I WAS IN THE PROCESS of gathering my shorts (cattle, not B.V.D.’s) when I got a call from old WW. He informed me that it was now my turn to go help Delbert on one of the other ranches. I hadn’t seen anyone for a couple of weeks, so it didn’t take long for
me to load my horses and throw my bedroll in the truck. If I had known how things were going to turn out, I would have just quit or claimed the radio wasn’t working well enough for me to understand.
Oh, it started out as a grand time. Delbert and I had become good friends and we stayed up late telling some good lies. We were horseback by first light as we had to ride eight miles, four up and four down, just to get to the area in which the shorts were located. We knew
about where they were because Delbert had turned off all of the water tanks but one. Sure enough, there were fresh signs that the renegade bovines had been there,but they hadn’t stuck around long enough for us to see them, so we commenced hunting.
The hunt was not to be an easy one. There was more than enough juniper and cedar to hide a thousand cows, and we were only looking for eight. The dry and rocky ground made tracking difficult at best. These complications were exacerbated by the several canyons
running through the area. Even if you could see a cow standing not fifty yards away, you would have to ride a mile or more just to get to her side of the canyon. The southern boundary was not fenced, and if you left the ranch by that route, you had better be riding Pegasus, for that boundary was marked by an eight-hundred foot cliff. As if all that were not enough, cholla cactus was scattered in the most inconvenient places, some of it taller than a man on horseback. More intelligent men would have been taken aback at the task, but undaunted at the perils before us, Delbert and I split up and forged onward.
We met up again about noon to learn that neither of us had seen a single cow. Delbert had discovered one of their favorite spots for lounging around to chew their cud, though. “It’s right on the edge of the cliff. The only other trail out is blocked by a fallen tree, so if we catch them there, we should have them,” he stated with the greatest confidence.
We had just split up again when I spotted some fresh bovine signs heading along the edge of one of the canyons. I called Delbert and we followed the tracks until they disappeared over a shale ledge into the canyon below. Without thinking about the fact that a
cow will sometimes go where a horse cannot, we bailed off into the steep canyon, knowing we would never be able to climb out where we came in. About a half mile in, we came to a fork in the canyon. Even though the canyon floor was solid rock, we knew instantly which
fork the cattle had taken. Our insight was not due to the fact that we are such astute trackers but rather to the fact that the cows would have needed ropes and pitons to make it up the other fork.
After a few hundred yards, it became obvious that this fork was one of those places where cows go that horses can’t. We figured we would turn around and get out somewhere below the spot where we had entered. The only problem with that plan was that it required parachutes, and we hadn’t brought any, so it was back to plan A.
We folded our stirrups over our saddles and led our horses along a “trail” so narrow that boulders scraped the animals’ sides. We unsaddled to pass beneath low branches which scratched the horses’ backs. As we neared the top, we had to jump from boulder to boulder. About two-and-a-half hours after we started, we made it out without tearing anything up too badly. By then the sun was going down, so we figured we might as well head in for lunch.
It was well after dark by the time we made it back to camp, but it was easy to find as the lights were on. WW was there. He was a short, round, jovial sort of guy with a heart as big as he was round. The main problem with WW was understanding him, as he had a thick Texas accent, an he tk rel fas an chop da wods in haf. However, we were in luck that night; he had been sucking on a bottle of Crown Royal. For some reason the more he drank, the easier it was to understand him.
After hearing about our day, he told us to run a few bales of hay down to the water tank. Hopefully the renegade crowbaits would come in to water, stay for dinner, and be waiting for us to pick them up in the morning. Even though we didn’t believe this would
happen as WW planned, we did as he wanted and pulled back into camp around ten thirty that night. There was just time to grab a quick sandwich for dinner and go to bed with no bull session.
The next morning as the sun was peeking up in the east, we spotted the cows on a ridge above our bait at about the same time they spotted us. At least we had seen the bovine phantoms. Delbert headed straight to where he knew he could corner them while I rode up
the edge of the canyon to keep them from cutting down where they had the day before.
Shortly, I heard him yelling for me. I fogged it over to where he was fast as I could, only he wasn’t there. The only tracks I could see leaving led to where Delbert had said there was no escape. Scratching my head a little, I trotted around the other side of the hill, and
what a sight I did see! With eight cows and four calves in front of him, Delbert was riding as if Satan himself were chasing him as he attempted to get around the cattle before they hit the canyon. Everywhere juniper branches were flying and rocks were sliding from underneath all involved in the chase. I spurred my horse off the hill and sent my dog ahead, hoping one of us would reach the canyon in time. I hit the canyon trail barely in time to turn the cattle up the hill, but the chase was only beginning.
For the next two miles it was touch-and-go. With Delbert and me on either side of my dog, we tore at a dead run through the brush and cactus while charging off hills we probably would have avoided otherwise. Eventually, the cows slowed to a trot and then to a
walk. At last we were able to turn them toward the water tank, where we circled them and finally stopped.
Not wanting to lose our catch, we dismounted one at a time to remove debris from under our saddles as well as cactus from ourselves and horses. “What happened to your blocked exit?” I asked Delbert.
“Well,” he replied, “ that old paint witch was in the lead, and she never slowed down. The rest of them followed her, crashing through that old dead tree. I could see the rocks rolling down the hill and off that cliff, so I really didn’t want to follow them, but this old puke cold-jawed me and didn’t give me a choice or even a chance to do anything other than get a case of permapucker.”
It seems like a lot of wild rides are more a case of a cold-jawed bronc than a fearless rider.
Once it looked as though one man could hold the cattle, I made another short circle to look for stragglers. Satisfied that we had them all, we began our drive over the mountain to camp. The drive was fairly uneventful, other than the fact that the paint cow kept leaving us every chance she got, but even she finally played out and got in line.
It was dark and raining by the time we made it to camp. We fed the cows and I loaded the
horses in the trailer. I headed out while Delbert broke camp, as I was going to have about thirty miles of mud to pull the trailer through before I hit pavement.
I met WW about halfway to the pavement. He was heading in with the stock truck, confident that we had caught the girls. He stopped me to see if Delbert were
still at camp to give him a pull in case his truck stalled. It was one of those rigs which would never start on its own and was nearly impossible to jump start. It was obvious that WW had not been drinking, for I nearly had to have him write me a note to figure out what he
was talking about.
When I crossed the freeway into town an hour later, I knew something was up. Traffic was stopped by roadblocks in both directions, and I was behind one myself. It seemed that a prisoner had escaped from the local state prison. As soon as the police figured out
that he wasn’t with me, I headed for WW’s, unloaded the horses, and jumped in the shower. I was just finishing when Delbert came in and told me to hurry up because WW was going to treat us to dinner at the Bear’s Breath Inn, and it was about to close.
We pulled into the parking lot as WW was climbing out of the stock truck. He’d parked in a spot which gave us a straight shot to pull him back onto the road to get him started again. After having only a sandwich and a couple of eggs during the last thirty-six hours, we sure enjoyed that dinner. Walking out of the Bear’s Breath feeling full and satisfied, we suddenly stopped in our tracks and ran back inside. The stock truck and the cows in it were gone!
At first, the waitress refused to believe that the truck had been stolen, but finally
she let WW call the police and our boss. The Keystone Cops would have been proud. The first thing the police did was to ask WW for his driver’s license. Next they inquired how much he had drunk that night. He’d only had one beer, so they couldn’t understand him and assumed he was drunk. Then they ran him through the computer to see if he had any
wants or warrants against him. Last, they wanted to see the registration of the truck, which was right where it was supposed to be, in the glove box of the truck…
About that time the boss came roaring into the parking lot, sliding sideways and giving everyone a gravel shower. Speaking loudly in a very colorful fashion, he wanted to know what was going on and why we were even there, reminding us that his cowboys didn’t eat until his cows were fed, even though the cows had eaten twice since we had. We gladly followed his order to return to the house.
There WW jumped in his pickup and left to look for the truck, not that he cared
that much about what happened to the truck and its cows, but his dog had been in the cab when it was stolen.
The truck was found totaled in a ditch several hours later with no sign of thief, cows, or dog. The next morning WW and the boss drove out to where the truck had been rolled . They found the dog was lying next to the truck, as happy as a heeler could be, with the cows grazing nearby, too stiff to make a break for it.
The only two questions remaining are: Why did the police let an escaped convict take a stolen load of cows through a road block? Also, how did he get it started,
This story is an excerpt from the book Cowboy Romance (of horsesweat & hornflies) which is no available at a 50% discount straight from the printer. While the story may be funny, it is an account of an actual event. This book would make a great stocking stuffer for any fan of cowboy humor.