Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Free Roaming Horses

By J. Bryan Wasson

Many people have not had the opportunity to observe Mustangs in the wild first hand. I have had the opportunity to view Mustangs in captivity at a Bureau of Land Management sale during my assignment by the U.S. Department of Transportation to the state of South Carolina. I also have had the opportunity to look at some fine animals owned by people who adopted Burros from the Bureau of Land Management. I also, had the opportunity, thanks to Uncle Sam to observe a heard free roaming horses on Federal land owned by the U.S. Government. I had the opportunity to observe this heard of horses over an extended period of time and very close up.

During the Korean War, I was serving in the United States Air Force at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Thanks to a run in with my First Sergeant, my tour of duty at Kirtland became very interesting. When a low ranking enlisted man (I had either two or three stripes on my sleeve at the time) in military service has a disagreement with his First Sergeant, the odds are that the First Sergeant will win the encounter. Following such an unpleasant encounter with my first Sergeant, he told me, “from now on you can consider yourself, “Mister TDY.” TDY in military and Federal Civil Service means temporary duty away from your home duty station. I soon found myself to be a part of nearly every TDY mission that came up. The only thing that kept me from being assigned to more such missions is the fact that it is impossible to be assigned to two TDY missions at the same time.

The story I wish to tell at this time was a mission that was classified as Top Secrete. I have reason to believe and do believe that parts or possibly all aspects of this Operation have been declassified. Not knowing for sure, however, I will not disclose the name of the Operation, the nature of the Operation or the location. I can safely say that the Operation took place in the southwest part of the United States on land owned and controlled by the U.S. Government. There were free roaming horses on this land. I do not know if they were Mustangs or feral horses that had escaped or were turned loose to the wild. I should also add that Mustangs are in fact feral horses that are descendants of horses brought to North America by early Spanish explorers.

I suspect this heard was a mixture of true Mustangs and domestic horses turned feral that for one reason or another found themselves in the wild. This belief is the fact that the horse that seemed to be the leader of the band appeared to be a gelding. There is, however, the possibility that the horse was a stallion that was a monorchid or a creptorchid.

This horse stood out “like a sore thumb” in this band. He was larger than the rest. I estimate him at 15 hands. He was sorrel with a flaxen main and tail and had four white stocking legs and a blaze face, He was a beautiful animal.

There was a spring fed pond where the horses watered daily. Someone had either captured or attempted to capture some of these horses. I know this from the fact that a pole corral had been built around the pond. There was a pole gate. The gate was open with the poles lying on the ground. The condition of the fence indicated to me that it had been there for a very long time. The horses indicated no fear of this fence. They were quiet used to it.

I created a salt lick for the horses by pouring table salt on a flat rock near the pond. I want to tell you that I had to open a lot of the salt packets found in C rations to put a significant amount of salt on these flat rocks. I did this for purpose of creating additional opportunities to observe the horses.

One very moonlight night I was at the right place, down wind of the horses, at the right time. The horses entered the pole corral. I watched them for a while, then eased up and slowly put up the poles on the pole gate. Now to tell you the truth, I don’t know what in the cat hair I would have done with these horses if I had captured them.

The big sorrel was first. He sailed over that pole fence like a deer. The remainder of the heard followed him. It sure was a beautiful sight to behold and I sure would like to have had a camera at the time.

As soon as the horses had galloped out of sight, I removed the poles from the gate and left it open. In fact, I believe I threw the poles in order to make it more difficult for some one else to attempt capture of these horses in the future.

This TDY mission was one that I truly enjoyed as were many other such TDY assignments. It would never have been possible to observe these free roaming horses at close range, if I had not had a serious disagreement with my First Sergeant who punished me by appointing me “Mister TDY.“

September 25, 2003, JBW
Note this article has previously been published in The Brayer, Official publication of the American Donkey and Mule society.

Dale & Martha Cox

By J. Bryan Wasson

It was December, 1972. I had accepted the position of Chief of Police in Bowie, Texas. The plan was for me to move to Bowie and batch for a while; Shirley and the girls remained in Midland until the end of the current School Christmas break. Earlier in the month, Shirley and I made a trip to Bowie to bring some of the necessities of life and to locate a place for me to stay while I was about the business of house hunting.

We learned that Mrs. Moody on Strong Street owned rent property and might have a vacancy. We crossed the railroad from Wise street to locate Strong Street. It was Second Monday Week end and it was difficult to find a parking place near Mrs. Moody’s house due to the parked cars. It looked as if we were in a big city. The first words out of Mrs. Moody’s mouth were related to the Second Monday traffic and the words were not kind.

I rented a small house from Mrs. Moody that was located behind her house. There were a number of other apartments and small houses on the property. I moved in to the little house and Shirley returned to Midland to await the end of the School year. Things started out great, but the weather changed and became extremely cold.

One of the first places of business that I was drawn to was Gibson’s Discount Store. My uncle, Robert Sterling, who had lived with us during my childhood in Abilene, had started working For Gibson’s while he had been in high school. He had become Manager of two Gibson stores then promoted to the Corporate Headquarters in Seagoville, Texas. He later owned three Gibson Stores and was a good friend of the Strike family who owned the Bowie store and other Gibson stores. I had come close to growing up in a Gibson store so I guess it was sort of a natural attraction.

One of the first people I met in that Gibson store was a hairy legged guitar picker named Dale Cox. I did not know he was a guitar picker at the time, however.

It was getting cold in Bowie, Texas and my wife was in Midland. I was therefore getting cold and hungry and nearly getting burned out on Dairy Queen hamburgers. I was very happy when Dale invited me to the Gibson Christmas party. It was a chance to get food other than hamburgers. At the Christmas party, I met Dale’s wife Martha. I immediately made friends with Dale and Martha.

It was at this Christmas party that I learned Dale was a guitar player. He had a Yamaha guitar and was part of the entertainment at the party. I enjoyed the fellowship and the food at the Christmas party. It was not long before Dale and Martha invited me to another Christmas party. I think it was the Chamber of Commerce that was having this party. It was not long before a lot of people in Bowie were inviting the new Chief of Police to a lot of Christmas parties. This was fine with me. I don’t make a very good bachelor. Bologna sandwiches and hamburgers are the main stays of my diet when my wife is not around; therefore these Christmas parties were a life saver for me.

As December progressed, the north wind started blowing and it got much colder. A Texas blue norther came in. That little house on Strong Street was not very well insulated. The wind blew in through the cracks and even the cracks had cracks. The water froze up and I could not even take a bath. I decided to start looking for a permanent place to live.

I located Mrs. Major on Lindsay Street. She owned a number of rent houses. She had a very nice frame house directly across the street from her home that would soon be vacant. She told me that she had someone on her list of possible tenants that she planned to rent the house to. After she listened to my sad story, I think she started feeling sorry for me. She said, “I think that you need a place to live worse than these other folks I had in mind.” She rented the house at 704 Lindsay to me.

I moved into the house where we remained until we purchased a house out on highway 101. I was still “batching” and it was still cold, but there was heat in the house and I had running water. Larry King, who had been Acting Chief of Police, loaned me a bed frame and a mattress. We had brought sheets, a pillow, blankets and a quilt from Midland. I was in good shape.

Gordon Heard offered to loan me a refrigerator, but I declined his kind offer. There were some shelves in the attached garage. I just used the garage for a refrigerator. The only problem with that arrangement was that the milk froze solid a couple of times. I would have to bring it in the house and thaw it out before I could drink it.

When Shirley and the girls arrived in Bowie, my batching days were over for the time being. Dale and Martha Cox become our closest friends in Bowie. We consider them to be our first Bowie friends.

We spent much time in the Cox home and Dale and Martha spent much time at the Wasson house. I had a Gibson Hummingbird guitar, Dale had his Yamaha and while the wives were talking about what ever it is that women talk about, Dale and I were in the living room, “picking and grinning.” It was hard for us to get serious about our music because we spent much time just having fun and acting goofy. We developed this thing that we called, “our song.” We would each get two or three frets off the proper place and just start doing chords and making runs between the chords. We would not even start at the same fret. If Dale started out with a G chord on the wrong fret, I started out with a C chord on a different wrong fret. It sounded horrible, but it was fun. We even did this when we were entertaining at some function that was supposed to be in a somewhat serious mode. I had no idea that anyone else would ever come up with such a thing. However, not long ago, I was watching TV and a very well known professional musician did exactly that same thing. I am not sure, but I believe it was Roy Clark.

Dale and I became sort of an entertainment group. We entertained for the Rotary Club, the Lions Club and the Kiwanis Club. We were part of every annual Bowie Band Show. If some one wanted guitar pickers, we were it. I remember playing for some event that was conducted in what was then known as The Administration Building at Pelham Park. This is building is now known as The Bowie Senior Citizens Center. A stage was set up at the back of the building where the kitchen is now located.

Shirley has always said that I take better care of my Gibson Hummingbird guitar than I do her. Things like starting the car and let it warm up on a cold night before putting the guitar in the car. Things like starting the car and turning the air conditioner on to let the car cool off before putting the guitar in the car. Things like always wiping the guitar and the strings down carefully after playing it.

I remember when my Gibson Hummingbird got its’ first two scratches. Dale and I were playing for some event. A flat bed trailer had been pulled in next to the building to use as a stage. It was at the old school building that is now the Administration Building for the Bowie Independent School District. We were about to take a break. I put my guitar in the case and I did not do a very good job of placing it. The latches on the lid of the case were open. I closed the lid and “bang”, the latches dug into the top of my guitar and it had earned its’ first two battle scars.

Dale later joined a Southern Gospel singing group called, “The Journeymen.” At the time the only guitar he had was the Yamaha dreadnought acoustic. He needed an electric guitar. I had a cheap Japanese made solid body electric guitar that I had purchased during the time we lived in Hamlin. I loaned this guitar to Dale. He used it for two or three years before purchasing an electric Gibson Simi-hollow body.

In 1986, I went to work as a Special Agent/Safety Investigator for the U.S. Department of Transportation. We came back to Bowie on vacation each year. One of the first places we went was Dale and Martha’s house. At the Cox house it was necessary to do a little guitar playing and singing. I did not bring a guitar home with me, but Dale always had a house full of guitars. He had even acquired a Gibson Hummingbird while we were gone.

I was always asked to sing at First Baptist Church in Bowie when we came home for vacation. Sometimes there was a guitar available, but not always. On one occasion, Dale was working his present job out of state. Martha loaned me Dale’s Gibson electric guitar for that occasion.

After 6 years in South Carolina, we were transferred to Arkansas. I retired from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1996. We remained in Arkansas until Shirley could draw her Social Security. We returned to Bowie in August of 1999.

Due to Dale’s job, we do not get together as often as I would like but, maybe he will retire one of these days and we can do lots of “picking and grinning.”