Compromise and lost cows
Aspen CO, Colorado
It was an early, cool June morning and I felt like a million bucks. School was out and my granddad had sent me on a mission to gather up some stray cows at our neighbor’s place. I was riding a big black, ornery horse, a stout son-of-a-gun with a quarter-circle B brand covering most of his left shoulder. At 10 years old, I had to stand on a big rock to get a bridle on him, but once tacked up, he and I sure could cover the country.
We came down a quiet draw, sort of the back door, if you will, and as we rode through some cottonwoods just above the main house, a small breeze whispered through the leaves, muting the clip-clop of my horse’s hooves. Not much was stirring, but just as we sidled up to the corral gate, the lady of the spread, Mrs. Barbier, blew out of the house in a furor, scaring the hell out of me and my horse, Spades. “Don’t you dare touch that gate! Those trespassing cows are staying put until the sheriff gets here. Go tell your Granddad to come down here himself instead of sending a kid!”
Ol’ Spades and I had gathered up 15 or 20 recalcitrant cows here and there a couple of times the previous week, so it didn’t seem odd that she’d be mad, but locking them up? True to family tradition, I didn’t fold right away, but gave her some guff, something about cattle rustling being a hanging offense. With that, she solemnly pointed out the padlock on the gate, previously undetected by yours truly, which added a touch of seriousness to the conversation. I was still unclear on whom she thought the kid was, but since the gate was locked anyway, I decided to go home. Something didn’t seem right, but then, I had a lot to learn.
Arriving home, I expected Gramps to get behind my theory of shooting the lock off the gate, leaving Mrs. Barbier with nothing but dust and cow pies to show for her troubles. “Maybe we should, but we ain’t gonna,” was about the most I got out of Grandpa, so I hitched my horse and waited to see what transpired. Soon enough, Dirty Herwick, the sheriff, pulled up and while he and Gramps palavered out front, the phone rang. Mrs. Barbier thought we should hurry over to get the cows off the road, since she had turned them out of the corral and they were headed the opposite direction of home.
Every spring, we ran around 300 head of mother cows behind the ranch, so having 20 or so get in the Barbier’s place didn’t seem like much of a big deal to me, but it was the kind of stuff that made Alma Barbier mad as a hornet and at the same time, made my grandfather chuckle, so there was never a war for long. It kept the gossiping tongues at the Woody Creek post office wagging for a while, but once the cows had been moved higher into the mountains, Gramps and Alma would trade sheep for pigs, or loan machinery for milk, and spend a little time here and there discussing the world of agriculture.
At 10 years old, I was an experienced hand, having trailed cows over McLain Flats and through Aspen, ridden for cows on the Hunter Creek range, and spent most summer days helping my granddad watch over the cattle in the mountains above our spread. I figured the incident with the sheriff was one more notch in the belt of a kid learning the ranching business from the best, ol’ Gramps.
Mrs. Barbier and her husband, Al, eventually sold their ranch and opened the Sweet and Snack Shop where Cooper St. Pier is now located. They used to chuckle occasionally about Gramps and the old days, which meant that in a town of increasingly fresh faces, we at least shared a unique past.
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