Halfway between the Homestead and the Windmill the Cowboy and I had made a nice round cement pile (drinking trough) ten feet in diameter and two feet deep to accommodate the cows in that locality so they would not have to walk another three miles to water. It was supplied by the pipeline coming down the canyon from the house well. Often when we pumped it ran over and wasted water. Later the Uncle, my schoolboy Trini, and I made a larger pile connected to the first and slightly lower to catch the overflow. We called this watering place Dos Pilitas; and I was pleased at seeing what a convenience and comfort it was to the wildlife. I made some smaller cement receptacles against the lower side for the quail and rabbits. When I stopped there to fill these little troughs with a bucket, I picked up a long-lightweight stick (a dried sahuaro rib) and fished out the hundreds of bees drowning in the big piles. I shoved the stick along the surface of the water until it was dark with halfdrowned bees, then-because they would never voluntarily let go-I tapped the stick against the four-inch wide top of the cement wall, leaving the bees to sit and get dry before flying away. When tired of standing I sat on the edge of the pila; if I put out my free hand to brace myself I was likely to get stung by an ingrate whose life I'd just saved. I tried putting sticks and boards in the water for rescue rafts, but they got waterlogged and were soon filled with dead bees.
I had no time or inclination to search for their hives (and the hunting neighbors had moved to the river) but that area seemed to be the center of a big bee settlement. In warm weather they came by the hundreds to drink there. There were thousands of them, crowding each other for a favorable place. As was bound to happen, many got dunked. Rarely did they have sense enough to turn back directly and grasp the rough concrete before getting their wings soaked. They scrambled around, got thoroughly wet, found nothing to cling to, and started swimming. They swam and swam, aimlessly, around and around, until they gave out and floated to death.
When I passed there, horseback or in the pickup, I stopped to check the water level, pour the small wildlife a drink, and found myself ending up as life-saver to bees. The men were right. It was a waste of time. But I couldn't help it. My conscience compelled me to stop and rescue the stupid bees. Maybe conscience isn't the right word. Perhaps inordinately imaginative people are super sensitive. There is a scornful name for the tendency to identify with creatures in distress: chicken! Okay. I'm it. I am that bee drowning lucklessly in deep water. Help!
Even more readily, I identify with larger creatures in jeopardy, and in proportionate degree.
There is no understanding Nature. Why are some of her creatures shy, attractive, loveable; and many downright curses to all other forms of life? And it is hard to figure out why man, since he is just as mortal and misery-plagued and pain-prone, has so little mercy on dumb animals. Laws have to be made and strictly enforced to restrain his brutish inclination to inflict suffering on creatures in his power.
These being my sentiments, I was the wrong rancher to contact for the purpose of borrowing, renting, or buying at a bargain ten or fifteen head of calves to use in a local rodeo. The young fellow came to me because small operators, being in perpetual need, are considered vulnerable. Nobody would think of approaching a well established cattle ranch-say one that had been in the family for generations and had cattle grazing on a thousand hills-for such a deal as that.
With his own eyes the young man had evidence of my financial difficulties, so he was quite taken aback when I said firmly: "Over my dead body."
"It's a chance for all of us to make a little," he said.
"No," I said.
"You do sell calves, don't you?" he said aggressively.
"Not for rodeos."
"Don't you like rodeos?" He looked appalled.
"No. I like animals. No calf of mine will ever be choused and mauled in the arena of a Roman circus."
"It don't hurt'm much," he argued, staring at me uncomprehendingly.
"How many legs have you broken?" I asked. "Or horns knocked off?"
"We'll pay for 'm if they're hurt," he said.
"That won't help the animal any."
He frowned and shrugged and shook his head as he turned to get into his car. He'd have to go clear to the river to find other small cattle owners. The other ranches in the vicinity were too big to listen to his proposition. He and two other young men who were pretty good at roping and riding, and didn't have money enough to hit the big-time rodeos, had decided to promote a small show where they could probably count on a dollar ticket from each of the populace living in and around Oracle.
I don't know how much money they made, but they did pull off the show.
Rodeos, which began under various names such as "stampedes," and "frontier days," are a class of entertainment which began on the American scene less than 100 years ago. A chief purpose of the rodeo is to make money. It remains a highly successful fund-raising operation throughout the circuit. As a rule, perhaps always, the sponsors-such as junior chambers of commerce-use the net proceeds for some worthy charity or city improvement. To make as much as possible, they organize their efforts, especially for publicity. Committees and group leaders work months in advance drumming up prizes and advertisements from the town merchants, selling tickets to all potential buyers, ballyhooing the great parade, selecting a queen, and lining up big name people-the governor, movie actresses, television personalities-to head the parade and give class to the opening (or parade) day of the show.
Sometimes in radio commercials I still hear the pitchmen saying that, in the rodeo, beholders will witness the cowboy skills used out on the range. Long ago that might have been true. Now there is very little open grazing land. The country is fenced; and cross-fenced into pastures. Ranchers have expensive corrals equipped with squeeze chutes and branding tables. They make their money from the weight on their cattle. They don't want them chased and thrown down, for it knocks off pounds. If they see a hired hand "busting" a calf it may be the worse for him.
But the American rodeo (banned in England and other European countries as cruelty to animals) has become a tradition. Like bullfighting in Spain and Mexico, it will be around, on the big circuit, for some time yet. In what is called now "the boondocks" and used to be spoken of as "out in the sticks," there is a change. Around every city and small town in Arizona, and probably all over the West, there are men who keep horses for fun. They organize little roping clubs and frequently put on "ropings." They buy tough crossbred calves big enough to run. And if they kill or injure one it hurts them in the pocketbook.
A few years ago it was the custom on our river for ranchers to give rodeos to make a little needed cash, for livestock prices were very low. The owners and arena directors in charge got the county road equipment to bring in scrapers and bulldozers and clear a space. They put up barrier fences and holding pens and chutes, had tickets printed, barbecued a beef, cooked a tub of frijoles, and boiled gallons of coffee. A ticket entitled the holder to a plate of food at the end of the show. An outdoor activity, the show was held during hot weather. Loads of ice were required to cool the bottles of soda and cans of beer. Usually the turnout was good. It was a chance to visit with the neighbors, see the well-trained horses, and watch the local boys try their luck.
Some kind of music was furnished after the contests and the barbecue. Those young enough to ignore heat and dust could dance and romance. Baby-sitters and the old and middle-aged sat on benches or bales of hay and gossiped and watched others having more strenuous fun. It was a general good time and furnished a break in the lonely monotony of everyday work.
What about the cattle herded in and assaulted in the name of fun and a little jackpot money?
The last one I attended-the last I shall ever attend-used cows for the team tying. Cows! Mother cows! The rancher did not have any big steers with horns, so he gathered about a dozen cows for about three dozen cowboys to work on.
Out of the chute would trot a high-horned cow, worried at being cut away from her calf, scared out of her wits at all the noise and confusion of people and cars, having no idea in the world what was expected of her.
Down upon her would swoop a couple of ruthless horsemen frantically working their ropes against a stop watch. The cow picked up speed into a full gallop, her large udder swinging like a pendulum. The header jerked her to a halt with a tight loop over her horns. The heeler picked up her scrawny hind legs; they stretched her out in the dust and tied her down. It wasn't enough that she had done her part to carry on the ranch and the national economy. Now this indignity.
Was I the only spectator sickened by the sight?
Suddenly a skinny old liviana (speedy) cow picked up her heels and dashed over the soft ground to beat the horsemen to the safety line.
"Hooray!" I heard myself yelling. "Viva la vaca!"
A group of women around me (I had only just come to this area), probably most of them relatives of the rancher or the ropers, turned to stare at me hostilely. I hastily faded away.
And I have stayed away.
Copyright © 1967;. The Arizona Board of Regents.