For Women in the Second Half of Life
The Cowboy & the Small Town Girl
Part 2: No Bull About This Bull
I am not a cowgirl, but I was married to a cowboy. I’m not sure who learned more from the other through the years, but it wasn’t easy. I tried to help my husband work cattle on occasion, if you call 'sitting precariously on a fence wondering what I was supposed to do’ help. Okay, I did take him water every once in a while, and I did eventually learn how to poke the cattle down a chute, although my prodding felt more like tapping them on the shoulder or patting their rump roasts. I didn’t want to hurt them. That comment never failed to produce a groan from my husband. I’ve since learned that cattle are a lot tougher than I thought.
From the time our children were little, though, Jack wanted me to bring them to watch them working cattle, especially on the big roundups.
“There may not be too many more of these by the time the kids are grown,” he always said. “I don’t want them to miss this.”
Maybe that was why I found myself at the lease near Los Angeles (Texas) with my two children and niece, ages one, two, and three— like I thought they would actually remember something at that age. This place had no pens or chutes to load the cattle, so the cowboys drove them down the road by horseback to loading pens on a neighboring place and loaded the trucks from there. A helicopter helped the cowboys gather the cattle in a matter of hours instead of all day like it used to take on horseback alone.
One ornery young bull kept running off and refused to follow the herd that day, so Jack caught him down by the tank. On horseback, Jack roped and tripped him with the rope, and before the bull could get up, Jack tied a front leg and a back leg together so the bull couldn’t go anywhere. After Jack helped gather the other cattle, he loaded his horse onto the livestock trailer attached to our pickup to head back over to the tank to get the bull. For some reason, Jack and I were the only ones left to handle this wreck waiting to happen by ourselves. Well, the babies were in the backseat, too.
At the tank, Jack unloaded his horse, and we maneuvered the trailer to where the bull was lying in front of the back gate. Jack roped the bull’s horns and threaded the rope through the trailer and tied it to the saddle horn on his horse. I held his horse at the front of the trailer while Jack went back to untie the rope on the bull’s legs. As soon as Jack got the leg rope off, the bull jumped up, shook the rope off his horns, and started around the trailer after Jack, who dove into the back of the pickup while I let go of the horse and jumped in the front seat. The bull just snorted at the horse and took off across the pasture. Jack jumped on his horse and took off after the bull.
I sat there for about thirty minutes wondering what I was supposed to do in that situation, and decided I’d better go looking for him. I bounced us around the pasture a while (no roads) and finally found them. Jack said the bull had pulled him and his horse down after he had roped him for the second time and tried to trip him. But after getting back up and chasing the bull across the pasture again, he roped him for a third time, tripped him, and tied his feet together again so he couldn’t move. We went through the same procedure as before, and finally got that big ol’ hunk of beef loaded onto the trailer out in the middle of that pasture.
Jack’s part was:
Chasing and roping the bull and tripping him,
Tying the bull’s feet together before it got up,
Threading the rope tied to the bull’s horns through the trailer,
Tying it to his horse outside the trailer,
Untying the bull’s feet, and after the bull shook the rope off,
Running from the bull and jumping into the back of the pickup,
Attempting #1 again after the bull ran off,
Surviving the bull pulling him and his horse down,
Doing #1-5 again, but roping the bull around the neck this time to prevent #5 & #6 from happening again, and
Mounting his horse and pulling the bull onto the trailer.
My part was:
1. To close the trailer gate behind the bull.
What would that man do without me? I thought as I threw my stick horse in the back of the truck.
“Yep, kids, we sure got that big ol’ steer loaded,” I told the little ones, all wide-eyed sitting in the back seat.
“Bull,” Jack corrected me, rolling his eyes.
But that’s another story.
Bull: n. 1. The male of a bovine animal, with sexual organs intact and capable of reproduction. 2. Nonsense, exaggerations. 3. The language most cowboys speak.
Chute: n. 1. An inclined ramp at the end of a narrow, fence-lined passageway for loading livestock onto a trailer for transporting. 2. A homonym of a “G” rated version of an expletive I used when something didn’t go my way.
Lease, The: n. 1. A rented piece of land with the illusion, I mean, purpose of making a living raising cattle on it. 2. Where one goes to eternally check on things. 3. The signing of the lease contract usually marked the beginning of a drought, according to my husband. 4. Why we got a refund from the IRS every year.
Roundup: n. 1. The driving together of cattle, horses, etc. for inspection, branding, shipping to market. 2. Something most children will never see. 3. Something most old-timers will never see again.
Stick horse, n. 1. A metaphor for a compromised version of my dream.
Tank: n. 1. A pool, pond, or lake (depending on where you’re from) that has been created by damming up the end of it. 2. A natural way to provide water for livestock. 3. Something that dries up during a drought and you have to move the cattle off the place. 4. In good times it can also be used for swimming, fishing, and bathing.
Wreck waiting to happen: idiom. 1. An insane and often times dangerous situation in which too many cowboys find themselves. 2. Like my husband. 3. And his brother and most of their friends.
Author’s note: These were the days before carseats and cell phones. I shudder now to think what could’ve happened out there, especially when the bull pulled Jack and his horse down in another part of the pasture out of my sight. But I finally found him and we, I mean, he got the bull loaded onto the trailer without any pen or loading chute. I wouldn’t have believed that was possible if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Shutting the gate behind that angry bull was one of the scariest moments of my life.
For those of you city folk, at the end of the story Jack corrected my calling this male bovine a ‘steer’ when he was actually a ‘bull’. The next story explains the difference between the two, for those that don't know.
Donna Van Cleve
Humor, Family History