J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 7-11-11 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 7-11-11

J.C. Mattingly Moffat, Colo.

Back in the fall of 2002 – which was a particularly dry year in the Valley – I was sitting in my easy chair. It was late afternoon and the sunlight had a deep, rich quality. It startled the heck out of me when a large V-shaped shadow suddenly appeared on the opposite wall. I turned to look out the window, to be greeted by a grinning ass with ears that would eclipse a yard stick.

The ass seemed to be imploring me, so I suspected he needed a drink, dry as it was. I went to an outside faucet and turned water into a bucket, from which the ass drank for a good, long time. I led him to the corral with the bucket, and tossed in a flake of hay.

That evening, I called a friend, Doyle, who was known to trade in asses, and told him about my guest.

“I’ve heard about that ass,” Doyle said. “There’s a good chance he’s from New Mexico. I’ll find out and let you know.”

The next day, Doyle showed up with a trailer. We went to the corral where he offered the ass a cigarette, which the ass ate with gusto and quickly honked for more. Doyle gave him a couple more with a smile. “It’s the famous runaway tobacco ass all right.”

“From where?”

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“From a wild ass ranch that people say belongs to a guy named Rumsfeld.”

“The Rumsfeld?”

“Can’t say about that part, except that the owner is said to blend right in with the stock, but I can say that the runaway ass has a tobacco problem, and comes from a Rumsfeld ranch for wild asses.”

“So?”

“There’s a bounty on this ass, my friend, and a boost for busting him of his tobacco addiction. I’ll split it with you.”

“This must be somebody’s favorite ass.”

“You got it.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

Doyle pulled a cattle prod from his back pocket and a pair of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. When the ass went for the cigarettes, Doyle gave him a little juice to the nose.

The ass leapt back, honking with startled, but enlightened, disappointment.

Doyle again offered the cigarettes. The ass approached, but again leapt back.

“Here,” Doyle said to me, “you offer them. See if he’s broke of the habit.”

“Only if it was so easy to quit smoking,” I said. But the ass wouldn’t come near the cigarettes.

“Good,” Doyle said. “I’ll take the ass down to Questa and get our reward. You’re in for 100 bucks.”

“This is the first time I ever made any money on a wild guest.”