Nearing 70, the old cattleman recalls a typical day for himself that takes a little more effort than it used to.
“Today I got to the ranch and trolled up some heifers that are going home,” he said. “They belong to a customer and his grazing period is over. Two of them were missing so I penned the ones that I had before I hunted for a hole in the fence. Then I found the hole in the fence. Next I drove my pickup through the pastures to my neighbors where I found his cows and my customer’s heifers.
“I called the neighbors cows to his lot and penned a few cows and the heifers I wanted. Problem solved? Nope! His gate is locked and I lost my key. I called his mama to get his cell phone number. It was noon. At 4 p.m., he returned my call and made arrangements to open the gate. In the intervening time, I loaded out 39 of the 41 heifers and sent them home.”
“Is that the work of a cowboy? I don’t know,” he pondered. “What I do know is that as long as we eat beef, somebody has got to do this kind of work.”
It likely isn’t the version of “cowboy” that haunts the minds of those that spend their lives in other occupations but always believing they would have loved to be a cowboy.
While the West does not own the cowboy, it is the cowboy that epitomizes the West in the minds of those that seek him. Some men were born to ride and some men were born to sit in traffic.
Some come to live in the West as it is now with a more modern version of the cowboy wearing sponsorship tags on his shirt and making a few hundred thousand dollars a year riding bulls or roping calves in the rodeos.
It is a West where cattle are still king and four door pickups and aluminum trailers ferry the cowboy crew miles across ranches, counties and states — a West where ranchers hang on to an ever-changing way of life necessitating better practices in order to stay on the land that holds their souls.
A study of Western culture revealed three out of five men and nearly half of women would like to be cowboys for at least a day. Many have opted for complete lifestyle changes.
In droves, they have packed up their lives and moved to the West, finding a place in the open spaces much like the homesteaders did a hundred years ago.
Not everybody can be a cowboy, but to that end these transplants will take on the trappings of the trade, buy a 40-acre ranchette, and put a rocking chair on the wrap-around porch to watch the sun set over a small barn that houses two horses, a 4-wheeler and a couple of llamas.
It is a new West and it is clearly an amalgamation of the many phases of an evolving way of life.
The old timer laughed at the vision of himself. “On top of all of this, my Little Satan has foundered on the lush ryegrass, so I had to trim his feet and ride him to get the horseback portion of the work done. Now that’s a sight. An old man recoverin’ from a stroke and with bad feet, ridin’ a 14-hand high pony that is sore footed, penning a bunch of heifers that would really rather be eatin’ the fresh grass than go home.
“I don’t know what a cowboy is but I know I am one. I don’t want many people that call themselves ‘cowboys’ to help me in my day-to-day work, but I am willing to lend them a hand when I can.”
“I just don’t think we will ever see the last cowboy,” he said with a grin. “You got to have cowboys unless you want to eat tofu instead of Prime Rib for Christmas dinner.”
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org