I’ve heard tales about going out out the spring and fall wagons for 3 months at a time, when each ranch had a crew of at least six cowboys, each cowboy had at least ten horses in his string, and there were a whole lot more ranches still running in the Great Basin. I had the bad luck to be born in 1986 and miss all the fun, but my husband was lucky enough to be born in 1980 and catch the tail end of it.

Jim was on the last wild cowboy crew at the Spanish Ranch, and when we were dating I’d ask him, “Tell me again how you’d saddle the bad ones at the Span.” He’d say, “Oh, there was nothing in there that was too tough – I mean, you dang sure wanted to take ’em outside and tie a hind leg up to saddle ’em, but nothing in there was really bad.”

To my California cowgirl’s mind, that fit my personal definition of “really bad.”

Before Jim married me and could easily be mistaken for a responsible husband and father, he cowboyed around the country with a cashed paycheck in his pocket, a bedroll, saddle, and a bunch of wild buddies. When they went to a rodeo, they were just as likely to stay and party for a week as they were to return to the ranch. Jim told me, “If you’d met me ten years ago, you would’ve run screaming in the other direction.” He’s probably right.

He told me about Luke Baumeister cowboying at the Span in tennis shoes. Nobody knew the reason, if it was because he didn’t want to be mistaken for a flat-hat wearin’, high-heeled-boot-trompin’-around-in wannabe, or if he broke his foot and couldn’t wear boots, or if he was just broke and couldn’t buy boots. He asked Luke about it one time, but all Luke said was “I went down in a bad rimfire, I went down, down, down and my horse bucked higher…”

Jim told me about trotting the cavvy from Midas to the Independence Valley, about 45 miles. He said most guys rode company horses then, and hardly anyone had their own pickup and horse trailer. Usually one guy on the crew would have a car, and everyone piled in to go to town on payday. He once sold an old Cadillac for $2,000, a case of beer and a ride home.

I’m sure not everything back in the ’70s and ’80s was fun roping and a four-day bender with no hangover. I imagine wives sadly kissed their husbands good-bye to go on the wagon, then might have felt a little resentful while they single parented the kids every spring and fall for several weeks. The stories of bygone drunks are sure funny, but living with and around those drunks would have been tough.

It seems like the best stories are from when the Commercial was lined with buckaroos looking for work and always found a job by the time the sun went down. The horses were tougher, the circles were bigger, the dirt roads were longer and life was simpler.

I hear these stories and think, “Man, those were the good ol’ days. I wish I could’ve lived back then.”

The other day, Jim and I drove 30 miles over a bumpy desert road to deliver a leppie calf to the next ranch, a 3 1/2 hour round trip. We never touched pavement or reached cell phone service. As I played peek-a-boo with the baby and listened to Jim describe his twelve-strand kangaroo rein braiding project, I told him, “You know, one day these will be the good ol’ days.”

A young Jim ropes his horse out at the White Horse Ranch in Eastern Oregon. A younger Jolyn is not running and screaming in the other direction, because she didn't meet Jim during this era.
A young Jim ropes his horse out at the White Horse Ranch in Eastern Oregon. A younger Jolyn is not running and screaming in the other direction, because she didn’t meet Jim during this era.

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