have to ride a lot of different kinds of horses. Not all of 'em are gonna be good or gentle. You're gonna have to learn to get along with 'em, be in the right place at the right time, and hold up your share of cattle. No excuses!"
Bull Roping in Boji Corner
One Winter at the 6666, we were getting our bulls ready to turn out with the cows — giving vaccinations, spraying for ticks, trimming a few feet, etc. One afternoon, we were going to pen some Brangus bulls out of a nice little pasture called "Boji Corner." It is a nice little piece of real estate that only covers 2 or 3 sections, but if it was flattened out, I'm sure it would cover the better part of 10,000 acres. It is a tad rough and covered in cedars and rocks.
We had to go through a gate into Mitchell Trap and another 200-300 yards into Mitchell Pens. When we started into Mitchell Trap, one of these old bulls decided to turn Communist. He blowed snot, almost knocked a horse out from under a cowboy, and headed for the tall timber.
Bill Hemphill, the wagon boss, hollered, "Catch 'em!"
I happened to already have my rope down and didn't need any further instructions, so I cut down on ol' Blackie, figuring that he was sufferin' from an Oxygen imbalance. I figured he was getting way too much of it, and that was something I could cure with 30 feet of rope and 1100 pound saddle horse.
The nearest deep little canyon had had an old seismograph road cut across it some years before.. That road had washed out over the years and grown up in cedars until it was little more than a cow trail.
That seemed to be ol' Blackie's chosen escape route, and he was headed there as fast as a six-year-old Brangus bull can run. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that rate of speed, it is just slightly under that of a good saddle horse, and I was on one.
Just before we hit the edge of that canyon, I mailed it to him and caught him right around his big neck. Again, for those of you who are unfamiliar with such events, when you're running wide open, pushing on your bridle rains, and catch a 2,000 pound runaway bull with 30 feet of rope tied hard and fast to your saddle horn, things do not stop suddenly unless you fork a big mesquite tree, which we did not.
Ol' Rachel was wearing out some steel trying to get that bull stopped going down that old road. We were a good 100 yards off the rim of that canyon when things finally got stopped. We were on about a 45 degree angle, so I'm uphill a little bit above that bull, and on the opposite side of a big cedar.
I'm settin' there studying on my next move or escape route, whichever seemed necessary, when I hear horseshoes on rocks up above me about 40 or 50 feet. I look up to see my old compadres, Bruce Slover, and Loyd Daniels. Loyd is on a bronc, and Bruce had been, but now he's forkin' Hemphill's good sorrel horse he called Friday. Friday had a number 13 branded on his jaw.
They're right straight up that bluff above me, and Bruce says, "McLaury, why in the Hell did you rope that bull down there for?"
I'm thinkin' all this is pretty funny, and I says, "Didn't rope him down here. Roped him up there. Just got him stopped down here."
"Well, what're you gonna do with him now?"
"You're gonna come down here and help me lead him up outta this hole. Hemphill said he wanted 'em."
I'm talking up and over my right shoulder, but I'm mostly watching this bull. I did see Bruce step off and cinch up.
In a few seconds, I hear the rocks rollin' again, and I know Bruce is comin' down that trail. When he come in sight, I had to laugh. He had a loop built and was tied on, of course, but he'd opened his pocket knife and was holdin' it in his teeth like a pirate.
I says, "Are you gonna cut us outta this wreck or use that to commit suicide if things go to hell?"
I couldn't understand what he said over the knife blade, but it probably didn't do to print anyway.
We wallered that rascal up out of there after Bruce caught a hind leg. He got a good dose of Co-ral poured down his back and was sent on his way to tend to his business of being a bull.
Not Your Horse's Fault
One time Ray asked me to do something with a colt, and I had to do it with my left hand. It didn't work out too smooth, and Ray mentioned that fact.
I kinda laughed and make the little excuse, "Well, I'm not quite as handy with my left hand as I am my right."
Ray said, "That's not your horse's fault."
I've always remembered that.