My First And Last Ride

 

 

bucking-broncI was about to enter my first competition in the Tri-Cities Rodeo Classic in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. The announcer introduced me to the crowd of nearly 90 fans who packed the Wood County Fair Arena that night.
“Next on his maiden ride, we have David Hesse, from Brookfield, Wisconsin. He’ll be riding #12, outta’ Wheatland, Wyoming, a bronc named Peaceful, but I can assure you, that little bronc is anything but peaceful.”
A shiver ran down my spine, was I really going to do this? I looked at Juan Guitterez, my coach and noticed he was smiling.
Nearly all the spectators were either standing or perched on the edge of their seats. Suddenly, the crowd grew eerily silent as they released my bronc into the chute, but it wasn’t the bronc I had drawn the night before. It was a big black stud named Black Smoke.
“Hey, what’s this? I drew number 12, the little buckskin bronc.”
“Yeah,” the handler said, “but he kicked out the side of his stall last night and cut up his leg. We had to pull him. This here fella is his replacement. I know he looks pretty mean, but he was rode last night by Ferrell Bannister who pretty much rode the buck outta him. You’ll be fine, pardner.”
“Joo sure joo want to do this, gringo?” Juan asked. “Joo might geet hurt, reel bad.”
“No, but I’ve come this far and can’t see myself backing out now,” I replied.
Juan spent the past six months teaching me how to ride saddle broncs and now I was ready to try it out.
“The first time eez alweez dee hardest, gringo.It geets“ better, I promeese,” Juan laughed.
I stared at him and couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just shook my head.
“Joo ain’t got nothing under joo hat but hair, gringo. You see how beegs that flathead eez? Heez goin’ to keel you, gringo. If joo” die, can I have joo saddle?”
I looked over at Juan as I climbed the chute and said, “Sure, it’s your’s Juan. I appreciate your vote of confidence. Coming from my instructor it gives me a positive feeling.”
“Ha, ha, joo crazy, gringo. Thanks for jour saddle.”
As I stood on the fence, I looked down at this big flathead horse wishing I had the little bronc I had drawn the night before.
I eased down into the saddle, holding the buck rein in my riding hand and bracing myself with the other hand on the chute. I put one foot in the stirrup that was easiest to get to. Then I gently moved Black Smoke over so I could get my other foot in the stirrup. He looked up at me as I eased my feet up to the front of his neck, and I could see the whites of his eyes and knew you could hurt your eyes trying to find any compassion in that face. I was careful not to touch him with my spurs as that might have caused him to rear over backward.
I didn’t make any noise or quick jerking motions, remembering what Juan had told me, “Don’t joo speek out loud joo sceer your horse in the chute.” So I kept my mouth shut, for once.
When my feet and riding hands were in position, I leaned back and down in the saddle and tucked my chin to my chest. If Black Smoke reared out, I could still keep my balance. Juan told me if I didn’t keep my chin tucked and the horse throws his head back, I would be thrown off balance, lose his swells, and miss spurring the horse on the way out of the chute. How well you spurred your mount was part of your overall score.
When I was finally sitting on Black Smoke, I looked down on his head knowing a horse had to follow his head; if he rears, his head gives you the clue first. If he ducks you’ll be able to determine it earlier than if you aren’t looking at his head.
Finally, I was ready and nodded at Juan to open the chute gate. The big ol’ horse was watching me,
Everyone thought I was gonna get bucked, and Black Smoke wouldn’t just buck you. If you didn’t get out of the arena, he’d camp onto you something fierce. Then he’d go wipe out the barrel. Both Juan and I were scared.
Then Juan flung the chute open. The ride started out well. Black Smoke bolted from the chute with four straight high kicks and I stuck like glue. Then the bronc lunged to the left and jerked the rope out of my hands. I hung on with the tail of the rope, shifting to the left with each whipping turn.
I was doing real good, raking his neck with my rowels; then right before the whistle blew, I found myself too far to the inside. He caught me off balance and turned me a flip and while still soaring through the air, I heard the eight-second whistle. My final thought before I landed all wadded up on my back, breaking my collar bone was, “You almost made it Hesse.”

Sheriff of Cheyenne

 

 

 

 

cowboys

 

White clouds streaked against the blue sky. From this elevation, I could see the whole valley sweeping below and to the ridgeline beyond.
It was the edge of dark when I finally rode into the fairgrounds on the outskirts of Cheyenne.
I recalled how this place was nothin’ but one street with a hotel and a saloon and occasional gunfire. Now we got us a church, a store and a place to bury people properly. Even the ladies in the saloon are darn good at singin’ them songs they know and I swore to fight anyone I had to so to keep it good.
My body ached as I climbed the rail to watch as a horse finished up bucking in a tight circle in front of the catch pen. Old age is a cruel thing. It lays waste to body and mind and I damn well felt it after riding all day.
The whistle blew, so the rider grabbed his rein with his free hand and looked for the pickup men. Just another day at the office, I guess, or so I thought.
I heard a shot ring out in the crowd. The horse was still bucking his ass off in a circle. The pickup men were having trouble riding in to get him.
I looked around as I jumped off the rail and ran over to where Old Waco Thompson, one of my deputies who served mostly as the jailer, stood slouching. He was one of those men, born with nothing, who had spent his life proving he could be less than that. He was in his work clothes, a denim shirt and denim pants that were hitched low and a corral-stained western hat cocked on his head. He was in his late thirties, pushing six feet tall. He was tough and stubborn, but not very ambitious, a combination that could make you someone’s lackey or, at the very least, dead. The Wyoming wind and a few well-placed fists had hardened his face. His nose was slanted from an old break .
He was studying the cartridges in his hand before he inserted them in the loops in his belt.
He looked up at me and stood, fingering out a cigarette and lighting it with a kitchen match.
“Didn’t you hear that?” I shouted.
“Yep, sure did, Sheriff.”
“You know what happened here?”
“The son of a bitch was shot,” he said, pointing to a small patch of gravel and grass, and a body stained and coated with what I knew wasn’t rust.
“Who is he?”
“Don’t know, Sheriff; don’t think I never seen him before.”
I walked up and turned the body over. It was Juan Guitterez.
“Do you know who shot him?”
“Kid over there. Killed ‘cause he draw’d down on him, so’s he said, Sheriff. Here’s the gun that did it.”
He handed over the gun and I sniffed the chamber and sighted down the barrel for burned powder. It had been fired. I looked at the young man sitting on a bale of hay. I could see his face was written on by the wind and sun and he had a body shaped by working in the outdoors. The boy definitely belonged in the open.
“This gun’s in bad shape, Waco. Looks like it was used hard at one time.”
“I guess, but it still shoots purty good. Just look at ol’ Tex-Mex over there.”
“He’s dead all right. What was he doing?”
“He and another one was breakin’ in that trailer over there and running out with a bunch of stuff and throwing it on their burros. When that boy told ‘em to stop. Guess they didn’t, so he dropped ‘im.
“Where’s the other one?”
“Got away, I guess. He rode off on one of the damn burros with a bunch of the boy’s stuff. The boy said he woulda got him too if that damn old Colt hadn’t a misfired. One thing I would bet on. He ain’t dead, damn your eyes. The boy said he climbed that ridge,” nodding his head in the direction of the Grand Tetons far off in the distance. Wish’d I’d had my horse. I woulda got ‘im, that’s for sure.”
His eyes were streaked with red and his face was swollen, most likely from crying.
I did feel sorry for him.
“What’s your name son?”
“Ryan, Ryan Jackson, from Meeteetse”

“Long way from home, ain’t you. Can you tell me what happened?”
“I was down watchin’ the boys work the horses when I noticed some goin’ ons up here that just din’t look natural. So I mosied on over and caught this beaner and one of his friends stealin’ my stuff outta my trailer here. I dropped that son of a bitch, but his compadre got away with all my belongings. Now I ain’t got nuthin’ but what’s on me. Took what little money I had too. Damn, wisht I woulda plugged the other one too.”
“Aha, that so?”
“Yep, good thing I had that ol’ Colt with me or I’d a be lying where that beaner is lying now.”
“Waco?”
“Yes, boss?”
“Cuff this boy and take him to the jail and book him for murder?”
“What?”
“You heard me. I’ll be along shortly.”
The boy stared at me with hate filled eyes and said, “The hell you will,” and reached behind his back and brought out a small revolver, pointing it at my face.
Damn Waco, I thought, he should have made sure this boy was disarmed.
“Now listen to me, Ryan Jackson from Meeteetse, put that gun down before someone gets hurt.”
“It’s gonna be you, Sheriff,” he said cocking back the hammer.
My hand went down to my sidearm and I was clearing leather before young Ryan could blink. My .44 caliber round pierced his neck and he dropped to the ground, bleeding out next to Juan.
“Why’d you have to go and do that, Sheriff?” Waco asked.
“Waco, if you’d a been a little more alert, you’d a known that Juan is blind. Has been all his life. No way he could have drawed down on that boy. That little burro of his carried his entire life possessions and lead him around Cheyenne like a seeing eye dog. I have known Juan his whole life and he was the nicest young man I knew and he wouldn’t steal from anybody. I’d stake my life on it.”
“But what about the other beaner?”
“There wasn’t another beaner, Waco. Ryan said he took off in the direction I had just ridden in from. If there was someone heading out that way, I would have passed him. I was the only soul on that ridge today.”

Beanie and Ike Cowboy Up

 

 

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Sometimes there are two rodeos, one inside the arena and one outside. No buckles are awarded for the one outside.
When the sun goes down the west Texas heat lets up a bit making it tolerable to sit outside at night and enjoy the quiet of the evening.
Beanie Franklin and Ike Stovall were sittin’ on the rail watching the stock eat the hay they had just thrown out. Ike watched Beanie as he took his time filling a blanket. He twisted both ends and licked the entire stick with his tongue before placing it in the corner of his mouth. He struck a match against his leather chaps, lighting the freshly rolled cigarette. He squinted as the smoke rolled out of the side of his mouth and drifted up into his eyes.
“That little one is fine as cream gravy,” Beanie said, as he exhaled a stream of blue smoke.
“Yep, but you don’t want to get by that boy’s ears,” Ike replied. “That gray one over there the horse you rode today?” Ike asked, pointing in the direction of a dapple gray gelding.
“Yep, he just didn’t seem to have it. He is just plum fagged out. Four years ago he bucked me off and hung me up and dragged me for a few trips around the arena before I learned saddle broncs and I don’t mix too well. Then I went bareback. That was ‘bout three years ago. He’s been around a long time. These damn small rodeos ain’t got the cash to bring in good stock like they should.”
“How’d that bareback work out for ya’?”
“Not much better. I got jerked down in the well and stomped on a few times. Now I do a little roping’ and ride pick up whenever I can land a gig. When you’re younger you live like the road goes on forever and the party never ends. But it ain’t long before you begin to see the bend in the road and you begin to fear what’s around that bend, the unknown.”
They both sat and let the quiet of the evening settle in while listening to the stock quietly chomp on the hay.
“Well,” Beanie said while standing and slapping his thighs, “if that sun don’t come up tomorrow, you’ll know I at least had a good ride. You hungry?”
“Yeah, how’s the food at that joint, the Crystal Cactus?”
“Purty good and so are the drinks. It’s a right nice place. They even give you eaten’ irons but it’s the afterclaps you gotta look out for. I was on the shitter all night the last time I ate there.”
They heard a gunshot, then another before the telltale crash of panels and a cry, “Get the horses saddled.” It was the night watchman, Felix Dunn.
“Who fired them shots, Felix?”
“A couple of ol’ drunks came ridin’ through here yellin’ and a cussin’ and firing their dadgum pistols.”
They looked up and watched as a corral full of bulls came running past, led by none other than Dirty Sam, one of the meanest bulls neither of them never rode and never wanted to.
“Did you see that? It was Dirty Sam. He lit out of town like his dick was on fire.”
“Well, let’s go git him.”
They grabbed their saddles and tacked up their horses and took off after a half dozen crazy-ass bulls as they left the fairgrounds toward the stockyards that ran parallel to the tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad.
Beanie and Ike were just about to catch up with the rest of the cowboys when someone yelled out, “There they are,” pointing in the direction of the levee road that snakes its way east toward Pumpkin Vine Creek.
They all turned and headed out at full gallop, the steel shoes of the horses throwing sparks off the asphalt as they rode in pursuit of the bulls.
As they got closer, one cowboy tossed his rope around Dirty Sam’s big old horns and proceeded to dally it around the saddle horn when Dirty Sam busted free, taking the rope with him while he headed back for the train tracks and a platform loaded with boxes with the rest of the bulls following him. As they passed the startled cowboys one of the horses reared, tossing its rider in the tall grass lining the road. The riderless horse took off in the direction of the bulls with the rest of the cowboys in close pursuit.
When they arrived at the platform, Dirty Sam proceeded to hook the boxes and toss them all over the yard while the other bulls stomped on the contents that spilled out on the ground.
A train whistle and the clanging of metal on metal startled old Dirty Sam and he turned and ran off across the tracks and dropped down. His left front leg got stuck under the rail and was broken and twisted grotesquely in an oblique and unnatural angle to the rest of his body. He was snorting and bellowing in obvious pain while the rest of the bulls, not knowing what to do or where to go, just stood there milling around.
“Well, one of us has gotta fix his flint,” Beanie said. “You been know’d to always carry an equalizer, Ike. You got a rifle in that scabbard?”
“Ya, I got one. Damn!”
“Just put it between his eyes and git it over with.”
“I can’t do it Beanie.”
Dirty Sam let out a deep moan and whipped his head back and forth slinging snot over Beanie and Ike’s legs and both their horses. His eyes were red and still filled with hate.
“Aw hell,” Beanie said, dismounting from his horse. “Gimmie your gun.”
The crack of the rifle echoed in the night. Ol’ Beanie’s eyes filled with tears.
“It ain’t right, Beanie. Dirty Sam shouldn’t have ta go this way. He was one of the best there ever was.”
About this time a couple of railroad dicks drove up in a white pickup truck with blue lights flashing on the top of the cab.
They saw the carnage and what was left of Dirty Sam and asked, “What in the cornbread hell is goin’ on?” the bigger of the two dicks asked.
“A little rodeo,” Ike replied.
“Well, who’s going to clean up this mess?”
“I reckon you should call the owner of the fairgrounds back there. We’ll take the rest of these bulls back and put ‘em away. They played enough for one day.”
“That’s it boys, the monkey’s dead and the shows over. Let’s throw a rope around Dirty Sam and get him off the track and get the rest of these boys back so we can go eat.”

An Old Cowboy Just Doesn’t Know When To Quit

Mustangs Rounded up by Helicopter copy-small-17

Ol’ Jughead Thompson and me were leavin’ outta Spooner, Wisconsin heading for Eau Claire for our next rodeo. It was 11:00 pm Friday, August the fourth and we had to be in Eau Claire by 10:00 am Saturday for the draw for Saturday night’s rodeo. We got a late start because we had to wait for Jughead to stop pissin’ blood.

I been knowin’ Jughead for going on thirty years now and I was hopin’ he learned a lesson in Spooner. At least he wouldn’t take a full finger tuck this time. He would play by the rules. Earlier tonight his bronc stood quietly as he pulled his riggin’. When he nodded, I opened the gate and he got wadded up into the gate. I thought they would give him another chance to nod but before he could get settled back in, that big flathead saw the crack in the gate and he blew out of the chute. His head, neck, and everything just disappeared as he bucked and kicked. For a moment ol’ Jughead actually looked like a bareback rider again until that damn flathead jerked the handhold out of his hand and it wasn’t long before Jughead was flat on his back. He was out for a few seconds and didn’t remember much when he came to. He said he recalled the horse’s head almost touching the ground and then the lights went out.

We picked him up and loaded him in my rig and then I went and got our horses and loaded them before we took off for the Spooner Hospital.

The doctor there in the ER wanted Jughead to spend the night but he didn’t want to forfeit his rodeo fee in Eau Claire, so we left. We no sooner hit the outskirts of town when I had to stop so he could piss out some blood.

My name is Bill Toft. My friends call me Buck, or when they are jabbin’ at me, Buck Toff. When I was younger, I rode saddle broncs and bare backs, but now I’m too old for that. No way I want to put myself through that pain anymore. My body hurts just gettin’ outta’ bed every mornin’

We arrived in Eau Claire in the middle of a heavy rain. Jughead drew #88 name of Widow Maker.

“I’m gettin’ on that son of a bitch,” Jughead declared.

“Don’t you think it’s about time you acknowledge the corn. You just ain’t made out for riding bucking stock. You have a lot of heart, little talent, and no quit in you. Like a bull, you don’t know when to quit. That’s a recipe for a quick death, little buddy. Let’s just stick to being pick up riders and hauling rodeo stock and leave the rest of this shit to the young ones. You ain’t going to like hearing this, Jughead, but…”

“Some things are better off left unsaid,” Jughead replied, glaring at me.“But you are going to say it anyway, aren’t you,Buck?”

“Yep, can’t help myself. If you do this, you will be sucking blended food through a straw for the next six months. Worse case, you’re going to end up in the bone orchard.”

“Hell, I still got some kick in me, Buck. I know I can ride this horse. Look at him. That horse looks dead.”

“So do you Jughead. I gotta say this, you lasting eight seconds on that horse is as likely as the Pope leading a gay pride parade.”

“Well, we’ll just see, won’t we?”

“Yep, common sense is like deodorant. The ones that need it the most don’t use it.”

“I assume you are referring to me?”

“Yep, Jughead, I am. Listen, if you feel yourself losing it, just choke that horn, will ya?”

“No way. Ol’ Jughead never has and never will be caught choking the horn. It just won’t happen.”

Well, that ‘ol dead horse threw Jughead ‘bout up to heaven and when he landed, he landed on his head before a hind foot from that bronc landed down on his chest.

I was looking down at Jughead in a crowd of cowboys and he gave me a warm smile as well as a thumbs up. Then I heard someone say, “Okay boys, let’s get as many hands as we can under him and lift him onto the stretcher.”

They put him into what I assumed was an ambulance. I crawled in after him and we took off. The driver was cursing as we hit some pot holes.

“I don’t know if I’m going to survive this one, Buck Toft,” Jughead groaned.

“You’re going to make it, Jughead. I remember that time in Noches, Texas, about twenty years ago, when you were in the recovery room and your spleen ended up in the operating room trash can. You walked away from that one. You’ll walk away from this too. From now on, we will spend our time spreading hay and hauling bucking stock, not trying to ride ‘em.”

Jughead nodded, smiled, and closed his eyes.

“You all right back there?” the driver asked, as the stretcher rolled across the floor and slammed into the side of the vehicle.

The ambulance driver wasn’t actually an ambulance driver, he was tending the beer tent and he had to close it down when they asked him to drive Jughead to the hospital. Actually, it wasn’t an ambulance, it was an old yellow cab and the driver was slurring his words.

“Damn, the gate is closed. Hey, girls, have them boys open that gate,” he yelled. I was sitting next to him. He turned around and was holding a can of Blatz Beer.

“How’s he doing?”

“Not good, he’s rolling around like a damned billiard ball,” I yelled.

“God damn right it’s rolling. We’ll get him there in no time. Now don’t let him die on me. He’s pretty old to be doin’ this, ridin’ broncs, ain’t he?”

“That’s what I’ve been tryin’ to tell him.”

Turns out Jughead didn’t last the ride. I don’t know if it was the ride on the bronc or the ride in that old Yellow Cab that did him in, but deep down in my heart, I know’d it was his stubbornness that finally did him in. He just didn’t know when to quit. I think the good Lord finally did him a favor calling him home but I sure am going to miss that boy.