By Baxter Black: PNT columnist
Cowboys are nothing if not ingenious. It takes that sort of out-of-the-box mentality to allow them to solve the myriad of problems that arise when you combine horse, cow and rope.
In the northeastern Montana country, Jim and Norvell (aliases) were backtracking one fall after the gather. By noon they cut the fresh sign of a bull.
A good cowboy can distinguish bull tracks. It’s like comparing an elephant’s foot to a crow’s foot. They spotted him out in the open and eased up on him. He was a short-tempered, hostile, territorial, man-eating ruler of the range.
Sometimes driving a bull toward civilization is like pushing a bale of straw through a net wire fence. The further our cowboys went zig-zagging from juniper copse to rocky ridge to slippery cut bank, the madder he got.
In a move worthy of a military strategist, the bull dove into a wash thick with choke cherries, box elder and buffalo berries … and disappeared. Our brave cowboys dove in after him as the brush tore at their down jackets and slashed their faces. After 10 minutes of following the bull through this Montana version of a corn maze, they regrouped.
Had they been soldiers they would have called in an air strike but … using their cunning, they decided to build a trap. In one narrow cow tunnel they draped a loop across the path and tied the standing end of the rope to a box elder trunk. Eureka! On the first pass through the trap they caught him.
Then a second rope was put around his neck and tied to a trunk 15 feet further down the trail. The first loop was then untied and leap frogged past the second. Five more jumps brought the bull within sight of the clearing where our imaginative vaqueros intended to back the trailer and load him.
Jim, now afoot, managed to loop the bull’s head for the last leap-frog.
By now the bull was frothing, breathing like a steam engine and wild-eyed. Jim dropped to his hands and knees scuttling toward the final tying spot when he heard the bull bellow, the sound of thundering hooves, and branches breaking. The earth trembled. Jim didn’t look back.
The impact put him in orbit. He was catapulted from the thicket like a monkey shot out of a cannon.
To his everlasting good fortune, just as the bull’s poll hit Jim’s hip pocket, the rope came tight. The bull crashed and flipped. Jim hit the ground minus one boot and the left sleeve of his jacket. His hat was down over his ears.
Not exactly out of the Beef Quality Assurance manual for handling cattle. Although I’d like to see it included … fully illustrated.