Category Archives: Stories

The Old Chief

The old chief climbed to the top of the hill. He pulled himself up holding onto the limbs of mesquite and cedar, as the shale slipped under his moccasins. Occasionally a rock would slide off down the hill. Avoiding prickly pear thorns and skirting steep rocky drop offs he at last grunted to the top of the great mound. 

Many times since his youth he had been here. He had seen the plains, the waving grasslands to the north, and the broken canyons of red clay to the south. It was as it had always been. The breeze made his sparse gray hair dance lightly on his cheeks.

 He built a small fire there on top of the sacred mound. Lighting some fluff he brought which was made up of bird feather down, thin dried grass, and dry wood shavings by rotating a notched stick in a knot of bois d’arc wood he carried. As a spark ignited the fluff, he lightly blew on it, and as it burst into a tiny flame he nestled it in some very thin dry twigs of cedar. Adding slowly some more twigs he soon had a small smokeless crackling fire. 

In the pre dawn it was providing just enough light to allow him to prepare his sacred pipe for a ceremony. He drew out an ancient red stone pipe from his raccoon skin medicine bag and filled it with shredded tobacco from a smaller beaded deerskin sack. 

Standing up and facing east he lit the pipe with a twig from the fire. Drawing smoke through the hollow wooden stem. Holding the smoking pipe high as he faced East he said, “To the East wind, represented by the yellow bead on the pipe stem, which symbolizes the coming of the day, our birth, and all beginnings!” 

He puffed the pipe three times, and turning to his right he said, “To the South wind, represented by the red bead, which symbolizes the summer’s heat, which brings our crops, and also the passion of our youth.”  

Again he puffed and turned right, holding out the pipe chanting, “To the West wind, represented by the black bead, which symbolizes the going down of the sun, and the darkness of death, and doubt and uncertainty of our middle years.” 

Finally, turning once again to his right, and puffing the pipe he held it out and said, “To the North, represented by the white bead, which symbolizes the coming of winter, the white of our hair in old age, and hopefully,” he chuckled, “Wisdom.” He grinned a little. 

Turning again to face the East and the rising sun he held the pipe high above his head, looking upward, saying, “To the Man-God above, the great mystery that moves through it all!” 

Then holding the pipe pointing downward, prayed, “and to the Earth who is our mother, from whom we are made.” And he sat down by the fire to puff the pipe and to pray. 

In his thoughts he prayed for the best outcome for members of his tribe,’ for those who were ill, or who were troubled, or in doubt or fear.’ Then he chuckled softly to himself, his wrinkles deepening around his eyes and mouth, ‘For me, I ask nothing, for you have given me much, I am so blessed. Thanks.’

How to Rein a Horse with a Feather

Tom Lea, the famous artist and author from El Paso, Texas, tells about a horse trainer in his book, The Hands of Cantu. This was a bronc starter of the old-school, probably the late 19th or early 20th century. In those days, a horse was “used.” They had no infernal combustion engines, cars or trucks, so everything was done horseback or horse drawn. The “pure-quill” horse trainers were usually divided into amansadores or “gentlers” who did the initial training, and arrendadores who were the reinsmen, or finishers. The end result of the old Spanish method was a trigger-light stock horse. It could be reined by taking a hair of the mane, tying it to the reins and galloping to sliding stop, or a spin, while holding only the hair between the thumb and forefinger.

In this book, the trainer tells  the young amansador,

“There are only four qualities that a horse trainer must have, they are: perception, judgment, fine hands,and patience indestructible! To lack one of them is to lack them all!”

I have seen a few followers of this art; some still exist among the hackamore men, especially those west of the Rockies who train for the spade bit. It is an arduous long drawn-out process. It takes at least two years to get a horse in bit. That’s starting with four and five-year-olds. Then finishing can take a few more years. But those horses are as light to the rein as a feather. It’s like one trainer said, “Don’t wear a wrist-watch when training horses.” Probably you ought not to even use a calendar, especially if it has a horse show on it as a deadline.

Runaway Pair

I gotta tell this one. It’s an old story here in Burleson County, Texas, told to me by a good friend and cattle buyer/auctioneer Skelly Strong, Sr.

It seems that the Chance Farm down on the Brazos River near the town of Snook had a pair a beautiful gray mules. Now, this was the day of equines and wagons and mostly dirt roads. Not many cars and trucks were seen around here. These mules were a gorgeous matched pair, and they had only one fault – they were known to have run away with a wagon. So the owner put the word out that he’d take anything in trade for them. Finally this fella shows up, driving a grain wagon, empty, with a team of really ugly mismatched mules. The trade being made, he hitched the pair of grays to his rig. The owner of the farm said to him

“Now one last thing, be careful not to get them stirred up because they might run off.”

The new owner nodded and grinned back from the wagon seat, then set off down the one mile dirt lane to what was later to become Farm to Market Highway 50. Suddenly he stood up and slapped the driving lines on the mules’ back and squalled “Come UP, you sonsabitches!” and the race was on! They took off like thoroughbreds out of a starting gate! The wagon wheels were singing! They were slinging dirt as the big rig fishtailed and went up on two wheels as he cranked them into a right turn to head north, still racing at warp speed.

  He crossed  the road to Snook, then known as Jones Bridge Road, if I remember correctly, at a dead run. People who saw it from their work in the cotton fields gasped

“He’s trying to kill hisself!”

But they ran on, streaking northward.

  They crossed the main highway at Cooks Point still galloping with him still standing in the front of the wagon. When the mules acted like they wanted to slow down, he’d slap the lines to them and shout

“Oh, no, you dirty hayburners. You wanted to run so RUN –yeeHAW!”

   I’m told that observers near the bridge on Six-mile saw him yelling at them to gallop as they thundered across the bridge. And sometime later a sweat stained, panting, frazzled looking pair of mules clopped sedately into the town of Gause,  approximately 30 miles from Chance farm. It is said that these gray mules never ran away again. In fact it was hard to get them into a decent trot!

That was long before my time, but I believe horsemen in those days understood psychology pretty well, what I call perverse psychology.

Where the Iberian Horse Went

I grew up raising Quarter Horses. My dad’s family had bred and ridden Morgans. That was before there was an American Quarter Horse Association. From 1962 to the present we have continued to breed raise and ride quarter horses. Yeah, you knew there was a ‘but’ coming didn’t you, You clever thing, you. OK, here it is. In the 1980s my dear wife became fascinated with sidesaddle (since she had discovered that she wasn’t actually going to grow up and be the black stallion she figured she wanted to do something exciting with horses) We met a young woman who had Peruvian horses. The combination of sidesaddle and Peruvian horses took off, and in a few years, the Texas Ladies Aside, became the official drill team of the state of Texas. Their costumes were largely based on historical themes, so we found ourselves delving into history. Whereupon we encountered The horses of the Iberian Peninsula. There, in what was to become Spain and Portugal, were war horses, stock horses and gaited traveling horses, as it was a time before adequate roads, and carriages had come into use. We discovered that as early as Columbus’ Second voyage all three types of horses began to be imported in small ships across the Atlantic to be involved in the exploration of the Western Hemisphere, a previously unknown land. From those horses came the rootstock in part or in whole for Paso Fino, Peruvian, quarter horse, and even the Morgan. Tune in again next week for the rest of the story