By Steve Kivel
I was a cowboy. Most people who know me would shake a skeptical head at this revelation, but it's true. I have spent most of my life around St. Clair County, but when I was 23 years old the universe conspired to drop me into rural Texas. There I spent some time working on a ranch as a cowboy (in Texas, pronounced Ca-boi).
Okay, there were no cows on the ranch. There were sheep on the ranch. However, "SHEEPBOY" is not a title likely to win you much respect. This is because sheep are ugly, smelly, stupid animals as opposed to cows which are . . . okay, cows are ugly, smelly and stupid too. I can't think of why "Sheepboy" would warrant less respect than "Cowboy". I guess sheep are smaller but, they move faster. Cows don't generally kick the crap out of you to avoid being tagged or given medicine. There are, of course, the rumors of men, their sheep, and long lonely nights. These rumors are spread by people who have never smelled a sheep.
Cowboys have a knack for being able to get comfortable just about anywhere. The picture of a cowboy sleeping under the stars with nothing but a rock for a pillow, is not far from the truth. After 10 hours "in the saddle", the ground is as inviting and friendly as any down bed. I have always been able to get comfortable anywhere. Having spent many a Sunday sleeping on a hard wooden pew, and many weekdays sleeping at an uncomfortable school desk, I seemed well suited to the life.
There were other reasons I decided to try my hand at cow poking. I was 23 in the late 70's. I am over six feet tall and more than 200 pounds. Disco never looked good on me. I was the Godzilla of polyester and never moved with even the grace associated with that big lizard. The Cowboy look did me proud. Everyone in discos were 5'7" and 150 pounds. Most people on the prairie were 5'7" and 150 pounds too, but I was smaller than most of the horses, and the big open air made me seem not much larger than my fellow sheepboys.
Then there were chili cook offs. A chili cook is a large group of Texans, camping together for a weekend, drinking beer, playing cards, eating chili. You cooked your own special recipe. You ate some of it and tried other folk's chili; green chili, red chili, hot chili and REAL HOT chili. I love chili. I seemed suited for the job.
Okay, I had never seen a horse or sheep. I had never held a gun or thrown a rope. Hell, walking in the boots was problem enough for me. I was hired as a cowboy because Jack Weaver, a cowboy since birth, said he would watch over me. He did.
One night in a bar, after being insulted I started to stand up. "Hoss," Jack said, "You need to smile and sit back down." I told Jack I was not taking this insult without sending one back. "Standing in a bar like this means you want to fight. If he hits you and you hit him, he'll go to his pick-up and get his gun." Having neither a pick-up or a gun, I smiled and sat back down.
I was never a very good cowboy. I was no John Wayne. Although I got to the point that I could move the flock to another field, I never understood why we were doing it. On my last day, Jack put his arm around my neck and said, "Hoss, you the only Yankee I ever met that I didn't want to hang. I took you on so I could make fun of ya and kick ya a little bit, but Bubba you're alright."
Sometimes now when I don't like my job, when life gets dirty, when the train I'm running for runs me over, I think back. I was a cowboy. There are not many of them left. I was a cowboy and I rode the range, trust me.
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