“… and the old man gave his orders: Boys, go at them from the jump, no use to go for fancy riding now.”
That great line from “The Man from Snowy River” by Banjo Paterson crossed my mind as I started into the thorny brush and wicked mesquite thicket on a steep slide of rocks and tangled undergrowth, chasing a big bony cow the color of a rusted coal barge.
By then we’d been in the saddle for six hours. It was 95 degrees, mid-September, grass going to seed, and every plant within 50 miles that had a stamen was pollinating!
We left the pigweed-covered corrals at daylight pushing 72 cows and assorted calves. I noticed that the ugly light-brown brockle face 6-year old cow — whose history included deserting her first calf, tearing down fences, getting loose on the highway and raising only one calf who looked like a seahorse in a paper bag — did not have her new calf. Great.
We cut her back to the corral so when we found her calf we could reunite them.
Everything went as you might expect with five cowboys trying to push a herd cross country through mesquite, catclaw, buckthorn, arroyos and rocky ridges.
Within the first mile two cows went back looking for their calves. They’d been weaned but they forgot. It was easier to let them go than having to take the whole crew to keep them with the bunch. We’ll get ’em later.
Then one big calf came up lame and couldn’t keep up. We tried to drop her and her mama back but she wouldn’t stay, so we cut out another pokey pair for company and they stayed.
Every time we’d cross a deep arroyo or mesquite “orchard” it took a full dose of hoo-rahin’ and brush poppin’ to beat them out of the cover. It was hot already and they were lookin’ for shade.
By noon we’d reached the Back Well. They filled up with water and we started them into some really rough country, brand-new to the cattle.
I felt like Lewis and Clark. Two miles later, over big tracts of creosote bush and whitethorn I could see the large cut bank where the rain-filled water tank was. I had a vision of Moses looking over the Grand Canyon and thinking, “We’re almost there!”
It took an hour to drive the cows that last quarter mile. That’s when I noticed my mucho ugly brown cow had jumped the corral fence and made the eight-mile trip with us, with no calf, of course.
An hour back to the Back Well.
We’d arranged for a 20-foot gooseneck to pick us up. Of course, it got stuck in the sand. An hour later our rescue arrived. We unloaded, unhooked and pulled it out in pieces. To top it off, back at the corrals we noticed buzzards circling and found the brown cow’s calf.
As I write this, my nose is running, my knee is swollen, my shirt looks like I’ve been in a sword fight. I’ve got a gouge on my right arm, a slash across my cheek and a memory of my wore-out horse trying to roll in the muddy tank with me still in the saddle. I guess he just didn’t appreciate the glory of cowboyin’.