Throw’n the Cork

I don’t know as it’s a tradition, I mean, like wearin’ in a broad brimmed hat, or having a horn on your saddle is a tradition, but in cowboy country I’ve observed a certain action that seems peculiar to the West. The first time I saw it I was on a trip in New Mexico. Our “tour guide” was driving in front of us on a major highway when we saw him slam on the brakes and drive into the ditch. On the other side of the highway a pickup truck had came to rest in the bar ditch the same way. With open mouth I watched as a burly, former Marine (there is no ex marine) jumped out of his truck and ran to the grassy median into a hug with a lankey New Mexico cowboy. It turned out Harvey and Doyle were cousins. Almost immediately a bottle of Old Charter was produced, as we all gathered around in a circle. Doyle pull the cork, threw it away, took a swig and passed the bottle to the person on his right. From there the stories began, as each took a pull on the bottle, passed it on until we saw God at the bottom of the container. We were standing in a circle, the seven of us, in the middle of I-25 south of “T or C” in 1969 and there were no cars passing for the better part of a half hour!

My next experience with throwing the cork came at the end of a long, snowy, muddy gathering of almost 500 crossbred steers on the 4J Ranch near Trementina, New Mexico.

There, mud splattered, with stained chaps, down vests, soiled Stetsons, and boots and spurs caked with steer manure, in a circle of very tired horses, standing ground tied, the seven or eight Cowboys standing gathered around found a bottle of Old Crow or some bourbon, and the cork was pulled and pitched. As the setting sun broke through about a 1 inch slit in the ponderous grey cloud layer, and the bottle made the rounds, the stories began to unfold. The last of six “bull buses” was being pulled up the greasy, clay road toward the highway by a bulldozer, and the pens and scales were empty. The cowboys, whose ages and experience spanned several decades began a few hours of some of the most hilarious tales until darkness overtook us and it was time to unsaddle and “roll soogans.”

It was not corks throwing, but I recall one trip when I was up on the Canadian River, North of Tampa, visiting and helping a gather-of-cattle that my friend Carl and I set up one night in his “camp” with a bottle (I believe it was the gallon size) of Ezra Brooks. The next morning or about 0400 I was just rolling out of my bed roll when I heard an exclamation from the kitchen, “My God – who drink all this?!”

I rushed around in my socks to see Carl holding up about a half empty gallon jug of Ezra Brooks! The stories had been great, I even remember some. Since that day that fluid has been known as “Uncle Ezra!”

The chuck wagon version of a doctor's office: a wood box hanging on the side board with some bottles and cans.

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