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A disappearing trail in the West

There was a sharpness in the air and we couldn’t find anywhere to get comfortable. Waiting on strangers can be tough, especially if it’s important. The homestead cabin was cold and it would have taken too long for the wood stove to warm it up. For a while, we sat at a table outside until that got unbearable, and finally ended up in the most appealing spot we could find ” the pickup truck.

“Those sons-a-bitches don’t know where they’re goin’, ya know that? God-oh-Friday, we coulda had this done, but it ain’t our project, so that’s that. This ain’t my only ranch, not by a longshot, but there’s no sense keepin’ it ” fella couldn’t make a living up here on this scrawny ground, no matter how hard he worked.”

I took the opening, with Mount Sopris gazing majestically down on us from almost straight above, and offered that probably nobody ever really made much money from cattle ranching anyway, at least not in the United States. He gave a short laugh and offered that I “sure as hell” might be right about that. We talked then about some of the more well known ranches around North America ” the Gang, XIT, 6666, Matador, JA, the King and how we wouldn’t mind having a spread comparable in size and activity. Although, if you can’t make any money, what’s the sense? “The only real money’s in real estate, always has been,” he quietly said.



But, hell, if you’re not strapped for dollars, maybe it’s about keeping the myth alive, the knowledge that when you walk out the door, you can survey what’s yours and realize the joy of what the West has really always been about ” open spaces.

There is an aura that the modern rancher, modern cowboy, if you will, exemplifies ” the almost-lost identity of our past, galloping through visions that we try so hard in our dreams and fantasies to hang onto, even if for just a little bit. Ranchers are today what ranchers have always been, sophisticated men of the West who give a sensual and artistic bent to the scenes that we conjure up in our minds. Stetsons creased with care and covered in dust, faded blue jeans tucked into the brightly colored tops of cowboy boots, wild rags tied under chins, rustling in the wind, and all assortment of vests, gloves, spurs and chaps adding the finishing touches to the workaday costume of the tall in the saddle, proud cowboy. These men, like the one with whom I batted ranching philosophy around, are rooted in unflinching traditions and are at uncompromising ease with their roles. They are the guardians of a world from our past, the American West of mythic proportions. It is ironic, if you think about it, that today’s cowboy, the reality of the cattle rancher’s West, is also yesterday’s cowboy, the mythical cattleman of the same American West.



We talked horses, some good ones we’ve had, and as we reminisced, the retired cow dog, Tip, circled the truck and remembered, perhaps, the many reluctant cows he’d put through the corral gate, just a short throw from the front of the truck.

And as we talked, somberness colored the tone, for the rancher realized, I think, that to unburden himself of the land he had nurtured so faithfully over the years was a sign of letting go, the taking of a tentative step into an unknown world where the answers are even fewer and further apart.

Well, here they come and I guess we’ll have to get out and give ’em a show. Let ’em know who owns the place and who’s still calling the shots. Someday, I reckon, they’ll have it all, just ’cause we look at land differently, but until then, we’ll buck it up and respect the men who, for generations, have traveled the disappearing trail of the West.


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