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Henry Custer

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The Cattle Drive      Download this Full Story
By Henry Custer
Monday, June 03, 2002

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Experience a young man's first cattle drive. Set in rural Oklahoma in the early 1930s.



    I was seven years old. We had just moved onto the big farm just south of Tulsa, Oklahoma where Daddy worked as the only full time hired hand. The spring cattle drive I had heard about was almost constantly on my mind. I could hardly wait. It sounded like it was right out of one of Zane Gray's novels. A cattle drive! I couldn't wait to get started.

   When spring finally came I learned that there were several other tasks that had to be completed  here on the farm before the cattle drive could be started. The calves born over the fall and winter months had to be de-horned, branded, and if they were bull calves, castrated. That is, with the exception of one or two that the boss would pick to be kept and sold later as bulls. Although I was still too small to be very involved with these important happenings, it was exciting never the less. I was in charge of the fire and keeping the irons red hot during the branding process. This would change in the next couple of years when they started tattooing a number in the ears instead of burning a brand on the hip. The castration, both of pigs and calves was too much for me. I could hardly force myself to watch, but the curiosity got the best of me from time to time. I thought the de-horning was inhumane. Especially, when from time to time the terrible looking cutting tongs were placed too close to the calf's head. When that happened the blood came out in a fountain, prompting the men to immediately apply ashes from the fire and hold them like a compress until the bleeding was under control. They could lose an animal that way.
 
   On the upside, we were allowed to take the "mountain oysters" taken from the pigs, home with us. Fried, they were very good eating. I never knew why the calf cuttings were not good to eat, or if they were, Dad didn't think so.

   When the big day finally arrived we got up earlier than usual. The cattle destined to be moved to the summer pasture had been rounded up the previous day and kept in the lot by the barn. They were fed like the milk cows for that one day and night, getting them ready for the long one day trip to the pasture near Broken Arrow. There was about sixty head of cattle, including several calves. The drive was well organized as this had been done spring and fall for the past several years. The women had prepared food for two meals for the crew. The crew consisted of the boss, his two sons, Dad, one other man hired temporarily for this job, and myself. I was almost seven years old, able to ride a horse and understood a little about herding cattle. Dad had explained to me that the trip was about thirteen miles, but that it would probably be dark by the time we got back home to do the evening chores. This was the most exciting day of my life.

   Starting out, I was a little disappointed to find that my job was to walk, not ride as I had expected, ahead of the herd. I made sure all gates were closed or guarded until the first few cows had passed. Almost like sheep, they mostly followed the leader. Then I would run alongside until I was ahead again to watch the next gate or opening where they might possibly turn off the wrong way. The other boys, all older than I, were riding the work horses, along the sides keeping the cows on the road. The entire trip was made on county roads. The boss followed behind the herd in the big flatbed truck. He carried the food and drinking water.

   By the time I was thinking that my legs wouldn't carry me any further, one of the boys rode up, getting down off his horse.
   "You about ready to change places for a while?" he asked.
   "Oh yeah," I replied eagerly. I was definitely ready.
   "Just fall back on this side of the road about halfway and watch to see they stay in line on the road. They are pretty well into the routine of it now, you shouldn't have any problem. In a couple of miles you can change places with Gerald on the other side and he will relieve me. We should be there by noon if we keep up this pace." He gave me a boost up on the big mare. Now, I thought, this is more like it! I really did feel like one of Zane Gray's cowboys now.

   Except for a couple of straying cows that had to be driven back into the road, the trip went on without incident. Occasionally, one of the boys came around with the water jug. Finally, just about noon, a gate was opened up on the right side of the road and I could see the cattle turning into a pasture. This must be it. I was starving, it had been a long, but most adventurous morning.

   After getting the last of the herd into the pasture and closing the gate, we who were walking, all got onto the flatbed truck. We went across about a mile of prairie pasture to a grove of trees. Beside the trees was a large man made pond. We spread the food and ate lunch. Afterwards, all of us except the boss, went swimming in the cool water of the pond. Then, gathering up all our supplies, we started back for the thirteen miles home. It was a lot easier going back. The boys rode the horses, Dad and I, along with the hired man, rode on the back of the truck with the boss driving. We stayed back with the horses most of the way, stopping for a drink of water a couple of times. Then a short stop along side the road under a big oak tree where we finished the food left over from lunch.

   Sure enough, we arrived back home just as it was beginning to get dark. We were all worn out but the chores had to be done. A couple of hours later, Dad and I were finally headed back to our house a half mile up the hill, carrying two buckets of fresh water as usual, we never made the trip home empty handed.

   "Well, was it as exciting as you expected?" Dad asked. "Bet you're as dead tired as I am."
   "Yeah, I am," I replied, "and yes, it was a big day." But it was a day I will never forget.


We repeated that drive many times over the next few years, and it was always a special day, but I shall never forget that first cattle drive!

Copyright 2002 by William H. Custer. All rights reserved.
 
 

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Reviewed by Cles Wilson 7/18/2005
Enjoy your writing.
Reviewed by m j hollingshead 11/2/2003
enjoyed the tale
Reviewed by Jackie Brooks 5/26/2003
Great story,like Karen, I too felt like I was there with you. My grandfather used to read Zane Grey books, he loved Cowboy stories, I think he would have envied you no end.
Reviewed by Sandy Forbes 6/5/2002
Superb writing! Excellent grammar! You definitely have a knack for telling stories and would most likely do well in selling a how-to book!
Reviewed by Shirley 6/3/2002
Very good Henry, enjoyed reading it. You should let a magazine print it for you.
Reviewed by Karen 6/3/2002
When I read your stories I feel I am there with you.
Reviewed by Norma 6/3/2002
Good story, Henry - you must have had quite a childhood


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Henry Custer



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