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Sins of the cowboy
It’s the Pitts
By Lee Pitts
Recently I saw an ad for a ranch manager that specifically stated, “No drinkers, team ropers or rodeo contestants need apply.”

I thought such discrimination was illegal these days but I see ads like this all the time. I think some ranchers are being a bit unreasonable in trying to find a competent person who can do things that not one hundredth of 1 percent of the people in the world can do, like pull a calf or break a horse. And on top of that they want them to be saints. Some owners are even more persnickety: they don’t want any smokers or cowboy poets either. And they want these angels for less than minimum wage.

Whenever I read a help wanted ad like that it reminds me of some down-on-their-luck cowboys I met one night at the Pow Wow in Tucumcari. They’d been deeply engaged in one of the cowboy sins for hours when they told me the tale of a green cowboy who blew in from Arizona along with the tumbleweeds and landed himself a job on one of the big spreads in the Land of Enchantment.

Only his job wasn’t all that enchanting. He was expected to live in an old line-camp for 12 months a year where he was lonelier than a preacher on payday. The nearest town, if you could call it that, was two hours away and civilization was another world away. The young cowboy had grown up on a ranch so he had the necessary cowboy skills but he was not what you’d call worldly. Truth be told, he was greener than a 400 pound drouthed out yearling.

For weeks at a time, his only interaction with people was when he’d be out riding fence and run into the grizzled old timer who lived in the adjoining cow camp. He was a contrary codger whose legs were warped, along with his outlook on life. One day the old geezer rode up to the young man’s cabin on a lathered horse. “The cow boss is making the rounds,” he told the young cowboy. “You’d best bury any whiskey along with any other bad habits you got. There’s no drinking or gambling allowed on this outfit.”

The young man was hardly what you’d call degenerate but he did enjoy the occasional game of solitaire and every so often he’d take a snort. But he thanked the old timer and solemnly buried his booze along with his cards and put his Bible in a prominent place. Then he waited for the cow boss to visit. But he never came.

Of course, he’d been the subject of a practical joke. To his credit the young man kept a cork on his temper but vowed some day to get even. When he learned that the cow boss really would be making the rounds he got in the decrepit truck he used to spread cake and drove into town where he bought three bottles of whiskey, dice, cards and some Playboy Magazines. Then he went over to the old timer’s camp and waited until he left for the day. Next, he went into his cabin and seeded enough evidence that would have hung the Mayor’s mother. When he was done the place smell like a brewery, girlie magazines were spread everywhere and a deck of cards was on the table.

Later when he dropped back by instead of finding the old geezer gathering his belongings he found him with the cow boss rolling dice, drinking booze, singing like coyotes and perusing the magazines. When they saw the young cowboy the cow boss asked, “Care for a drink? Oh, I forgot, you’re a teetotaler. Har, har,” the two roared.

It would have been a good joke had the no-nonsense ranch owner not dropped by shortly thereafter and fired all three men. And that’s why they were in the Pow Wow, drinking liquor like only a fired cowboy can. The grizzled old timer complained, “He expected us to stretch barbed wire, calve out heifers, ride rank horses and live like a monk in a line shack filled with bugs and varmints.”

“Yeah,” added the cow boss. “If I’d have known I’d have to live such a clean life to pursue my life’s work I might as well have become a priest.”

“It sure would have paid better,” chimed in the young cowpoke.

This farm news was published in the Oct. 18, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.