The usual man-trouble that every woman is heir to has no place in this chronicle. My bill of particulars is here alleged against the sturdy male-age under-fifteen to over-fifty-who, out of pity, or for the mere pittance I can dig up to pay, or in response to the call of the vast outdoor romance of range country, has fallen by chance into the small world of my authority, mi ranchito.
Before making my complaint, let me express under solemn vow my sincere gratitude, and make a haphazardly hasty attempt to give the devil his due. That it is a man's world will be denied by no one but men, and even then in sincerity by only a handful of henpecked husbands. If it isn't a man's world,Homo sapiens does not have his just rights, for he is the most interesting, masterful, and in many ways the most admirable phenomenon of creation.
From the cradle he feels superior to all women. With reason. He has advantages that females can only envy. By nature, he is endowed with a power that makes clear to him, such incomprehensibles as mercury switches, up-draft carburetors, venturis, and torsion-bar suspension. Formulae, slide-rules, railroad timetables, ropes, shovels, axes, instructions that come with stationary engines-all make sense and become sufficient in his naturally competent hands. Instinctively, he can drive a nail without choking up on the hammer.
Note also that he is by birthright a stout fellow. From the time he kicks the slats out of his crib and pounds his mother with his fists, he strongly out-muscles womankind. I have watched in bitter envy a man no taller than I and only fifty or sixty pounds heavier deftly toss a bale of hay up to the fifth tier. I have been astounded to see a schoolboy not much more than half my size and with a fiftieth part of my experience neatly wrench a tire off its rim.
Besides these and similar gifts of intellect, brawn, and skill, men excel socially-if only to make horses and kids behave. If the legendary world of the Amazons was not altogether mythical, it is plain why it did not endure. You have heard, I am sure, of women horse-breakers. You may have seen pictures of them, or have seen them in person displaying their mounts. I, for one, have never seen a mount so trained that was not a high-stepping, head-slinging rascal prone to playfulness that did not stop at dislodging his rider once in a while for the fun of it. And as to bringing up children, I can testify that one of the banes of the schoolroom is a mama's boy.
Speaking from the West, where men-by legend and main force-retain their original status supremus, I am ready to concede that it is good that they do inherit the earth they populate. I know how wonderful and how necessary they are. I know the other side of them, too.
As for getting one to work for you if you are a woman, you are asking for conflict you may have least expected. The female boss is a circumstance man has encountered too recently in history to have adjusted to taking it in stride. It is against his tradition; contrary to his inclination; fatal to his aspiration as a member of the ruling sex and it takes money applied with tact to make him suffer it. Perhaps enough money might make him like it; nothing else will. Shoving into a composite specimen the run of transient and would-be cowboys who have allowed me to hire them, (this excepts the "oldies" who have been the real nucleus of the establishment and have gratefully accepted a woman's place as being better than no place at all) I note regretfully that his response to a command or entreaty is forever evasive and oblique. Before he can comply he has to take measures to counterbalance his masculine complexes.
"Bill," I call, "come here and hold this wrench."
Curious, Bill comes readily. Will he pick up the wrench and hold it in the way and place I indicate? Ha, ha! He has to negotiate and assert. What am I doing and why do I want to do it?
From plenty of practice, I stifle warlike impulses and lay down my wrench and the bolt and the nut. I explain and argue. He can think of a better idea, but if I am patient and genial and keep him happy, I may get my way. Bill is sixteen. Tom, Dick, and Harry have been most of the other ages.
I have nostalgic memories of girl helpers-college girls wanting to stand in for men who had gone to the wars-who followed my lead and let me make my mistakes in peace. Of dozens of men, I can think of only two who have felt obliged to take orders and paychecks from the same source: Wilbur took pains to do things exactly as I directed, and the good Uncle often said, with obvious reservations of male opinion: "Well, if that's the way you want it, that's the way I'll do it."
But the Uncle was never a hired hand. It happened that out of mutual need and his chivalrous sympathy for underdogs and women in distress, he adopted me, and with the attitude of a partner, did his best for the place he picked out to be his home during the last eighteen years of his long life.
He drew no wages. Experienced by a half-century of working with cow outfits, he would hopefully ask when we-shipped our calves: "Did we get enough to pay up?"
In a way, I inherited this good old man who was known to the countryside as "Uncle Jim," and he turned out to be a legacy more precious than gold. When the Cowboy moved from his homestead down the canyon up to head-quarters as the Man-on-the-Place, he hired the Uncle-whom I did not know until then-for twenty dollars a month and "keep," to stay on the abandoned Windmill Ranch in his stead. "Keep" amounted to so little I was ashamed to be a party to it. Weekends I cooked a roast or a stew and a big pie and took them down to him with a few canned goods to pep up his regular diet of biscuits, beans, jerky, and syrup. I didn't suspect how much he appreciated it. When the Cowboy flew the coop and the Uncle went back to his old job as watchman for a little business (service station, commissary, and bar) in the village, he told Vi (the friendly young woman who worked there) when they were discussing me: "Talk about your good cooks, now there's a good cook!" I had guessed right; he was hungry. And never did bread I cast upon the waters bring better return.
Left alone, I struggled beyond my capacity for three months. In November I was trying to brand the big spring calves. It was more than I could handle alone, and I didn't have money to hire help. One day I met Uncle Jim in the postoffice.
"How you gittin' along?" he asked so solicitously that I could not hold back the tears.
"Don't worry," he said. "I'm trying' to git me a little pension, and when I git it I'll go down and he'p you."
He was considered too old to work, long before I met him. Ten years later I saw him put in day after day of hard labor afoot and on horseback, and he wanted to do it. Soon after he was installed as my "pardner", The Old Cowman, chief adviser who was never around when real labor was taking place, counseled: "Git rid of that old feller. He'll git too old on you and git down and you'll have to take care of him."
"I only hope I get the chance!" I answered.
I did. He stayed with me until the last. The final three years he lived, he did not realize how dependent he had become, or that the man I hired for $100 a month (when I was working for $150 and love of my job) was there to take care of him. When he did understand that he could no longer do for himself, he died in spite of all I could do.
The fall he came to "he'p," he took over the chore routine when we got the calves branded and watched the outfit so that I could go back to school. He was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me as a ranch-keeper. His services were beyond the humiliation-tainted barter of human sweat for cash. His pension was small, but since the ranch furnished his livelihood and that of his beloved bay horse, his needs amounted to little more than pipe tobacco, a quart of whiskey a week, a Sunday hat every three or four years, and now and then some denim pants and jackets. Birthdays and Christmas took care of his shirts and small items. He never considered coins as being money. When we went to town and he came home with a pocket full of change, he'd put it away in tobacco cans to give to the schoolboys who came to stay with us in summertime. He was never broke-my usual condition. When I started out on a business trip, he would pull out his wallet and say: "Do you need any money?" The ranch dogies were his. They grew up to be mother cows, so he always had a few calves to sell.
The Uncle's greatest value to the little ranch was that he loved it. Its troubles were his troubles. He gave it the loyalty we save for the last things of earth we cling to. And always he was my friend. He never intruded in my personal life, or tried to take part in the things that interested me outside the ranch. We did not read the same books, or-except for newscasts-enjoy the same radio programs. Our relationship was that of two self-respecting people who respected each other and kept a decent reserve between them. It comforted me to know that whatever happened, however wrong I was, he was on my side. Nobody said anything against me in his presence. If I got into trouble, he, in his words, "takened it up."
Naturally he had the limitations arising from a long hard life. He was no good at any kind of night job because he couldn't see after dark. And he was seriously afflicted with "rheumatics." He did the best he could, and was always there tending to the place; nothing more was expected of him.
But at certain times of the year and in emergencies, it was necessary to hire a man or two. There began my trouble with men.
If you are a woman with an income of two or three thousand dollars a day from oil wells and are ranching just for romance, you can sit in luxury in your western low-roofed castle, call the bunkhouse by intercom system to give directions to the foreman, and spend a great deal of money hiring and firing men who jeer at you behind your back. (Such a woman was for a time my neighbor.)
On the other hand, if you are existing on a shoestring with little hope of gaining prosperity, and haven't sense enough to give up and quit, you'll have to solve manpower crises with something besides cash.
When the necessity arises, and you go looking for help from the stronger sex, you give yourself a talking-to. You will be tactful. You will keep to the sidelines and let him take over as much as possible. You will assert your checkbook-right with the utmost diplomacy and never say frog when you want him to jump.
If the available cowboy (or reasonable facsimile) is young, he will want to rip and snort. He will try to ride and rope in a dashing manner with little regard for the cattle on the other end of his jaunty action. Odds are, he will already have what knowledge he thinks he needs about the cow business; he has learned it from TV or at the big outfit he worked for (and was fired from), and they "done it this-a-way." He wants a free hand with plenty of horses and plenty of cattle, and a car to use after work.
"Look, cowboy," you say, "play it cool. We don't want to cripple the old horses or booger the cattle. I have to keep these old cows gentle so that I can work them alone. Take it easy. Don't crowd them. Talk to them, whistle at them. Don't run at them swinging your rope. Let's ease them up to the corrals and catch them on foot."
That loses you your man (right now or as soon as he has traveling money). You are the one who is going to get the job done, and it will gall him to poke along being flunky to a cranky old woman.
You let him rope the calves when you get to the corrals, and tie them down, and you keep your mouth shut when several of them get up. But when you insist on doing the branding yourself-because you use a really hot iron, smacking it down fast in the interest of mercy-and assign him the disagreeable task of keeping up the fire, your employee-management relations have "blowed up."
And do not imagine that the remedy is simply to find a not-young cowpuncher. The older ones, if any are available, know all right. They were born to work, and don't know there is any other way to live. But as long as they are able-bodied, in these times they have good steady jobs to pick and choose from. Those available to small-timers like me are broken-down old fellows who still want to do what they no longer can. You have to look out for them while they're doing the stock work. It is easy to get one hurt or killed.
Old Perry, when he voluntarily came to help me out while the Uncle was hospitalized from a malignant tumor, did not know that he was "riding the chuck line." He thought he was putting in time until his "very-coarse veins" cleared up so his legs would be well enough to permit him to get on the roster of some good outfit again. He had run several big ones in his day. Sadly I considered the fifty years and more he had devoted himself to making cattle pay for the big livestock companies. Now that he was deaf and crippled, he had been turned out to die like an old horse. I pitied him for being reduced to my size. But on his part, there was no question of gratitude. He thought he was doing me a real favor. In his heart he had only contempt for little outfits. His talk was big. He had dealt in steers by the thousands. So it didn't matter, I soon learned, if a few of them died every day or two.
He made fun of me for my lavish use of smears and sprays. Why, when he worked for the So-and-So's (in high-mountain country, I knew), they never doctored a case of worms in the fifteen years he was there. In nine days the "bugs" just fell out!
He was honest and brave and tried to help. It was my hard luck that he couldn't make a hand because he was infirm and would make no compromises with his infirmities.
One cold windy day we saddled up to drive a bunch of cows off several miles to where there was still some grass. He didn't know the country and took little notice of my efforts to brief him on the job. He knew how to drive cattle! Why, he was driving cattle before I was born!
I took the lead down a long winding canyon, and Perry kept them coming, hollering and singing and popping the end of his rope against his chaps to move the drags. I stopped at the point where we were to turn them up the ridge. That was his signal to come around the side to me and help push them out on the mesa. When he kept driving them into me, I yelled and waved and fought the astonished cows. He never looked up, but kept driving. I had to let the cattle go; climb around to him and plant myself in his face; and yell at the top of my voice that THAT WAS THE PLACE.
He couldn't hear it thunder, but he would not watch to see if I motioned to him. On rounds to gather the calves for branding, I tried to figure out some prearranged signals with my arms and hat. He was cold to such as that. He told me a story about a boss he had one time, who, when they went out together, would ride up on a high place and yell at Perry, then point down into a steep brushy draw. Perry would ride through the thorny bushes and over the steep rocky gullies and bring out the little bunch of cattle. The boss, still up there like a statue, would point over a steep ridge into another rough gulch, dark with spiny thickets. Perry would go in and dig out the cattle. One day Perry rode up on the high point where the boss was stationed, pulled him off his horse, and punched him in the nose.
A cousin offered to stay with old Perry when the Christmas holidays were over and I had to go back to school. The old fellow had plenty of fault to find with the way I ran cattle, and relieved his mind to the cousin, who had plenty of time to listen. Perry said that if I'd turn the ranch over to him. he'd make some money out of that little bunch of nellies. Only on condition-he wanted it understood-that I stay down at that school and leave him alone. The poor old fellow was already moribund. Two years later I helped bury him.
Formal education helps smooth the male's problem of being "told" by a woman. Two young college graduates holding executive positions at a mine up the creek were visiting the ranch when someone dropped the top of a lotion bottle into the lavatory sink so that it exactly fit, and was too far down to be grasped by any tool. The young men were trying various methods of gouging when I came along "I wonder if the plumber's friend would get it?" I suggested.
The suction worked. The boys exchanged amused secret-order glances and smiles and muttered something I didn't quite catch about ". . . trust a woman . . ."
If you do anything at all, you are bound to err--especially on rangeland. When you do succeed in an endeavor, you are fool enough to wish for credit but not fool enough to expect it from range men. Even if it's good, they resent it.
Late one day a man came in his truck, wanting to buy a two-year-old mule from me. I had got a broken arm teaching her to lead, and was not anxious to continue tutoring her. But I didn't think we could load her before dark, although she was already in the main corral. The cocky young cowboy who was with the buyer spoke up, declaring he would bet me $5.00 he could load her alone before dark. I said "all right," and the buyer and I climbed up on the corral fence to watch.
The cowboy put his rope on little Jessie and led her around and around. She was on to that. I watched with pride. But when he opened the little gate in the corner and tried to lead her into the small crowding chute, she quit him. He tried over and over. Nothing doing. It began to get dark. He began to get mad. He snubbed the long rope over a post in the chute wall, got behind her, and whipped her with the rope's doubled end. She humped up and took the whipping. He didn't kick her then, for she was in position to kick back. Finally he tightened the rope and choked her down. She lay broadside in the dusk, gasping loudly against strangulation, while he kicked her now-in the back, the belly, and the head. I jumped down and ran with a big bucket of water from the trough and dashed it on her head. She jumped up, and lunged into the chute and on up into the truck in one wild movement. The cowboy's only comment: "That's a goddam mule for you."
There must be some deeply buried reason why it annoys a man to see a woman show sympathy for a suffering animal. Maybe it's a throwback to the time when he was a cave-dweller, tooth and claw against an enemy varmint, and his contrary female bet against him. Range hands laugh at sentiment. If they weren't born sadistic barbarians, they have become so by contemptuous familiarity. The Cowboy hit a tied-down calf across the nose with a hot branding iron because he was irritated by my remarks about his unnecessary cruelty.
The first fall that I undertook to brand my own cattle, there were some big spring calves with three-inch horns, most of them bulls. To say I had a tough time is understatement. To say I did it alone is false. I had a wonderful horse--man-trained, of course--to help me. We would get a long-ear into the corral and I would make a fire to heat the irons. After running the calf down afoot, I would snare the loop over his head and tie him to the fence. When I got a second rope around his hind legs above the hocks, I'd get on my good bay pony, Buddy, who would back up until the calf was stretched out. He would hold the taut rope while I got off, tied its front legs to the fence and loosened the neck rope before the calf strangled. While the struggling beast squirmed and fought I would call upon heaven in various ways, choked with smoke from burning hair, splattered with blood, gobs of black smear and dehorning paint. It was not an operation to be recommended.
One day I was working the country around some good corrals twelve miles from the nearest neighbor. Just as I arrived with a bunch of eight big unbranded calves, up rode three cowboys. I hailed them with joy. They were puros vaqueros, the McCoy of the craft. As one, the gallant three got off their horses and over the fence. Ropes swished and snapped home. In five minutes the eight calves were securely tied in the dust. But not even a fire built! As I scurried to rustle wood I thought of the tight tourniquets made by the thin madrinas (pigging strings) on all those legs, the circulation stopping, the crippling after effects! But I dared not open my mouth. They were experts; I was a woman.
One man started a blaze under the wood while the others took out their razor-sharp knives and went to work on the trussed-up animals. They got the squeezers and snipped off the horns. With no hot irons for cauterizing! Blood gushed and spouted and lay in thick puddles in the dirt.
I can never forget that hour of excessive, unusual, and-in truth-unnecessary gore. Left alone with the half-killed animals, I thought weakly: "They meant to be kind. Kind to me." Then I thought, with passionate fury, of how right was the literary wit who never wrote "mankind" but always "man-unkind. "
Not counting experience and the printed word, the know-how (such as it is) that I have about maintaining life and passable solvency in rough desert canyons stocked with cows, has been learned from men. My teachers could never have qualified for medals for patience or for courtesy. That's all right. I'm glad I was taught the hard way and had my head chewed off when I dallied in the pinches. Thereafter, when it was up to me to make good, if I couldn't get the job done, as the old saying goes; "two good men better not try."
Copyright © 1967; The Arizona Board of Regents.