The charms of cowboy speak
It’s been a good two or three weeks, getting the fall cattle roundup done, and there’s enough stories right there to fill a few columns, but the thought strikes me that, just as there is in every business, there’s a certain way ranchers talk and think, a way that says who they are better than any name tag or public introduction could ever do.So, it’s a thrill when I hear guys like lifelong valley rancher Bill Fender holler, “Where the hell you hidin’,” in a big, booming voice, knowing he’ll get on my case for being in the house in the first place. He’s just topped 80 and is, of course, pleased to see me at home because he wants to visit a little, maybe impart a bit of knowledge my way, with any luck.”I saw those cows coming from a long ways off, along the ridge behind Mac’s house up there in Section 36. You know where I mean? Hell yes, ya better. The long, afternoon sun reflected off their backs or I might not have seen them at all in that brush. Wouldn’t you know, as I sat there waiting for them to hit the middle gate into our upper place – you know, the 240 – one of the purtiest sunsets I’ve ever witnessed came over the sky. You’ve seen ’em, I know you have. I should’ve gone over to the Hell’s Hole to look for more cows, but it was a-getting dark and that damned sunset was enough to get me home, anyway.”Over coffee with a good friend, I hear, “Isn’t it a pisser? People who’ve never owned a cow in their lives cut through your property without permission and then try to tell you how to run your business ’cause they stepped in some cow shit. Not to mention the government, always pryin’ its nose into what you’re doin’. Seems like you catch hell from all sides, people wantin’ to run you out of the business. It’s not like we’re gettin’ rich at this game. It’s a lot of damned work, and we’re sure as hell not goofin’ off.”I’d been to Lake Tahoe for a week of business meetings, drinking and debauchery, and planned to stop in Elko, Nev., on the way home, to look for a pair of Garcia spurs. By chance, it was Saturday night and the cowboys from neighboring ranches were in town for a little fun. They spotted me right off, as soon as I entered the big bar, what with the mountain-style crease in my hat and besides, no one had ever seen me before. Six or eight of them began slowly closing a circle around me, testing me and thinking I might scare before finishing my beer. The glares got tougher when I ordered a second brew, as though I was oblivious to the happenings around me. In a calculated move, I figured they’d either relax or kill me. “You boys ride this bunched up when looking for strays, too?” I queried, holding my breath a little. A big pause, and then one of the hands said, with a smile creeping over his face, “Where the hell you from, anyway?”Way up Divide Creek with my veterinarian friend Karen, looking for a nonexistent address, I noticed a car begin to follow us around every turn. As we stopped in a ranch yard to ask directions, the car pulled in behind and the driver began walking toward us. An older man, he wanted to know which Vagneur family raised me. “How’d you know I was a Vagneur?” “Well, I started following you when I saw the ZG plates and when you finally got out of the truck, you had Woody Creek written all over you. Looked lost, too. We used to ranch in your country, long before you were born – good grass for cows. Montover’s the name. Come by our place and we’ll visit awhile.”Just talk. Cowboy talk. We’re kinda like our horses – tolerably sociable. Tony Vagneur, who still wants to be a cowboy, writes here every Saturday and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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