Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gunmetal Stud II: The Law Arrives

Burl Branchwater paused in the shoeing of my horse to tell me a story about a man who accused him of stealing two of his horses. The story he told goes something like this:
September weather was cool for Northeast Texas and Burl expected a lot of horses.  A fall parade in town always brought customers who only tended their horses in advance of a parade.  Three were already in the barn lot when he stepped out of the house before dawn.  He started on the first one by sparse daylight. 
A man too well-dressed to be fooling with horses arrived at good-dawn, opened the lot gate and led two horses in like he was a regular customer.  “Damn.  How early does a man have to get up to be first in line?”
Burl kept at the old shoe.  Didn’t look up.  Something about the man’s attitude irritated him.  “Some sorta parade today.  Horses get rode on parade days that ain’t seen shoe or saddle in a year.”
The man led two horses past Max and tied them to the fence. “Name’s Frank Falwell.  Call me Frankie T.  I called your wife.  Reckon you can have ‘em ready by noon?”  Max glanced at the black mare and gunmetal gray, dismissing a flicker of recognition. 
“Expect I can.  Just got this one and the other two ahead of you.”  He waited for Frankie T. to leave before taking a closer look.  The gray had a big jaw for a gelding, like a late-cut stud.  Burl rubbed the horse’s neck, spoke to him and looked between his legs.  The blood was not even fully clotted.  
He walked over to the house and told Lillie to call Bobby Ray Foster.  Bobby Ray had partnered with Cole Cunningham on a top bred gunmetal stud that had been stolen a few weeks back. Lillie reported no answer at Bobby Ray’s house, not even an answering machine.Cole's number was unlisted. Burl shrugged and went back to work.
By pure chance, Bobby Ray drove up an hour later, dragging a two-horse trailer.  Seems his wife wanted to ride in the parade, too.  Six horses were tied to the fence by then. Thinking of biting and kicking, Bobby Ray started to tie his two horses several yards away from the others.  
Feeling as if Providence had intervened when Bobby Ray arrived, Burl dropped the hoof he was working on and stood.  “Tie your two over by the gunmetal gray so I can keep ‘em in order.  He don’t kick. Don’t know if I can get yours shod by the time the parade starts.” 
Bobby Ray shrugged.  “Don’t matter, just the old lady wants to ride.  Just as soon skip it myself.”  He tied his horses and touched the gunmetal’s hip as he stepped away.
Irritated, Burl pointed a rasp directly at the gray, but did not look up. “All them horses, including that gunmetal stud, are ahead of you.”
Bobby Ray still did not catch on. “I understand. I can wait.”
Burl was exasperated. He pointed to the gunmetal again with his rasp. “Got any opinions on them other horses?”
Bobby Ray took another look.  His eyes widened as he ran his hand over the gray’s hip. “Damn. That’s me and Cole’s stud, ain’t it?”  
“I’ll kiss your ass if it didn’t used to be your stud.”
Bobby Ray looked under the horse’s belly. “Hell’s bells.  Somebody took his jewels. Them was worth five thousand apiece.  Where the hell did you find him?”
“Didn’t. Feller brought him in here about dawn with that black mare. Said his name was Falwell.”  
“What do you reckon we oughta do?”
“Up to you, but I’d call the sheriff.”
“Can I use your phone?”
“Just go on up to the house and ask Lillie to call.”
It took Deputy Sheriff Leo Briggs an hour to make the fifteen-minute drive from the county seat.  Lillie had told the dispatcher that Burl and the horse in question were at the barn, but that did not stop the deputy from going to the house door instead and knocking.  Lillie had gone to the grocery store, so Burl and Bobby Ray waited for the deputy to come to them. 
When they looked up again, he was driving away. Bobby Ray ran to his pickup and honked the horn enough to stop him.  The chagrined deputy returned and sauntered across Burl’s yard, his belly a few inches ahead of the rest of him, hat cocked to one side. 
“Miz Branchwater said something about a horse been stole.”
Next week, the law takes hold. 
 A review from Charlotte: "Go Down Looking" cannot be described with flowery words like wonderful, great, etc though it is all those things, IT IS LIFE with all the joys of life and all the sorrows.
Be prepared for an emotional ride.Mr. Ainsworth is my favorite author/bar none. Every book he writes is better than the last, though the first one was great.Get to know the Rivers' family and get with the flow.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Gunmetal Stud

This story is mostly true, but names have been changed to protect the innocent. Also, I was not there for all of the scenes, so I had to improvise. Let’s just call it a fictional short story, but I came by my information on good authority.

Calvin, an old high school buddy and captain of the Quien Sabe Ranch rodeo team, gained me entry to the back chutes and inner sanctum of working ranch cowboys outside the Taylor Expo Center in Abilene.  Hoping to see or hear something different than a normal spectator would, I walked among real working ranch cowboys, my heroes, as they prepared for the Ranch Rodeo part of the Western Heritage Classic. 
Near the Pitchfork Ranch team, I stopped at the sound of cursing and laughter.  A big cowboy was trying to reset a loose shoe on a palomino mare.
I was dressed in my best ostrich boots and my wildest wild rag. But the big, muscular, flat-bellied stranger beside me had me more than one-upped with handmade crocodile boots, matching belt, silver buckle with two keepers and tip, custom shirt and designer jeans. 
We both laughed when the yellow mare struck out with a back hoof and slapped the big farrier away from her front hoof like she was swatting a horsefly with her tail.  The farrier looked at the blood oozing from both of his shoulders. The hand on the side of his neck came back bloody, too. 
“Crazy bitch.  That’s it for me, boys.”  He picked up his farrier box and walked away.      
I laughed with the cowboys, but felt sympathy for the farrier.  I spoke more to myself than the man standing beside me.  “Heard about a yellow horse that looked like that mare a few years ago.  They called her Sunfish.  Best horse on the ranch, but wouldn’t let anybody near her feet.  Farriers all said her hooves should be registered as lethal weapons.”
The well-dressed fella bit.  “So what happened to her?”
“They hauled her about four hours up to Northeast Texas.  A friend of mine got her shod.  He’s the only man in Texas can shoe her to this day.” 
“Where’s this feller at?”
“Delta County.  Name’s Burl Branchwater.”
“Burl Branchwater?  Hell, I know him.  Took two horses to him once.  Never saw em again.”  I felt my temperature rising a little at the suggestion that Burl was a horse thief, but I was too small and too late to do anything about the insult. The stranger was gone before I could challenge him.  
He didn’t really need it, but I took my horse to be shod the next week. I was curious. Burl had just begun breaking nails on the old shoes when I mentioned what happened in Abilene.  He dropped the hoof and straightened and I knew I should have waited till he finished before mentioning it.  “Big feller, you say?”
“Almost as big as you.  Well-dressed.  I mean expensive stuff.  A man that women look at twice.”
“You get his name?”
“Nope.”  I grinned.  “Walked off or I woulda just whipped his ass for you. That and the hundred pounds he had on me.””
“No need.  I know who the sumbitch is.  Called me a horse thief, did he?  Want to know what really happened?”
I pulled up a seatless metal chair with a board across it and sat down. 
Burl pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and struck a match on his thumbnail. “That low-life bastard called Lillie (Lillie is Burl’s wife) one Wednesday night about a year ago.  Wanted two horses shod before the weekend.  She told him I was booked the rest of the week, but he could come on Saturday.”
I knew the routine.  Lillie sets appointments for his farrier work on weekday afternoons, but Saturday is like an old-time barbershop – first come-first served.  Burl told the rest of the story and it was way past dark before he finished shoeing my horse.
I’m not as good a storyteller as Burl is, but I will try to do him justice next week. You’ll need to pay close attention, but it will be worth it. It is a very unusual story. You know what they say about truth being stranger than fiction. 
Wonderful read, June 20, 2012

This review is from: Go Down Looking (Perfect Paperback)
I had been looking forward the the next book in the Rivers saga and was not disappointed. Jim has a unique way of portraying his characters. Being from the area where the book is set, I could really identify with the setting and also with the time frame in the novel. The book shows just how different siblings can be, along with the many emotions that are involved in families. It does help you enjoy this book more if you have read the previous ones. All of them were very good. Start writing the next one Jim!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Waddie and Don at Old ET

Some of our reps (CPA’s, Stockbrokers, Financial Planners) were less than enthusiastic when I announced that Fort Worth was the site for our next conference (one said it was not a “destination city”), but their doubts quickly dissipated about five minutes into Don and Waddie’s exclusive performance at the Worthington. I got to know them better and also got to meet Rich O’Brien, famous in his own right as a musician and producer.

Three years later, I sold my interest in the financial services company to pursue a few of those cowboy dreams. One of the first was a trip across Texas from Ranger in Eastland County to Cooper in Delta County by covered wagon and horseback to retrace the journey my ancestors had made eighty years earlier. I rode Bob Moline’s saddle.

In Decatur, I left my horse outside and walked into an art gallery featuring the work of Buck Taylor. One of the employees mistook me for Buck. The same thing happened a few years later at a Fort Worth Stockyards restaurant.

Just after the trip, I was on the committee to plan a United Way concert here in Commerce. I contacted The Bard and The Balladeer.  They came, saw and conquered. Waddie spent the night at our house.

At a pre-concert gathering at Across the Creek, the roping arena and barn we owned back then, Don Edwards signed my movie poster of the Horse Whisperer.  Robert Redford apparently heard his music and sought him out to play the part of ranch foreman Smokey in that movie. By this time, he had been Western Music Association Artist of the Year for two years running. He had performed for Ronald Reagan when he was president and George Bush when he was governor.

Jerald helped me to build a roping arena and barn and I began team roping in 1998 using Bob’s saddle. Team roping is hard on a saddle. After a couple of years of hard riding and roping, I took it into Oxbow Saddle Shop in Fort Worth, Bob’s new shop. The craftsmen oohed and aaahed at the saddle Bob (the master they held in reverence) had made before he opened the saddle shop, then they made it look like new.

A few months later, Western Jubilee sent me an invitation to attend a performance by Don at his old hangout, The White Elephant Saloon in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Waddie was not there, but Rich O’Brien and Don treated Jerald and I like old friends. Rich is in the Western Music Association Hall of Fame and has been named Instrumentalist of the Year six times (including 2012).

In 2001, Waddie was featured on the front page of the travel section of the Dallas Morning News, telling tales at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Nine months later, Don Edwards was the feature story in the High Profile section of the Dallas Morning News.

In 2010, someone sent me an article by e-mail from Western Horseman called Off the Grid. It was a feature story about Waddie (otherwise known as Bruce Douglas Mitchell) and his wife Lisa (the daughter of comedian Buddy Hackett) and their 5000 square foot home and seven hundred twenty acre ranch (Half Circle One) outside Elko, Nevada. The morning after he stayed at our house, he shared his dream of owning just such a ranch.

In the April/May 2012 issue of American Cowboy, there is a story about Don called At Home with Don Edwards. He has moved away from Weatherford to Hico. In the article, I learned that Saddle Songs is now included in the Folklore Archives of the Library of Congress. Remember that Saddle Songs was that little cassette or CD that Jerald gave me? That’s what started it all. Still think it’s a series of coincidences?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Saddle with a Story

Last week left me standing at the door to Bob Moline’s backyard studio. Don welcomed me inside. I apologized for intruding, told him I knew his friend Don Edwards, and invited him to our conference.

A beautiful saddle almost exactly like the one I had seen being crafted in the magazine article sat on a wooden stand, surrounded by Native American artifacts including Bob’s personal medicine wheel and a white-faced buffalo head.

The studio was bright and immaculately clean. Many of Bob’s paintings hung on the walls, some just leaned against it in what might some might see as haphazard fashion, but I suspected an artist’s sense of order prevailed. One painting in progress seemed to take center stage.

I already knew that Bob was a Comanche-Pawnee, but I did not know he had been named official artist of the Texas Bicentennial Wagon Train (friends Charles Horchem, Larry Mitchell and Gene Casselberry were part of that train). He showed me some of the greeting cards he had designed and I asked him to sign a few for me. He also signed the magazines I had brought.

I knew that his work graced the walls of the Cowboy Hall of Fame because I had seen them there. But I did not know that his work had appeared on the covers of The Cattleman and Paint Horse Journal magazines. I saw awards on the wall naming him an outstanding artist from Texas Professional Artists, The American Indian and Cowboy Artist’s Society and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame.

Moline worked for Ryan’s Saddle Shop for twelve years and painted as a hobby. His Ryon saddles were purchased by folks like cutting horse legend Buster Welch, singer Loretta Lynn and movie cowboy Guy Madison. When he left there and turned to painting, his success as an artist surprised him. 

Now, he said, he paints for a living and makes saddles as a hobby. He also does four or five sculptures a year.I was surprised when he said that making saddles was his first love. His trademark is a single eagle feather carved into each saddle, which symbolizes his personal vision of the West. In Indian culture, it stands for strength, wisdom and courage.    

All the time we were talking, my eyes kept going back to the saddle on the stand. It had the type of stamping and tooling I prefer, oxbow stirrups, was the right color of leather and I loved the feather symbol. I guess nobody will be surprised when I say that I now own that saddle, along with a matching buffalo head nickel belt that Bob made for me. I wanted a sculpture of the saddle, but he seemed reluctant to take an order for a sculpture. I suppose a sculpture is best when inspired, not made to order.
At Punk Carter's ranch 
Some of our reps were reluctant when we announced that Fort Worth was the site for our next conference (one said it was not a “destination city”), but their doubts quickly dissipated about five minutes into Don and Waddie’s exclusive performance at the Worthington for our company. I got to know them better and also got to meet Rich O’Brien, famous in his own right as a musician and producer.

Three years later, I left my old job and sold my interest in the financial services company (1st Global) to pursue a few of those cowboy dreams. One of the first was a trip across Texas from Ranger in Eastland County to Cooper in Delta County by covered wagon and horseback to retrace the journey my ancestors had made eighty years earlier. I rode Bob Moline’s saddle.The picture above was taken on our journey at Punk Carter's Ranch the week after he was named president of the American Cutting Horse Association.

In Decatur, I left my horse outside and walked into an art gallery featuring the work of Buck Taylor. One of the employees mistook me for Buck. The same thing happened a few years later at a Fort Worth Stockyards restaurant. 

Next week: the final installment. Don and Waddie come to Commerce and our Across the Creek arena and barn.