Friend’s spirit still lingers

By Baxter Black: PNT columnist

Dear Norm,

I just wanted you to know we’re still punchin’ cows here on the S X. Not much has changed.

The Beacon well is working again. It’s opened up the west side for us. We’re trying to get the stragglers all into the Kline pasture to finish branding. This morning three of us rode the Black. I dropped two cowboys at the road gate then drove on to the corrals.

I parked far enough back, unloaded Chaco so I could sneak up and maybe catch ’em in the trap. No luck. I started west to the old railroad bed, then swung back north.

Wind was blowin’ like a banshee outta the west. I think the high temp was 45 degrees. Warm gloves, wool shirt (with rubber bands around wrists to keep wind from blowin’ up my sleeve), scarf, leggin’s and lined canvas brush jacket.

I was plenty warm till I turned into the wind.

Riding in the big arroyos, it was calmer but the clouds were dark and low on the mountaintops. The sky was the color of the floor in a truck stop shop. Chaco and I made a big circle, never saw a fresh track, except a single day-old bull track headin’ north. At least he was going the right direction.

Met up with Frank and Pancho at Black corrals. They headed cross country north. I loaded my horse and hauled three miles back to the Kline where I mounted up and rode to the north fence, then back to the east and eventually turned south to the lower drinker. I saw the occasional fresh track, cows and calves moving toward the drinkers. No cows at the lower drinker so I swung west into the brush and eased up on the middle drinker … 10 of ’em!

After five hours in the saddle … 10 of ’em. That’s not a bad bunch when you’re doin’ cleanup.

I stayed beyond the edge of their nervous zone. Frank called on the walkie-talkie. They were already at the Kline corrals with seven head. I told them I’d hold the bunch at the middle drinker. Twenty minutes later the boys rode quietly in. Soon as I saw them I swung wide to the opposite side and we started them up the water line trail.

You know how hard it is to keep ‘em together on that final drive, specially into a stiff breeze. It makes everybody antsy. But it went as smooth as silk and not a word had been spoken. I’m workin’ with top hands out here.

Well, 17 head to the Kline gathered out of 10,000 acres of rough country on a day when stunt doubles and daredevils would have just stayed home. A good day’s work here at the ranch. Only thing missing was you, ol’ friend. But I could see your tracks everywhere I went. You were there in spirit, at least.

I thought of ya when that jackrabbit shot out of the brush, spooked ol’ Chaco and slid me sideways far enough I grabbed the horn. I could see ya outta the corner of my eye. You were there alright, keepin’ me on my toes.

Take care, amigo. We’re thinkin’ of you.