Posts Tagged With: Tales from Clear Creek

A Christmas Gift From Me to the Sundowntrail Readers

I’d like to share a story from my book Tales From Clear Creek. The story is titled The Horse.

Some backstory to the tale below . . . the horse’s name is not mentioned in the story. My Tennessee-born grandfather came to visit us the same day we bought the horse. We gave my grandfather the honor of naming the colt. He promptly said, “Call it Dixie.” The name would have been more suitable for a mare than a colt, but Granddad said to call him Dixie, and we did. The horse soon learned to come to it. Dixie the horse was always trustworthy and gentle. My younger sisters and kids from the community rode him, yet I would get on him and ride breakneck, chasing cattle.

As noted in one of the stories in Tales From Clear Creek, I sold the horse in 1963. Earl Powers contacted me when I came home on leave between basic training and AIT training. He knew the horse was gentle, and wanted him for his grandchildren to ride. Years later, probably about 1968 or ’69, Earl came into my office at the local electric cooperative and showed me pictures of the horse with at least a half dozen kids sitting on him. They were lined up from his withers to his rump. The horse would have been close to twenty years old at the time Mr. Powers gave me that picture.

 

Dixie Horse picture

Mr. Powers and Dixie

 

I hope you enjoy the story. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Tales From Clear Creek, click the “Books” tab above. To see all the wonderful illustrations done for the book by Tom Runnels, go to my Facebook Page.

Merry Christmas from the Sundown Trail.

 

First Horse

 

First Horse

 

He was just a weanling colt. We bought him at an auction. I rode home in the pickup truck with him. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and talked to him to reassure him. We had other horses, but this one would be mine to break, to train, and ride.

The months went by. He learned to trust me. He let me handle his feet. He grew accustomed to the halter, saddle, and then the bridle. We trekked all over the place. The colt followed me decked out in full riding gear.

We were buddies. He thought he was my peer, my equal. He was a pet and that would cause him to be more difficult to break. I knew I must ride him soon before he grew older and stronger. It took a long time for me to work up the nerve to make that first ride.

Finally it was time. I led him out into the middle of the hay meadow. I fussed with the tack, tightening the cinch on the old rodeo association regulation tree saddle. Made by the Gallup saddle makers of Pueblo, Colorado, it was a splendid, all-around, old-time, working saddle. I figured that once I was firmly anchored in the deep seat, I could ride him out.

I caught my breath, turned the stirrup out, shoved my foot in, and swung on. I hooked the off stirrup and settled in. I had my firm seat.

He turned his head to size up what was happening. I clicked my tongue and nudged him with my right foot. He stepped out, got his head down, and started to buck.

He made several short bone-jarring jumps. Then he bucked sideways. I lost a stirrup, then regained it. It seemed like an eternity. The border fence loomed up beside us. A barb on the top wire caught my pants leg and ripped a hole. I bailed off, fearing injury to the horse or myself.

My knees were weak. I leaned against him, letting him calm down. I let him blow, building up my nerve. I knew I couldn’t stop. I had to finish the job. Finally I led him back out into the meadow.

I stroked his shoulder and talked to him, taking the reins up in my left hand. Mounting up, I kept a tight rein, holding his head up this time.

He began to run. When he started toward the fence, I turned him by pulling his head around. He ran the full length of the meadow and then back again.

He was larger and stronger, but I stayed with him. Out there in the meadow we finally came to terms. I would ride and he would carry. A partnership began that was to last many years. He never bucked again.

His training progressed nicely. He learned to work cattle. We drove them from pasture to pasture or to the barn lot. Nothing fancy was needed, our stock was a mixture of dairy and beef. Dad had given me orders to go easy on the dairy stock.

I decided to train him with the rope. After all, every good stock horse should know how to work under a rope. I started by dropping loops over fence posts. Then I secured the rope to the saddle horn. I would get off and make him back off to tighten the slack. I would jerk and tug on the rope. He would face me and set back on it like a pro.

I shook a loop out, and twirled it around his ears and across his rump, time after time. I would ride alongside and pop the flies off the cows with the loop just to keep him familiar with the rope…

Several weeks later, we were bringing some yearling heifers up from the pasture. The small herd consisted of some Shorthorn and some Jerseys. One of the Jerseys was a little roguish. She had a perfect picture book set of small horns. In fact, she looked just like the picture that we used to see on the condensed milk can.

The cows were filing through the gate when the Jersey decided to make a break for it. The horse wheeled and went after her on his own, but she had a lead on us and was about to get away. In frustration, I flipped the loop after her.

Then things started to happen. The loop floated out over her back and settled perfectly over her horns. The horse went into a slide, throwing his weight to his rear legs. He was as solid as an oak tree when the heifer hit the end of the rope. She went airborne, turning a cartwheel through the air and landed on her side with a sickening thud.

I jumped off the horse and raced to the heifer thinking I had killed her. I jerked the loop off her horns and she just laid there groaning with her eyes rolled back in her head. I nudged her with the toe of my boot. To my relief she finally scrambled up and trotted towards the gate.

I coiled the rope and started to get back on the horse. Looking toward the barn, I saw my Dad standing in the doorway. “Bring it here,” he said. Head down, I shuffled over and reluctantly handed the rope to him.

The rope disappeared for several weeks and then one day it suddenly appeared on a nail in the feed alley. I watched it for several days. Finally, I slipped it down and tied it back on the saddle.  The horse and I were back in business. I never had anymore trouble from that heifer. She knew I could reach out and touch her!

 

Categories: Missouri, times gone by | Tags: , | 1 Comment

The Copper Kettle Gun Show

I will be signing my book Tales From Clear Creek at The Copper Kettle Gun Show, Ashland, MO Saturday Oct. 4. Stop by and see me at The Copper Kettle this Saturday!
Categories: Book Signing, guns, Missouri, times gone by | Tags: | Leave a comment

Christmas Snowstorm

It was probably the winter of 1948 or 49. My family had moved from the plains of Kansas to a farm near the Platte River in Buffalo County, Nebraska. We were up in the hills north of the Platte between Elm Creek and Kearney. The Platte River part of the Oregon Trail ran between us and the river. I was absorbing and cataloging frontier history even then. My next youngest sister and I went to school at Midway school house. It was a nice country school with two classrooms and a basement. It still exists at the intersection of Midway and Odessa roads. However it is now a nice farm house with a modern farmstead around it. I cannot remember a Christmas program at that school. I am sure we had them, every school did. At that young age we seem to need something special to tweak our memory.

And I do have a memory to share. My family had been invited to a Christmas program at a neighboring school several miles east of our community. It was a different world back then. Rural areas had no electricity and no communication except radios powered by six volt car batteries. Weather was reported on as it happened. We went to the school program. We watched skits, listened to students sing Christmas carols and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Suddenly people realized there was a full blown blizzard in progress outside. You don’t mess with a Nebraska blizzard. You get to a shelter and wait it out.

The Nielsen family lived near the school and they invited several families to stay with them. They were family friends and they were probably the ones that invited us to the Christmas program. My folks’ 1936 Chevy sedan was helpless in a foot of snow and visibility was down to a few feet. The folks gladly accepted their invitation.

The Nielsens owned a farm and ranch operation. They lived in a large frame house surrounded by various livestock buildings. When everybody got inside they started getting out cots and beds. It was a typical farm house, some rooms were heated and others were not. The women and small children would sleep in the heated rooms and the men and boys would sleep in the unheated rooms. Mrs. Nielsen went to her wardrobes and trunks producing sheets, blankets, and quilts. Dad and I drew a tall leather covered settee that folded out into a bed. We had sheets and a blanket, but by that time she was to the bottom of the trunk.

She pulled out a hair-covered lap robe, obviously left over from the horse and buggy days. It was a tanned hide with a quilted ticking liner that smelled slightly of mothballs. Dad and I slept warm as toast under it. We awoke to the sound of female chatter and the smell of pancakes and bacon frying in the pan. It had stopped snowing. . .

I thought it was a buffalo robe and called it that. In later years Dad said he thought it was a horse hide. I have never seen a horse with that much curly hair. Buffalo robe or horse hide robe, it gave an eight-year-old boy a Christmas snow storm memory and warm feeling for good neighbors along the Sundown Trail . . .

Merry Christmas! I hope the weather is just right for you wherever you are.

Categories: Nebraska, times gone by, Winter | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lymon and the broken windshield

It is cold outside.  Snow and ice are not far behind.  This kind of weather always triggers memories for me: Christmas programs at tiny one room schoolhouses, frosted window panes, and the warmth and comfort of the old wood cook stove.  Later memories of ice storms and miles of downed lines and the crews that worked through the days and nights to put them back up.

When the windshield starts icing up, I always remember an old timer named Lymon.  I was working as a service station attendant, my first real job in life.  At one time or another every person that owned a car or truck in our small community came through that service station drive.  They were as different as the patches on an old country quilt.  It was a good place for a seventeen-year-old to learn and observe.

Lymon drove a ragged old 1937 Chevy coupe.  This day I put in his customary ten gallons of gas (at 30 cents per gallon, by the way) and started to wash the windshield.  To my surprise there was a hole the size of a football right in front of the steering wheel.  I inquired and Lymon told me the story.  He had been in town to buy groceries and shop, but he took a little too long.  A fast-moving winter storm descended and his heater and his windshield wipers didn’t work.  About a mile out of town he had to stop because he couldn’t keep the ice off his wind shield.  Finally in desperation he took his hammer and broke a hole in front of the steering wheel.  “It worked fine,” he said.  So he left it that way.

The rest of the story came later.  After a “fix it or else” conversation with the local state trooper, Lymon took the old Chevy to Shorty’s Garage to have the driver’s side windshield replaced.  Shorty put in a new windshield, and while he was at it he put in a new thermostat and reattached the vacuum hose to the wipers.  Lymon went home happy.

Today when winter arrives and the snow blows, in my mind’s eye I can see Lymon driving down the road peering through that hole in his windshield with the ear flaps on his old cap fluttering in the breeze.

Figuratively speaking I have pulled a few Lymons.  I have seen others do it, too.  It is just part of living.

In the first year and a half I worked at the service station, all kinds of personalities and people came across that service station drive, the young, the old, the good, the bad, the ugly and the pretty.  The pretties did not pay too much attention to me.  But. . . then one day I installed a new battery for a pretty girl while she waited.  I tried to make conversation.  But she was not interested in talking to a guy with a toothy grin and grease smudges on his face.  Several years later we began dating and she eventually became my wife.  We celebrated our forty-ninth anniversary earlier this year.

We have much to be thankful for this holiday season.  Best wishes and a Merry Christmas from our house to yours.

Categories: times gone by, Winter | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Dull Knife, Dull Feller . . . Sharp Knife, Sharp Feller

I can’t remember when I first carried a folding knife in my pocket.  A good pocket knife was an essential tool for a farm kid in the forties and fifties.  It was used to cut the ties on fodder bundles and hay bales.  A sharp Case, Schrade or Barlow, and you were ready to skin a squirrel or clean a mess of Clear Creek bullheads. 

 
 

I was instructed in safety measures early on.  Such things as always cut away from your body, and don’t run with with the blade open.

 

At school we played Mumbley-peg during recess.  It was a gentler time.  No one questioned the right or reason to carry a pocket knife to school.  No one was ever hurt or threatened by a pocket knife at any of the rural schools I attended.

One of my most prized possessions during the fourth grade was a pair of high-topped lace-up boots equipped with a snap down knife pocket sewn on the side.  I wore them until they came apart from wear.

 

As a teenager while finishing high school, I worked at a feed mill on Saturdays grinding and mixing feed.  Most of the bags of grain and supplements we handled were one hundred pound size burlap bags.  They were tied or sewed with heavy cotton string.  To drop the contents into the hoppers the ties had to be cut.  Pocket knives were left laying on the scales or some other handy place ready for use on each bag dumped. 

One old timer I worked with never lacked for good old country humor and sayings.  He would pick my knife up and run his thumb across the dull edge, shake his head and say, “Dull knife, dull feller.”  Well, I did have trouble sawing through the larger cords.  I went to work on the knife with a sharpening stone.  I did not think much about it.  A few days later I turned around just in time to see him pick up the knife and run his thumb over it before I could warn him.  It must have bit him just a little.  Harry grinned and said, “Sharp knife, sharp feller.”

 

Today I carry an electrician’s knife in my pocket.  It has a large drop point blade and combination screwdriver burr reaming, lock open blade.  I also carry a pair of regular old slip joint farmer’s pliers in the plier pocket of my yard overalls.  Both tools are the handiest tools a man could carry.

These tools were made in America by craftsmen who knew what a good tool is.  When I am done with the knife and pliers, they will still be solid enough for another generation of handymen.

 
 

Categories: lessons learned, times gone by | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Alma’s Fire Shovel

Alma Ewing was my first grade teacher at Highland school in Benkelman Township, Cheyenne County, Kansas during the 1945-46 term.  Highland closed down at the end of the school year.  The school house was sold and the small number of pupils shifted to other schools.  For the second grade I went to Mt. Zion, another one-room school, three or four miles east of our sod-walled home.  Alma taught there, too.  Sometimes I rode horseback, but most of the time the folks delivered me in the A-Model Ford.

My older brother Wayne had graduated from the eighth grade at Highland the year before I started and Alma had been his teacher, too.  He told me that she was a strict disciplinarian.  He claimed she used a fire shovel to administer spankings.  When things really got rough, so his story went, she stuck it in the stove to heat it first.

Fireshovel

This is similar to Alma’s fire shovel

I was young, but I had already caught on to my brother’s mischievous nature.  I didn’t set much store by his fire shovel tale.  That is, until one cold wintery day at Mt. Zion school.

This day the students were more fractious and noisy than usual.  Alma warned us several times to quiet down.  Soon the din would return to a low roar.

Finally she had enough.  Alma walked to the back corner of the room, removed the fire shovel from the coal bucket, opened the stove door, and placed the shovel in the fire box with the handle protruding out the door.  Silence fell over the room.  It seems the story had been told by others, also.  Alma had heard the story too!

The morning ground on in silence.  Finally the noon hour came.  We went out for recess and when we returned the shovel was back in the coal bucket.

Alma left her mark on me.  I’m happy to say that it wasn’t with a fire shovel.

Several years ago I was returning to Missouri along Interstate 70 from a vacation out west.  I learned that the Tri-State Threshers Association was having their annual get-together and steam engine show at Bird City in eastern Cheyenne County.  I turned north at Goodland and went about 40 miles to Bird City to visit the Association’s fairgrounds.  The steam engines were puffing and the whistles were sounding.  I was browsing the flea market, enjoying the displays including the Charles Lindbergh display.  Yes, there is Charles Lindbergh history in Cheyenne County, Kansas!  But that is another story in itself, for another time.

I stopped to look at the old schoolhouse display and realized I was looking at old Highland, District 66 school building.  After it had closed it had been sold to a service station owner who moved the building to St. Francis and used it for tire and automotive products storage.  The Threshers Association had obtained the school and restored it.

Highland School

Highland School in its new place

 

There it was complete with schoolmarm and class in session.

Highland School inside

A modern day schoolmarm pretends to teach class at the new school location during Tri-State Threshers Association’s annual get-together in Bird City, Kansas.

 

Highland school had traveled from its Buffalo Grass and sagebrush-covered hill on the western side to the flat land eastern side of Cheyenne County.  Alma Ewing would have been proud.

Walt at original Highland School site

Walt at original Highland School site – District 66 Cheyenne County, Kansas.

Categories: lessons learned, times gone by | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Close Encounters With Creatures of the Crawling Kind

The grizzly bear, the black bear, the wolf, and finally the mountain lion left, first the Midwest and then the High Plains at about the same time that the so-called civilized man moved into those areas.  With those top of the food chain predators gone, you would think that the outdoor people would have nothing to fear.  Wrong!  Those of us raised on the land know differently.  There is one creature we walk in constant fear of.  A creature that the mere sight of causes the hair on the back of the neck to stand up and the skin to crawl.  I’m talking about snakes. The poisonous kind of snake!

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

On the high plains of Kansas and Nebraska where I spent the first ten years of my life, the most common reptiles of the snake kind were the colorful bullsnake- a harmless and beneficial rodent hunter, and the deadly diamondback rattlesnake.  Both types of snakes were common on the farm we lived on in Cheyenne County Kansas.

I had my most memorable encounter with a diamondback when I was about six years old…  We had a rogue cow that had learned that she could stick her head through the fence and push over a weak post.  Once done she had easy access to the adjoining corn or grain field.  Dad looked over west toward the field of young corn and saw the cow out.  He laid his posthole diggers, a shovel, a post and tamping tool across the back bumper of the old A-Model Ford.  I came running out of the house barefooted wanting to go along.  He agreed to let me go if I stayed in the car.   

Down the lane we went into the pasture.  The cow had been through the procedure so many times that she readily went back into the pasture with a little encouragement from a switch.  Dad unloaded his tools and set about changing out the broken post. 

I was an active kid, and I soon reneged on my promise to stay in the car.  First, I moved to the running board and in an attempt to keep my bare feet off the blazing hot bare ground, I started jumping from clump to clump of the short, curly, and soft buffalo grass.  About the third clump I heard the warning buzz of rattles and felt an old diamondback move under my bare foot.  I went ballistic, screaming and jumping as high as my young legs would carry me.  Dad came running around the car yelling, “Did it bite you?!”  Of course I wouldn’t stop hollering, and he jerked off my overalls looking for fang marks on my legs.  When he did not find the bite marks and I calmed down enough to tell him how it happened, he deduced I was not bitten.  The poor old rattler lost its head to the posthole diggers anyhow.  It had no doubt curled itself tightly around the clump of grass to take advantage of the sparse shade.  This fact probably kept it from striking and saved me from a bad experience.            

Here in the Ozarks we have many harmless snakes, the most prevalent being the black rat snake.  But the ones to give a wide birth are the timber rattler, the cottonmouth moccasin, and perhaps the most hard to spot and thus avoid is the copperhead.  

Snake stories, I have told one or two.  I could tell a dozen.

Categories: outdoors, times gone by | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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