What is a rancher?
In the last column I wrote about a book by the late old-time cowboy, Frank O’Rourke, “Retracing Old Trails.” In this book, O’Rourke sets forth journal entries and stories of his days in the saddle in the early years of cattle ranching on the Northern Plains. This book also contains classic cowboy poetry as well as crudely written original poems from the author and cowboy friends, but one item found in this book that is worthy of sharing is an article that strikes resemblance to describing today’s cattlemen.
WHAT IS A RANCHER?
Ranchers are usually found where there’s cattle feeding, dehorning, branding, roping and doctoring. Bankers hate to see them coming, little boys admire them, the Secretary of Agriculture confuses them, city people visit and don’t understand them, meals wait for them, other ranchers compete with them, barbed wire cuts them, television glorifies them, and nothing discourages them.
They like fairs, rodeos, auctions, doggies, hounds, dances, neighbors, forty dollar boots, Saturday in town, poker, good weather, fist fights and rank horses.
Ranchers don’t care much for poodles, dudes, government men, fixing fence, screw worms, cold weather, lightning, dairy cows, sheep, brush and weak coffee. They put up with relatives, flies, worms, floods, blizzards, bad luck and bad weather.
Today a rancher must be a salesman, animal nutritionist, vet, biologist, weather prophet and a banker’s uncalculated risk. He handles more money than most businessmen and makes less clear profit than a paper boy.
No man is so far from church, yet so close to God. No man gets as much genuine enjoyment out of running water, television and a good game of pool.
He carries in his pocket at one time: Bull Durham, pocket knife, staples, tally book, one inch lead pencil, calling cards of at least five politicians (all of whom he promised to vote for), cattle ear tags, fence pliers, piggin’ string, $l.98 watch, billfold (empty), and a currycomb.
No one gets kicked, stepped on, run over, bruised, cut up or as mad as he does in a single day’s work. He is overly optimistic in: the cattle market, next year, the ten-year-old cow that’s never calved, range conditions, the hay crop, and his twice renewed livestock loan.
No one is as generous, big-hearted, friendly, dependable, or honest and he will swap anything except his spurs, ropes or bits.
He trusts his fellow man.
The rancher is a producer of meat, the hope of the future, the self-made man of today. Big business doesn’t fear him and the government doesn’t subsidize him. He relies on free enterprise and the hope that next year will be as good (or better) as last. He doesn’t cry on shoulders when hard times hit, but resolves to do better if he can.
He is the epitome of the American ideal, and knows that he must either survive without government or perish with it.
(published by Frank O’Rourke, 1970)
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Nebraska’s Big Rodeo put Burwell on the map, and now in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.