Moseying: Living La Vida Llanero
November 20, 2002
The other day I was taking the long way home from Snyder after giving a program to the Snyder Garden Club. The little quarter-ton truck was fishtailing on a muddy, unpaved stretch of Mitchell County Road 1308 a little east of Iatan Flats, right north of Tommy and Howard Morrisons spread when I spotted a cowboy sitting dejectedly on his saddle. Instead of the saddle being draped over a pony, it was slung over a big mesquite limb hanging out almost to the road. He had his arms crossed, and his chin was slumped to his chest. What the hey? I thought to myself as I pulled to a stop. What is he doing here?
The cowboy was about my age, or so it appeared, and he had a weather-beaten and furrowed face. His jeans were caked with red mud all along his left side, like his pony had crow-hopped him right off and he had slid along plowing up the pasture.
Blankety-blank badger, he muttered. Thinking I had not heard him right, I asked, Say what?
Will you give me a ride into Center Point on your wagon?
Although mystified by the choice of words and choice of destination, I said sure. He slid down, slung the saddle over his shoulder and, limping to the truck, easily flipped it into the bed of the pickup. As he settled in, he gave out a deep groan, like he was hurting bad. He didnt buckle up.
Knowing my west Texas etiquette, I did not say anything. Nor did he for more than ten minutes. As we took the little curve at the base of Wildhorse Mountain, he finally spoke up.
Stop here a second, will ya? I want to see if ol Hub is still here. He opened the window and whistled, sticking two fingers of the same hand in his mouth. He waited a minute, and then did it again. This time we heard an answering whinny. Hot diggety dog, the ol boy is still alive! Okay, lets go on. As we started moving, the cowboy started talking.
Ol Hub was the best cutting horse this country ever knew. I rode him for years over on the 8s. That horse taught me how to cowboy when I first came to this country. He could feint and fake even the hoariest old mossyhorn, and I swear he could see through the cedar brakes and know where the best way was to chouse a steer out of a thicket. A couple years ago we had a big reunion up at Vincent, and advertised a big purse for the cutting horse competition. I knew Hub had been turned loose in this pasture when he reached twenty and was getting crickety in the knees. I came down here and looked up Mr. Bud, the owner of this spread, and asked if I could borrow the old horse for a spell. Hub was all ganted, with ribs like corrugated pants on his hide, hip-bones sticking out like hat racks. I fed him on soaked oats, and in a few days his ribs disappeared. After ten days I took him out for a ride and when we found a few head of steers that old horse came alive. He did his work with all of his old vim and fire. He was dancing, let me tell you. I rode him up to Vincent, and by golly he and I cut nine steers out of the herd in five minutes. He was too old to match the speed of the younger mounts, but his split-second timing made the day he never wasted one step, and I swear he had the cows boogered they knew he knew what they were thinking. I let him cut the last steer out without using the reins. I gave Mr. Bud half my prize money, and he promised he would leave out oats for Hub ever-day.
By then the setting sun had turned the western sky psychedelic, a dozen shades each of blue and purple and orange and pink. We were back on paved roads and driving along north of Coahoma in between cotton fields interspersed with equipment yards.
The only thing that ever dismayed Hub was the Booger Ys boogerman. One year we had a big blowing snowstorm that lasted for days even when snow was not falling from the sky, snow kept blowing. The wind was blowing out of the east, and the cattle started drifting. They kept drifting west, completely over the Llano, and they kept going until they hit the Booger Ys Sand Camp. I was sent over to gather em up, along with a couple of other riders.
The Boogerman had his throat cut ear to ear, and his head flopped over backwards. Hed sneak in to the milk cows at night, and squirt streams of milk into his throat. If somebody tried to ride after him and rope him, he would jump the seven-foot fence around the milking pen and bound away like a muley deer. He would stay right out in front of you, as if he knew the length of your rope, and let me tell you, it is disconcerting to be riding after a man, and the fellow has his head back between his shoulders and looking upside down at you square in the eye every step of the way. Hub refused to run after him after the first time.
I still had not said anything, not even a you dont say. The cowboy told one more story. Hub was the horse Windy Peterson was riding when he roped the steam engine back at Sweetwater. We had teased Windy about his roping skills until he was out to prove he could rope anything. That poor boy would snag fence posts the opposite direction of the nag he was assigned and by golly he would get mad at our laughing. One Sunday we went to town, to get a haircut and a bath and eat something besides beef and beans. Windy begged to ride Hub that morning, and as we rode in to town, he stood in his stirrups and yelled out that he was going to show us, then started galloping alongside the train as it was pulling out of the station, shaking out a loop as they went. I put the spurs to the horse I was riding, and right after the rope settled over the smokestack and the train started pulling strong on the dallied rope I caught up and cut that rope with the knife I carry in my boot.
There is a wealth of stories here on the Llano Estacado. My thanks to the now long-gone Tanner Laine of Lubbock, Judge R.C. Crane of Sweetwater, Shine Phillips of Big Spring, and Ben Moore, Sr. of Tahoka. Stories of cowboys roping trains were once told as if they happened in every town from Sweetwater to Pecos. Very special thanks are due Paul Patterson of Crane for inspiring my retelling of his Booger Ys Boogerman tale. Hub was famous up on the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos a hundred years ago. Thanks to the above folks for their collection of the stories of the land, my little truck is jam-packed full of ghosts when I am out moseying around, and their tales make the miles go by right nicely.