Archive for February, 2011

Snow, Sleet, and Ice on the Range

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011



I awoke, way in the night, to the gentle sound of sleet on the tin roof of the bunkhouse at the B8 ranch, on Morgan Creek where I worked. The ranch had been in the family since 1884, and I dearly enjoyed working there.  However with the snow and sleet I knew what that meant. Some one would need to feed the cattle up on the mountain, and it would probably be me.  We didn’t put out hay or feed with range cubes; the cattle rustled grass, and browse for feed.  But with snow, and sleet the grass would be covered.   I would need to take an ax, ride up to the mesa and cut live oak tree branches for the cattle to eat.  The cattle loved them but it was a daunting task to do.

            I went to the horse meadow and caught Pacer, my horse, brought her to the barn and gave her a coffee can of oats.  She quickly ate the oats and I saddled her. Riding the trail up the mountain to the mesa I felt the old west was again alive.  On the way I pulled my old felt hat down tight and glanced at my shadow…looked just like Matt Dillon for sure.  I know, a man was not supposed to glance at his shadow, that was vane, but I was just a kid and could not help from taking a peek.

            The cold crept inside my jacket and my gloved hands were stiff.  I built a large brush fire.  The cattle could smell the smoke and come to it.  Besides I needed the fire for myself.  I called the cattle like I had heard my Uncle Otis do…Whoooupp, whoooupp.  They came running. I chose a fully leafed live oak tree, climbed up and began cutting branches. The cows came for the leaves. They ate hungrily a while then stood by the fire, sometime scorching their hair, then back to eating live oak leaves.  I’m not sure they ever got full.  I kept cutting. 

            Some time that afternoon I got careless and tired, made a mighty swing with my ax and missed the limb.  The ax slipped from my grip, made an arc up and then down just close enough to cut through my glove.  The cut soon filled with beautiful, but freighting, red blood.  I eased down from the tree, sat down in the snow and removed my glove to discover the glove cut through, but only scratched the palm of my hand.  It bled nicely, but not enough to send me home for the day.  I was somewhat disappointed.  I tied a rag around the cut and continued to feed the cattle, cutting more live oak leaves.  My mind soon wandered to my cut hand, and the old west.  Wasn’t an ax cut at all… in my mind it became a knife cut; received in a street brawl, protecting some ladies honor.  I stood tall in the middle of the muddy street to see the ruffians turn tail and run. I finally came to my senses and finished cutting oak brush.

            As Pacer and I made our way down the mountainside I stole a glance at my shadow.  Just a peek you understand.  I discovered the shadow was not Marshall Dillon.  It was the spitting image of John Wayne, bleeding hand and all.