After he had assembled his empire of land and cattle, he could have afforded any kind of home he wanted. But he was satisfied with this three-room replica of the cabin on his original homestead. Now, his big hat shoved to the back of his head, sweat beading on his face and darkening the armpits of his shirt, he swore at me.
“Dammit, can’t you hold that cinch tight? If you don’t keep even pressure on each strand, it’ll twist on the horse belly and make a sore.”
I grinned. “We’re wasting time.”
He grunted, his gnarled fingers kneading the strands around each of the cinch rings. “All my life,” he said, “if I broke one cinch, I’d save the pieces until I broke another. Then I’d splice them and have another, good as new.”
“Why not sell a calf and buy a new cinch – complete with saddle?” I suggested. “You can afford it.”
He looked like he wanted to swat me with a cinch buckle. He got up, touched the rough board walls, the antelope horns over the doorway. He walked to the end of the room and stood before an old cupboard, with earthen crocks and flint glass and a coffee grinder on it.
“I love my calves,” he said. “Every one is part of my family, and I hate to part with a single one. When I came here, there wasn’t anything between me and the poorhouse but God’s free air. I had a pony, a rainbow bull and a few knot-headed heifers. There wasn’t any chance for me to succeed – but I wasn’t smart enough to know that, so I stayed.
“I always figured if a man kept trying to do something a little harder, or doing something another man had to back down from, that life could never lick him. Because he’d know, no matter how tough any job he faced, that he could whip it.”
Later that night I drove away from the old rancher’s shack and stopped my car in the middle of one of his big pastures. The land was like a tomb by night but, in spite of its lonesomeness, the way it seemed to grit its teeth at you, it was a land to put your faith in and your heart against. A man here could grow just as big as his legs and back and guts said he could. Like the old rancher.
Some men aspire to politics, and statesmen are their heroes. To others, an athlete, an actor, an accountant or an engineer are the ones they admire. They have no comprehension of a man so simple as I – a person whose idols are cowmen. Why this strange attraction? It could be caused by a story I heard an old-timer tell when I was a kid.
“What settled this country?” he complained. “It wasn’t men or horses. It was the cow, that’s what. The family tied her behind the covered wagon and went west. When they stopped at night, she gave them her milk and they cooked with it and drank it and made butter out of the cream.
“After everybody was asleep, the old cow rustled for her feed so she could keep her people alive. When she got too old, they butchered her and ate her, made their clothing and shoes from her hide. And then danged if they didn’t use her horns to make a dog bugle!
“Man, the West wouldn’t be settled yet, if there hadn’t been such a thing as a cow.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here