Friday, January 4, 2008
A Tame Ox
One of my favorite authors is Ben Green. Ben grew up in Texas. He was probably born some time around 1910 or so. He lived in a town that was just too little to keep him occupied and started out buying cattle when he was in his early teens.
This was a fairly serious undertaking for a young man because trucks were not common at all in that area in the early 20's and all the cattle moving was done with a horse. I think most soccer moms would faint dead away, and maybe need some medication at the thought of their 13-14 year old son unplugging himself from the X-box, saddling up a couple of horses and going off 30 or 40 miles away to buy cattle cheap that were too wild for regular cowboys to catch in big pastures filled with mesquite, rocks and snakes. Truth be told, I think I might need and extra slug of Mt. Dew if I thought I was going to have to do that.
Ben didn't give it a thought. He had a gentle, well broke mare named Beauty that he rode for many miles. He learned a good deal about people, cattle, weather, and horses. He eventually became a veterinarian and practiced in the South West, and down into Mexico.
He is a good story teller, and lets you have enough detail with some explanation so that you know where the story is going.
In one adventure he has bought some cows for range delivery. Cows and steers sold like this sell pretty cheap because it is so hard and hazardous to get them back to civilization, and there were no trailers and big rig 4x4 s that could go into the back country. If you roped a steer and got the rope around a big old gentle tree, as he liked to say, you still had to get him back to town, and the odds were that he would get away, or hurt you or your horse before you managed it, unless you were clever.
He had bought about 20 cows and calves, and there were two big wild steers that would stand guard when the rest of the cows were grazing. If anyone approached, they would go bawling and scatter the herd into the brush. Ben tried for days to cut out one or the other, but they were big, horned, aggressive, and smart. Finally he had an idea. He and another cowboy cut one of the steers away from the group, and roped his head and heels and stretched him out. Ben took a curved needled from his shirt pocket and got a strong hair from his horse's tail and sewed the steers eyelids together. The next day they caught the other one and repeated the procedure. That left the two trouble makers pretty much blind and they fell in with the tamer cattle and Ben and his friend herded them back to the ranch. When they were safe in the corral, he cut the hair and let them open their eyes.
He had a lot of little tricks. One of them that I have thought a lot about was when he would yoke a wild steer or heifer to a steady tame ox. An ox is just a steer that has been tamed and trained to take commands and pull loads. Generally they become very gentle, but because they are kept for years they tend to be very large 1500# +. Ben would take a few of these big, gentle cattle and feed them in a corral for a week or two that was near the pasture with the wild cattle. Once they got used to the corral, they became attached to it too, and it was home. Ben would then rope one of the wild ones and tie it to a tree or large rock. When it was secure, he would go and get one of the oxen and make a harness our of rope, and tie the two of the together. The ox knew where he wanted to go, and even if the wild steer would pull him off course for a bit, the ox would eventually put his head down and step by step work his way to the corral, and the hay and grain that awaited him.
Sometimes I think that we take turns in our lives being the steady ox, and the wild cow. I am sure that when the ox was pulling toward the corral that it was very annoying to the wild one. That lack of approval didn't bother the ox at all. He just kept going where he knew he should go. Families are a little like this, or should be I think. We take turns in life being the lost one, and being the steady one. None of us have enough sense to come back home all the time. We need the bonds of family love to tug us back to where we should be. Steady pulling gets the job done.