Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman
STRAP ON YOUR PISTOLS AND LET'S GO FEED THE COWS
When my dad left home at thirteen years of age, he headed west to get as far from home and an abusive father as he could. The first place that he stopped for more than a night or two was a ranch in the breaks of the Canadian River west of Roy, New Mexico. It was late spring and they needed all the hands that they could find for cutting, branding and shipping the cows that didn't drop calves that spring. He had never worked on a ranch before but at least he had his own horse and saddle which was a definite plus when it came to landing a job as a cowboy. If you had your own horse and was smarter than a cow, you were quality material for a cowboy.
The rancher, who had no boys of his own, took a liking to my dad and decided to keep him around after the summer work was over and he had let the rest of the cowboys go. He also noticed that my dad didn't have a coat of any sort so the next time that he went into town, he bought him a heavy Pendleton coat. It was a beautiful thing, pure wool with black and red stripes across it. It came well down over the hips and had a large collar which could be pulled up around your ears to keep out the wind and snow. My dad thanked him for it and hung it up. Since the summer sun was still beating down on the red limestone rocks, making each day as hot as an oven, he failed to see the real value of the coat.
One of the other cowboys working there had a matching pair of nickel plated .44 Caliber Colt pistols in a hand-tooled belt with holsters that tied down to the legs. The loops around the belt were filled with ammunition. Real gunfighter stuff. Now my dad, like any other red blooded thirteen year old boy who had read hundreds of those dime novels about western gunfighters, instantly fell into a fit of avarice, greed and cupidity to own those pistol. The longer that he saw those pistols hanging on the wall, the more that he would have gladly traded his soul for them. Since the owner of the pistols already had a soul, as jaded and soiled as it might have been, he didn't need or want another one but he did recognize the potential warmth, comfort and value of that Pendleton coat.
After a certain amount of negotiation, a deal was struck between the two. When the cowboy drew up and rode away, my dad had that pair of pistols strapped around his skinny hips and he had the Pendleton coat strapped behind his saddle. The rancher took notice of the situation but didn't say a word.
Summer waned into fall with its balmy days and crisp nights. The cattle had all been moved from the high country into the canyons for the winter and the summer crew was gone. With no one else in the bunkhouse, the rancher had my dad had move into the main house. Life was good; the rancher treated him well, there was little work to do and the rancher's wife was a good cook.
One morning they woke up to a howling north wind, snow about six inches deep and getting deeper. One look outside would convince a person that the only change the weather might take would be to turn worse. After breakfast, the rancher pulled on his coat and gloves, pulled his had down low and said, "OK, Foreman, strap on your pistols and let's go feed the cows."