LOT'S WIFE..Turn around..look back...see with new eyes

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Cowboy diplomacy is constantly used to describe the resolution of international conflicts through brash risk-taking,intimidation, military deployment, or a combination of such tactics. It is criticized as stemming from an overly-simple world view.

The implication is that the American cowboy was, and still is, a lawless, violent, arrogant, racist, trigger-happy gunman shooting it out with reckless abandon and brute force.

For years I have heard numerous politicians, media pundits, and journalists use this term with clearly no understanding of what it really means to be a cowboy and rancher in America.

To my family, and to very many Americans from ranching backgrounds, the cowboy is a person with the willingness to stand up to what needs to be done and to do it alone, if necessary. The cowboy is a symbol of the crucial and very American virtues of strength and independence.

The cowboys and ranchers were on my father’s side of the family. I grew up spending most of my summers with them, first, when I was very little, on my grandparent’s ranch in Pie Town, New Mexico and, later, on their ranch in Bayfield, Colorado. Both places did not look like BONANZA.
Pie Town Ranch
There was no glamorous ranch house, and and the work was and still is, 24/7.

My Granddaddy Ab,Big Mom Nina, my Uncle Earl, and my father were descended from settlers who came west to start new lives. In the process, they had to contend with extreme hardship. People on the frontier did not have the luxury of wringing their hands in fear, uncertainty and moral paralysis; to do so could easily have been fatal.

They had to be able to handle situations as they presented themselves without definite instructions and guidance from higher authority which was, and is, more often than not, MANY miles away.

They could not make rash decisions because the wrong decision could be the difference between gain and loss, success and failure, life and death for them, their animals, and their families.
They were men who could not be stampeded. They were also staunch Democrats!
I watched as my Granddaddy, my father, and my Uncle Earl made deals with a handshake and their word. Promises were kept. There really were unwritten principles to their lives, principles that were instinctive because it had been the way of their lives for generations. Each day had to be met with courage because there was so much uncertainty .
They took pride in the work they did and admired it in others. I never saw a job left unfinished. Once started it went to completion. My family was tough but fair with us grandchildren. Much was expected but those expectations were reasonable. None of these men talked a lot. They were authentic, optimistic, self-reliant, and loyal.

They drove heavy-duty Ford trucks on bumpy dirt roads. The ranch still had horses but pickup trucks were more convenient for handling day-to-day chores like checking on livestock, repairing broken fences, or making sure that water pumps were working. To run a ranch you have to know so many different things. You have to be a mechanic, an electrician, a plumber, a cowboy and a fence builder. Service calls out there were of out of the question. They had to practice good land management, good stewardship, and good wildlife management…doing anything less would result in economic failure.

Yet still, at the end of a long ,hard day, they found time for talking, reading, and music. Because there was very little TV I discovered, as a kid, the novels of Louis Lamour and Zane Gray on my grandparent’s bookshelf. Over the course of many summers I read every one of them.
My grandfather played the fiddle and it was not unusual to have family sing-alongs and dances in their small linoleum covered living room. We waltzed , shoddished, and 2 stepped. I can still hear the music and dance:

“Put your little foot, put your little foot, put your little foot right out;
Put your little foot, put your little foot, put your little foot right out.
Take a step to the right, take a step to the left;
Take a step to the rear, but forever stay near"

I learned some valuable life lessons over those summers. I learned to never drink from the cattle trough, that a cow path is the shortest and easiest distance (but sometimes not the most interesting), to never kick a cow chip on a hot day, and to not make a pet out of something you plan to eat. I was told not to interfere with an animal if it is not bothering you, not to mess with a bull or get between a stallion and his mares, and that good judgment comes from experience and a lot of that experience comes from bad judgment.
And, last of all I learned that no matter what you are doing ALWAYS CLOSE THE GATE BEHIND YOU. An open gate can result in lost cattle which results in lost income to the family. It is a habit that is crucial to the economy of a ranch.

For those who are not familiar with the responsibilities of “cowboys” here is a sample of the work done on a cattle ranch:

Calving – March, April
• Daily feeding Make sure all cows and calves eat and drink every day
• Check cattle every 2 hours from daylight until dark once during the night – more if storming
• Be sure that every calf is fed and dry as soon as practicable
• Tag and vaccinate calves daily
• Graft calves onto available cows as appropriate
• Sort in heavies and out pairs as necessary
• Repairs and maintenance as needed to equipment, fences, and buildings
• Snow-plowing as necessary
• Firewood as necessary

Spring Work – Mid-April, May – as weather dictates
• Daily feeding until green grass – possibly June 1
• Farming disc, level, pack, seed 'Check oil daily, grease weekly, change oil as needed
• Spraying larkspur in pastures grass in ditches and along gated pipe
any noxious weeds encountered
• Fencing
• Repairs and maintenance as needed to equipment, fences, and buildings
• Branding – likely 3rd weekend in May

• Pasture moves as necessary
• Spray

Irrigation – beginning anytime from late April as weather dictates; ending in August
• Repair and Maintenance on ditches, headgates, and pipe
• Regular sets from first light until last light, seven days a week
Repairs and maintenance as needed to equipment, fences, and buildings
• Pasture moves as necessary – frequent during early summer
• Spray any noxious weeds encountered

Haying – First cutting the end of June to the middle of July; Second cutting the first two weeks of August
• Prepare haying equipment
• Daily service; repairs as necessary
• Long days as the weather dictates
• Repairs and maintenance as needed to equipment, fences, and buildings
• Pasture moves as necessary – pasture checks as time allows
• Spray any noxious weeds encountered
Fall Work
• Clean, service, and store haying equipment
• Repairs and maintenance to equipment, fences, buildings, roads, water system
• New construction
• Background calves, sort, ship
• Wean replacement heifers – feed daily through the winter and spring
• Preg test cows, vaccinate, pour, sort
• Firewood

• Feed cows beginning December 1st to February 1st as weather and feed dictate
• Make sure all cows and calves eat and drink every day
• Repairs and maintenance as needed to equipment, fences, and buildings

Calving and irrigating: regular checks/sets from first light until last light, seven days a week
• Haying: long hours as weather dictates;

Days Off --- NONE

My grandparents and Uncle Earl are dead. My father is now lost to Alzheimer's. We still own the family ranch in Bayfield Colorado. It is being leased out. When my mother passes on the ranch will be sold. My brothers and I cannot maintain it. But the values live on in my family. I grew up in affluence but, because of those summers. I knew what it was to work hard, live simply, and look at people for what they were, not for what they had. I also understood personal responsibility and how negligent actions on my part could impact the economy of the ranch.
SO, the next time you hear some politician/pundit/journalist sneeringly speak of COWBOY DIPLOMACY I want you to ask yourself…….

Who do you trust to CLOSE THE GATE?

1 comment:

  1. the spirit of the west lives on... trust me. there are still some of us who will always remember!!