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The life of a cowgirl...

We found our Honored Guest Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns' communications to us so interesting -- and we've long been admirers of her writing, both prose and poetry -- that we asked Rhonda if we might share some of her occasional notes (and maybe some poetry now and then) about life from her part of the West. 

Ranch-reared in northeastern Wyoming, Rhonda has spent most of her life in the ranching industry. As a writer and performer of cowboy poetry, she's been featured at cowboy culture events in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming.  You can read some of her poetry here at the BAR-D.  Rhonda was inducted as a Cowgirl Honoree to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1977 and received the All-Around Cowboy Culture Award at the 2000 National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration in Lubbock, Texas.  She was the first woman to receive that prestigious award.  Read more about Rhonda and some of her poetry right here.


Rhonda and her cowboy, Will

Rhonda suggested that we call her continuing column, Howdy from the Double Spear.  The Double Spear brand was the one her family used exclusively when she was growing up.  And Rhonda's radio show is called The Double Spear Ranch Radio Show.  Rhonda says "Brands are an important part of our cowboy and ranching tradition, an' they mean a lot to me."


We've invited Rhonda to write what she'd like to write, whenever she'd like to write it.

You can write to Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns at: 1159  Hwy 450, Newcastle, WY 82701 or email her.

Below you'll find Rhonda's words from ....

2004

October, tribute to Charlie Hunt (separate page)
July, tribute to Howard Parker (separate page)

2003

July/August
June
May
Mid April
Mid January
Early January

2002

Early December
Late November
Mid November

Always more to come...

 


July/August, 2003

Howdy again,

We've been busier than the cat that ate the ExLax around the ol' Double Spear since you heard from us the end of June!

Thanks to all the wonderful folk who make up the Academy of Western Artists, our dear friend Georgie Sicking from Kaycee, Wyoming, an' I were nominated an' voted into the top ten of female cowboy poets for 2003.  I didn't know a thing about it until I got a congratulatory e-mail from friend Jim Thompson, who was himself voted to the top ten of radio deejay's . . . an' it about blew me away!

When I called Georgie she didn't know a thing about it, either . . . but my cowboy told her if she'd make it to the top five we'd take her to Fort Worth for the Will Rogers awards in early July.  Well, one day another e-mail came, this time from Yvonne Hollenbeck, tellin' me I'd joined her an' four other gals in the top five category . . . like WOW!

So, the die was cast, we called Georgie to get her bags packed an' figured we'd head out for Cowtown.  Meanwhile, editor Madonna Lindley at SADDLEBARON magazine out of Amarillo called to see if I could do some interviews for her over the July 4th weekend around Taos, New Mexico.

Now, lem'me see . . . on my map that's somewhere between Wyoming an' Fort Worth . . . an' in my mind that's somewhere I've always wanted to spend more time, so of course I told 'er "You betcha' booties I can!"  Ended up we headed out'ta Wyoming on July 2nd an' slept in Taos that night, along with the followin' three nights.

Madonna is a heck'uva tour guide an' we made tracks along the Enchanted Circle through Taos, Red River, Eagle Nest, Cimarron, an' all the other beautiful country thereabouts for a few days, workin' in two good visits with our buddies an' fellow Cowgirl Hall of Fame honorees Ruby Gobble an' Gretchen Sammis on their Chase Ranch out of Cimarron, as well as some time with Linda Davis, boss lady of the historic CS Ranch.  We even finagled an invitation to the CS Ranch Picnic in Cimarron on Independence Day, celebratin' their Centennial Year!

Georgie was invited to join Michael Martin Murphey on stage in Red River that evenin', but opted out for a Chase Ranch barbecue.   It was well worth it, 'cause we saw a big ol' bear out in their apple orchard, not 50 yards from the house!  To say nothing of all the good food, drink, an' conversation . . . which made it really hard to say 'adios' an' head on back to Taos.

We're a pretty carefree crowd when we hit the trail together, but we did get ourselves gathered up an' made it on into Cowtown on the 6th to take in the AWA Convention an' Will Rogers Awards Show.   This was the first year of the Convention, although the great outfit Bobby Newton an' friends started some time ago has been meetin' on an annual basis to give out the Will Rogers Awards.   Since none of us had ever been to an AWA event, we met a lot'ta new folk --  but of course they're the same kind'a good people you find at any cowboy culture gatherin' an' it didn't take long to get acquainted.

That Will Rogers Awards Show is a pretty high class shindig for country hicks like us . . . talk about shiny, now . . . it's shiny!  I was sittin' there bug-eyed like a kid at the circus when they announced the Female Cowboy Poet award for 2003, expectin' to start whoopin' an hollerin' for our friend Yvonne  Hollenbeck who was nominated for so many categories I was sure she'd win.  Jeff Hildebrandt read off the Top 10, opened that envelope an' said it was empty . . . then he called MY NAME!!  Well, a feather could'a pushed me over, an' I'm a big ol' girl . . . but my eyes sure did run over an' my mouth sure did dry up an' figgered I couldn't say a thing when Jeff put that beautiful Will Rogers trophy in my hand.

It's so darned heavy I nearly dropped it, an' I guess that brought me back to reality an' I must'a mumbled somethin' . . . anyhow when I woke up the next mornin' ol Will Rogers was sittin' right there beside me, provin' it wasn't a dream!  If anybody involved in AWA reads this, THANK YOU for helpin' make such a thrill of a lifetime possible!  You'll never know how much it means to me.

Y'know what, though?  Those are darned big boots to fill . . . an' I'm sure feelin' the responsibility an' wonderin' if I'll be an' do everything somebody wearin' a title like "Top Cowgirl Poet " is supposed to do!  I sure hope I don't let anybody down!!

I sure do want'a encourage any of you who care about cowboy ideals, poems, music, stories an' such to join the AWA.  Tommy Tucker has graciously allowed me to be on the Board of Directors for AWA Region #4, an' I count it a real priv'ledge to be involved with such a great outfit!  To learn more or find out how to join, just go to the website at  http://www.awa-awards.org/.

Sandra Herl runs that end of the business, an' you'll never meet a nicer gal . . . nor a more efficient one . . . nor a harder-workin' one.  Her husband Steve's a pretty nice guy, too...

In our e-mail correspondence before goin' down to Fort Worth, Sandra happened to relate a funny little incident at their place an' it inspired the followin' poem:

Surprise!!

The day had been busy, with horses to trim --
That string of Larry Hannon's --
It was dark-thirty 'fore they made it home
But ya' got'ta earn that mammon!

Our horses were hungry, Steve said he would feed,
The dogs would supervise him.
Off to the barn they went without thought of
Anything there to surprise 'em.

Then from the corn hopper a racket arose --
'Twas somethin' in the bottom!
The dogs circled wildly, each giving voice,
Steve wondered, "What could possess 'em?"

He flung back the tarp an' (like Pandora's box)
Great turbulence exploded!
It swirled all around him -- fury and sound --
His dogs most eagerly goaded

Whatever it was that flew, clawed and floated
Like specters disembodied!
Survival instinct kicked in on ol' Steve --
Who wish't that he'd learned Karate!

He took a firm grip on his mind an' said "Whoa!"
There's sure an explanation
For all'a this noise, this fur an' this dust --
"Coons!" came his loud exclamation . . . .

By then he could see 'em, in hasty retreat
Three fat ones, fresh gorged on corn!
He called back his dogs, "Here, boys, be calm now,
You're cow dogs, an' coons y' should scorn!"

They finished the feedin', went back to the house
But Sandra they weren't foolin';
She saw dog's tongues lollin', she heard 'em pant
Her husband high-colored an' sweatin' . . .

She flushed out the story, they had a good laugh
From now on they'll tell the yarn --
Of all the excitement one Sunday in May
When they surprised coons in the barn.

© Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns 3/27/03

Mother an' Father Stearns stayed with their other son Joe an' wife Kate at their ranch near Big Timber, Montana, while we made our wild run to New Mexico an' Texas, so after pullin' freight from Fort Worth the 9th an' arrivin' home the 10th, Georgie an' I an' my blue heeler Bob (she's a girl with a boy's name) climbed back in the car an' headed north the mornin' of the 11th.  We dropped Georgie at home in Kaycee an' trekked on to the Stearns outfit before pullin' up . . . an' the homemade margarita's an' chiles rellenos Kate cooked up for supper made the trip seem like nothing!

They run a great greenhouse an' produce business, so we were blessed to come home with fresh tomatoes an' cucumbers an' all sorts'a great garden goodies . . . an' we all loaded up an' came home the following day.  I kinda' felt like the wheels were still turnin' for some time . . . Fort Worth to Big Timber an' back to the Double Spear in four days is a pretty good little trip!

My cowboy turned hayseed for the month of July, tradin' horses for tractors, balers, swathers an' such, so he was ready for the little family getaway we closed the month with, at the foot of Wyoming's beautiful Big Horn Mountains.  I was horse judge for the 4-H, FFA and open portions of the Big Horn County Fair at Basin the 28th an' 29th and we went up over Powder River Pass an' through Tensleep Canyon and came home through Shell Canyon and over the mountains into Dayton.  I worked hard in the heat for two days while the rest of the family enjoyed leisure time at a beautiful motel, but the scenery coming an' going was enjoyed by all.

I do enjoy judgin' horses, too.  However I had a very hard task the first morning, havin' to disqualify several top competitors from the Showmanship class, due to their use of glitter, braiding an' banding of manes and forelocks, all specifically forbidden in the Wyoming Youth Horse Show handbook.  These kids had worked hard all year to go to State Fair, an' it brought me to tears to give 'em the gate, but life is based on rules, an' they're never gon'na learn any younger that ignorance is no excuse an' we live or die by the rules whether we like 'em or not.

In an effort to soften the blow, an' to let 'em know I knew exactly how they felt, I told 'em the story of Casey Darnell, great horseman an' Quarter Horse judge from New Mexico, disqualifying me from a reining class at Fort Meade, South Dakota, back in the 1960's.  I rode last an' ran what I figured was almost a perfect pattern on a slippery turf course an' when I rode up for him to check my bit he said, "Little girl, you just won this reining class."  Now, I was ridin' against mostly men, professional trainers who showed horses for some'a the top breeders in the country at that time . . . men like LeRoy Webb, Jack Rydberg, Bill Frick, Sonny Jim Orr, Stanley Glover . . . an' I was about to swell up an' bust my buttons when he continued, sayin' "It's too bad I have to disqualify you because you have a noseband on this bridle."  Talk about a bombshell . . . we'd started usin' an old pony bridle on my horse General Leo because he worked well with the bit . . . never realizin' the old-fashioned wide tooled leather headstall had both a browband and noseband, and the Quarter Horse rule book specifically prohibited the use of nosebands!

I've been forever indebted to Casey Darnell for waking me up to the point I never compete in anything without being certain I know ALL the rules and am in compliance . . . an' those kids at Basin probably won't in the future, either.

We lost a dear friend, great cowboy, fine horseman an' the dean of horse auctioneers when Jack Campbell rode over the Great Divide on a good Paint horse early in August.  Jack was always one of my heroes, an' someone I held in high esteem.  I was very proud when Judy asked me to participate in the memorial service held at his longtime home, Douglas, Wyoming, an' I wrote the followin' poem for the occasion:

Our Jack

His daddy was a horseman, and he to a horseman grew,
'Cause the Campbell's lived with horses.  What else was there to do?
Horses moved the nation, turned the wheels and hauled the freight;
And bucked off wild, reckless cowboys when they nodded for the gate.

Jack grew up 'round the auction, learnin' horses, learnin' mules,
Learned the patter, learned the people, learned to play by all the rules.
With his friends he'd stage an auction - it was him who held the mic -
He already knew his calling, knew his life would be a sight!

His father bought him little red boots, up in Laramie.
Jack never forgot the time or place, 'cause they'd come to see
The end of an equine era, as the CBC's sold out,
And Jack would get enthused again, each time he told about

The thousands of horses, bunched 'crost the Laramie Plains,
Awaitin' the auctioneer's gavel; then to be shipped out of there by train.
The pageant lasted several days, and Jack never missed a detail,
'Cause he was a horseman-in-training, for a future filled with sales.

Jack learned to read the equine mind, and mold it to his bidding.
Break horses an' mules to ride and to drive? Buddy, are you kidding?
He was the best - a man among men - who called the horse his friend;
He bred them, he broke them, he trained them . . . his talent knew no end.

Quarter Horses, Palominos and Paints benefited from Campbell genetics,
He blended bloodlines, found the right mix, of "pretty" and "atheletic".
From Pine Bars to Painted Robin, Campbell horses all won fame,
Both AQHA and APHA knew Jack by his first name.

But he was known best at the auction, 'cause it was his forte -
When equines passed 'neath his gavel, top dollar would be paid.
The market was putty in his hands, and he could give it life,
Tweak it and boost and and bring it along, just when the time was right.

The youngest . . . and the oldest . . . both titles would he claim,
In his world of auctioneers, where he worked his way to fame.
He could sell 'em fast , he could sell 'em high, the way that few men could;
'Cause anything that Jack would do, you could bet that he'd do good!

Like bein' a husband and father, the best part of his life;
He loved that son and daughter, and his Mary was his pride!
When Jack was bereaved, God chose to relieve his loneliness through Judy,
For two decades they made happy trails, Jack and his blonde beauty.

Jack lived some in Colorado, and a lot in Wyoming,
Then ended up in Oklahoma . . . where the water made him sing;
"A place where Mother Nature does the irrigatin',"
Was how he described the place at Jay - so long he had been waitin'

To live where there was always plenty of water and grass.
We're sure his range is that way now, since the Great Divide he's passed;
He's found the perfect auction barn, an' cried the perfect sale,
An we know darn sure he took great pains to leave us a perfect trail!

He knows we're comin' to join him, 'cause now we miss him so,
He knows we wish he could have stayed - that he didn't have to go!
Let's be thankful for the mem'ries, and the legacy he left,
And celebrate the life we shared with this hero of the West!

© Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns 8/12/03

My cowboy spent most of the month of August at the Fiddleback while Gary an' Cheryl enjoyed an Alaskan cruise.  I was to get in on gatherin' bulls when they arrived home, but a short in the starter on the motor home left me an' the folks grounded at home, so I missed all the fun!  Will arrived home just in time for a surprise party a bunch of friends an' family threw for me in honor of my Will Rogers award . . . what I thought was to be supper for six or eight at a cousin's house turned into a carry-in for 30-some in  a friend's beautiful yard . . . did they ever pull a sneak!  I was definitely overwhelmed an' flabbergasted. but it was wonderful!

August ended with the folks an' Georgie Sicking accompanying Will an' me to the festivities at the Cheyenne Cowboy Symposium an' Celebration. It was better than ever, with more people turnin' out for the awesome show General Manager Pat McKelvey an her great staff of volunteers always put on.  A huge cast of talented folk pulled in from several states to entertain visitors from across the nation an' a good time was had by all from August 28th through the 31st.  I especially enjoy moderating the roundtable discussions by pioneers on opening Thursday . . . what a lot of wonderful history there is to learn!

We barely got time to do laundry an' re-pack  before headin' to Lubbock, Texas for the National Cowboy Symposium an' Celebration.  We left home September 3rd an' arrived in Lubbock the evening of the 4th for their annual Awards Show where the coveted Cowboy Culture awards are given.  I was especially pleased to see good friend and fellow Cowgirl Hall of Fame honoree Betty Simms Solt receive the Pioneer Woman award and another Roswell, New Mexico resident Keith W. Avery receive the Artist award. Keith's been a dear friend for years an' it was my distinct privilege to author his biography, TRAILS OF A WANDERER.

This was Mother an' Father Stearns' first trip to Lubbock, an' they totally enjoyed the papers, poetry, music, storytelling an' other activities along with the huge trade fair, chuckwagon cookoff featurin' 35 top wagons, an' the Texas Farrier's Association convention where they watched contestants trim an' shoe big Percheron horses like they'd both been raised with, and had driven to farm and feed cattle as kids an' young adults.  They even stayed up to watch me on the second night show Friday, which was WAY past their usual bedtime.

They evidently weren't too tired after arriving home late the 8th, 'cause they went along to watch the great new movie Seabiscuit the 10th! Heck, they're only 87 an' 91 . . . why would they be tired?

They were as mesmerized as we were by the blinding, blowing snowstorm we had here at the Double Spear the afternoon of the 17th . . . which turned the world totally white around us an' chilled the thermometer down to 28 degrees!  It wasn't the first time such a thing has happened.  One year as we were trailing pairs the 35 miles home from government pasture such a storm hit, dumping nearly two feet of snow here on the Double Spear the 15th of September.  It fell in the night, with the cattle in a trap halfway home, and a good dozen miles yet to go.  It was actually warmer and milder the day after it snowed than the day before, which was racked with icy winds, but it was rough going with that much snow on the ground.

I know one thing, I'm packin' lots'a long johns an' coveralls an' heavy socks an' overshoes an' Scotch caps an' heavy gloves an' other such modern conveniences before we start the fall gather!  In fact, the calendar says that event is imminent, so I'd better go start findin' all that stuff right now...

Always more to come...

June, 2003

After the brandin' was finished on the Fiddleback Ranch, the pairs had to be moved on West toward the headwaters of Antelope Creek, an' the dry cows had to be sorted off and sent back East toward the ranch headquarters.

Our cowboy tepee became quite popular in the neighborhood because it rained most of the days we were out there in it . . . even had several offers to just camp on certain outfits for the summer!

Canvas is a funny thing . . . it turns water quite well, unless you touch it or it comes in contact with some solid object and rubs against it, in which case that creates kind of a funnel-effect, routin' the water right inside with you!  Given the Wyoming wind which keeps things in motion most of the time, after a week or so the bed tarp even managed to get fairly damp.  The whole outfit needed a good airing and dryin'-out in the sun after the weather changed.   Raised in this dry ol' country as both of us were, always needin' rain, always prayin' for rain, always rejoicin' and givin' thanks for rain, we took the damp sleepin' arrangements with gratitude, an' hated to see the wet spell end.

Spring is an awesome time to be horseback a'way out in the country for many reasons, an' seein' the wildlife with their young is one of the most important.  Sittin' on your horse lookin' down at a spotted mule deer or whitetail fawn, the little thing flattened to the ground an' scarcely breathin' because he thinks he's hidden from your view, is a wondrous thing.

Havin' the little antelope fawns bleat an' leap into full run from almost between your horse's front feet is no less impressive, but sure can require better ridin' skills!  Soon as you get the ol' pony gathered up an' quit tryin' to outrun the fawn, you can watch in wonder at the speed of one so young.

When y' live on the land for well over half a century, y' get to thinkin' you've seen everything in nature, every cast of shadow or variation of light, every plant an' animal an' know their behavior like you were one of 'em . . . an' then somethin' happens to show you "you ain't seen nothin' yet"!  That was how I felt when the fawn antelope showed me just how unpredictable they can be one day in June.

We'd put in a full mornin' of moving and pairin' up cows an' calves and pushin' them through a gate into a distant pasture, then got back to the old Fiddleback Ranch buildings on the Cheyenne River for lunch.  Eatin' around the long table in the old original house, where countless cowboys have chowed down over the last hundred years or so, is quite a religious experience.  You stare at the gaslights on the walls an' find yourself wonderin' who all an' what  all they've seen, wishin' the old wainscoated walls could speak, or the log beams runnin' overhead could tell y' of the times gone by.  Y' get to ponderin' on how those hands had been doin' the same kind'a work you're feelin' so tired from, sittin' a saddle in pursuit of the backside of a cow critter, coverin' the same trails, lookin' at the same ol' hills an' ridges an' cottonwood trees, smellin' the same dust an' sage an' horse sweat . . .an' y' experience an uncanny sense of kinship with somethin' not quite tangible but surely present.

It was hot, an' the boss decreed a short siesta after we ate.  Then we saddled fresh horses an' started to gather a hundred or more pairs from the pasture around the buildings, plannin' to ease them on West an' get them mothered through the gate before dark.

There were six of us horseback, an' the pairs were pretty unsettled just two days after brandin', so when they saw horsebacker's circling them, even though we were movin' slow and easy, quite a little bawling ensued.  Cows were runnin' to where their calves were bedded, calves were runnin toward where they heard their mom's callin', an' it was general noisy bedlam.

The boss and I were on the outside circle, some distance from any of the cattle, and ridin' in a long trot when we topped a ridge and spooked up six antelope fawns, bedded down with one old babysitter doe.  The whole outfit lit out from there, an' circled back into the middle of the cows.  Four or five more does, with four additional fawns in tow, had been spooked up across the bunch an' they headed toward our bunch.

They kind'a made a rendezvous out in the middle of the cattle, an' the old does swirled around an' headed off to the northeast, where there were no riders.  Maybe the noise of the cattle confused the fawns an' kept them from hearin' the old does givin' directions, or maybe they just decided to act like a bunch of renegade teenagers.   I'll never know.  Anyhow, a little buck with black knobs on his head where his horns will one day grow was the ringleader, an' he headed back to where we'd spooked the first bunch from, an' people, he was fair packin' the mail!  What did the rest of them do but take a notion to follow him . . . an' here they came, straight at me ,where I was getting some sleepyheaded calves up from their afternoon nap an' kickin' them in toward the gathering bunch.

This first little buck was quite a way in the lead, an' movin lots faster than the rest, an' he busted by me with not even a sidewise glance, tore on up the hill to where he'd been bedded with the babysitter just minutes before, and flattened himself on the ground there.  The other nine were less in a hurry an' a lot more curious about all the unusual activity an' noise, so they came at a little mincing trot, or maybe a leisurely walk, all in a straight little line behind the lead fawn.  There was quite a gap between fawn # 1 an' fawn #2, but the rest stayed fairly close, maybe 10 to 20 yards between 'em.

Knowin' here was somethin' I'd never seen before . . . an' guessin' I prob'ly never would see it again . . . I just took a brief sabbatical from my cow gatherin' an' rested my elbow on Soldier's neck to watch this dandy little parade.  Since we were sittin' so still, the fawns weren't spooked, an' just pranced right on by, maybe 30' - 40' from us.  All were lookin' up the hill where the lead fawn had dropped, an' some continued past like they were wearin' blind bridles.  Others turned their big bulging eyes on us an' paused to sniff, then their little hackles an' fans would stiffen an' puff out an' they'd hurry a few steps.  Some stopped an' gave us the slightest flick of a big ol' ear, then went on about their business as if we weren't worthy of note.

My horse seemed as awestruck as I was, never turnin' to look for the other riders or frettin' to go on, just focused on these silly little fawns an' the shines they were cuttin' for us . . . like it was our own private show.  Accordin' to Murphy's law, I had packed Shelly's camera an' snapped pictures of her cowboyin' experience all forenoon, but she'd put it in her backpack to carry for the afternoon . . . an' while she an' her Dad were where they could see this thing happenin', she was too far away to record it on film.  But we all have it on memory file, forever!

Before we got all the cows to summer range, the Stearns outfit had to take a little break an' head for Casper, some hundred milesfrom the Fiddleback, for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) Finals, NIRA Alumni Reunion, an' Wyoming High School Rodeo Association (WHSRA) Reunion.  Talk about switchin' gears...

At dark on Friday my cowboy an'I an' one other hand were drenched with rain, pelted with small hail, dodgin' lightning so close the thunder followed immediately an' made the ol' ponies grab their tails an' try to fly . . . while tryin' to get a bunch of wild, raunchy, renegade dry cows back down the River to put several fences between them an' the pairs we'd just spent the whole afternoon sortin' them off of.  When we finally got the mission accomplished, got to the headquarters well into "can't see", unsaddled an' turned the horses on grass, we climbed in the motor home with Mother an' Father Stearns an' headed for civilization.

At 10 am on Saturday I was on stage at the NIRA Alumni Convention, givin' a talk on the years I played the organ for the NIRA Finals  at the Montana State University Fieldhouse in Bozeman, Montana, an' recitin' some cowboy rhymes.  We then enjoyed the NIRA Alumni luncheon an' awards ceremony, the WHSRA reunion, an' that evening the final performance of the 2003 NIRA Finals Rodeo.  Mother Stearns, at 91, stood beside me an' sang every word of the National Anthem as the rodeo opened, then whooped an' hollered for the contestants 'till she was hoarse . . . you just can't take the country out of a girl!!

We'd promised the boss to be back on duty at the Fiddleback by noon the followin' day, Father's Day 2003, an' on the drive back I found pen an' paper to put down a poem that'd been workin' around in my head for over a week.  It ended up bein' pretty much a chronicle of where we'd been an' what we'd seen that month, an' I dedicated it to my cowboy an' his cowboy dad for Father's Day.  It goes like this:

The Jing-Jangs

He said he had been out in the jing-jangs
An' the kid sort'a looked at him strange—
Grey, wrinkled, stove-up . . . wind-dried ol' relic
Of the wild an' wide Wyoming range.

"Now, jist where in the hell is the jing-jangs?"
The kid snickered, aside, to his friends.
“Well, I'm reckonin', son," said the old one,
"It's someplace that you ain't never been."

An' . . . most likely, y' never will see it,
'Cause its range y'r trails won't never cross—
An' I reckon that's best, in the long run,
'Cause out there you would damned sure be lost!

It 's that range way off North of 'blue yonder',
An' some West of the place rainbows end—
Yep, a country that most folk don't know of,
Where those wide, rolling vistas begin.

It's the home of the elk an' the bobcat,
Where big mule deer an' whitetail abound . . .
An', (give thanks to the dear God who made it)
There jist ain't many people around.

Just the ones that He picked to be stewards—
The wise few that He knows understands
How sweet, precious, an' rare is the priv'lege
To dwell deep in the heart of this land.

Strong folk, tuned to the rhythms of nature,
An' toughened by her many extremes—
Perched there on the raw edge of 'existing';
Hardy people who never would dream

About whinin', demandin' or strikin',
If'n things wasn't goin' their way—
Or to open their mouth for complainin'
Of the work they must do ev'ry day.

'Cause their folks raised em' all up on 'rugged',
An' 'easy' is a term they don't ken—
The kind of soft livin' you fellers know
To their mind would be vergin' on sin.

As fer me son, well, I thrive on ranch work,
So I think like the horse an' the cow—
To my mind they are quite a lot smarter
Than the mankind that dwells in big towns.

Yet . . . I've not told y' much of the jing jangs . . .
'Cause it's nothin' y' spit out in words—
It's more in my heart an' gut than my head . . .
M' pony's eye . . . the jingle of spurs.

It rides on the night air in y'r tepee,
When the moon glistens in through the pores
Of white canvas, all rain-wet an' windblown,
From a thunderin', midsummer storm.

Felt in y'r throat, as y' watch five bull elk
Spooked from bed in the misty blue dawn.
When y' still y'r horse, an' watch a parade
Of ten curious antelope fawns;

Passin' so close you could spit in their eye,
As they sniff y'r strange scent on the air.
It's the coil an' the buzz of the rattler . . .
It's a feelin', I guess . . . an' it's rare!

But if I was a prince or a ruler—
Or a rich man with never a care—
Who could pick any place on this planet,
Well, I vow son, I'd rather be there.

An' that's where I'm a' headin' right now, boy,
'Cause my belly's plumb full'a this town . . .
I'm gon'na stay out there, in the jing jangs,
Just as long as my Lord will allow."

© 6/15/03, Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns

Well, we've set an' jawed too long for one day if we hope to get any work accomplished . . ., but I'm sure lookin' forward to the next time!

Always more to come...

May, 2003

They claim time flies when we're havin' fun, an' we surely must'a had a blast these last few months, seein' we haven't talked since Easter, an' here it is almost Labor Day!

It's been a decent year out here in northeastern Wyoming, spring rains givin' us a nice grass crop an' a hay harvest not much short of a normal year.  After last year's drought, it didn't take much to make everyone happy. The fountains dried up real bad along in June, though, an' it really got hot and dusty before any relief came.  The days and days of 100 degree plus weather are kind'a rare for this area.

Prairie fires were thicker'n quills on a porcupine within a few miles of us, an' we're real thankful we didn't lose any grass.  Evenin's brought thunderstorms, with high winds an' lots'a hot lightning, fetchin' flames. My cowboy, always on lookout when one headed our way, saw five fires start in a matter of minutes one night.  The closest was just a half mile from our place so he was there almost immediately an' beat it out.  Rain  an' neighbors put the others out.

BUSY would have to be written in capitols to describe us since we visited last!  In April I did a program for a Christian Women's Club luncheon where the subject was "fitness" an' I came up with the followin' poem which might give ya' a chuckle:

A Size-able Quandry

T'was early this mornin' I peeked in the mirror,
And ALL that I viewed there sure filled me with fear!
Obesity's dang'rous - they say it can kill;
Especially critical if you're 'over the hill.'

My chin has expanded an' multiplied twice --
My girth is too thick now to ever look nice . . .
My thighs are too "jiggly," my calves are too plump --
And yet they are nothing, compared to my "rump"!

I've tried many diets through years of my past,
My loss is mere ounces, if even I FAST!
I've read all the stories, I've heard all the hype;
Of all their suggestions there's NONE that I like!

It's sadists that write them.  Their promises?  LIES!!
Oh, you think that's funny?  I suppose that YOU'VE tried?

"Slap your hand!"
"Cut your throat."
"Eat dried yogurt, milked from goats."
"Castigate Piggy!"
"Emulate Twiggy!"
"Shun Lane Bryant!"
"Don'cha dare FRY it!"

Thus speak the wisest ones, sleek slim-thighed-est ones,
All of the blest ones whose bodies work right.
ME-TAB-O-LISM - now that's a real jewel;
Anytime it's workin', you're gon'na look cool!

But mine?  Oh, that's dif'frent - it's stuck in reverse -
The only known cure, girls, is a ride in the hearse.
Just what is your "rate of gain"? When will you "max out" -
Force that "flat line" on your heart . . . say "goodbye" to gout..

Then what happens, honey, at the Pearly Gate?
What if ol' Saint Peter sez, "You are OVERWEIGHT!"
"Largest robe we have's an "8" . . . Our clouds just cannot hold you . . .
Nope, I musn't let you through . . . Surely someone told you??"

I cannot let that happen - must change ere it's too late!
What can I do, I ask you, to avoid that awful fate?
Wait - what was that word she spoke?  You're kidding!  EXERCISE?!
It sounds like pain and sweat, ma'am . . . will someone supervise?

You say I must wear leotards . . . an' go down to the gym?
And hike and bike like crazy . . . or maybe even swim?

Bow-Flex . . . StairStepper . . . weight bench, too -
Goodbye flab, hello steel ab's,
Jack LaLaine, lift and strain, DexaTrim and then weigh in???

You got'ta be kiddin' - I can't do all that . . . I think I'll just learn how
To love myself . . . FAT!

Oh, Hi, Mr. Conscience.  Whuzzat you say?
You don't like my decision? This way I must not stay?
He sez it's NOT so awful . . . he figgers I can do it!
If I'm lazy . . . do not try, I'll surely live to rue it . . . .

Awright . . . awright . . . I'll make a stab,
At shapin' up this summer;
I'll practice what we've learned today . . .
and not think it's a bummer..

My heart will thank me . . . my husband too,
Perhaps my whole wardrobe will have to be new!
If next time you see me, you don't recognize . . .
I'll reckon it's just 'cause. . . . . . . . I'm smaller in size!

© 2003 Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns

Soon after that, I was privileged to participate in a "Campfire Series" program at the beautiful High Plains Heritage Center near Spearfish, South Dakota.  With me around the simulated campfire to discuss "Cowgirls of Rodeo" were the Tope Sisters, favorite trick riders of the Dakota country back in the 30's and 40's, as well as Earl Ferguson representing his friend an' idol Mattie Goff Newcombe, another Dakota girl who made it big on the trick riding circuit and is now an honoree to the National Cowgirl Museum & Hall of Fame.

I wrote Mattie's bio when she was inducted in Fort Worth.  A couple years later I worked up a poem on her life for a special presentation our mutual friend, great rodeo announcer/radio personality Jim Thompson, was doing at Belle Fourche, home of the historic Black Hills Roundup.  It goes like this:

Born to Ride

"I was born to ride," this cowgirl says,
(She started when she was three!)
Horses have carried her through the years,
Brought her fame, and sights to see.

It began on her parents' homestead
On the wide Dakota plains,
But she has seen a lot of the world
Since she first picked up the reins.

Melvin Tivis (her cousin, you know),
Started her riding broncs.
This Meade County girl, not quite fifteen,
Found rodeo quite a romp!

Once in the saddle, she knew no fear,
But she wanted glamour, too -
Determined to learn trick riding skills,
Many stunts she learned to do.

Seeking nothing less than perfection
She studied with Leonard Stroud;
Colorful, daring and fearless, she
Never failed to thrill the crowd!

Oklahoma Curly Roberts said,
"Speed up and do tricks faster."
Mattie took this advice to heart
And soon no one surpassed her.

They called her "The fastest trick rider
On the fastest horse around!"
With Frazier saddle and leather skirt
She thrilled fans in many towns.

Towns in Illinois, Indiana,
Kentucky and Iowa, too;
In Minnesota and Wisconsin,
She toured with Gardner's troupe.

Mattie rode quadrille, and Roman raced,
And the relays she could win -
Sometimes leaping from horse to horse, a
Feat that would make your head spin!

She was stranded in Kentucky
When the show went belly-up;
But with cowgirl ingenuity
She got home - and thanked her luck!

Mattie rode for President Coolidge
At the Black Hills Round-Up show.
Called to the stands to visit with him,
She found him quiet - nice to know.

Mattie's horses - Bob, Pal and Buster -
Were the pride of her young life.
She knew if you wanted a good horse
You must feed and "treat him right."

In the winter of 'Twenty-seven
Mattie became a wife.
She married rancher Maynard Newcombe
An' left the rodeo life.

For some sixty years they worked the ranch
Building it with hard labor.
Through Depression, drought and good times, too,
The Newcombe's were good neighbors.

Mattie was injured by angry bulls,
But cowgirl grit pulled her through.
She lay, unconscious, eleven days,
Yet came out near good as new.

Mattie and Sissy were left alone -
Maynard crossed the Great Divide -
She's carried on as she knew he'd want,
Relyin' on cowgirl pride.

She's South Dakota's "Cowgirl Sweetheart,"
Named to many Hall's of Fame;
She still loves glamour an' cowboy clothes -
Born To Ride - Mattie Goff, that's her name!!

© Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns

May found the Double Spear crew helpin' at six brandings around the neighborhood (meanin' within' 50 miles of home).  Mother an' Father Stearns were front an' center at every one an' Father was horseback helpin' move some of the cattle back to pasture afterward.

We lost a real good friend and neighbor about the middle of the month, an' his family asked me to conduct his funeral services, as he'd insisted I do for his only brother some years ago.  Both times I figured it was the hardest thing I'd ever tackled . . . but you can't say 'no' to neighbors when they call on ya'.  This friend was a top rodeo announcer in our part of the world, an' a pretty crusty character who never failed to leave ya' with a smile on your face.  Here's a poem I wrote an' used in his service:

Kenneth

Who was the man that was called by this name?
Ask any cowboy, he'll tell of his fame.
Ridin' the rodeo trail, 'mic' in his hand,
Thrilling' eager spectators, all across the land.

But what of his beginning, in an early mining town?
That speaks of grit an' honest sweat, and hard work all around.
It tells of pioneer parents who labored, hand in hand,
Facin' the challenge of a mining town, 'till they could own a piece of land.

Kenneth rooted down deep at the foot of Wild Horse Butte,
Learnin' to be a rancher - long before he courted Toots.
Experience is a tough teacher, and Claude helped her along,
'Till Kenneth was plumb convinced, this ranchin' is no song!

He faced the wind near ev'ry day, sometimes cold and sometimes hot,
A' blowin' dust or snow or rain - or hail, as like as not.
He rode rank colts and faced bad storms and knew the bite of drought,
As a kid in the Great Depression, he learned to tough it out.

He lived the horror of 'Forty Nine,' the blizzard come to kill,
Later vowed he'd build his cows a house, if he could only pay the bill!
Yet whatever the long years brought, he faced it without fail,
'Cause if he had his Toots beside him, nothin' could make him quail.

He became our friend an' neighbor, one who was always there
To help ya' out, or comfort you, or maybe just to share;
Now he's rode right off and left us, an' nobody's told us why,
Guess destiny must'a called his name, from that great realm on high.

He's left the ranch and the people he always loved so much
His dear wife an' his children, neighbors, grandkids and such;
This loss is awful painful, an' we don't know what to do
We hurt an' we cry an' we fight it - wonder, "Can we see it through?"

But, listen -- can't you  hear him, a'chewin' us out,
"Now, what in the hell are YOU bawlin' about?
Is that what I taught you . . . did I not make you  tough?
Why, I figgered I'd showed you how to handle things rough!"

"Dry up those blubbers, an' go wash your face,
Pick up your spirits an' get back in the race -
Remember the good times (Did we have any bad?)
From this side it looks like pure joy, what we had!"

"Now, you kids just better take good care'a your Mom,
Get her on that pi-ana, an have her play ya' a song!
Don't worry 'bout me, cause I love ya' - an' love, it never fails
'Bye, I gotta go now, 'cause I'm announcin' at Happy Trails!"

© 2003  Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns

The end of May we loaded up an' headed for the North Dakota Badlands an' the Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gatherin' put on in the oldtime cowtown of Medora each Memorial weekend by Bill and JoAnn Lowman.  My cowboy was a featured storyteller on Saturday afternoon, an' they even let me up on stage as well.

After takin' my shift driving on the way up, an' thrilling at the good grass an' water we were seein' across such a wide expanse of this arid ranchland,  I got to thinkin' about how seldom I find time to write new poems an' what I'd recite at Medora an' suchlike, an' the followin' poem started comin' to mind so I found a pen an' paper an' scribbled it down:


Wonderin' 

I jest cain't help a'wonderin' where cowboy poems come from --
Or how an' when an' who it was, that ever made up some..
It's purely contradiction, a thing that don't make sense -
'Cause it takes some special knowledge . . . just like a'buildin' fence . .
. .

Ya' got'ta "been-there-done-that" before y'r lines ring true --
But, when the heck ya' write it -- with all the work ya' do??
Can't do it when y'r calvin' . . . up to y'r knees in slop . . .
Sucklin, pullin', cleanin' . . . 'till in ta bed ya' drop.

Can't write none when y'r brandin' - you'll darn sure miss a loop . . .
Loose y'r tally, waste a shot, or sit right down in . . .OOOPS!
It don't work when y'r gath'rin' wily bovines off the range;
'Cause those ol' girls'll pull a sneak, an' leave ya' feelin' strange . . .

When all the bunch ya' thought ya' had, jus' purely disappears,
An' you discover that you're facin' one'a y'r worst fears!
Why, you'd be laughed right off the outfit if y' let 'em slip away,
While tryin' to conjure some wild rhyme, up on a stage to say!

I got to studyin' on it . . . Who penned those classic lines??
Why, Bruce an' Henry Herbert . . . Badger, Omar, an their kind.
Now, lem'me see . . . ol' Omar sat behind a Ranger's desk . . .
An' Bruce in an elevator - hotel bellhop way out West..

Badger, he crawled in his hole, back deep in Custer Park . . .
So quiet he dreamt up visits with cats an' packrats after dark.
Perhaps it awaits retirement, to set the muse to work;
An' for now I'll save up mem'ries of sweat an' pain an' dirt . . .

An' then, if I live long enuff to retire an' write 'em down,
Perhaps in fifty years or so MY rhymes will still be 'round!

© Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, 5/03 on the road to Medora

 

Medora's a perennial favorite of ours, 'cause it's in the heart of cowboy country an' the people who come in off the ranches in those Montana/Dakota borderlands understand what we're talkin' about; an' we don't have to explain cowboy terms to 'em.  Like all gatherin's it's old home week, visitin' with the other performers we haven't seen since the last gatherin . . . good folk like Elizabeth Ebert, Ray Hanzlick, Charlie Hunt, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Brenn Hill, Fran Armstrong, Syble Brown, Bob Petermann an' so many others.  This was Mother an' Father Stearns' second visit to Medora, an' they enjoyed it as much as we did.

We didn't even get to stay for all of Charlie's traditional Sunday mornin' gospel sing 'cause we had to be horseback on the old 4W Ranch, about 45 miles from home, gatherin' cattle off Frog Creek bright an' early Monday mornin'.  It was a good day to be horseback, an' the work went well.

Two days later we started the spring gather on the Fiddleback Ranch we've told you of before, just up the Cheyenne River a few miles from the 4W.   With Mother an' Father in the motor home and Will and me in our cowboy tepee, we camped at the new Fiddleback headquarters a couple days, then moved to the old ranch site.  We were there a full week, ran home to check on everything one day, an' went back for another eight days.

To start out, Gary (boss of the Fiddleback) Will and I gathered the 9,500 acre calving pasture an' moved somewhere around 700 pair upriver a few miles to pastures nearer the brandin' pens.  After accomplishin' this in about two days an' a half, with no cattle goin' back, we patted ourselves on the back.

The evenin' of the first day of the three-day brandin', our daughter Shelly arrived for a visit from Flagstaff, Arizona.  Relatives met her plane at Rapid City an' brought her to Newcastle, where we'd left the car an' a handmade map to get her the 65 miles or so to the new Fiddleback headquarters.  It was getting' dark an she seemed real glad to see us when we met her there to pilot her on in to the old ranch!  Don't think she'd been that far from town in a long, long time!

She made a good hand eartaggin' at the brandin' an' was there to see her 87-year-young grandfather get on the gray mare an' make a hand, heelin' and draggin' calves to the brandin' fire.  He took it all in stride, but some'a the rest of us had lumps in our throats an' a few buttons  poppin' to see him ride in the pen with several other ropers, build a loop and pick up two heels right off the bat.

Provin' she's "Stearns Tough" (which is an old sayin' in our family) along with the brandin', Shelly put in several hard horseback days with the crew.  She shared the "wagon" with Grandma and Grandpa, an' it was some drier than our cowboy tepee in the frequent rains!  I packed her camera an' tried to document her "cowboyin'," 'cause she said her high school history students an' track athletes just couldn't picture her in that role.

I can't figure that out, after all, she's three time "Coach of the Year" down there in Arizona!  What do they think???

Looks like I've run my pencil plumb down to a stub so it's prob'ly time to ride on out'ta here for this time..

Always more to come...

 

Mid-April, 2003

Aaahh, Springtime in the Rockies!  If variety is the spice of life, our weather sure was spicy the last half of March!

The 16th my cowboy and I were privileged to help gather and move a nice string of cows from the foothills of the Rochelle's near Antelope Creek on the historic Fiddleback Ranch, and I've never experienced a more glorious day!  As we headed for the barn to saddle the horses, I heard the first meadowlark!  Later in the day, as temperatures flirted into the 70's, I saw the first killdeer!  And heard the first blackbirds singing!

The gather and move to fresh pasture went smoothly, and the richest man in the world couldn't have been happier than we were, just because we were out in the wide open spaces doing what we love.

I got to ride the boss's favorite claybank gelding and found him satisfactory in every way . . . even though Gary was telling me just before we mounted up to start the gather how near the horse had come to bucking him off a year or so ago..

From early March we watched huge flocks of geese winging their way northward - sure sign of the arrival of Spring... However, by the 20th of March, most of Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, the Dakota's and Wyoming were blanketed with snow, ranging from 2' to 4' in depth!

One thing's certain, after the recent drought nobody in agriculture is complaining, whether they're shoveling snow or walking around in gumbo up to their ankles . . . this could be the start of a really GOOD year!  You can bet we won't quit prayin' for moisture . . . at least not until they're ready to slam the doors on the ark..

Here at the Double Spear the vista is turning green, far as the eye can see . . . which is anywhere from five to 50 miles, depending on which way you're facing.  Temperatures have been reaching into the 70's and with moisture in the ground the grass seems to grow moment by moment.

The horses keep busy finding fresh spears, and I'm lookin' forward to the first spring flowers -- which should be peeping out any day now. 

My cowboy's parents are here at the Double Spear now, since they had a fire at the old ranch home about 40 miles from here in late January.  They are 86 and 90 and a joy to us, and of course equally eager for each new harbinger of spring and the turning of the range from dead brown to living green!

Father Stearns is a typical Wyoming rancher, boots on his feet, hat on his head, and dried leather in between.  Thousands of horseback miles have worn out his knees and he had a half-knee replacement last fall, in the hope of getting back in the saddle again.

A second-generation horseman whose father brought 300 head of Percheron mares to this country soon after the Wounded Knee Massacre near his Nebraska homestead, he's a born storyteller.

However, I have to coax Mother Stearns for stories of driving teams and putting up hay; camping alone in the Black Hills and herding cattle in the summer; school teaching days when she rode long distances to visit family and friends on weekends; or summers spent manning lonely, isolated fire lookouts in the Black Hills.  It is all part of  the history of our family, and I try to write down each story and preserve it.

We're gratified with the progress of our military in Iraq, and thankful no more lives have been lost.  The rescue of captured soldiers has given us much to be grateful for this holy week.  Our son-in-law, some cousins and others we know are serving in the present conflict, and we are extremely proud of them.  Our prayers are with them daily.

An awesome aerial photo came in my email a few days back . . . a cornfield with "God Bless America" written across the top, then a map of the United States . . . all carved from the tall corn with a brush-hog.  The accompanying caption said the farmer drew the design on his computer, downloaded it into his GPS and followed the GPS with his brush hog to create the design!  It was amazing to view the photo and consider what modern
science can do.

From our Double Spear outfit to yours we send wishes for a blessed Easter season for you and yours, and all of life's best . . . until our trails cross again.

Mid-January, 2003

I was blessed to spend my 11th wedding anniversary on January 14th moving a string of cows with my husband and four other guys, along the Cheyenne River and Antelope Creek watersheds into the foothills of the colorful Rochelle Hills. We trailed over 700 cows, growing heavy with calf, about 14 miles.  I rode "Soldier," the sorrel Thoroughbred gelding that bucked with me so hard last month, and he was a gentleman of the first rank . . . apparently because we were in his element, doing what he thinks a cowhorse is supposed to do!

We started the gather in frosty early morning (with the mercury reading fifteen degrees) and before I hardly got him warmed up  we had to come off a ridge down a narrow, deep cowtrail where my stirrups were dragging both sides and the dirt had all washed off the hard sandrock.  He just had to set his hind feet and slide, with us almost on the vertical.  Our trust in each other came to the acid test right there, and when he took it without a quiver I knew it would be a good day!

My maternal grandfather Mike Coy rode for the old Fiddleback Ranch, the outfit we were working for that day, about 90 years ago, and made pony tracks across the same country we covered.  My cowboy's godmother/aunt, cooked for them 75 years ago, and her husband rode the rough string there. That's one'a the things that makes me love this life, the continuity of it, the seemingly endless connection to this wide, wonderful land.

As we moved the cows through the timbered bottomlands along the Cheyenne I was amazed to see the big old cottonwood trees budding out!  We've had an unusually mild and open winter, but this never happens.  Is it a sign we're gon'na have a really early spring . . . or will we lose some venerable old trees because nature is playing tricks?  I guess we'll know in a few months . . .

Early January, 2003

We attended  Paul McInerney's farewell party today, and there's no way you can imagine it if you weren't there. The sheer magnitude of the event spoke volumes of the man.

How often do you see a funeral crowd of several hundred?  How many times do you find three World Champion roughstock riders (all mentored by the deceased) in a funeral crowd?  The Garrett brothers and Jesse Bail were there paying tribute to Paul.

As a writer I find solace in pouring out my thoughts and feelings in words on a page.  A few days ago I enjoyed the comfort of that catharsis, writing radio personality and friend-in-common Jim Thompson some of my thoughts an' memories of Paul.  Toby Dickinson shared from that today, and I'll paste it here for any of you who weren't there, or perhaps didn't have the privilege of knowing Paul.

The Black Hills country lost a good friend when Paul McInerney saddled up and rode across the Great Divide a few days ago.  If the ranching, rodeoing, logging West River country ever had an icon, it was Paul.  He was one of those larger-than-life personages never to be forgotten by anyone privileged to meet him.  His farewell party Wednesday
morning at the Seven Down will undoubtedly be the largest gathering of its kind this region has ever seen.

Since 1992, Paul has been my brother-in-law, but I was blessed to know him as friend from the late 1940's.  He looms large in my earliest childhood memories, on the NRCA rodeo trail, across Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota, bulldogging and roping his way to the pay window on a regular basis.  Paul was a cowboy's cowboy, athleticism belying his size, a great gentle St Bernard of a man who always had time for the kids tagging adoringly in his wake.

Paul could've been a Viking, a Knight of the Roundtable . . . a steelworker, a baseball star, a king.  He could never have been a politician, because he spoke the unvarnished truth without hesitation.  He called a spade a spade.  He saw in black and white and if the truth was blunt or hurtful, so be it . . . life is like that.

Those folk who like soft words and people who change with the weather didn't like Paul, and he frankly didn't give a damn.

He was fair-minded, always for justice, and his work ethic was heroic. The many kids he gave a home to (and reared with a heart overflowing with love that never showed) thought that work ethic would kill them.  But, thanks to the foundation Paul laid in their lives, the world has never handed them a challenge they couldn't meet.

Paul wasn't seen much in church, but he could deliver a sermon you'd never forget.  For instance, he said to me one day, "It sure seems funny how those 'Christian Cowboys' step right up with big smiles on their faces and pick up the money and awards provided in rodeo by the tobacco and liquor industries they claim to despise."

The impact of that statement has never dimmed in my mind.  What greater sermon could one preach on "walking your talk" or avoiding double standards; and how the world at large frequently views those who "talk religion"? 

The McInerney family was cursed with a bone defect that prevented normal healing once a bone was broken.  I was at the Hulett, Wyoming, rodeo in 1965 when a big roping steer stretched tight between heading and heeling horse came rolling across the arena toward Paul, the header, who had gotten off to make the square knot tie around the hind legs.  The taut rope, with all that weight and pressure on it, hit him alongside the leg and broke it square off.

That painful wound never healed.  How many men, suffering thus for nearly 40 years, would continue to work hard, logging, ranching, producing rodeos?  Paul's medical record chronicles years of pain, surgery and suffering that would've killed most men long ago.  He possessed a kind of rawhide toughness rare in today's world . . . the kind of pioneer toughness that discovered new worlds and tamed the wilderness.  But he would scoff at
such talk..

Rodeo was Paul's lifeblood, and he produced many a good one.  A connoisseur of great bucking horses and bulls, Paul took a lot of pride in being the first man to buck the fantastic bronc the world came to know as "Frontier Airlines."  Many a young cowboy was set on his feet and nudged down the trail to stardom by Paul McInerney.

Paul lived a life as rich as any man, and his steel-trap mind retained every moment, every laugh, every strange happening.  A born storyteller, he could hold you spellbound for hours with his reminisces.  In recent years he recorded a lot of those reminisces on paper, and the world will be enhanced if his family gets the collection into print, as he'd planned to do.

We'll never forget him . . . but we sure do miss him, don't we?

Paul arrived in the Seven Down today on a hayrack pulled by a big blue paint team, none too accustomed to bunched up people.  I'm sure the teamsters could hear him givin' orders and chucklin' at the jams they almost got in . . . .

His casket was secured with a flank strap, his favorite roan horse was saddled and tied behind, and Wilbur Newlin brought the pallbearers in with a team of good-looking sorrels on a buckboard. Paul's dog Zip rode shotgun.

Toby Dickinson gave a darned good impersonation of the late, longtime rodeo announcer Albert Proctor introducin' Paul into the arena . . .

At the close of the service --  which included some great songs by Cody Morris and Terri Kissack and a fantastic poem by Jim Hunt, along with numerous other tributes and yarns --  a kilted Scot piped the entourage out of the arena to the plaintive strains of "Amazing Grace."

Then The best cooks from the St. Onge country fed an army at the pavilion in the Spearfish park, where "Paul stories" abounded throughout the afternoon.  It was a big farewell to a big, big man, but prob'ly nothin' to compare with the welcome he's enjoyin' on the other side..

Early December, 2002  

I'm really sore this morning.  The 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding I ride all the time for ranch work bucked pretty hard with me yesterday, sure bruised up my inside thighs against the swells of the saddle, and the cantle hitting me on the backside popped my back and I heard little vertebrae being rearranged all the way to the back of my head!

I have an appointment with the chiropractor this afternoon to hopefully get them properly realigned!

He hadn't been ridden for a couple weeks and I was teaching a horsemanship pupil, having her ride a gentle horse and we just went out to ride around the horse pasture together.  I was paying attention to her, he was acting barn sour and wanting to go back to his buddies who were shut in the corral and I just didn't take the time to straighten him out for the first 15 minutes or so.  We'd just been jogging and not covering enough country to get him warmed up good and  I guess he thought he was getting by with something.

When I finally got to a place where I could safely have her stop and sit on her horse so I could get him galloping and do some circles to try to warm him up he thought it would be a good time to try me.

I haven't had a horse buck with me since one bucked me off and broke my back in two places, tore a bunch of ligaments, etc. about six years ago, and I've been carrying a big block of fear around, since I was too badly injured to get back on at that time.  So, in spite of the pain, I'm glad this happened because my confidence has been restored somewhat and that awful fear has been neutralized.  Thank God I rode him through it, or I'd have been even worse!

A few days later....

The chiropractor worked on me for about two hours.  She is 89 but strong and healthy as a mule and truly has the healing gift from God in her hands.  Of course 60+ years of experience help out, as well.  She said one of my legs was 1 1/2" longer than the other and everything was misaligned from the pubic bone to the back of my skull just above the spine.  Ha!  She put me back together a lot, and I have another treatment the 19th.

I got to see her the day after the horse bucked, then rode him again the following day and got along.  Really put a big gallop on him and got him warmed up before the student started riding, but he still didnt' want anything to do with sitting around or going slow with that stuff, so I just got off him for the duration of the lesson.  He's such a great ranch horse I just won't try to use him to teach on, because there's no need to mess him up.

 

Late November, 2002

Glad to hear you had a good holiday . . . we enjoyed a feast with family and wonderful scenery driving over into the Black Hills.

Will is helping gather a wild steer that was missed in the summer gather in another area of the Black Hills today. We'll both be helping gather and trail a string of cows home from summer pasture up on the Canyon Springs Prairie about 40 miles from here tomorrow morning.  Makes us appreciate the good weather!

Will got to be the gutter and skinner for a guy from North Carolina who bought a buffalo hunt on a buffalo ranch about 50 miles from us the other day an' sure enjoyed that.  The neatest part is that we fell heir to most of the meat off this 7-year-old bull, weighing about a ton on the hoof!  The hunter took only the backstraps and we assured him none of it will go to waste.  It's aging at the processing plant now, but we are anxious to start
enjoying it.

It was a blessing from God since we both had cow elk tags and hunted hard several days and never saw hair nor hide of an elk, so it was looking like a long winter on beans an' 'taters 'till this deal came along!  Wish you could ride in someday and enjoy a mess of buffalo with us!

Keep your cinch tight until our trails cross again!

Mid-November, 2002

It's been a while since we've talked, an' it's gotten kind'a lonesome out here in Wyoming!...

Since we last talked, my cowboy and I enjoyed the North Dakota Cowboy Poetry gatherin' that Bill an' Jo Ann Lowman do such a great job puttin' on up at Medora.  I was privileged to be featured on the Sunday night show there.

We also had lot's a fun at the Cheyenne Cowboy Symposium here close to home an' the National Cowboy Symposium down in Lubbock, Texas, a while back.  I'm glad to see Nona an' Linda got the time to write 'em up for you and the gang, because they were both jim dandy shindigs!!  'Course the best part of all is seein' all our good cowboy pals an' gals, an' meetin' new friends each time, too.

It'd been quite a few years since I'd had a good visit with the Sons of the Pioneers, an' Lubbock provided that opportunity.  We used to work the Days of '47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City together quite often, an' we had some good reminisces over that.  We're hopin to get down to Branson an' see 'em on their own stage real soon.  They sure put on some great performances in Lubbock!

It was our privilege an' pleasure to induct Alvin G. Davis, head honcho of the Lubbock event, into the National Cowboy Song & Poetry Hall of Fame while we were in Lubbock.  Alvin has had more influence on cowboy events of all kinds in this country than any other individual I've ever known.  He's been instrumental in gettin about 20 wonderful cowboy culture events started here an' there and has been an ambassador for cowboys all over the world.  The list of honors he's so deservingly received is as long as a Thoroughbred's
tail.

I was also privileged to present Lubbock's American Cowboy Culture Pioneer Woman award to my dear friend Lona Burkhardt from Madras, Oregon, at the Awards Ceremony at Lubbock.   At 72 she's still ranching on her own, and puttin' up a healthy fight against mountain lions, environmentalists, bureaucrats an' everything else which threatens her way of life.   What an example an' inspiration she is to cowgirls everywhere!

We were honored to feature both Alvin and Lona on recent segments of our own Double Spear Ranch Radio Show.  We can hardly wait to see who'll ride in to visit with us each Saturday mornin'!

Our neck of the woods has had a touch of winter, but now it's mellowed out an' givin' us a little more Indian Summer to enjoy.

Durin' the time we had up to 6" of snow on the ground an' it was snowin' most ever day, my cowboy and I were puttin' in some daylight to dark shifts in the saddle... I was wearin' half the clothes in my closet, layer over layer, 'cause at single digit temperatures in the mornin' and somewhere between 20 and 30 for a high, the Wyomin' wind carries a sharp bite!

Some'a the big ol'  historic ranches along the Cheyenne River, includin' the Fiddleback an' the 4W,  were shippin', weanin', preg testin', and movin' cattle to winter pasture, so we were gettin' to enjoy a lot of God's beautiful wide open spaces.  Y'know, there's just nothin' like the music a cow herd makes the first couple nights after you wean their calves . . .imagine all the poor folk in the world who've never heard such a symphony!

A lot of the country we were ridin'  had been settled by prairie dogs. Even though the plague has wiped a lot of 'em out the last year or so, those treacherous holes are still there.  Under several inches of snow, you sure can't see 'em . . . an' my angels had to put in for serious R & R leave by the time we got out'ta there!  They picked me an' that sorrel Thoroughbred or that big gray Quarter mare up just before we went end over teakettle so many times, their wings were draggin . . . leavin' little tracks in the
snow!

Always more to come...

 

 

 

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