I love you. I know you love me too. Now that we have that out of the way, there’s something else I want to say.
Dad, I’m just as good as my brothers at sorting pairs. You haven’t seemed to notice, but I don’t miss a thing; and if you’d only let me, I would sort ’em neat and clean.
You never let me ride the broncs, ‘cuz I’m a girl and all, thanks for your consideration Dad, but it isn’t fair you know.
You learned to ride from your dad, who was taught by his; how am I supposed to keep up then, if you don’t let me now and again?
I’ll never be the rough string rider, we both know that’s true, I just wish you’d see, though, how much I want to learn from you.
Just because I wear a dress to church and Mama’s teaching me her trade, doesn’t mean I prefer to cook than help you put out hay.
When the hay truck pulls up, go ahead and ask me, Dad, I am not afraid. (Just between us I think I’d rather do that than bake all day.)
I’ll do the work Dad, I know I can, so please don’t leave me out. I’m not the kind of girl who would turn on you and pout. The boys are given tasks to do so I don’t think this is too much to ask of you.
Listen, Daddy, someday I won’t be here.
I’ll be someplace else, with someone else, who includes me in what they do. Then I’ll have to cook, and stay inside, and go to town and stuff, because I’ll have a family of my own and be like Mama: tough.
If you’ll just show me your side of life for now, Dad, it’ll be enough.
Mama will teach me all she can about how to be a lady. Her lessons and her example are my guiding light, so don’t worry, I won’t lose her gentle touch.
But teach me to cowboy, to ride and rope and be a hand. After all, you still can’t tell which one of us will love the land. Don’t leave me out Dad, please. I’m part of this place, too. There’s lessons out there I was meant to learn…from you.
I’ll prove to you that teaching me will pay off sooner or later. I’ll learn this lifestyle inside out and when the time comes to choose my way, the passion that you passed on to me will make you proud someday.
Daddy, you’re my hero. Think about this, k? Next time we run in the colts or when it’s time to brand, just let me try, I’ll make a number one top hand.
With all my heart,
Your loving daughter
First you see the cattle stringing out at a brisk trot. You’re gathering a rough brushy pasture, trotting over a rock bedecked hill, watching for movement somewhere. You hope you covered all of your assigned territory and that you kept the pace of the circle everyone was making, because you haven’t seen anybody since the drop off. Your mind drifts back to that spot you figured was clear but now wish you’d trotted the extra 500 yards to make sure.
You pull up your sweaty horse to get a good look at what’s below you. While he’s catching his air you take note of the bunch trotting down the draw. The man on the outside circle ahead of you must have kicked them down here, knowing they’d travel and knowing you’d pick them up. Good, you tell yourself. I’m where I should be.
But the next thing you see is another horse and rider behind those cattle, and you realize you are behind. You’re somewhat disgusted with yourself, but glad you saw those cows or you’d have ridden right in front of them and turned them around. Squinting into the sunrise, you try to recognize the rider. What you see first sorta embarrasses you, then it makes you smile. It’s the kid.
They may be little. Their stirrups are barely long enough to touch the horse’s hide. Daddy may not let them carry a rope yet, and Mama might always stay within earshot, but don’t underestimate a kid on a horse. You’re looking at typically about 15+ years experience working and gathering cattle, between them and their horse. The judgement may come from the horse, but the motivation is from the kid. Gates do slow these little cowboys down quite a bit, but other than that, they’re good for as long as Mom will let them ride.
The truth is, cowkids learn how to do a lot more tasks than they are physically able to perform. They know exactly how to saddle their old pony, or work the squeeze chute, or drive the pickup, but the required height and strength is yet to come. There’s a lot they don’t know, but the trick is, they don’t know that!
When other kids are big enough to want to go to the mall, cow kids are about big enough to build a hay fort. They bring all sorts of ‘necessities’ to the hay barn and wrestle the 50-75 lb hay bales into the perfect spots to create tunnels and lookout holes. It’s like being lord of your very own grass castle. Our forts always had blankets, kittens, a canteen, and a pair of old binoculars for spying. My sister and I swiped the walkie talkies when we had friends over, but if we couldn’t use those, we would use our dogs to carry messages to the house (with notes tied in the collar that said something like, “Mom, bring snacks”).
There were five of us cousins born within a few years of each other. At family ranch ‘works’, we were all mounted on trusty horses that had been there, done that. So when we got the cattle to the corral and there wasn’t anything for us little guys to do, we would designate teams and play ‘cowboys and indians’. Basically we chased each other around the juniper trees on a nearby hill as fast as our old ponies would let us go. It was a glorified game of tag, complete with ambushes and war whoops. We couldn’t get on our horses without a fence, so we seldom dismounted during our game. On a couple of occasions we did take it too far…we found some sheep chalk (a bright oil-based paint stick made for marking sheep but used also to mark cattle when we palpate) in the saddle shed and put war paint on our horses. It didn’t wear off for months! The times we used Mom’s lipstick, it came off sooner.
Most little cowkids will want to ride every four-legged critter on the place. They’ll try all the horses, ride anything in the corral if you don’t stop them: even calves, pigs, and dogs.
My first time to get really bucked off was at age 10 (it wasn’t the last!). I had convinced my Dad to let me ride a horse in his string named Mouse (‘string’ is the word we use for the horses that are assigned to a particular cowboy. They’re his tools, if you will. Many ranches provide a string of horses for each of their employees to use). Well, Mouse was a grulla color with a big white star on his forehead, and I was so in love. He seemed gentle enough, but hadn’t ever felt spurs up high on his ribs (cowkids aren’t known for having long stirrups). I gigged him in the ribs like I did my old pony, but Mouse was a lot more ticklish. He broke into a little crow hop and there I went. I still remember the slow-motion sensation of the ground rushing up at me.
Mom picked me up, dusted me off, caught my horse and put me back up there. Sitting back up on the beast, I could feel the electricity in him. His hide seemed to crawl with it, his ears were locked on me and I was locked on him. Mom fixed me a make-shift night latch (a leather strap around the swells of the saddle to grab if needed. No cow kid is ever allowed to use the saddle horn for balance. It’s for a rope only.) She rode right beside me, talking quietly to help me and Mouse get our minds off each other. Within minutes, we were moving out together like old friends. I had learned something that can’t be taught: respect your horse. It only took me four or five days to fall in love with another horse in Daddy’s string. Mouse was certified ‘kid-broke’ by then, and I was ready for my next one.
There’s a special age when your burdens are still light but you’re able to do more things, and that age for ranch kids is a blessed time of freedom. You start to learn everything important but you don’ t have the pressure of your teens to take the fun out of it. Hard work, responsibility, perseverance, discipline, compassion, honesty…it’s all there. Caring for livestock is fun; you want to go out in below zero cold to play in the snow while Dad busts ice. You want to go clean stock tanks because you get to play in the mud while Mom and your older siblings have to bail out the trough.
Cowkids. I would trade places with them in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t you?
The photos in this article are all the property of Brittany Starritt unless otherwise noted. They feature my niece, Sammie, cowkid and horsewoman extraordinairre. She illustrates the story better than the words do. I’m proud she calls me her ‘Tantie’.
I overheard a conversation the other day between my mom and one of her friends who was a young mom on the Block Ranch more than 20 years ago. Her son is a good friend of mine now, so when she said he growled at strangers when he was a baby, I wanted to laugh out loud!
“He spent all his time around the dogs! He didn’t know any better,” she explained.
Now, he’s a daddy. Can’t wait to hear how this plays out!
Mom followed with a story about me. I was always on my hands and knees, nickering and snorting instead of talking because I was a horse. None of my jeans had knees in them, and holey jeans weren’t the fashion then.
“When Cheyenne didn’t like someone she’d paw and squeal and turn around to kick them,” Mom said, her smile lines deepening. “I’d just have to tell them she was pretending to be a horse…”
If your best friends were flea-bitten cow dogs; the biggest crowd you’re ever in was a four-legged one bunched around a feed truck; and your greatest thrill was riding in front of mom or dad on their saddle to move cattle, well, you’d have a different perspective on life. You’d believe the world was your oyster. You’d understand the sky was your limit but you’d love having your feet on the ground all the same. It’s little wonder some of these babies grow up wanting to shoulder the burdens of an antiquated lifestyle in a world that has passed them by. They get a jump-start on things and figure out what really matters for themselves.
These little ones start this as soon as they can hold up their heads. So when they gain the freedom of walking, they toddle around at the barn or the corral and follow their tail-wagging pals wanting to be part of the ‘gang’ (or they are trying to stuff hay into mouths…any mouths…even cats and mama). And they do fit right in, right away. Last summer, when my daughter was only two, I stopped her from rolling in the dirt and throwing dust on herself.
“What are you doing, Kaelyn?”
“I’m taking a bath like a chicken!” she replied in her two-year-old lilt, looking over her shoulder at the chickens scratching and dirt-bathing their feathers.
Oh. I shook my head and thought to myself that I’d just make sure she took a bath like a human later on.
Bottle calves and milk cows; horses and chickens are their social life. Eating feed or chewing on a dog biscuit are just what you do. Bringing mom a dead mouse instead of flowers is not unusual, the cat does it all the time! And licking mineral and salt is certainly one of the social norms. (Mom draws the line at drinking out of the stock tank…if she can get there fast enough to prevent it.)
My two little cowbabies delight me. I love watching them. Kaelyn lopes everywhere on her pretend pony Sparky. She is the Sheriff of Dog City (the place we keep the dogs) and her little brother Crockett is the honorary Deputy. But he would rather collect certain colors of rocks and eat cat food, or, if we are at the barn, goat droppings. Close enough to raisins, right?
Crockett can’t say please, but he can say the pony’s name clear as a bell (“Beau”). Kaelyn can’t put on her own boots, but she can open any gate in the corral no problem. Both of them count cows on sight, and cry when it’s time to go in the house.
Mine have the benefit of a very watchful daddy, who gives them ranch exposure in small doses…like several hours in a feed pickup. He’s the one who packs them around the corral, who can work the chute with one hand while holding them in the other. They always have daddy in their sights. I have to say, I think this one thing is probably worth any price, growing up in the shadow of a hard-working godly man. (Maybe this is a bit of bragging. You can take that occasionally, right?)
The bigger the babies get, all ranch mama’s eventually learn that the safest place to put your kids is not in the house (because they’ll either destroy it or escape), but on a horse…the old babysitter. It’s the only way to keep them from going down a badger hole with the dog! Even though we parents try, we can’t keep them civilized when they live like the cowboy version of Mowgli from day one.
Here’s the equation: Cowboy + Cowgirl = Cowbaby.
Cowbaby + Cowdog – Mama = Trouble.
Cowbaby + Cowhorse – Mama = Fun within a safe distance of the kitchen window.
The goal for us parents is just to raise our kids in the best possible way, like any other family. There are some variables in our life that do spice things up a little, most of those variables are four-legged, and the rest of the variables have something to do with caring for the four-legged ones. Bringing a baby into your life is a God-sized blessing no matter who you are. And for a mama, at first, it means backing off caring for the four-legged’s and focusing on the kids. But eventually, things get back to ‘normal’ . Somebody gives the baby a dogie calf or a lamb or a kitten to love, (or the mare foals), and just like that, a cowbaby is christened. The cycle has begun anew, right before your eyes. The next generation takes the torch.
How embarrassed the mama’s of cowbabies can be! If you meet one of these kinds of children, and they sniff you, bark at you, or circle you…well, they’re normal for ranch kids. If they look you up and down with no expression when you try to speak to them, don’t worry. They just don’t get to town very often. Church or the grocery store are a culture shock. So cut these cowbabies some slack. When they grow up into Cowkids, most of this behavior is shunned. 😉
The real pleasure of being a ranch woman is bringing along the next generation of cowboys and cowgirls. I want to announce a new series about the ‘littles’ called “Cowkids”, coming in March.
With the passing of time, I miss the way ranch life seemed to me when I was a kid. I remember the magic of the morning and how days and miles seemed to last a lifetime, only to wake up longing to do it all again. Cold, heat, wind, dust and mud only seemed to make it even more fun for us. (Folks, I’m sad to say, I don’t always feel that way anymore!) How better to look at ranching than through the eyes of the future?
I’m very excited to kick this off with an essay written by one of these rare young’uns! Here is a story by a little gal who is unique even among adults. During spring works on her grandparents ranch, she’d be up, dressed, saddled and waiting for everybody else. She could stay with it all day without complaining before she was even as tall as her horses’ knees. She has a bent for creative writing, and here she shares her view of the mornings before the work begins.
Enjoy her story, and watch for the next chapter about kids, cattle, and horses coming next month!
Pick a Mount
Today. The day when all the cowboys and cowgirls wake at the crack of dawn and pick the horse that will carry them to love hard work. When all the cowhands wake up, they rise to see all the beautiful, vibrant colors that God painted in the morning sky, consisting of pink, coral, deep blue, as well as dreamy purple, the colors that you can never imagine.
Today is really a special day, for when all the ranch hands gather in a circle, grasping a cup of coffee in their course, raspy, scarred hands, they tell a story of hard work and respect. Although you might think all the ranch hands are grown, however there are some tough young cowhands that know the true meaning of hard work. This is when all the ranch hands gather at the horse corrals to pick their cayuses (horses).
Crowding at the fence, they stare at the beautiful creatures that God created. Some may say that this is the hardest part of that day, for their noble steed may not want to be caught or chosen for the hard work ahead of them! Dodging and shooting across the pen, as if there was a cougar trying to eat them for its breakfast,the dust rises. It looks as if there is a thunder storm building. At last, the horses calm down, tired and out of breath, causing it to seem like they are breathing smoke.
Finally the cowboys, and cowgirls throw their saddles on their horse’s backs, in the western style. A cold piece of metal reaches to center of the cayuse’s tongue, causing the horse to raise it’s head in surprise. Then the cowboys load their horses in a grungy trailer, bouncing them up the long rugged road, carrying their noble steed to the hard work of the ranch life.
Written by Abby Morris, age 13.
[Abby used some terms that may not be familiar to you, like the word “Cayuse”. It’s just another word for horse. And while a good saddle horse is used to going to work, chances are he won’t volunteer. Abby talks about what it’s like to watch the cowboys select and catch a horse that feels good in the morning!
She also makes a reference to a ‘grungy trailer’. In modern ranching, it is common practice to load the horses in a seldom washed stock trailer and haul them to remote parts of the ranch where the crew unloads, mounts up, and spreads out to gather all the cattle in that particular pasture. It saves the horse to haul him at least part of the way and gives him a bit of a break when the work is done. This way you give him a ride home and not the other way around.]
Would you like to hear more from the cow kids themselves? I know I would! If you’ll leave a comment here on the blog, I’ll see what I can do about that. 😉
Biscuits. My nemesis.
“You wanna taste something’ come directly from Heav’n?” Chill Wills says to John Wayne as he hands him a biscuit presumably made by the striking “Mrs. Warren”, played by Yvonne DeCarlo.
“You thinkin’ what I’m thinking’?” he asks, grinning.
John Wayne is still chewing, but he nods. As soon as he can manage with his mouth full, he says, “Hire her!”
This is from the movie “McClintock!”. Just by tasting her biscuits, they give the poor widow a job-even before they see her! If John Wayne had only known the trouble those biscuits would set in motion…but then, judging by how well everyone loved Mrs. Warren’s cooking throughout the film, I have a hunch he wouldn’t have changed a thing.
What I wouldn’t give to be the gal who makes biscuits from Heaven!
I can serve my man anything, so long as I serve biscuits with it. But if the biscuits are a disappointment, even a steak dinner is a disappointment. (I am exaggerating, he’s not that way, but still!)
I would be wringing my hands in distress because for one, it was maddening to me that he wouldn’t just pat me on the back and pretend to like my rock-hard, black-bottomed home made biscuits. I’m covered in flour with tears streaking down my red-hot cheeks, for crying out loud! Just eat it!
And two, I was mad at myself because I couldn’t do this simple thing that would make him so happy. I finally resigned my marriage to mediocrity, leaving the biscuit responsibility to a can. And my husband, my hero and the love of my life, had to settle for too-often-burnt-hockey-puck biscuits courtesy of a creepy, smiley little dough boy with a chef hat. Hmmph.
But I didn’t give up, not really. I kept trying every biscuit recipe I got my hands on to please my biscuit-loving cowboy. I cooked my way through a high stack of Pioneer Woman recipes, too. Plus home-made bread, rolls, pies, cakes, muffins, brisket, chili, lasagna, authentic enchiladas from scratch (including the red sauce), and even disappearing breakfast burritos have all joined my repertoire. And after all that, the biscuits still remained a blacklisted (and often blackened) item.
Until…the year 2018 came along. For Christmas, I was given a cookbook by Mackenzie Kimbro called Roots Run Deep: Our Ranching Tradition. And in said book, I found the secret to bringing back that honeymoon look in my hubby’s eye. It was a recipe called “Refrigerator Biscuits”. And there was much rejoicing in the Landry home when I got that recipe down!
Maybe I do make biscuits every time I turn around these days. I don’t mind. It’s worth it. To be honest, I’ve tasted better ones myself, but if he likes them, they’re perfect!
So now you know what he’s getting on Valentines Day: a batch of hot, buttered home-made biscuits, made from scratch by yours truly! (Plus a kiss or two…)
“Bang!” I stopped and checked my rifle as my quarry slowly waddled away. I shook my head because the porcupine walked off after I shot him in vital areas. Three times! My friend held the dog and laughed hysterically…at me.
“Shoot ’em again!” she somehow managed to blurt out between gasps. I could only stomp away in disgust, shaking my head.
At the time, I was fourteen, green to most everything, and more than a little embarrassed. I had NOT missed. Why wasn’t it dead? But soon I contracted the giggles, too, when she imitated my ‘stalking’ the terrible beastie. We laughed about it, and it got funnier in the re-telling.
One of our realities in ranch country is varmints. Websters’ dictionary defines them as follows: “vermin; especially a person or animal regarded as troublesome or objectionable”. Although non-predatory, these critters do belong on the Wanted List.
Badgers are a nuisance. Their tunneling can damage water pipelines and water tanks. Skunks are a bother, and ‘coons and possums, because they get into things, contaminate feed, and love to kill chickens for fun. Snakes are always sent to perdition on sight. (We talked about them in the post “Just Part of It”.) And then there are porcupines.
These “harmless” little fellas are peaceful. They have an extremely slow metabolism (which is why it takes them so long to die, I found out), and keep to themselves in trees or in sandy holes in the ground. Since they’re slow, they don’t run fast enough from danger and therefore were given a defense which is, safe to say, quite effective.
It’s not if, it’s when a dog or a horse or a bovine gets got, ending up suffering greatly from their weapons of, well, suffering. The quills, unlike a cactus thorn, are barbed on the tips with tiny little ridges. When the critter projects them, the quills inflate and the barbs stick out, making extraction miserable. The end of the quill must be chopped off first, then pulled out. If not immediately removed, the barbs help to work the quill deeper into the flesh. Pain, infection, and misery result and usually the animal must be sedated in order to pull the quills out. Most often, they get it right in the nose.
Porcupines aren’t welcome around livestock and particularly around ranch headquarters. As a kid, we could ‘hunt’ them just to give us something useful to do, but in general if we see one, it was just his day to go, otherwise they are left to themselves.
Having wild pets is one of those ranch kid privileges that makes for a joyful childhood. I’ve tried to capture and tame most varmint species. (The glaring exception being skunks!) My sister and I each slept with our baby raccoons until mom put a stop to it because the little critters were a nuisance, especially at night! My “pet” porcupine was sweet, and would eat out of your hand, but petting him was never an option. The ‘possum was banned from the house because mom thought it might not be sanitary for a fifth grader to eat meals with a ‘possum hanging around her neck, even if the little critter did get regular baths. One set of baby mice tragically did not survive to adulthood because I found out the hard way it isn’t exactly good manners to bring them to church. The owl, the jackrabbit(s), the crow (s), and the rat were eventually sent outside as well, but they weren’t exiled because I was sent outside too!
In my lifetime, the only porcupine I’ve ever shot was the one in the above story. The rest were roadkill. This porcupine (pictured above) is one I met a few years ago. I was trying to see how close I could get to him without getting “quilled”. Thankfully, we both survived the ordeal.
The fact is, anyone who has worked to save their suffering animal from a porcupine’s quills won’t balk at shooting one given the chance. Last year, my sister’s Catahoula cow dogs thought a porcupine was a squeak toy. Days later, sore and swollen and sleepless, they regretted that.
Only a week or so after that incident one of my husbands’ horses had a run in with a porcupine too. This horse is the ‘no-touchy’ type, so earing him down and pulling them was out of the question. After being given a sedative, the minor “surgery” was successful. I bet ol’ Yeller never sniffs a fluffy rat ever again!
Livestock (and the dogs, people, and horses that are here to tend them) and varmints don’t always coexist harmoniously. But we know that to rid the range of all varmints would tip the ecosystem out of balance and that would be a price too high to pay in the end. I’m glad to have called a few of these critters my friends but in the end, there are always the realities of ranch life to keep my feet on the ground.
God holds the cards for us. He knows what’s coming. We just play along, so last December, he shuffled the deck for us Landry’s and some of the other folks out here on the ‘north side’.
Long story short, we moved ‘next door’. And other folks did the same. When the dust settled, none of us had really gone very far, but everything had changed in a way. And change, major or minor, can make you feel like the ground in front of you is not as solid as you thought.
Everything we owned was loaded up into stock trailers and rattled down the road a ways. In that short trip, all of our furniture was covered in a thick layer of fine dust. And it still kind of is, to tell the truth. I do clean, but the dust has to go somewhere! It might as well lay on the dresser so we can write messages to each other.
We have waited for snow, and haven’t seen any as of now. Guess that’s just not in the cards for this month. God sure does shuffle good. I was counting on winter weather!
Life isn’t predictable like we think it is when we are entrenched in a routine. As I come to know who God is, however, I’m finding that he is always the same. 2018 will likely hold some more surprises for us! At first, I got a little worried about that. But here’s a well-loved passage of the Bible that I find instructive. It begins with these words:
“The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing.”
So the One who holds the cards isn’t some slick gambler as indifferent as Fate or as impulsive as Chance. He’s a wise and gentle Shepherd. Another passage tips the scales for me:
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
It certainly takes a deep commitment to care for livestock. I know. You can’t ever really be ‘off’ work, what if they need you? One cold night changes everything: calves were born that might need thawing out or ice needs busting or pipes need fixing. Cowboys (like shepherds) take their responsibility personally. Their ‘job’ is their life, and that relationship they have with the stock they care for is very unique. Cattle aren’t cuddly, but a cowboy will perform superhuman feats to get water to them. He’ll give up his chair by the fire, or his night’s sleep; he’ll freeze in the winter and melt in the summer and put his own health on the line. “Whatever it takes,” I’ve heard these men say. I suppose he does love the cattle, in a way. And maybe they love him (or just the cake truck…but he is the driver!) in a way, too.
But the Good Shepherd is different. He lays down his life for the sheep. Let’s all try to remember who He is the next time He shuffles the deck.
Scripture references are from the NIV, Psalm 23:1 and John 10:14 and 15