A lone Longhorn steer leaves the herd. The steer trots off toward a nearby thicket along a creek. A cowboy turns his horse, loosens the reins, and uses his knees to nudge the trained horse in the direction of the wayward steer. The rider removes a lariat from the saddle horn while the horse closes on the Longhorn at a gallop.
Often, the steer can be headed off and returned to the herd by the horse and rider’s maneuvers. If not, the cowboy opens the slip-knotted loop at one end of the rope and twirls the open end above his head. He heaves the loop neatly over the steer’s horns and neck. The near end of the lariat is then tied off to the saddle horn. The horse braces, coming to a stop as the cowboy slides from the saddle. He dashes to the steer that is thrown to the ground, either by the cowboy or the rope held taut by the horse.
The cowboy takes a short line from his gun belt and binds the steer’s two hind legs together while the steer is still shocked from being thrown. The binding is deftly closed with a half-hitch knot. The steer is helpless and cannot stand up. Once the steer realizes its incapacity and the total dominance of horse and rider, the cowboy undoes the leg binding. The steer is either led back to the herd, or the lasso is removed and the steer is kept directed by the rider’s yells and solid whacks from the lariat .
Training for The Trail
Young Texas ranchers in the 1800s learned cattle handling skills early. So, too, did the horses. Herding and handling Longhorn cattle required a sense of dominance and courage to show authority over the often testy Longhorns. These skills were also critical on the cattle drives that took place along the Chisholm Trail.
After trail drives had begun in earnest, in the late 1860s, the stories of trail hands came back to teenagers on Texas ranches. Boys were anxious to leave the ranch and experience the adventures of a cattle drive. Some boys in their mid-teens were hired as extra hands, or for horse wrangler duties, if cattle drive organizers were short of the dozen or so experienced cowboys required. In later drives, the cattlemen who owned the herds usually used their own ranch foreman, or an experienced trail hand, as a trail boss.
The Cowboy’s Equipment and Trail Duties
Newly-hired Chisholm Trail hands were required to provide their own primary horse, and extra mounts if possible. The cowboy’s other required equipment included a saddle, a gun, and a parka that served as weather protection and bedding. Personal clothing normally consisted only of pants, a shirt, boots, a broad-brimmed hat, a pair of leather “chaps” or leg coverings, and a bandanna which helped protect the mouth and nose from dust.
Trail hands were often hired for “$100 and found” which meant the cattle owner provided food and extra horses, plus about thirty dollars per month for a normal three-month trip.Cowboys were required to herd the cattle all day, and sometimes through the night if needed, to reach available water. Two shifts of guard duty were required each night. If a herd stampeded, or outlaws attempted to rustle part of the herd, all hands were roused to recover the cattle. At flooded river crossings, trees might need cutting to build a raft for the chuck wagon. Together, these activities often left trail hands with less than four hours sleep a day.
Driving through Colorado, several miles south of Las Animas, I spotted a nicely dressed man walking on the shoulder of Highway 350. He was pushing a baby stroller . There was nothing protruding from the bright yellow stroller that would indicate that the stroller might contain a homeless person’s possessions.
The stroller was a three wheel, newer type. The sunroof was up as protection from a late morning sun. The man was walking facing traffic, and by all appearances had an infant out for a morning walk. However, I was unable to see a baby in the stroller as I drove past.
Here is the mystery: for the next several miles, there were no homes in sight. No disabled car beside the highway. It was seven miles to the edge of the next town on the wide open prairie landscape. It was as though the walker and the carriage had suddenly dropped out of the sky.
I eventually guessed that the man was headed back to Las Animas after a long walk out of town earlier that morning. Still, it was an unsolved puzzle. Just where did that man and his baby come from? It is the same question I may have asked my mother seventy-two years ago when my first sibling arrived on the scene.
The noun “Muse” comes from Greek and Roman mythology and represents any one of the nine goddesses who were daughters of Zeus. The goddesses inspired music, poetry, drama, and similar artistic efforts. In the literary sense, a muse is a verb, often personified, and meaning to reflect or ponder upon something.
Every writer’s Muse is believed to inspire creativity whenever she chooses to appear.
My Muse is a woman who I have nicknamed Gus. This was the name of a mentor from my distant past. We both worked in a tangled work environment marred by paranoia and distrust. Gus often gave me, his much younger and less experienced supervisor, timely and sage advice. In return, I kept him around in a feminine persona as my Muse.
Today, “Gus” is a companion on my twisted journey as a writer. Unfortunately, she usually is silent when I need her, and distracts me when my writing is comfortably sinking into a cesspool of boredom. Like now, for instance.
Gus (sighing to catch my attention),
“Hey, you, artful scribe!” (Gus can be a bit snotty at times)
Me: “uh, huh, oh it’s you.”
Gus: “You were expecting who? Sandra Bullock? Jennifer Lopez?
(I told you she could be snotty didn’t I?)
Me: “Took you long enough to show up. You planning to sleep through all these Chisholm Trail posts?”
Gus: “Wouldn’t have been that hard the way you were writing.”
Me: “Oh, really? And what are your brilliant thoughts, Old Priestess?”
(No reason she shouldn’t get a taste of her own medicine).
Gus: “Feeling a little passive aggressive today are we? I was just thinking it would be about time to write something about the cows.”
Me: “The what?”
Gus: “The Longhorns, genius! Let’s give people a peek at the cattle. How did the cowboys come across the critters in the first place?
Me: Cows are cows aren’t they?”
Gus: (ignoring me) Were Longhorns good guy cows—err, steers, or bad cows? I mean, the Longhorns are kind of basic to the story, don’t you think? Not many cowboys were driving Llamas to market back in the 1800s. Just saying. Write in some Longhorn flavor here Mr. Blogger. Get some sizzle in your steak—sorry, that just slipped out.”
Me: “Hmm, not bad, I suppose I could write about their …