Did You See How I Did That?
My good friend, Brent Staker, brought his young son, Nate, up to the cow camp so that I could have a partner to help me in my riding for a few days. I was grateful for the help and also the company, as I was alone up there.
Nate was about 14 years old as I recall, and I enjoyed having him along, he was good help also. He asked me to teach him how to rope, so we practiced at night, or in the evening I mean there at the cow camp, after work. He got pretty good at making his throws and could put his loop around a target we set up, at a pretty good consistency.
One day, as we were doing our riding and checking the cows, I noticed a calf that had a huge abscess on his right side, just behind his shoulder. It protruded out about five or six inches from his side, it almost looked like his heart was pushed out from his body, it was gross looking. I pointed him out to Nate and said we would have to rope and doctor him for sure. We were on a big open grassy hill that was fairly flat on top where we and the cattle were located. There were maybe ten head or so there and they were spread out so it gave us pretty good wagon room to chase the calf and hopefully get him caught.
I shook out a loop with my left side toward the calf and its mama, so they couldn’t really see what I was doing. Soon as they see that rope, they know somethin’s up. We were maybe 30 yards away from them. I told Nate to follow right behind me and watch everything I did so’s he’d get a good idea of what I was doing and how to go about it. He didn’t have a lariat, he’d been practicing with mine in camp, so this was kinda “show and tell” time. We got all ready I was on Hondo, I was holding a short rein and had my coils with the reins in my left hand. Hondo knew the routine well, and was chomping at the bit ready for action. I turned Hondo toward the calf, gave him the spurs, and we were off, calves are fast, most of the time you gotta get the jump on ‘em, or it’ll be a long chase, and you don’t want that for the calf’s sake to not over excite and exhaust him, and for the horses sake, so it lessens the chances of getting into ground that’s iffy with rocks, brush, and especially badger holes that can break a horses leg quick as lightning. And for the ropers sake so he can actually rope the critter and not look foolish.
Hondo closed the gap quickly and I had my best opportunity for a good throw at that instant. On my second to last twirl, just before I released the rope, I felt the loop figure eight on me. You don’t want that. It makes it almost impossible to make a catch. It was too late to do anything about it, I threw, hoping for the best but definitely not expecting it. I still cannot really explain how it did what it did, but somehow when I pulled the slack and took my dallys, all four legs were caught, two in each part of the double loop of figure eight. I put the brakes on Hondo, and the rope came taught up ending the calf so he landed on his back with all for legs tied together sticking up in the air. He couldn’t move. I dismounted, ran down the rope while Hondo held the rope tight as I’d trained him to do and I was on the calf quickly to tie him as usual, but as I said, all four legs were tied together all ready, he wasn’t going anywhere. Nate was by my side and we quickly lanced the abscess with my “old-timer” pocket knife. Almost a quart of pale green puss came out as we squeezed until it was all empty. Didn’t smell good. While Nate stayed with the calf I ran to my saddle bags fetched a syringe and combiotic came back and gave the calf a shot. His momma was breathen’ down our necks, but didn’t appear too hostile. It wasn’t easy undoing the wondrous knot that had “accidently” been tied by that figure eight. It was amazing. Not in a million years would that happen again if you threw calf loopes every day. I don’t know how it did what it did, but that calf landed on its back all tied up pretty as you please, all fours held tight.
Well, I got the rope off finally, and away the calf went lookin’ a whole lot more normal, him and mama putting some distance between us, suited us fine. I stood up and walked back to Hondo, undid the half hitch on my dally and started to coil my rope up. As I was doing this, Nate was standing there waiting for further instructions or a comment or two from me, being the good and eager pupil he was. It then occurred to me that he had witnessed something neither he nor I would ever see again in our lifetime, a calf caught and tied in the air, by the rope itself while the roper was still in the saddle. What does the teacher say to the pupil when the teacher is plumb stupefied by the lesson itself and all the unexplainable goin’s on. The outcome was perfect, no matter the mystification of the procedure. As I became more aware of how really well I had totally accidently done, I assumed a more noble stance, as if I actually knew what I was doing. I gathered myself in a confident, quiet posture, like John Wayne. I looked down at the youth, almost trembling with expectant anticipation of the gems of forth coming knowledge about roping that would fall slowly and surely from my Gary Cooper type town Marshall, high noon lips. I cleared my throat a little, makin’ sure I wasn’t gonna squeak like Barney Fife, and in my best low, back to John Wayne again, voice I said “DID YA SEE HOW I DID THAT?” “UH….SORTA” he said. “It all happened pretty fast.” I nodded a little, “better leave well enough alone” I thought to myself, “don’t spoil everything,” by telling him it was an accident. “He thinks you’re cool.” I kept actin’ the part, tied my rope to the saddle, then we mounted up and trotted off into WESTERN HISTORY.