In the beginning it was short pay and fast horses | TheFencePost.com
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In the beginning it was short pay and fast horses

Julie Carter
Carrizozo, N.M.

There is an old phrase used by the cowboy set, ropin’ for short pay, which basically means long hours of hard work for not a lot of money.

Since roping was, and is, just a small part of the job to be done, short pay wages covered all the work that needed done.

It was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be the case for doing the work of a cowboy.

I broke into the world of a paying cowboy job when I was 15. My brother and I hired on for a summer of riding pastures checking yearlings on a high mountain Colorado ranch, which also happened to be our home.

Since I was the oldest, I got preferential pay of 50 cents more a day than my 13-year-old brother. I was reaping in a big $5.50 a day while he had to settle for $5. In my mind, that made me the “girl in charge.” He fell for that most of the time.

About 4,000 yearlings arrived in May and came from a much lower altitude. The ranch pastures ranged in altitude from 7,500 to 9,500 feet or higher in some places that those critters managed to climb.

At that altitude, cattle often develop what is called Brisket Disease, Mountain Disease, or High Altitude Disease. The animal will develop edema in the brisket, along the neck to the jaw or the underline of the belly before it dies. Early detection is the only hope of saving them.

A daily check and count of every single animal was necessary and an accounting of the dead was a must for the record books. That was our job ” to look at and count each one in all of the pastures we were assigned, bring in the sick, and cut the brand off anything we found dead.

We would leave early, often with a sandwich rolled up in our jacket on the back of our saddles, and hope to be in sometime in the afternoon before the late day rain showers.

We took turns opening gates as long as were we getting along. It wasn’t uncommon to say “we’ll meet back at this gate in an hour” and whoever got there first would go through the gate and wait on the other side, refusing to dismount and open the gate again for the late arriver. Excellent fodder for a teen shouting match.

Looking back I’m thinking our short pay was probably due to two things. Economics of the times was one. I think dad was managing the ranch for about $550 a month and raising four kids on that.

The other reason I surmise was our youthful unreliability. We got the job done ” eventually. But the days were interspersed with opportunities to go for a swim in a pond if it was hot. Often there was a horse race when we were sure no one could see us racing ” a forbidden sport.

And about every other day there would be a knock-down-drag-out fight over my brother’s roping everything that didn’t move and then me refusing to give him the head count since he was busy playing.

Fortunately I rode very fast horses. It saved my life on more than one occasion.


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