As has been the case with most of this blog, it has nothing at all to do with wood working. In fact, my recent life, with the exception of Lumber Jocks, has had nothing to do with wood working. However, it seems that some of my friends here on LJ enjoy a short trip to a different world from time to time and so I tell an occasional story.
Here in the ION country we have a different set of seasons. We have WINTER of course but then comes CALVING followed by BRANDING and then HAYING followed by SHIPPING and we are back to WINTER. I almost forgot hunting but that is a sub-season during shipping. If you think our world mostly revolves around cattle you would be correct. Before the ranchers can turn the cattle onto the range they need to be worked. This consists of branding them with the owners brand, castrating the bull calves, earmarking them with the owners mark and giving them a couple of vaccinations. There are special chutes which have been designed to make this a mechanical chore but you won’t find one amongst the ranchers around here. We are not old fashioned, we just know the value of a good horse. We have a use for the horse every day and that finger mashing contraption just sits most of the year and rusts. No, here we still work calves with good horses and ropes. I almost forgot to mention skill.
When it’s time to brand, the rancher sets a date and calls the neighbors and a bunch of friends. We all try to get to as many brandings as we can because it’s a chance to visit and have some fun together. Out here people are scattered out and don’t get together enough to get sick of each others company. It’s also a a chance to show off a new horse and maybe get some bragging rights on how good he is.
On the morning of the branding, every one shows up at the appointed time and gathers the moma cows and calves onto the rodear ground. This is usually just a fence corner with some extra fencing and all the pick-ups and stock trailers lined up to make a barrier. The riders hold the herd until they are settled down and the irons are hot. We mostly heat branding irons with a propane torch in a branding oven made of steel on legs. We like to say that a brand is a cow’s return address. Strange as it may seem to folks in the east, cattle rustling is still a very real problem..
When the irons are cherry red, the boss waves his finger in a circle and the riders ease into the herd. A buckaroo ropes a calf around the neck and takes a dally on his saddle horn with the rope. We do not use rubber on our horns because it is too hard on horses and cattle. As the header walks his horse to the fire another rider eases in behind the calf and ropes him by the heels. When the calf is positioned in the right spot by the ground crew, the heeler takes up the slack, dallys and lays the calf down in just the right spot. The ground crew removes the head loop and puts it on the calf’s front feet. The riders hold the calf with their horses while the ground crew works on him. Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Many times the reality is a lot more fun to watch.
On Thursday we branded at the Fretwell’s. It was a really nice day and there were lots of good hands. There was a cooler full of beer and some of the boys really had fun before it was over. After about an hour of things going well, I heard a commotion and looked up to see a young fellow coming across the rodear trying to put a bronc ride on a sorrel horse. I think he got his rope under the horse’s tail with predictable results. He landed in a heap. Everybody had a good laugh and he got back on and went back to roping. A little later it all happened again but this time the kid got him rode. I offered to sell him a saddle that he could ride him in but he didn’t take me up on it.
The day wound down about 4 in the afternoon and every one agreed it was a lot of fun. There had been lots of good roping on lots of good horses. There were plenty of war stories told during the breaks and chow. We all headed back to what we usually do and wait for the next call.
“And it’s all about horses and cattle and men, the country, the work and the pride. And places where cowboys who still lean to lonesome, can pick up their saddles and ride.”
“For Those Who Lean to Lonesome” Don Hedgepeth
-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon