A Socratic Rancher 10-18-10
In the fall of a year in the early 1970s, I went up to Hereford, Colo., and stayed at the Inn after harvest. At the lounge in the Hereford bowling alley that night I overheard a conversation between an over-groomed man in suit over a glossy shoe shine, and a man I would’ve picked out of a line-up as a cowboy – the big black hat, belt buckle the size of a hubcap, red bandanna, chaps, and a pistol on his hip gave him away.
Cowboy and Suit were together, but not cozy.
Suit stared into a glass of amber liquid as he spoke, “You should need a passport to enter the Backward People’s Republic of Wyoming. It’s a nation apart, especially the judges.”
Cowboy nodded, though not necessarily in agreement. A Colorado cowboy might agree with that harsh assessment of Wyoming, but for different reasons. Cowboy listened over a bottle of beer as his accidental companion told him that he was legal counsel for a small oil and gas company.
The company had drilled wells on a ranch in central Wyoming. Because the owner of the ranch, a multi-generational rancher, did not have the mineral rights, he wasn’t pleased to have his pastures riddled with pumping rigs. The rancher had been vocal in his discontent, to the point of threatening.
“We tried everything to get along with the man,” said Suit. “Our overtures were well intentioned and well within a reasonable person’s concept of fairness. We compensated for surface damages and roads well beyond the norm.”
At the end of the summer, the rancher took oil and gas company to court, filing a complaint, prose, that the noise from the pumping rigs had cost his cattle a 12 percent loss in weight gain from the pastures. “But he didn’t stop there,” Suit exclaimed, now rather animated. “Oh no, the rancher claimed another 17 percent weight loss from the calves being hypnotized by the pumping rigs.” He aimed his eyes at Cowboy like the twin barrels of an 8-gauge shotgun. “You ever heard of anything like that? Cattle getting hypnotized?”
Cowboy’s first words were: “Could happen. In Wyoming.”
“Really? Well, we finally had to admit -reluctantly, mind you – that the man was a nut-job. I asked for summary judgment and dismissal as a frivolous complaint.”
“How did that turn out?” asked Cowboy, in a tone suggesting he already knew the answer.
“Not so good.”
Cowboy killed his beer with a single deadpan toss, then stood to leave. “How bad?”
“Unbelievable, basically. Wyoming judge ruled in about … let me recall exactly … 10 seconds, to award the rancher $187,000 in damages.”
Cowboy pulled a wad of bills from his pocket. “Give the man a dividend,” he said to the bartender, dropping a pair of sweaty $10s on the counter.
Bartender poured Suit a dividend of amber liquid. “Welcome to the generous side of the state line.”