AS ANY RANCHER or cowboy who has had much contact with the Bureau of Land Management can tell you, the initials BLM are actually a top-secret government code for Bureau of Lost Minds. You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Just look at the way they conduct their affairs.
In New Mexico the BLM has undertaken a “Wilderness Study” to determine if a certain area should be proclaimed a wilderness. Not only is the area littered with beer cans, it includes numerous abandoned homesteads and sheep camps plus a section which was
used during the second world war as a practice bombing range. There are abundant deer and elk within the area, even though a government big game specialist who was counting them told me that there were so few deer that he hadn’t seen one in six weeks. I was puzzled because I would see as many as twenty at once. These deer and elk had plenty of water to drink since local ranchers
had put in hundreds of miles of water line and built hundreds of dams to catch runoff from the snow. I guess man made ponds, wells, waterlines, and bomb craters are commonly found in pristine wilderness areas.
Then there is the method by which the BLM hires its qualified help. I nearly applied for a job as a wild horse wrangler for the BLM, but I had some serious thinking to do when I started filling out the application, as it was actually a multiple-choice test. “Do you have a name : YES______ NO______ MAYBE______.”
It was just like the test all cowboys take to graduate from high school, designed to be fail-proof so that your teachers never have to look at you again. Well, maybe your name wasn’t part of the test, but they sure hadsome strange questions as well as possible answers:
1) Can you saddle a horse?
A) I can accomplish this task with little or no difficulty.
B) With some difficulty I can accomplish this task.
C) I cannot accomplish this task.
D) With close supervision I could possibly complete
E) I am considered a journeyman in this area, and
people often ask me for advice in this matter.
That is an actual question from the application along with the choices for answers. Aside from the fact that I
have never been anyplace where a cowboy didn’t know how to saddle a horse, the BLM left out the most important answer: “F) Depends on the horse.” I had actually started completing this application in a serious manner, but then I came to the trick questions.
“Can you use and maintain a screwdriver?” Well,
one or two.
“Can you sleep outdoors in a tent?” Only if I use and
maintain too many screwdrivers during the day and
fall asleep with my feet sticking out.
Were they looking for cowboys or wood carvers? (I have always found screwdrivers make excellent wood chisels.) By this time I was really wondering what kind of gunsels you would wind up working with. Would you really have guys asking you which end of the
screwdriver to use and inquiring as to which end of the saddle was the front? I knew that most BLM wranglers worked in pairs, but there was one in our neck of the woods that seemed to work alone, so I went to him for enlightenment. His tale was enough to make me quit before I started.
“My last partner was supposedly a hot-shot roper from down in Fallon, Nevada. He got the job because of the extra points he accumulated on the application for being newly discharged from the army. On our first day together we had to rope a stud and bring him in, and I decided to let my partner do the ropin’. Well, he caught the old stud on his third loop and pitched his slack as his horse slid to stop and started working the rope. Turned out the kid had never roped anything but calves in an arena, and
neither had his horse. That old horse was a good calf horse and doing his best to handle that stud, but the kid was sure in a panic. His eyes were as big as dinner plates and he was struggling just to stay on his horse while trying to get shuck of the stud, which was trying to run up the rope at him. I rode up and managed to get his rope off’n his horn and was trying to get up enough slack to catch my dallies, when the kid hollered at me to
remember to keep my thumb up when I dallied!
“When we got back in that night, I told the boss I wasn’t working with that kid any more and not to bother sending anyone else because I wouldn’t work with them either. I’ve been working alone ever since, and it been just over two years.”
I went home to think of what this old boy had said and of how the BLM seemed to define quality help. I built me a fire, starting it with the application, used and maintained a few screwdrivers, and fell asleep with my feet outside the tent.
This story is an excerpt from my book Cowboy Romance (of horsesweat & hornflies) available on Amazon.