Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Cowboy Daze

From the Prarie Home Companion Show…

November 18, 2005 |

From the Host:
It isn’t often we get a letter from a real cowboy, so we’ll send this one on, just as it came to us. No response necessary. GK

Dear Garrison,
On one of your last shows, you told a story of a young boy fishing with his grandfather in the early morning mist, on a small boat, on a lake. I started crying, tears pouring down my face. I grew up on a cattle ranch in the Texas hill country west of San Antonio, there was a lake on the ranch and some mornings my father and I would get in an hour of fishing before the work of the day, the scene you described was exactly as it was on those mornings, with my father who has been gone for 25 years. You have made me laugh and cry many times over the years. I want to take the time to say thank you.

I got word this week that the last of my father’s best friends had passed away, another tough old texas german rancher. His passing brought back a flood of old memories from growing up. Every spring, several ranchers would get together to work the cattle, the families did not have enough money to pay a bunch of men to work the cattle, so every weekend for a few weeks in spring, the men and boys would go to a different ranch with their own horses in tow, to work the cattle. The school principal would let the boys off Fridays, we would work for free, and the next weekend the other men would work for us free on our cattle, we would ride the back country one day to round up the cows and new calves, bring them all together in one pasture with a fence around it. The next two days we would cull out the ones going for hamburger, the best mothers to keep, the one to de-horn, castrate and so on. We had a system set up, one rider would rope a cow and drag it over to the camp fire with the branding irons, we would walk up to the cow, one guy would check the hooves to look for any troubles, rocks, wires, stuck shot gun shells, another guy would look at the skin, eyes, ears, mouth, teeth, tail, just giving the cow a good going over health check for the year, two or three of us holding the cow while the other guys touch, poke, prod, dig out rocks, ticks, treat wounds, etc. When that was done, if the rancher wanted to save that cow for the herd we would brand it and then we would pour tick medicine down the length of its backbone and into each ear, when all this was done we would all step away from the cow, take the rope off, and let that cow go back to the herd. We had been doing this for hours one day, over and over, and over, but somehow we had gotten out of order. Someone poured the tick medicine over the cow and then another person put the branding iron on the hide, now every time you brand a cow, there is a flash of fire from the cow hair right around the brand, no big deal, a little flare and it is gone, but this time the tick medicine which is oily and has alcohol in it, caught fire. At first we were all caught by complete surprise and amazement, for few long seconds we just stared at this burning cow, a 1,000 pound hunk of beef was on fire and it was spreading like a grass fire on a windy day.

Now the cow, at this point, did not really care she was on fire, their hide is way too thick, but then we all jumped and started to beat and slap at her with our big leather gloved hands, trying to desperately pat out the fire. This she did not like, 5 men, 3 boys, beating the hell out of her. She started jumping up and down, the fire was growing, this is when the horse who was holding the cow by a rope, looked around to see a large cow on fire in tow, so the horse now gets excited and starts to buck around to get lose from the spreading fur fire, the rider hits the dust, cow on fire jumping around, 5 men yelling and jumping around beating cow, with hands, horse tied to cow jumping around, man on ground, trying to keep from getting stepped on by, cow, horse, other cowboy boots, dogs are barking, boys trying to grab horse, dust and dirt flying everywhere. One guy ran to the horse trough and got a bucket of water, threw it at the cow, hitting most of men, missing the cow, because the cow is a moving target, again runs for water, again throws for cow, over and over, horse is now jumping from fire and buckets of flying water. Finally, we get the fire out. Most of the cow hide is singed to a crisp, completely black, we cut the rope and off she goes mad as hell to be beaten by 5 men and 3 boys for no reason. At this point we all start laughing, we are wet, covered in black, burnt cow fur, dust, mud, manure, yes the cow did launch a pie at some point. We laughed so hard we cried, our stomach hurt and even one guy threw up, from laughing so hard, the horse was out of there, the dogs after the cow and horse, we laughed, in the dust on our backs, we laughed and laughed. I should say the cow made a full recovery, with absolutely no physical harm, the most silky soft fur to touch grew back over the summer. From that time on, every year for round up the story of the burning cow was told to new cowboys, as a warning and we would laugh again like fools. I am sure someone told it at the bar after Robert’s funeral. This, I swear, is a true story…

Hugh Guidry
Denver, Colorado