by Barry Denton
View From the Backside
Cowboys, Horseshoes, & Corporations
Isn’t it amazing how a ranch can be running along smoothly, operating at a profit, and then the owner has to retire or has a change of mind. Naturally the ranch gets sold and when new owners take over things are bound to change.
They do not always change for the better. It seems that since there is not a large profit margin on a ranch anymore that corporations like to buy them so they can lose money and write it off. While this may be a good business tactic it often has tough consequences for loyal long time employees.
Now Jack Wood was approaching 55 and had been a cowboy since he was 16. He loved what he did and applied himself very well to his job as cow boss for the Smith/Wynn outfit in central Arizona. You could ask anyone for miles around who ran the best outfit and they would answer Jack Wood. Besides that his men loved him as he was a cowboy’s cowboy. He worked harder than any of his men and always set a good example.
Jack’s kids were grown and it was only he and his wife Ruthie that still lived at headquarters. Ruthie loved that large adobe house and took care of it with pride. After all she and Jack had been there many years and it was the only home their kids ever knew.
The house sat up on a knoll that overlooked the corrals and barns. The yard was protected by a tight ocotillo fence and when you opened the gate you were privy to one of the most beautiful gardens you have ever seen. It was a testament that place was to the folks that lived there. Even though it belonged to Jack’s bosses he ran it like it was his own.
With the inevitability that comes with age, his bosses’ decided to sell to a California corporation. The bosses’ children had no interest in keeping the ranch and would rather have the income. Jack’s employers were good to him and appreciative of his long and loyal service. They did recommend Jack to the new owners. However, the new owners had their own ideas and believed that a new broom sweeps clean. Needless to say they wanted Jack to teach the new man the ropes, but Jack didn’t see any value in that so after 39 years Jack and Ruthie decided to move on.
Some of the cowboys that worked for Jack Wood decided to move on with him. The others that stayed were very eager to meet their new boss or so they thought. Jack and Ruthie left on a Saturday and the new boss was supposed to arrive on Monday. Of course the new boss didn’t arrive until the following Saturday, but the remaining cowboys were quite capable.
About 3:00 on Saturday afternoon the cowboys heard a terrible awful noise approaching and saw a large cloud of dust. Here was their latest new boss stepping out of his used to be beige 1967 Plymouth Valiant that sagged a little due to a broken shock. As he rose from the battered automobile, Houston Canoe made an astonishing first impression. Houston stood about five foot eight with tattoos up and down each arm. His scraggly hair hung below his shoulders from under his ten dollar brown cowboy hat.
He was friendly at first, but there was something you didn’t like about him. Come to find out Houston was the prodigal son of the corporation’s certified financial officer. He had just returned after years of drug abuse. Becoming a cow boss was part of his recovery plan and he was proud of it!
The seasoned cowboys were very disenchanted, but this was the wrong time of the year to hire out to a new outfit. They decided among themselves to tough it out for another couple of months until the other ranches started hiring. Houston started officiating right away and his cowboys were resenting him pretty fast.
He would not ask how things had been done before and preceded with his bombastic ideas. Each night in the bunkhouse was spent trying to figure out a way to foul this guy up.
My part in the whole thing was that I kept about 60 head of ranch horses shod up for these guys. Yes, they did do some of there own shoeing as well, but I came in and shod before each roundup and usually once in between. The ranch had a big barn with a hitching rail made from six-inch well casing that ran down the length of the barn.
They would bring out about ten horses at a time and tie them to that rail. I always brought two helpers with me out there. One guy would pull shoes and knife out the sole. I would trim the feet and get the shoes nailed on and the third guy would clinch and finish the feet. It was a good system that could get several horses shod in a short time.
One day when I was out there we were shoeing horses tied to the rail and a desert storm came up. There was an empty pole barn on the end of the main barn that they used for hay storage. We strung a picket line across the pole barn and tied the horses to that.
While we were shoeing under the pole barn the storm became more violent with high winds and lightning. Needless to say we stopped shoeing the nervous horses and decided to wait until the storm passed. All the cowboys rode back in and tied their working horses in the corral and got under the pole barn with us.
We were all watching the rain come down in torrents as it was too loud to visit with each other. Our cool-hand-hippie-cow-boss Houston was at the end of the barn with his leg propped up against a pole smoking a cigarette. About that time there was another cloudburst that washed a big coach whip snake off the roof. Thanks to the wind it landed right on Houston Canoe’s shoulders.
Well you never saw a more interesting war dance than the one Houston was doing trying to remove the snake from his shoulders. Obviously he panicked and the harder he tried to get the snake off the tighter it got around his neck. By now he was out in the thunder and lightening whooping and hollering. Of course all of the cowboys were falling down with laughter and no one would help him. Finally after about five minutes one of the cowboys couldn’t take it any more and went and helped him.
I have never seen anyone as panicked as Houston. He was trembling all over and the cowboys said it took him about three days to calm down. About three months later when I went back to shoe the horses again, Houston had moved on. They had made one of the cowboys the new cow boss and everything was peaceful once again at the Smith/Wynn outfit.