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SUNDAY'S COLT

And Other Stories of the Old West

by

Randy D. Smith


Table of Contents

1. Ty Lee Driscoll and Red River Sam Go A Mavericking
2. Ty Lee Driscoll and Red River Sam Go to Abilene
3. The Black Queen
4. The Murder Steer
5. The Dark Man
6. Showdown Along the Cimarron
7. Sunday’s Colt


Sunday’s Colt

When Bill Sunday came riding down the lane on that spring day in 1910, Grandpa and I were standing at the corral fence watching the progress of Nan as she initiated another colt on a lesson of respect for the halter. Nan was a nineteen-year-old bay mule that Grandpa used exclusively for lead breaking colts. Yearling colts were haltered with the lead rope attached to a similar halter on the jenny. Nan and the colt were turned free in the corrals. When Nan wanted a drink, she went to water. When she became hungry, she went to the trough.

The colt had a choice as well. He could follow along, or he could kick, fight, bite, buck, balk, or throw himself... then follow along. Nan accepted such hysteric opposition with stoic strength, calmly waiting until her young companion learned that it was much easier to simply follow the jenny's lead. It seldom took more than an hour for the colt to resign himself to his situation.

We would monitor Nan and her colt for a while to make certain that the fighting didn't put the colt or the jenny in some type of dangerous predicament. The lead rope could get twisted around the colt's foreleg if he chose to strike at the jenny, the colt could throw himself and be unable to get to his feet, or if he was especially strong, he might shake loose from his halter. Such situations seldom developed but experience taught Grandpa that some caution should be exercised. Usually after a day or so of being tied to Nan, the worst young bronc became meekly submissive to the dictates of the halter.

Grandpa was seventy years old. We usually broke eight to ten horse or mule colts a month from early spring until late fall. He seldom took a chance with any of them. He liked to say that there were two ways to break a colt or filly. One method was with the back, the other with the brains. He took great pride in the fact that the vast majority of his colts were brought from halter to harness or saddle without the animal ever bucking or fighting. His methods became simple. He always gave the animal time to accept its circumstance and always put the animal in a situation where it had few options other than acceptance. He abhorred rough treatment but he could be firm when it came time for a colt to accept his will. He liked to tell that he loved horses and mules from a professional perspective. Horses were neither pets nor friends but tools. Only a greenhorn thought of them in any other way. An animal that could not be trusted had no value to a man who had to depend upon the beast for his livelihood. The more service an animal could render the more value. He priced his livestock according to the amount of dependable service that he felt would be provided, and he seldom had stock on hand that was not spoken for. We worked hard and made a good living. O.C. Tate's horse and mule ranch had a national reputation. Grover Cleveland rode an O.C. Tate stallion to his inaugural.

I didn't notice the buckskin pinto colt that was slung across the pommel of Bill Sunday's saddle as he approached. Grandpa was twenty feet from Sunday when he stopped and sighed.

"Where did ya find him?" Grandpa asked.

Sunday centered the colt in his saddle and shook his head. "His mama took a lightning hit, I reckon. I found her in my pasture south of Seward. This little fellow was just waiting for her to wake up."

Grandpa tipped his weather beaten Stetson to the back of his head and gave Sunday a disgusted look, "That storm was three days ago and this colt couldn't be more than five days old."

I stepped past Grandpa to get a closer look at the colt. He had a dandy head and was well marked. He was buckskin with black main and tail, a nice white blaze pattern between his eyes, four white feet from the cannons down, and a white spot the general shape of South America on the upper right side of his withers. Other than some white patches scattered along his belly, he was regular buckskin.

"Got a lot of mustang in him from his daddy," Bill said softly as I examined the colt, "but his mom was pure thoroughbred. He won't be a tall horse, but I'm betting he'll be all guts when it comes to cow work."

"If you had an ounce of decency, Sunday, you'd have used that old Colt on him," Grandpa said as he pointed to the holstered, 32-20 single action that old Bill habitually carried.

Sunday threw me one of those looks. His face said it all. "Help me out, Andy. Say something to get me off the spot. He's going to tell me what a fool I am. I know the colt probably doesn't have a chance but I just couldn't bring myself to put him under."

I could only shrug and mug a reply. "Don't look at me. I know exactly how you feel, but why should I look like a fool to save your face?"

"You ought to know better, Bill," Grandpa said. "That little feller doesn't have a snowball's chance in July!"

Sunday cast his eyes toward the small white frame house on the sandy knoll behind us. "I thought maybe Nell..."

Grandpa quickly looked over his shoulder to see if she was in sight before speaking. "Don't you get her involved in this. I know how that'll work. You'll ride off a smiling and scratching; feeling like you did your bit while we'll get the pleasure of watching her sit up all night trying to save this orphan. Then we'll get to see the look on her face when we have to haul a dead colt from the kitchen. Meanwhile you'll have forgotten all about the matter. Your conscience will be clear and her heart will be broken.... again."

Sunday's eyes cut to mine. I shook my head and stared right back. He knew we were on to him.

Grandma called from the porch, "What you got there, Bill?"

The morning sun danced across her white hair as she stepped from the shadows.

Sunday smiled with relief. "I got me an orphan colt here, Nell. I thought maybe you might be able to do something to help him out."


"Bring him up to the house, Bill. I'll see if I can't get something down him," Grandma called before stepping through the screen door.

Grandma Tate was a tall woman, just a few inches shorter than Grandpa's six-foot frame. While Grandpa easily carried a big-shouldered two hundred and fifty pounds of bulk, she was thin and lanky. Her hair was cut short and so white that it drew your eyes to her in a crowd. Judging from the old tintype wedding portrait hanging on their bedroom wall, she had been a beauty in her youth; soft featured, doe eyed and dark haired.

Sunday immediately swung down from his gelding and lifted the colt from the saddle. He stepped by Grandpa in an arrogantly victorious fashion as he made his way toward the house.

"Your day's a coming," Grandpa said as Sunday strolled toward the house.

Sunday was able to sneak a wink my way as he passed, juggling the mildly resisting colt in his arms.

"Andy, why don't you water Bill's gelding and tie him in the shade," Grandpa said as he followed Sunday toward the house.

I did as he told, checked the progress in the halter-breaking pen, then rushed to the house. I found them gathered around the colt on the screened porch adjoining the front kitchen. Sunday had the colt by the neck, his rump wedged into the northwest corner while Grandma was gently coaxing the colt to try a little raw cow's milk from a rubber nipple stretched over the mouth of a milk bottle. The colt protested and balked until he got the first accidental taste of the milk.

Grandpa chuckled, "Look at that. He's really giving that nipple a once over."

Grandma nodded and smiled. "I think this one just might make it. He's just hungry enough to accept the nipple and not so weak that he doesn't have the strength to suck."

When the colt had drained the bottle of its half-cup contents, Bill suggested that the colt could use some more.

"No," Grandma said firmly. "The worst thing you can do is give him too much, too quickly. I'll give him another taste in an hour or so."

As Grandma withdrew the bottle, the colt strained against Bill's hold.

Grandpa chuckled at the colt's antics. At that moment I wondered if he had been so reluctant to accept the orphan because of the potential of Grandma’s broken heart or his own. As I remember, it was always the two of them staying up all night, trying to save a colt or calf. If fact, it seemed as though Grandma took the death of the young animals a bit better than Grandpa. But, no matter, I could always expect a day of quiet work and silent meals when a youngster didn't make it.

As Bill struggled to restrain him, the colt lurched forward as quick as a rifle shot and kicked the old cowboy in the shoulder. Bill lost his balance falling back into the corner.

"Boy! That little feller's got a hair trigger!" Bill laughed as he rubbed his shoulder and regained his balance.

I grabbed the colt about the neck to hold him before he knocked Grandma from her feet as well. His tiny frame tensed at my touch and his strength was impressive. As I held the colt fast, I noticed the tiny white forehead marking resembling a lightning bolt.

"Lightning." I whispered as I gained control of my prize.

From that day forward, the colt had his name.

We had a bit of luck with the colt two days later. Grandpa showed up for breakfast and reported that Sally, a dark brown American saddle brood mare, had issued a still-born filly during the night. Sally was an extremely protective mare and usually raised a fine colt. Although Grandpa felt that the bloodlines of the still-born filly were better than Lightning's, he was thankful that we had the little buckskin to use as a replacement.

After our usual breakfast of fresh side bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and biscuits, Grandpa and I made our way out to the corral to skin out the dead colt. I stopped by the buggy shed to retrieve a few lengths of binding twine. It was an unpleasant task to skin a still-born colt or calf but it was the surest method for getting a mother to adopt an orphan. By taking the hide from the sides and back of the dead animal and tying it to the orphan's back under the belly with binding twine, the mother's scent would be on the orphan. This usually aroused the mother's maternal instincts toward the foundling. Once the colt had cycled the adopted mother's milk through his system, the hide could be removed. By that time there was enough of the mother's scent on the orphan that she would continue to claim him. It was always an odd sight to see a young colt or calf wearing the crude hide jacket for his first encounter with his adoptive mother, but it usually worked, especially if the mother possessed strong maternal instincts as Sally did. The only other methods available were to try to catch the urine of the mare and pour it over the orphan or simply force an adoption. Forcing an adoption meant tying the mother in a stall and monitoring the sucking of the orphan. This was hard on the mother, orphan and the people involved. It usually meant a daily fight for dominance, and since colts naturally nurse several times a day, grabbing a snack here and there when convenient, the procedure wasn't as natural and usually resulted in a bloat bellied and underfed colt or calf. Neither method worked nearly as well as using the hide. Lightning was accepted immediately by his foster mother and we were able to remove his smelly jacket three days later. It wasn't long until a passer-by would doubted that the little buckskin wasn't the natural offspring of the tall brown.

Grandpa and Grandma had lived together for fifty years. They had raised five children to adulthood, all of them born on the ranch. They were married in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, in 1860, just before homesteading the rolling sandhills of central Kansas, a hundred and fifty miles west. They went west in a covered wagon and settled into a sod dugout that was eventually used as the root cellar on the same sandy knoll where the house stood. Grandma liked to tell of those early years on the prairie. She told of how the young couple had faced down some drunken Indians with a shotgun on the journey out, and the year of the terrible prairie fire when they huddled together in the dugout as the horrendous blaze roared past them. There was the time in 1868 when an Indian uprising caused them to flee in their wagon with two infants to Fort Larned for protection. It was five years before they had a neighbor within five miles. I once asked Grandma if it was lonely during those early years. She said that she thought she was going to lose her mind a few times before the babies came. They would go for months without seeing another soul. She took to talking to herself just for some company. Once she had infants to care for, it wasn't nearly so bad.

The three oldest children, Glenn, Beryl and Opal, were twenty years older than Delmar and Jean. Glenn had served in the military, rising to the rank of cavalry sergeant before taking a position as a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Missouri. Beryl had gone to work for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad when he was sixteen and little had been heard from him after that. They last word from him had come from the Yukon during the gold rush of the 1890s. Rumor had it that he was in California. Opal had married a dry goods merchant from Larned where they prospered until he was killed in a horse wreck. She then married a homesteader who took her off to La Junta, Colorado. She wrote regularly but the distance kept her fairly isolated.

Delmar was my father. He had remained on the ranch to partner up with Grandpa. He and my mother died during an influenza epidemic shortly after I was born. My Aunt Jean was married to the postmaster in St. John, twenty-five miles southeast. It took most of a day to get to the small settlement that had been built around the newly-established Santa Fe railroad but, of all my aunts and uncles, it was Jean who maintained the most contact.

Living with my grandparents was the only life I knew. They had always been old. Our neighbors to the north, the Thairs, were old. Bill Sunday, a bachelor cowboy who ran a one-loop outfit to the east was old. The Porters, a black family of former slaves, lived two miles west. Ben Porter was a good farmer and we shared seasonal work, especially during harvest and hay cutting. But I had little dealings with his children who were mostly girls. I grew up with horses, mules, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs and guns. I went to Eden Valley School through the grades with the Porter girls and a strange kid named Curt O'Dell. Curt always seemed to be in a world of his own - quiet, sullen.... and strange. He didn't finish school. My last year, it was just Polly and Edna Porter, their little brothers and sisters, and some younger children from some other homesteads. At fourteen years of age, I was out of school and ready to see the world. The only problem was that Grandpa and Grandma needed me. It was one thing for the oldest children to leave and go their separate ways, but that was thirty years earlier. They didn't say that I couldn't go. I'm sure they would have allowed me. It was just that I couldn't leave them. We had ranch hands and wranglers but none of them stayed for long. I was part of the ranch. I took pride in it and pride in myself for being a part of it. Even old Bill Sunday said that I was as good a wrangler at fourteen as he had ever seen. But then, when you're raised on the back of a horse, such talents would only come naturally. On the ground I was tall, big footed and awkward.

I was also green. Other than our semi-annual trips to Larned to buy and sell stock, and irregular visits to St. John and Seward, I had little contact with the outside world. We sold grain at the Walnut Hill Mill, twenty miles north on the Arkansas River, and on special occasions, we visited Great Bend. But for the most part, I worked horses and mules, did chores, and helped my grandparents. I worked hard and to the best of my knowledge, never lacked for anything. My prized possessions were my tall crowned Stetson hat, a gift from my uncle Glenn when I finished school; a Heiser Rocky Mountain Roper saddle that had been my father's, and an octagon barreled .22 Winchester pump-action rifle. The little rifle was an eye catcher, nickel plated with extremely dark walnut woodwork. Grandpa bought it from a fellow in Seward who claimed he needed some seed money. Grandpa felt that it was more likely beer money, but, the rifle was a bargain and I needed one to replace a worn out old single shot, Stevens. I was never more than a few feet from the Winchester. As can probably be guessed, I seldom missed anything that I shot at.

Grandpa had two sections of grassland and a quarter section and eighty of farmland. We raised a little wheat, red cane, dry land corn and alfalfa for the livestock. Grandpa built his cow herd up to a hundred head of Herefords and a few Jersey milking cows which was a lot for those times in that area. He also raised mules and horses. He had twenty brood mares and a mammoth jack burro called Simplex that he bred to the mares. He also purchased unbroken colts for training. Sometimes we would have fifty head that needed to be broke. We also kept hogs, chickens, geese, turkeys and ducks for home use. We always had at least one good border collie to help handle stock. Grandpa always named the dog Laddie. After a few years we got so we referred to dogs that had passed on as Laddie One, Laddie Four, or whatever number was appropriate. When Lightning came along, we were on Laddie Five. Laddie had always been a good name and Grandpa was superstitious about changing the name for fear he would get a chicken killer or egg sucker if he did.

Our day work was usually fairly regimented depending upon the season. We arose at sunrise and immediately fed the stock and milked the cows. A couple of hours later we ate breakfast and decided on the day's work. By eight or so we were in the fields or working livestock. By eleven we brought in the teams, fed and watered them. We ate at noon, usually freshly killed fried chicken, boiled potatoes and chicken gravy. We would usually rest for an hour after dinner, unless we were putting up hay or threshing wheat, before returning to the fields. By six o'clock, we would change teams or begin evening chores and milking. Depending upon the season and work to be done, we might eat our supper after chores and return to the fields, or call it a day. Grandpa always tried to keep a couple of men on during the farming season of spring, summer and fall. They did most of the field work while Grandpa handled the stock. During threshing season or hay harvest, we might have crews of twelve men, usually neighbors who shared work. I always enjoyed those times when we had big crews. We ate like kings, each woman at each homestead seemingly trying to outdo the others preparing harvest meals. There was always lots of practical joking and good-natured conversation during those times. The days were long and the work hard but the communal aspects made it fun.

Grandpa had a nice place but it wasn't anything special. We had an enormous barn that was the center of activity during the day. It was a gable roofed affair with a loft and stalls on both sides of a center alley way. "O.C. Tate Horses and Mules" was painted in black on the loft drop door. A hay grapple hung from the peak above the second story loft drop door. Hay was lifted from wagons to the loft and dumped with a pulley system that depended on a team of mules on the opposite end of the barn. When I was small, the grapple team was my responsibility. Later, I usually worked in the barn spreading and stacking the loose hay with a pitchfork. The barn was surrounded on three sides by rough plank corrals. To the south was the breaking corral where most of the horse work took place.

Between the working corral and the house was the wagon and tack shed, a ramshackle clapboard barn with large rolling doors. There was also a chicken house and a brooder house west of the tack shed. On the hill was Grandma's house and the wash house with a windmill for pumping water. There was also a taller windmill in the stock corrals. Hog pens and the outhouses were west of the house at the base of the hill. They seemed to go with each other.

Because of a shortage of lumber on the prairie in the 1870s, the house was begun with a simple ten by twelve single room mail order package from Sears, Roebuck & Company. Most of our store bought clothing came from orders made from the Sears, Roebuck catalog. Later, another room of similar size was added, and still later a twenty by twenty square foot addition was added to the east. Grandma had finally got her screened porch at the north end of the original building that functioned as a kitchen after the turn of the century. Behind the house to the south was the cement root cellar that was poured over the original dugout, a flower garden and vegetable patch. Grandma always worked in the gardens in the early morning when it was cool. There was also a small windmill beside the root cellar that kept a constant supply of cool water circulating through the concrete cooling and storage tanks, and supplied irrigation water for the gardens. Fresh milk and eggs were stored in the cooling tanks as well as canned goods arranged on wooden shelves along three walls. Circling the house on all sides were young cottonwood trees that had been planted in the 1890s. Four American elms also grew near the house at all four points of the compass. A small orchard of pear, cherry, and green apple trees was south of the gardens. There was also a clump of cottonwoods east of the barn where most of the repair work to wagons and machinery was done in the shade.

During the day, the place resounded with the frantic sounds of braying mules, cackling chickens and geese, gobbling turkeys, cattle calls, pig squeals, windmill pumping, hammering and repairing, and men working livestock. In the evening, it was quiet, usually only disturbed by the ever-present mechanical clattering of the windmills, house activities, and the nearly constant wind singing through the cottonwoods. Sitting on the porch in the cool of the evening was my favorite time of day during the summer. After a long day's work it was pleasant to just relax on the porch with a glass of lemonade or tea made from fresh well water. Grandpa would usually smoke a pipe of tobacco and rock in his rocking chair as he waited for Grandma to finish supper dishes. I loved the sweet, heavy and overpowering odor of his pipe smoke. Finally, Grandma would join him in her rocker. After thirty minutes or so, I would get my cue to head for bed. They would remain on the porch for an hour longer.

I often wondered what they talked about during that private time on those late summer evenings. Was it about crops, livestock, plans for the future, or memories of the past? Sometimes I would lie in bed and try to hear the conversation but the sounds were always too far away to make sense. Every once in a while, I would remember something that I felt I needed to bring to their attention before I fell asleep. I would get up and make my way to the porch in the dark to pass on the information. Invariably, they would be holding hands when I stepped through the door.

Lightning matured to become a fine strong cow pony under the protection of his foster mother. As the colt developed, we could expect periodic visits from Bill Sunday. Bill would usually ride in unannounced; spend a few minutes talking with Grandpa about livestock or farming, then casually ask about the colt. This request would always result in a walk to the corrals or horse pasture so Bill could get a look at the colt. Bill would nod his head, comment on the colt's progress, and then make some statement concerning Lightning's ancestry. Bill usually observed that there would not be another horse with the same breeding. Bill planned to breed several good mares to a mustang stud with the idea of eventually selling good cow ponies. He bought a dune mustang from a Comanche Indian in Oklahoma because he had been impressed with the animal's strength, endurance and temperament. Lightning's mother had been the highest priced mare Bill had ever purchased. He chose her because of her thoroughbred bloodline and looks. The old stud died shortly after he serviced the mare and before any of Bill's other mares were ready. The lightning strike on the mare ended the plan completely. Only the little buckskin remained to give Bill any indication of whether his plan had been sound.

Bill had a good eye for horses and his predictions of how the grown colt would look were correct. Lightning grew to become a short thick-set horse barely fourteen hands tall. He had long silky hair growing from behind his fetlocks and the heavy unruly main typical of his mustang father. His ears were narrow and short; his nostrils narrow. These were all traits of the Spanish ancestry characteristic of mustangs.

From his mother he inherited a finely chiseled head, large handsome eyes, and thick set heart girth. He was a full two hands shorter than his foster mother and his neck at least two inches thicker. Bill felt that with his short thick stature, quick speed and strength, the pony ought to be perfect for roping and cutting work.

Grandpa wasn't as impressed. He was of the school preferring tall horses. He complained that Lightning was more the size of a mule rather than a "real" horse. He reluctantly conceded that the little buckskin was awfully "showy" and certainly as quick footed as any animal he had seen. The two old cowboys would often spend a few minutes debating the qualities of the colt before returning to the house for a glass of tea or fresh well water.

Everyone paid special attention to the colt. Even Grandma, who usually paid little attention to such matters, would occasionally take a walk in the pasture to check on the colt. I usually spent a quarter hour or so fooling with the colt every morning. Laddie always accompanied me. I tried to have a bit of apple, a handful of grain, or a little sugar robbed from Grandma's pantry for Lightning.

The colt would usually come running to me, his mother calmly watching warily from a distance. Playful and skittish, Lightning would usually run toward me at a full gallop then throw on the brakes at the last instant. He would eagerly accept my treats but always with a close eye on my hands and the dog, sweeping away suddenly if he felt I was getting just a bit too close. He would jump and pitch as he turned away, often with an excited squeal that always brought his foster mother to attention. He never went very far though, always eager to be as independent as possible, but never so far that he might forfeit some goody that I might still have to offer. He would stand apart from me facing away, showing his rump, but always watching my actions. Eventually, after demonstrating the proper degree of independence, he would casually turn about and return to my offerings. There would always be time for the morning nose touch of greeting with the collie, a cautious but friendly recognition of each other's presence.

Then, as quick as a flash, he was off to the mare. Laddie was usually eager to give chase but a word from me held him back. Although Sally was never very happy with the presence of the dog, Laddie and the colt could often be found renewing acquaintances in the horse pasture. There was something about the colt's antics that fascinated the collie. Both seemed enthralled with the other's strange appearance. They became comfortable companions. In the heat of the afternoon, Laddie could often be found resting in the shade of an old elm tree in the pasture, the colt usually nearby or resting beside him. Generally, Sally tolerated their unusual friendship with mild disapproval.

Grandpa and Bill made the decision early to geld the colt. Both felt that he would be of more value as a gelding rather than as a stud. Breeders would have little interest in Lightning's unique bloodline. Bill did not feel that the colt would be able to carry out his plan for a new type of horse. When Lightning turned two, it became time for him to get his education. His halter breaking session with Nan was uneventful, but his first experience with the saddle was not smooth. In spite of the fact that he had spent a full day and night snubbed closely to the center post of the breaking corral before the attempt was made, the fiesty colt did not take well to presence of the heavy breaking saddle. He puffed up and attempted to kick free of the halter and the saddle. He went to his knees in a vain attempt to roll the foreign object from his back. Grandpa had tied the halter rope too closely to the post for him to make a roll. The colt groaned in anger and sullenly refused to move or get back to his feet. Grandpa patiently suggested that we give him a few hours to come to terms with his bondage before attempting a ride.

By that evening, the colt had been twenty-four hours without water or feed. When we returned he was standing at the center post, resigned to the saddle on his back. I untied him and led him to the stock tank. He followed calmly and drank his fill. He also eagerly accepted a green apple that I had procured from Grandma's orchard.

The following morning, I saddled up Old Ben, one of Grandpa's better riding horses, and led the saddled colt on a brisk five mile workout. When we returned the colt was sweaty and tired. Grandpa always preached that a colt learned best when he was exhausted and the fight gone. Before the colt had time to regain his strength, we slipped on a hackamore, tightened the cinch of the breaking saddle and led him into the bucking pen. Grandpa slipped an old saddle blanket over the colt's eyes as I swung into the “bear trap” bucking saddle. Grandpa used the unusual Flynn saddle for all preliminary breaking work. This saddle had a very wide swell that swept backward from the horn so a rider was literally in a trap between the high-back cantle and the backward fork. It was excellent for staying in the saddle but almost impossible to get out of should the horse fall with the rider. Bill Sunday considered it a dangerous device and often commented that Grandpa should retire it to the barn. The saddle had been instrumental in my breaking my leg when a sorrel mare threw herself with me the preceding year. I still liked the Flynn for breaking because, once I was set in the seat, it was nearly impossible for a horse to throw me. After the experience with the sorrel, however, I was much more wary of a horse throwing himself.

Lightning humped up and threatened to pitch but he was too confused and tired to go through with it. While his crude blindfold was still in place, Grandpa led him around the pen several times until he became familiar with the weight on his back. After I gathered up the reins of the hackamore so the colt could not get his head down to buck, Grandpa gently slipped the blanket from his eyes.

"Now, keep his head up and watch your legs," Grandpa quietly suggested as he slipped the blanket free. "I wouldn't be surprised if he chose to throw himself."

I nodded and braced my thighs into the exaggerated swells of the bear trap saddle. I wasn't eager to spend another winter on crutches and was ready to bail off if I suspected the colt would throw himself.

As Grandpa backed cautiously away, Lightning froze and trembled with uncertainty.

"Make him go," Grandpa said softly.

I relaxed a bit against the saddle to see if that would set the colt off. I waited a few seconds then gently prodded his flanks with the heels of my boots. I never wore spurs when breaking a horse. The colt humped up again in confusion but did not move.

"He's going to be stubborn," Grandpa said as he took hold of the hackamore under the colt's chin.

Grandpa gently increased the forward force and tried to lead the colt as I gently prodded Lightning in the flanks. Lightning took a faltering step forward, then another and another. Grandpa let go of the hackamore and allowed him to pass by. The colt kept on walking in a circle around the center post of the pen, staying a safe distance from the surrounding corral fence.

We made one circle around the post before Grandpa ordered, "Make him trot."

I nodded and braced myself against the fork of the saddle squaring my rump into the high backed cantle of the bear-trap saddle. At this point of a first ride, there was never a certainty of how a colt would react to the heel pressure on his flanks. Some went into a trot, some would balk, but a few would blow up underneath the rider.

Lightning puffed up and gave serious consideration to throwing a fit as I increased the pressure of my heels. After a bit of coaxing, he changed his mind and broke into his faster gait. Following a couple more circles around the pen at the trot, Grandpa nodded his head approvingly and ordered a halt.

I drew back the reins slowly until the colt came to a stop. He seemed to be resigned to my presence and showed little inclination to fight my commands.

"What do you think?" Grandpa asked as he stepped to the colt and took hold of the hackamore.

"He's ready," I answered. "Turn him out."
“Why don't you ride him over to Bill's," Grandpa said as he softly stroked Lightning on the neck with his free hand. "He'd like to see the colt being ridden and it's about the right distance for a first ride."

I nodded and patted Lightning’s neck. Grandpa stepped away and opened the heavy swinging gate of the breaking corral. As I rode the colt across the farmyard I caught sight of Grandma standing next to the yard fence.

"Looks like he decided to be a gentleman," Grandma called.

"I think so.”

"Watch him. He's quick coupled enough to throw you before you know what's happening," Grandpa said.

I nodded and waved to both of them as we made our way down the lane. Lightning seemed glad to be free of the pen even if he was packing his unfamiliar load. We went down the lane easily and made the turn onto the road.

On the way to Bill's, I alternated the colt's gaits from walk to trot to gallop. He pitched the first time we broke into gallop but it was a half-hearted effort.

Lightning carried himself nicely. He was a smooth gaited two-year-old with a short neck. I could easily see why he would work well as a roping and cow pony. A high-headed horse was something of a bother when trying to manage a roping loop and Lightning kept his head low and set forward.

By the time we reached Bill Sunday's place, he was pretty tired. Grandpa firmly believed that a horse didn't really begin learning anything until it was too tired to fight. He also believed that any colt that wasn't allowed to buck during his early training, was unlikely to buck after being finished. The tactic didn't always work but in Lightning's case it proved correct. After that first day, he never bucked no matter how difficult his circumstances.

Sunday was waiting in the yard for my visit. He smiled as I approached his two-room cabin. "Looks like you've worked him out nicely.”

I leaned forward over the saddle horn and stroked Lightning's neck. "He's done real well."

"Step down, Andy. Let's give him a breather before you start back.”

I eased to the ground and led him to Bill's watering tank. Bill and I led him to the shade of a large cottonwood that grew next to the cabin.

Being a Texan, Bill was of the habit of squatting over his knees rather than sitting on the ground. He squatted and began rolling himself a cigarette from the makings he carried in his shirt pocket.

"What do you think of him?" he asked matter-of-factly as I sat on the ground next to him.

"I think he'll be alright."

Sunday struck a match against the handle of his old Colt and lit his cigarette. "Your grandpa and I are sorta partners on this feller. We talked it over the other day and decided that if you liked him, the horse ought to be yours.”

"You think so?"

"Yeah. I'd hate to see him sold and we both think you need a horse of your own."

"Thanks, Bill. I think that would be alright,"

"There is one condition," Bill said after taking another puff on his cigarette.

"What's that?"

"I think that after you've broke him to the lariet and got him cattle wise, some feller's going to offer you quite a price for him. I'm asking that you don't sell him, no matter what you're offered. Hell, if you need to.... to get yourself off the spot.... tell that feller he's Bill Sunday's colt and you can't sell him."

Of course I wouldn't sell the colt. It was funny that the old cowboy had thought up some tactic for me to keep from selling Lightning no matter how tempting the offer.

"I'll tell you what, Bill. As far as anyone's concerned he's Sunday's colt. We'll just be partners on him. How's that?"

Bill put out his hand to seal the deal. "That would be fine, partner. That would be just fine."

During the course of the following year, we turned Lightning into a solid roping horse. Although we didn't do as much roping as the large outfits farther west, it was important that we had horses that knew the work. Pink eye was a problem in the summer. Hoof rot was an ailment demanding immediate care. Cows in trouble during calving season in the spring had to be caught. A roping horse needed to be able to hold a calf while it was being doctored. Roping demanded speed, intelligence and strength.

It wasn't the custom to dally rope. Dally roping was a practice developed by the Mexican vaqueros using forty foot braided leather lariats and large raw hide covered saddle horns. Once a vaquero roped an animal he wrapped the end of his lariat around the saddle horn and either took up or let out slack, as the situation demanded. This saved on the lariat and preserved the weak saddle frame. We tied our lariats hard and fast to smooth steel saddle horns. The saddles weren't designed for taking a quick wrap with our twenty-foot hemp lariats. Much of our roping was done in sand hills laced with plumb thickets and willows. There wasn't time to make a dally wrap after catching a calf. Our saddles were heavy with two cinches, one in front and another at the back, to keep them from tipping forward when the lariat went tight after a catch. The saddles featured high cantles, heavy swells at the fork, large square skirts and wide fenders. The stirrups were often iron rather than wood. My Heiser weighed over forty pounds and was designed for heavy roping and dragging. Wrecks were not common but could happen if a calf veered off at an angle before the rope was tight, or managed to get a tree or bush between the horse and itself after a catch. For this reason we often had a strap with the lariat fed between it and the horse's neck to keep a newly trained pony's head in line with the calf after the catch. It didn't take long for a horse to learn to keep the lariat at an angle of the best advantage. Lightning excelled under the lariat. He was quick enough to get in close and stay with the calf. He was also solid enough to take the heavy pounding of the force of catching a calf; and he liked it. Some horses never do take well to being tied to a fighting calf. Others seem to enjoy the power over another animal. Lightning was that kind of horse. Old timers called such horses "cow wise."

 


END OF SAMPLE



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