Through the Fence 1-18-10
Rounding up 2,000 goats on a mountainous 10,000 acre ranch is a Herculean task even for two experienced cowboys and a handful of good cow dogs. A few years ago – back when he was young enough to think he was “bulletproof” – my buddy, Dean was hired to do that job. He enlisted a pal of his, and, even though several other guys had already tried and failed, they were confident they could get it done. The owner was ready to get the goats off the ranch. He’d bought them mainly as “brush control.” They had been very effective; they had already eaten almost every briar, vine and low hanging oak branch.
The men would have to find the goats and move them up to the ranch manager’s house so that they could be loaded into trailers. Then they’d be hauled to the huge sheep and goat sale that takes place here every Friday. Finding them on such an enormous ranch was difficult enough. Besides, there were countless hills and canyons, clumps of cactus and little stands of mesquite trees – all perfect hiding places for skittish goats. Gathering them and moving through countless pastures and gates, up and down steep ravines and into a central location proved to be an even more daunting task.
After a long day riding over rough terrain, most of the goats had been located. Through slow and patient movements of man and horse, they had been herded together in one large pasture. There were several dogs helping that day: three blue heelers, an Airedale and a very independent Australian shepherd simply named Dog. He was an old hand at moving livestock. He’d been dropped off at Dean’s gate several years previously and had proven to be an exceptional herding dog – definitely worth the cost of his dog chow. He would work tirelessly for hours moving cows, sheep or goats from one pasture to another without spooking them. He seemed able to anticipate Dean’s desire, even calculating his next move. However, since he was such a smart and intuitive dog, he had little patience for other dogs. He preferred to work alone. But on that day, he was tolerating the other dogs fairly well. Dean was pleasantly surprised. But his pleasure was to be short lived.
Right as the house was in sight and their job nearly done, Dog decided to shake things up a bit. Without warning, he dashed through the middle of the horde of goats barking and nipping at their heels. They all scattered in a panic, bawling and running in all directions. Seeing their day’s work being ruined in an instant, Dean’s helper, Denny shouted, “You gotta stop that dog! Pull out your pistol and fire it!”
Without thinking, Dean ripped the .44 out of his shoulder holster and fired into the air. In his haste, he forgot that he was riding a 2-year-old colt. As the sound of the shot died away, the colt commenced bucking wildly. The more he tried to rein him in, the more the colt reared and jumped through the midst of the panicked goats. The men were yelling at the dogs, goats, the bucking horse and each other, using the strongest and most colorful language possible in an effort to stop the uncontrolled frenzy.
But it was no use. Those goats had run down ditches and up steep ledges, turned and backtracked through some gates, they’d dove over yuccas and prickly pears in an effort to escape the barking and bucking. In their hysteria, they probably didn’t stop running until night. By the time the wild rodeo was over, and the dust had settled, the group of almost 2,000 goats had been reduced to a mere 27. Cursing Dog and their bad luck, Dean and Denny admitted defeat and loaded their dogs and horses and headed back to the house – frustrated and exhausted.
Surely a little youthful arrogance had been wrung out of those cocky cowboys that day. And when they came back a few days later, Dog stayed home.
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Hudspeth County, Texas — In the fall of 2019, ranch hands were gathering a bull when they noticed something out of place. One of their employer’s cows was freshly branded, with someone else’s brand.