Last night Jackie was hired to do baby-sitting and slept over our neighbor’s house, the Burns. She went to school from their house this morning. And after school she had dinner with them and waited for Dad and I to get back from our long day of cowboying.
After being out all day cowboying, I come running in the door trying to contain myself. It’s around 9:00 PM at night and I try to act casual.
I say to Jackie, “How did baby-sitting go last night? Did Hank and Jane get home late?”
“No, not too late. It went good. Brice and I designed clothes. Then we had a fashion show and put on matching tops with boas and stuff. It was a lot of fun.
I got to sleep in Brice’s room. She has two twin beds, really comfortable. It was more like a sleep over, and I made some really big bucks babysitting, twenty dollars,” Jackie says with a sassy tone.
“Very cool, that’s a lot of money. You want to hear my amazing cowboying story?” I screech.
Jackie knew we had gone cowboying. It was all prearranged, her staying with the Burn’s overnight. They live right across the street. Jackie did not want to go cowboying, she thinks its barbaric to eat meat, she’s a vegetarian.
We had left really early in the morning and we knew we wouldn’t be getting home till late. Besides Jackie couldn’t go cause she had talent show practice, and she didn’t want to miss that.
This whole adventure began a few weeks ago when Chester called and asked us all to go cowboying with him on his cousin’s ranch.
Dad asked, “What is cowboying?”
Chester explained, “Cowboying is when you round up cattle and drive them to wherever you want them to go.”
Dad repeated, “Christina, Jackie, you guys want to go cowboying on horses on a ranch?”
I took the phone right out of Dad’s hand and shouted, “Can Neewa come?”
“Yes Neewa can come, if she can ride a horse?” Chester laughed.
“When? When?” I asked him.
Chester replied, “It depends on the weather. I’ll call you the night before. We won’t go in the rain or bad weather.”
Chester finally called yesterday afternoon, “Do you still want to go cowboying?”
“Yeah,” I told him.
Chester said, “Pick me up at four in the morning.”
I cried out, “Four in the morning! Wow, Okay we’ll see you at four.”
I shouted to Dad, “We are going cowboying tomorrow, the weather is supposed to be good.”
Dad replied, “Yeah tomorrow is good. I’ll call The Burns’s and ask if Jackie can stay over their house tonight.”
“Jackie, you okay with this?” Dad asked not completely convinced Jackie did not want to go cowboying.
“Yeah Dad, I’m not going cowboying, its barbaric,” She said again.
“So anyway Jackie listen, we picked up Chester’s at four, and we all arrived at the ranch before the sun came up. We met Chester’s cousin, Dave at his house and took his pick-up truck to the barn. Dave was surprised when Neewa jumped up into in the back of his pick-up.”
“Cute dog you got there, can she stare down a steer?” Dave asked.
I answered, “Neewa can do anything, just tell her once and she is good to go.”
Neewa was an instant hit with everyone.
“She loves to be petted and play fetch,” I told them as we drove down the dirt road, “She can do anything. Its as if she is human.”
“Right from the start Dad and Dave had an issue.”
Jackie sighs, “Oh boy, it figures, Dad What did you do?”
He doesn’t answer, just continues tinkering around the kitchen.
I continue my story, “We’re getting in the truck. Dad just walked away from our van and Dave asks, why did you lock your van?”
“Oh did I?” Dad answered surprised.
“I didn’t even realize I did? Where we come from you have to lock your car. I guess it’s a habit.” Dad shrugged.
Dad and I could tell Dave was insulted. He thought we didn’t trust him and that we were afraid someone from his ranch would take something from our van.
Dad confided in me, “I know there is nothing I can do to take back what I did. I feel terrible that Dave thinks I don’t trust him. Guess we started off on the wrong foot.”
Dad tried to explain again by saying, “Dave we just moved out of the city. I picked up the habit of locking the van. You have to lock it or someone will take it.”
Dave shrugged his shoulders, “Oh, is that right?”
Dad sipped on his bottle of water as we arrived at the barn. Two of Dave’s ranch hands were already saddling the horses and getting everything ready. They nodded to us.
We each had to check our own bridal, synch, and reins ourselves to be sure they were tight, Dave insisted.
He told us, “The heard roams government land all year long. They eat whatever they can find, mostly sagebrush, but some grasses and new plant shoots if it rains. But it’s not enough, so we bring them hay to add to their diet. Mostly, the cattle live off whatever they can find. If it were not for the stream running through our land, there would be nothing for them to eat, just more desert.
We have about a dozen fields of grass and hay that belong to the tribe. We sell that for cash and that money goes to the old ones who can’t work.”
“I got the gentlest horse Dave had, her name is Stork. Dad got a horse that likes to throw you off onto the ground. Its name is Mac.”
Dave said laughing under his breath, “Be ready to land on your feet when that one throws you off.”
Dad replied, “Yeah? Ok? I’ll be ready, I hope.”
“Next we rode out onto the desert. It was so quiet and the sun was just coming up. You should have seen it when the early morning light hit the mountains, they turned a brilliant ruby red.”
Chester gave us our coyboying instructions as we rode, “I will tell you guys where to stand. We will drive the cattle toward you. Don’t get off your horses or you will get trampled for sure. You guys will be like bumpers in bumper pool, guiding the cattle.”
He asks, “Did you ever play bumper pool?”
“Yes,” We both say.
“I play all the time,” he says. “At my friends house.”
Chester continues, “The cattle will turn away from you when they see you. Make sure they turn the right way. Just raise up your arm opposite the direction you want them to go, don’t worry, they spook easy.”
I looked at Jackie who is hanging on every word, “That was the extent of my cowboying instructions.”
Chapter 28 - Cattle Drive
“I’m not sure if they were speaking Shoshone, Piute, or Washoe, but no one spoke English as we headed out to the desert.
It felt like I was with Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern in the movie City Slickers. You should have seen it Jackie, cattle everywhere. I was on my horse the whole day. It feels like I’m still on that horse, my legs are killing me.”
“Yeah Christina, you smell like you’re still on that round-up. I hope you’re taking a shower,” Jackie wrinkles her nose.
“Yeah, right after I finish the story,” I warn.
“Neewa was running around the cattle like she knew how to round them up. She nipped at the cow’s tails to get them to move faster. Once when a cow stopped right in front of her, she looked the cow straight in the eye and barked. The cow turned and ran to escape her glare. If a cow turned in the wrong direction, Neewa circled around and brought it back to the heard.
Someone would give a command in Shoshone, Piute, or Washoe. Dad and I would look at each other with a blank stare. Chester translated only if it was something we needed to know.
Chester would yell, stay by that sage bush, or don’t move, or move to the left.
Dad and I learned a couple of Indian words, stop, go, and don’t move you diaboo’s.”
Dad excited, continues the story while I go take a shower.
“Jackie, we rounded up all the cattle on the desert. That took almost all day. It had to be after two in the afternoon before we stopped for a drink of water.
Then we drove the cattle down a long dirt road with fence on either side to a corral. That was the easy part cause all we had to do was stay behind them and keep moving.
Occasionally, a steer would break away, get through a broken part of the fence and run for the hills. One of the cowboys would have to go round up the cow and drive it back to the heard.”
Dad laughs, “Neewa ran off into some trees. It was the perfect place for her with a shimmering stream, shade from the sun, and plenty of water. She probably wanted to get a drink or go for a swim and cool off. I saw her chewing on the green grass on the bank.
At that moment, she started rolling around on the ground scratching her back. Dirt and dust rose all around her as she wriggled around. I didn’t know what she was doing.
We continued down the road with the cattle when she came back. As soon as she got close to me, I realized what had happen. She had been rolling in cow manure and was covered in it.”
“Oh my god you stink!” I yelled.
Returning from my shower I interrupt Dad, “I told Neewa, you smell so bad you are going to have to stay outside on her chain in one of your dens.
When we passed the next pond, I took her for a swim. We played fetch and she swam across the pond a few times, but that didn’t get all the smell off.”
Dad continues the story, “We finally arrived at two big corrals that were in the middle of this wide-open field. Somehow we were going to get all the cattle in side. Christina and I were assigned to guard the gate and we positioned ourselves twenty or thirty feet away. Our job was to guide the cattle into the corral and keep the one’s inside from coming back out, which is what they wanted to do.
The only way to do this was to yell and wave our arms in the air to spook them in the right direction. Sometimes just raising an arm would scare the cattle enough to keep them from running back out.
When Chester and Dave herded a whole bunch of cows in through the gate, the cows inside tried to escape. Again and again the cattle got spooked and ran in every direction. Sometimes they ran right at us, and then it was impossible to keep them all from escaping while driving still more cattle in through the same gate.
If you let one get by you, and it was your fault, the other cowboy’s gave you a look. That would be your signal to go and get the escapee and drive it back into the corral.”
Jackie’s eyes are wide open as she listens to every word, “Next we separated the calves from the cows and put them in a separate corral. The calves screamed when they were taken from their moms. Some of them were not even weaned yet. It was sad, cows were mooing for their young. I wanted to die. They tried to get back to each other, crying, and blaring in cow language. They kept running out of the corral and back to their moms, only to be separated again by one of us on horseback. That was the worst part. I don’t ever want to do that again, I cried.”
Dad jumps in, “Cattle trucks arrived just when we finished getting the cows and calves separated. The calves were in the smaller corral. They are staying on the ranch, and will be Dave’s heard next year. The rest of the cattle were loaded into the trucks.
But in order to get the cattle onto the trucks, they had to be chased through this chute that lead to the trailer. The chute is a four-foot wide corridor in the corral with fence on both sides. It has dropdown doors to control the number of cattle passing through. After that, they go up a ramp into the truck’s trailer.”
Dad added, “The truck drivers have to get the trailer door really close to the top of the chute. If not, the cows jump between the trailer and ramp to freedom. Several cows made the four-foot jump and ran to the other corral to be with their calves. They mooed and mooed until they were roped and dragged back to the chute by a cowboy.
Then it was done, finally they were all loaded and two trucks full of cattle headed for the auction.”
I continued the story, “At this point I’m want to go home. I feel like I’m going to collapse from emotional and physical exhaustion.
I rode Stork back to Dave’s barn, I took her saddle off, and put away her blanket, bridal, and all her stuff. She walked back to her stall and started eating oats. I went straight to the van.
Dad and I followed the trucks into town. On the way, I could hear the cows screaming and mooing for their calves. Their cries are still ringing in my ears.”
Dad chimes in as I pause to go get some water, “Today was auction day and the buyers and sellers were ready to get started. We followed the trucks to the cattle market right in town near the railroad. The auction is enormous with dozens of corrals full of cattle. Each rancher’s heard of cattle is put in a different corral where they are sold.
Sounds were coming from everywhere at the huge railroad yard. Railroad cars wheels squealed and train whistles blew. The auctioneer tested his mike getting ready to start the bidding. Cattle were mooing, cowboys yelling orders to each other, and hooves of cattle stomped up and down ramps.
Finally, all of Dave’s cattle were unloaded from trucks into one of the corrals.
The auctioneer went around to each heard yelling into his microphone for an opening bid.
Swiftly he began his chatter into the microphone, “Do I hear fifty cents a pound? Fifty? Fifty, give me fifty cents? Do I hear fifty? There ya go, I have fifty cents, do I hear fifty-five? Fifty-five? Fifty-five? Give me fifty-five cents.
The auctioneer walked from corral to corral and the bidding continued until all the cattle were sold to the highest bidder.
The auction was over, trains were loaded with cattle, and off to the slaughterhouse they went.
Dave went to the cashier and picked up his check, and we came home.”
“That was my cowboying experience. I’m going to remember this day for the rest of my life. I’ll probably never do it again, ever. I’m going to bed after a good soaking in a hot bathtub. You did save me some hot water? Didn’t you Jackie?”
Jackie looks over at me and says, “Christina you probably used it up when you took a shower before,” She returns to her TV show.
“Cool, sounds like you guys had a good time, I’m going to bed, Brice and I stayed up late last night, goodnight.” Jackie walks to her room.
I whisper to Dad, “My legs hurt pretty bad, my thighs are burning from holding onto that horse. It feels like they are going to hurt for a week. Tomorrow is Saturday and I’m staying in bed all day, so don’t wake me. I mean it. Don’t wake me up.”
“Did you have fun?” Dad asks.
“Yeah, I had fun, but it was so sad separating the calves from the cows. I cried Dad, they were calling each other, it was terrible,” I mope off to the bath.
Dad reminds me, “We are going to leave Neewa outside tonight even though it will be cold. She can sleep in one of her caves or dens or whatever they are and stay warm. I will feed her and give her water. Hopefully, she won’t smell so bad tomorrow. If she rolls around in the dirt a few times she’ll get most of the smell off, or else you’ll have to give her a bath tomorrow.”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll give her a bath tomorrow,” I answer.
I lay on my bed, reliving the whole experience of the day.
It was nice of Dave to take us out to dinner at the restaurant. The place was a few blocks from the train yard, downtown. As I walked the bright lights downtown flashed, Jack Pot, Jack Pot, alternating in yellow, red, and orange. One casino’s flashing lights depicted a twenty-foot neon cowboy with a cigar in his mouth and a fist full of dollars.
Jogging across the tracks, we put the bright lights behind us passing a movie theatre, bank, and a pawnshop.
We arrived, and walked into the restaurant probably built a hundred years ago. Along the left wall were the booths and across from them a long counter with green vinyl topped metal-rimed stools. Spinning several of them easily, I walk by and then collapsed into the vinyl bench seat with a squeak. Each booth was just big enough for two people on either side.
The twelve-foot high restaurant walls were green too, although a different shade. Or maybe they were just covered with a coat of grease from the fryers and grill. Fans hung down from the embossed tin ceiling painted white.
Behind the restaurant counter was all the action. One cook on the grill, another busy at the sandwich board, and yet one more chatting with the cute waitress that helps bring in the regular customers.
Conversations are plenty as I quietly listened to those around me. Charlie, seems to have lost most of his stake at the casino and doesn’t want to go back to the ranch. Randy is sitting at the counter after having drunk too much, and isn’t sure if he should go back to the Pioneer Bar for another Bud, or stay here and have another cup of Joe.
The waitress bounced from table to table trying to cover up any mistakes the cooks may have served up.
She politely smiled at each patron, “Is everything all right? Can I get you anything dear?”
Families were interspersed throughout the room. They’re traveling long distances and have stopped to eat and shake off the road.
Someone asked in a tired and road weary voice, “Is there a good motel nearby? Clean with plenty of hot water?”
I wouldn’t touch that one, the motels here are known for problems with their hot water supply. Well meaning locals suggest a variety of motels for the weary traveler.
Smiling the waitress asked enthusiastically, “What’ll you have sweetie?”
“Burger, fries, and a Coke please,” I looked up at her as she wrote on her pad of checks ready to hand in the next ticket to the cook.
During dinner Dave told his story, “I borrow money to buy and raise cattle just like any other rancher. The price of cattle has gone down, it could go down even more. If that happens I’ll get an even lower price than I got today. I have to sell my cattle now because there is no telling what the price is going to be tomorrow. I’m not going to make much money this year. But I can’t take a chance that the price will go down even more and then I’d lose money. So I have to sell the heard now. At least I will have enough money to raise another heard. I hope to get a better price next year.”
He continued, “I’m going to keep my calves and buy more with the money from the sale today. I’ll feed them all year and then sell them next year. If my bull is healthy, I’ll have a lot more caves in the spring. I’ll brand those and let them out into the desert.”
After I had enough to eat we were ready to leave, I said, “Good luck Dave.”
Chester said, “See you guys.”
Dave said, “See ya.”
Dave and Chester were staying at the restaurant to have some dessert and coffee. We were ready to go home. Dad and I walked back to the van.
Neewa was resting in the back seat and jumped up as we approached the van. She was glad to see us. But I was not so happy to smell her. The whole car stunk of manure.
Usually Neewa jumps all over me when she sees me. But because she smelled so bad, I didn’t let her near me. I told her to get in the back. Then I gave her the rest of my cheeseburger, which she gobbled down in under three seconds.
I held my nose, “Neewa you smell.”