“Gosh-a-Friday, Slim!” I exclaimed. “You must’a raised that pen eight feet high.”
“Yup” he drawled. “It ain’t none too high neither”
My father-in-law was a cowboy’s cowboy. A tall, wide-shouldered, long-legged cattle-savvy Texan now twenty years past his prime and forced by economics to drive a truck, he could still out-think the wiliest critter on four hooves. Even Snort. But, eight feet not high enough?
Snort was a Santa Gertrudis/Brahman cross with a Spanish fighting bull attitude. He was huge, powerfully shouldered, springy-legged, grey-black with heavy, massive horns. Getting that ton of skittish hamburger to auction today would be as easy as putting a diaper on him.
The pen was a twelve foot eyeballed square corral Slim had planted in the south corner of his hundred acres of Texas brush and native grass. Weather-cured white-oak board fencing was nailed solidly to sawed-off telephone-pole posts stabbed deep into caliche.
A gate in the north-west corner swung inward to be stopped by a stubby post and formed a narrow loading chute. This was to be the arena. The battleground. It was the sturdiest pen I ever saw. Would it hold that bull? Well, Mamacita!, do birds fly?
“Hey, Slim” I demanded, “you aren’t hauling him to auction in that old slat-board trailer of yours, are you?”
“City Boy,” he grunted, swabbing a stained red-bandanna over his sweat-glistening face, “I done took care of that. Cum’mon! Let’s get it.”
So we hauled over to my wife’s Uncle Todd’s place in Slim’s ancient pickup. Todd was in the barn caressing minute dust specks off the fanciest, the purtiest stock trailer I’d ever seen. It was a doozie.
“Lo, Slim!” Todd greeted us, breaking into a toothy tobacco-stained grin. “Think that’ll get him there?”
“Dang tootin’, Todd, and I ‘preciate it” Slim said. “Feel kinda funny being first to use it though.”
“Heck, Slim! I made it to use. You can’t hurt it.”
So we hitched onto that rolling cage. The framework was shiny half-inch pipe welded for stoutness. It arched over the top covered-wagon style gleaming in a covering of diamond-shaped hurricane fencing. It was tight and solid enough to keep in a skinny cat or a broad-shouldered bull. There wasn’t another trailer like it in Texas.
Bidding Todd “Adios,” we headed back to the corral. Early afternoon heat waves trembled nervously on the horizon.
When we got there Bert, my chubby brother-in-law, had arrived bringing our wives, six kids and mother-in-law. It was obvious they were in festive spirits.
“The plan is,” Slim said, pushing his sweat-stained Stetson back on his bald spot, “you gals and chillun’s stay in the car no matter what. And you two,” he stabbed Bert and me with flinty-blue eyes, “stay behind the pickup out’ta sight. He’s spooky as a scalded-cat and I’m gonna be some kinda lucky to get him in the corral.”
The time had come. Slim wheeled away from us and strode westward into the brush – a tall matador in search of an awesome bull.
The corral was to my left about ninety feet beyond the nose of the pickup. A barbed-wire fence led up to the right side of the corral gate, and from the left Slim had strung a lariat out about sixty feet and tied it taut chest high to a scrubby mesquite. Gunny sacks were draped haphazardly over the rope so the bull wouldn’t miss seeing it and go tearing through. I guess Slim hoped to funnel Snort into the corral down the “V” made by the rope and the fence, but I had my doubts.
Squatting behind the pickup Bert and I had rehashed the World Series and were debating the merits of worm fishing when Slim hollered.
“Turn him, Bert!”
Peeping over the hood I saw Snort trotting towards the gap between the pickup and the rope. Slim had pushed him out of the brush before we knew he was coming.
I cringed as Bert sprang out in front of that monster shouting, “Ho! Ho!”
Snort “ho’ed” alright. Faster’n you can tell it he planted four feet in wall-eyed fright, flared wet-pink nostrils in a massive slime-slinging snort and catapulted on a veer straight for the sack-draped lariat.
Hitting it chest high it twanged tight and the mesquite shattered into toothpicks. Snort tangled up in a pile, somersaulted upright and lurched for daylight.
Cheers and squeals arose from the rodeo fans snuggled in the relative safety of the car.
Fortunately a gunny sack fluttered down between Snort’s ears or he’d been long gone. By the time he flung it into moon orbit with a vicious butt, Bert had run around him and stood in his path “Ho!’ing” and waving his plump arms. It was time to pray but my heart had a choke-hold on my tongue.
“Ho!” Bert shouted.
Snort tumbled backwards, reversing tracks.
“Easy now,” Slim begged. He’d sneaked up behind Snort and crouched facing him in his best over-my-dead-body stance.
Snort cork-screwed again and exploded toward the pen and through the gate.
Slim’s size fourteen rough-out boots were a blur as he raced to slam the gate shut before Snort knew he’d been had. I couldn’t bear to look.
The happy whoops of the girls told me Slim had won. Struggling out from under the pickup I dusted myself off and went to congratulate Bert and Slim.
“Hey, hey, we did it!” I exclaimed.
Slim was leaning back against the corral head-down with his hands on his knees, sides heaving. I guess that moment there when he looked old Snort eye-to-eyeball must’a worked on his heart.
Hearing me he snapped back to life and frantically waved at the girls who were racing up. “Get back – get back in the car!”
Amidst their groans of disappointment he loped hurriedly towards the pickup and Todd’s prize trailer. Quickly he backed the trailer against the gate.
I peeked through the rails at Snort. Man, what a bull. Muscles rippled everywhere. His tick-studded ears stood straight out. The last thing in the world I wanted was to get in the pen with him.
“Now listen,” Slim said, fixing Bert and me with anxious eyes. “You get up on the pen on that side Bert, and you get up over here.”
“What…what for?” I stammered.
He thrust two solid mesquite clubs the size of baseball bats at us. Bert took one and trotted around the pen to the far side.
“Dang it, get on that fence and if he tries to come over the top beat his dang head in. And I mean hit him!” Slim ordered.
“Eight feet? Slim….”
“Don’t be surprised” Slim said. “Now, move!”
In disbelief at what I was doing I climbed the corral fence. There was Snort. Sides pumping, quivering. Jaw foam-frothed. Manure splattered and stinking to high heaven. He cantered around the pen looking for a way out, showered on the brakes and went the other way around swinging his massive horn-studded head, keeping an eye on me. The only other thing in the pen was the snubbing post.
And then there was Slim. He dropped down like a cat, lariat in hand, crouching with the post between him and Snort. I almost collapsed.
Seeing Slim, Snort lowered his head and charged. Slim neatly pivoted around the post and Snort banged head-on into the fence. I doggone near dropped my club from the concussion. I almost didn’t see Slim step up and try to drop the lariat over Snort’s horns.
But Snort did and shook it aside. Again he charged. Slim slipped in some fresh manure but made it around the post as Snort hooked past.
We weren’t getting anywhere fast.
And then Snort decided to leave us. He sprang skyward to my left and hit the fence bawling, his head and forelegs over the top, hind legs flailing the air to push him over.
“Dang it, hit him!” Slim bellowed.
“Harder!” Slim cried. Snort appeared to be scrambling over.
My hands ached as I pounded right between his filthy horns and shouted “Ho! Ho!
From the car the wives and kids erupted in a bedlam of noise.
Snort bawled and flailed the air.
He was about to topple forward out of the pen when Slim grabbed his tail and somehow, ducking hooves, yanked and toppled him back into captivity.
Snort’s fall must have ranked high on the scale for earthquake tremors. A mushroom cloud of dust billowed upward. Before Snort could scramble up Slim had the rope over his horns and took two hitches on the snubbing post. Now he could be diapered.
I don’t remember when I dropped the club. My legs were clabber. I slid off the pen the best I could praising the Almighty for being able to feel splinters.
Slim, cattle-savvy cowboy that he is, had done it. Snort could fight the snubbing post forever but he wasn’t going to win.
The wives and children clambered up on the fence whooping delight as Snort wailed and fought the rope.
Bert pulled the winch rope out through the trailer’s tailgate, opened the pen gate and deftly dropped the loop around Snort’s horns. That winch was Todd’s special invention. “Just crank him in,” he‘d told Slim.
Slim slacked the rope around the snubbing post as Bert cranked Snort towards the trailer. It wasn’t easy but with Slim cussing and kicking Snort in the rear with his steamboat-sized boot, Snort was put in the trailer and the tailgate closed.
Bert reached through a slot and removed the ropes from Snort’s horns and we were finished. He was ready to go to auction.
Then all “H” broke loose. Snort went berserk. Rear hooves thundered explosively against the tailgate. His horns slashed wildly. He charged the front fencing.
“Cum’mon, Bert!” Slim yelled, racing for the pickup.
The tailpipe belched blue smoke as Slim popped the clutch and they lurched forward. Snort tumbled backwards off balance. Snort was bellowing rage, thrashing onto his feet, when they disappeared behind some blackbrush hiding the road.
I sure hated I wasn’t going to see Snort unloaded at the auction barn. But I wasn’t going to miss hearing about it. We rounded up the kids and drove over to Todd’s to wait for Slim and Bert to return with the trailer.
It was pitch dark and their supper was warming in the oven when they pulled up under the big oak tree down by the barn.
Todd grabbed a flashlight as we moseyed out to greet them. The powerful six-volt beam skittered brightly down the path and jumped up to freeze on the trailer.
“Gaw’d Almighty!” Todd gasped.
His prize trailer was wrecked. It sagged over at a forty-five degree angle to the left and the tailgate was missing. There wasn’t a pipe that wasn’t bent or a piece of fencing that wasn’t stretched or ripped.
From deep in the shadows, Slim mumbled, “Todd, there still ain’t another like her in Texas.”
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I liked everything about this article.. short, succinct... so many good one liners and memorable word pictures. I have loaded my share of hogs and cows, but never one straight from the brush country of Texas!