Monday, January 4, 2010

Them Ain't My Calves

By J. Bryan Wasson

Bill Donald was our next door neighbor in the Potosi community. Potosi is located south of Abilene, Texas. His farming operation had been mostly grain crops. He also previously had a small cow/calf operation on his farm.

Back in the late 50s and early 60s the U.S. Department of Agriculture had a program called the Soil Bank. The purpose of this program was to reduce a surplus of farm products. Farmers were paid for not planting any crops or not running livestock on acreage placed in the program. Crops or livestock on land in this program was a violation of Federal law. Bill had placed his entire farm in this program.

The “Blue Bug Inn” was a domino hall located at the cross roads at the intersection of Potosi Road and what is now known as FM 1750. The “Blue Bug Inn” derived its name from the fact that it started life as a chicken house. Each day area farmers dropped by from time to time to play a game or two of dominos. Some retirees spent most of each day there playing dominos and swapping stories. My grandfather, Jess Sterling was among the retired men who spent most of each day at the domino hall. Due to the fact that Bill had placed his entire farm in the soil bank, he spent a large part of each day in the activities of the domino hall.

These elderly men enjoyed a good joke. They started messing with Bill’s mind by telling untrue tales of extremely expensive penalties required of non existent violators of prohibited use of land bank acreage. They convinced Bill that there was a Federal Agent lurking behind ever bush. They also convinced him that ever airplane that flew over was a Government aircraft, looking for illegal livestock or crops on land in this program.

My dad and I had previously been partners in some cattle, but at the time there was nothing in our pasture but horses. I was a member of the Abilene Police Department. At this time I was working the midnight shift and therefore sleeping in the day time. At about 2:00PM one day, I was rudely awakened by the ringing of the telephone. It was Bill Donald. He was spooked because he had observed some calves in his pasture. He excitedly told me “your calves are in my pasture” and that he wanted me to get them out immediately. I was angry and immediately hung up the telephone without saying anything.

By the time I went to work that night, I was still angry about having my sleep interrupted. I went about my duties, but remained out of sorts. At 2:00AM, I had a flash of genius. I telephoned Bill Donald. After about 10 rings of the phone, Bill sleepily answered the phone with, “hello.” I immediately harshly responded, “Bill. Them ain’t my calves!” I immediately hung up. I don’t think Bill ever spoke to me again.

Note: This story has previously appeared on the pages of The Brayer Magazine.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Wild Horse Joe

By J. Bryan Wasson

His name was Joe Bagwell and he was a sure enough real cowboy. Everyone just called him, “Wild Horse Joe.”

I first met Wild Horse Joe in Abilene, Texas back in the early 50s. When I joined the Midland County sheriffs’ Office in the early 70s, Joe turned up in Midland, Texas. He was still breaking and training horses.

Joe could sure enough take the buck out of a horse and gentle a horse. Most of all Joe could put a rein on a horse. When Joe got through riding a horse it was much like a direct connection between the rider’s brain and the horse’s brain. Such slight pressure of the rein upon a horses neck was required that about all the rider had to do was think right or left and that is the direction the horse would turn. The horse would spin right or left with slight rein and leg pressure. The horse would change leads while doing circles or figure eights and stop on a dime from any speed. If Joe ever rode any mules, I was unaware of it, but if he had, I would have been extremely proud to have owned any mule trained by Wild Horse Joe.

Joe’s name never graced the pages of Western Horseman or any of the top equine publications. I guess you could say that Joe was the poor man’s horse trainer. He stayed busy and made his living by riding horses. Most of the top breeders, however, used better known horse trainers.

Joe was long on horse savvy, but he was a little short on “book learning”, sophistication and following rules. Joe did everything “Joe’s way.” I feel sure he never saw an A.Q.H.A. rule book. I also doubt that he ever heard the word, “dressage.” He did not know that he used many of the principles of dressage without having the slightest idea of the meaning of the word.

Along about 1957 or 58, I was serving as arena steward in a horse show. It was an open show, but we were using A.Q.H.A rules. Both registered horses and grade horses were entered in the show. Included in the events was a reining class. Joe showed up with a colt he had been riding and entered the reining class.

Everyone knew we were using A.Q.H.A rules. I guess everyone, but Joe. He had no knowledge of or interest in any kind of rules.

For the reining class, we used the pattern in the A.Q.H.A. rule book. Before judging of the reining horse class, one of the show officials put a horse through the official pattern as an example to help ensure that contestants followed the pattern.

Joe was about the third or fourth contestant in this class. He had ample opportunity to observe the pattern used with each of the contestants before him. Joe came out sitting tall and straight in the saddle with heels down and toes out. Joe had on bat wing chaps, and had his hat pulled down as if he were riding a bronc. He looked every bit the cowboy that he was.

When Joe came out, he put that colt through ever possible thing that the mechanical structure of a horse would allow. He put the 2 year old colt through spins in both directions, roll backs, sliding stops, figure eights and circles. He made that colt do everything that a horse could possibly do plus some things no one has ever thought of. It was a beautiful sight.

However, when the class was over, Joe had been disqualified and never knew why. I am sure that no one could have ever explained it to him. He did not in any way come close to the official pattern set for the reining class as specified in the A.Q.H.A. Rule book. The truth was that as far as the things that the colt Joe rode could do, the colt was the best reined horse there. The horse did every maneuver that was asked of him. Joe just did not understand and follow the rules

I would have loved to own any horse or mule that Wild Horse Joe had trained. In my mind, the good part of Joe’s methods was that he never considered the rein in each hand plow lining that is becoming so popular and considered by some to be “reining” today. Joe put a true neck rein on the horses he trained.

Note: This article has been previously published in the Brayer Magazine published by the American Donkey and Mule Society (ADMS)

May 16, 2005, JBW