by Rebecca Garcia
I wouldn’t call my husband, Tony, a cowboy as he does not fit the picture. Though you hardly ever see him out of his cowboy boots, one pair for work, well worn and encrusted and one pair for good. He wears Wrangler jeans, cowboy cut, slightly long and tattered hems, but his shirts are void of the cowboy yoke. He has several handsome cowboy hats but most often wears baseball caps. He loves western music but prefers the swing to the now popular line dancing. No he is not the typical cowboy, he has his own western style and has a few scars to prove it.
Tony loves raising cattle and although he is several years past retirement he is still very active. He very much enjoys “working cattle,” that is branding, vaccinating, doctoring and so forth as needed. While this may conjure up images of cowboys on their trusty steeds roping a steer and throwing it to the ground, that is not the way it is done on our place. The cattle are rounded up, herded into a corral, run up the crowding alley and into the squeeze chute where they are “worked.” Tony often accomplishes this with the help of his good friend, Al Baum.
Now Al is definitely a cowboy, he has that special swagger and mannerisms that says I am a cowboy. He has more than one well-trained horse and his boots fit the stirrups well, his cow-dog does the job of several cowhands and his horse trailer is always ready. Al’s knowledge of cattle is almost as big as his cache of stories. He has a cowpoke’s unique sense of humor often leaving you wondering if his stories are tall or true. Recently while working cattle with Tony he added a true story to his list or at least that is the way it was told to me.
Al and Tony had been working a bunch of first calf heifers but the very last one, as often happens, was ornery. Resisting going into the chute, she raised up on her hind legs, kicking in the air, and as luck would have it she caught her front right hoof in the top of the chute. Al immediately climbed to the top of the chute as Tony made his way up to the side hoping to untangle the dangling heifer but to no avail. They would need a cutting torch to free her leg.
When things go wrong often tempers flair in any business but after swearing and breathing cattle dust for several hours they tend to flair with a capital F. This was now the case for Tony; it would take a half hour to retrieve the cutting torch from the other ranch and a half hour more to get the heifer cut down. He had reason to be upset but that is when things really began to go wrong.
“Keep trying Al, I’ll go for the torch,” Tony yelled as he jumped off the chute heading for the gate that led out of the corral. The events that followed were a mixture of humor and pain for Tony.
Al still on top of the chute heard Tony shout in disbelief, “Al I crushed my finger.” Unbelievably Tony, in a hurry, had grabbed the lower part of the gate latch and when he slammed it back against the metal stop the tip of his right forefinger was smashed off. This day was fast becoming a day you wanted to forget, a hoof caught and part of a finger caught on the gate.
Al found Tony starring at his bleeding finger and then back at the fingertip lodged on the gate. It was hard for Al to believe but Tony didn’t seem to be in a great deal of pain, possibly the shock of it all was protecting him. After a quick discussion of what to do Tony grabbed his fingertip and started out the gate to find water to wash both parts of his finger, hoping the top could be saved. He did not get far when another round of bad luck happened, he dropped his finger into the tall grass surrounding the corral. Tony hollered for Al to come quick and they began to search the grassy area.
Tony somehow remaining in control told Al “Keep searching, I have got to get to water.” Al, in true cowpoke form, replied, “OK, but first wiggle that SOB so I can find it.” Poor Tony, what was he to do, he had to laugh even though the pain was escalating.
Eventually the fingertip was found and Al drove Tony to the hospital where they learned that a cut off tip was savable but a smashed cut off tip was not. Leaving Tony at the hospital for needed x-rays and stitches Al returned to the ranch to take care of the heifer. Sadly it was too late, she had died. This was not unexpected, animals often go into shock and die when put into a stressful situation.
Thankfully Al had been there to help Tony through his stressful situation with his humor and friendship, qualities proven to be good medicine. After only a few days Tony, finger securely bandaged and slightly shorter, was back at the same corral with Al doing what cowboys love doing, working cattle and telling slightly unbelievable stories.