Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: Saying goodbye to a good hand
I guess it’s just a sad fact of life to lose a good friend along the way. My son called to tell me that Johnny Buckingham had died from a fall from a haystack. It seems so inexplicable that a man like him could be taken away in such a way. I had watched John win the saddle bronc event at a PRCA rodeo and I had watched him ride green horses when he was in his seventies. I grew up riding horses that he broke. He was the best hand I have ever known with livestock.
For the most part, modern rodeo cowboys have all the arena skills and very little ranch savvy. John could compete with the best at a rodeo and be a top hand with either cattle or sheep out on the range. He often helped me and it was pure pleasure for me because he never needed to be told how to do anything. He was always in the right place at the right time. The only difficult thing with John was getting even with him for helping. He wouldn’t take any pay so I had to be creative to try and make the balance sheet between us even. Fred Eeeles and I finally built him an arena but that was only a down payment on what I owed him.
John was also a good dog trainer. He wanted to give me a yearling border collie once. I had experience with trying to boss other people’s dogs and tried to decline the offer. John let the dog loose and it went off on a big run. He told me the dog’s name and said for me to call it. When I said his name the dog came back to me. I still wasn’t convinced so John said we should have a cup of tea and we went in the house. The dog laid down on the kitchen floor with his head on my foot. I left that night with the dog.
Nowadays people talk about having a support group. For our outfit, just knowing that if we needed help that we could get John reduced our worries. My kids always said if John was helping then everything would go alright. We did a lot of horse deals with John and they always came out just as he said. John would tell you the horse’s flaws as well as their good points. His best sales method was to bring a horse out and use him. When one horse he was riding bucked him off he casually said that he didn’t think I would like the horse. John helped me ship my calves last fall. If such men were not so rare, it would be easier to say goodbye.