A Socratic Rancher 7-26-10 | TheFencePost.com

A Socratic Rancher 7-26-10

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

There’s an unwritten code in the New West that if I got here before you did, I know more than you do about the territory, and therefore I enjoy certain privileges you don’t. Newcomer bashing is common sport in the New West, though unsupportable when you consider that, from any historical perspective, all of us in the New West are “newcomers.”

The prejudice against new arrivals may go back to the homesteader days, when knowledge of the New Territory had real currency, and folks arriving from elsewhere were at a disadvantage that the “establishment” could take advantage of. Like the story of the newcomer who inquired of his kindly neighboring stockman, “Do you know where I could get a brand for my stock?”

“Sure,” said the kindly neighbor, “I’ll be glad to let you borrow mine.”

In my rural neighborhood back in the early 1970s, we started to see people buy acreages, from five to 40, and build trophy homes, or “starter castles” as my lifelong farmer neighbor Jim G. called them. Gas was cheap, and the ground unsuitable for farming was attractive for such homes, sort like a rural suburbia. I called it rurbia and its denizens rurbians.

One such rurbian in our area built a 15,000 square foot home on 40.48 acres (Rurbians always quoted their homesteads in hundreths of an acre) and had it professionally landscaped. The owner and his wife each drove a Mercedes Benz to work. They had no children. What they did with the 15,000 square feet of home was the topic of nearly endless derisive speculation.

One important feature of their 40-acre parcel was that the ranch of which it had once been a part adjoined another large ranch on the north, and that particular border fence had a lot of baling wire holding it together.

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One morning I got a call from Mr. Rurbia, extremely upset. “There’s some sort of cow in my front yard,” he cried. “Can you get it off?”

Though I felt for the man, this was a secretly gratifying moment. Because I had goats, I could not be the guilty stockman, but perhaps more important, this poor fellow’s predicament highlighted the fact that, perhaps, he now ranked below me in the eyes of cattlemen, who viewed goats as lower even than range maggots.

On my way out to check water, I passed the Rurbian residence and saw a black bull in their front yard, literally tearing up the fresh sod with real vengeance, as if performing a exorcism of false grass. The bull picked up fresh sod rolls, shook them and tossed the shaggy remains asunder, or slashed them against any young aspen trees that he hadn’t already butted into oblivion.

When I returned from setting water, the sheriff stood in the driveway of Rurbia’s castle, along with the rancher, Mr. W., who was in no particular hurry to move the beast. When he finally did, the bull had one last word for his audience: a deep-bellied, slobbering, dolorous and mostly unrepentant, “Buuyahahhhhh!” Exactly.