Western Fiction posted February 6, 2018 Chapters:  ...17 18 -19- 20... 


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Life on a cattle drive.

A chapter in the book The West

Lucky

by Thomas Bowling


Previously:

The Traveler tried to break a horse. When the horse wanted to get rid of him, he simply laid down and rolled over.

Chapter 19

Whoever said that sitting around a campfire at night with a bunch of cowboys was romantic had never been on a cattle drive. Herding cattle was nothing but a long, dusty ride across a boring plain with a bunch of dirty, smelly men.

If waking up every morning smelling like cow dung, and riding a horse that was the only thing that had more fleas than you, is your idea of romance, then marry yourself a cowboy. Between him and the fleas you'll never be lonely.

Cattle moved at a slow walk until they were spooked. Then all hell would break loose. When you're caught up in the middle of eight thousand steers, all you can do is try to save yourself.

The noise is like being in the center of a thunderclap. It's no use to fire your gun in the air to try and turn the herd. You had to take aim and shoot the animals. Every time you fired a shot, you killed fifteen dollars worth of beef.

Every cowboy knows that each shot cost his employer money that will be taken out of his pay at the end of the drive.
Cowboys weren't paid for how many cows they started with. They were paid for how many they delivered to Houston.
Keeping the herd together was a never-ending chore. Once the cattle boss tried to send some of us into a thicket of brier bramble to look for a stray calf. I told him I wouldn't look for my daughter in there, I've been told I have a few. That was the end of that.

The second most important man on a cattle drive, next to the trail boss, was the cook. He was the one who kept the cowboys fed and the food was mighty good. There's something about steaks on an open fire that brings out the best in them.

I never ate in any restaurant that could compare to the food on a cattle drive. Our cook was one of the best. I know. He kept telling us he was. He could make a chili that would make your eyes water, then you'd beg for more.

One day, he caught a rattlesnake and made a fine meal out of it. I think the man could make stew out of rocks and it'd be good. I heard about a cook with another outfit that acted like he had never seen fire before. But those cooks were rare, and soon found themselves walking across the desert. Cowboys didn't tolerate a bad cook.

Day after day on the drive was spent riding behind those cattle, eating dust. My mother once told me you eat a peck of dirt before you die. I ate a lot more than a peck on cattle drives. My mother would be proud that I survived.

The most dangerous place on earth was a cattle drive when the critters were spooked, and almost anything could spook them. Once on a drive, Jake Wilson got caught up in a stampede. He rode for his life. His horse stepped in a gopher hole and went down. Jake crouched behind his horse, and I'll be damned if the whole herd didn't go around him. From that day on, we called him Lucky.

When we brought the herd to Houston, we had to load the livestock onto railway cars, and then we went to the saloon and celebrated Lucky's narrow escape.

“We'll all get drunk afterward, and go down to the cattle lots. We can throw Lucky in and see if he can do it again.”

“Hell,” Lucky said, “Now that I know how, I'll go join Wild Bill's Wild West Show. I'll get rich lettin' steers run around me. You boys will have to pay twenty-five cents to see me pretty soon.”

As we loaded the cattle onto the cattle cars, a big steer stepped sideways, crushing Lucky against the railing.

This was the west for Lucky Wilson, a seventeen-year-old cowboy on his first time away from Ashland, Kentucky.


To be continued . . .



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