THE OLD HOMESTEAD
The Nebraska Prairie shows us a glimpse of yesteryear with the scattering of abandoned old Homesteads. A look at our past is a look at our heritage. A drive through the rolling hills and canyons in any of the four directions shows us the evidence of past days when folks migrated to this great open wilderness.
Some of this open expanse still remains, as it was 100 years ago today — the prairie draws still covered with the waving native grasses. The only visible change is the addition of “bob” wire fences and the skeletons of windmills needed to bring the water from the depths below to the surface so thirsty cattle folks could drink.
A requirement of the Homestead Act was to “prove up” on the 160 acres that Great Grand Dad was claiming. The first thing needed was a shelter from the summer heat, hail, rain and wind; as well as, from the howling, wind-driven snow and bone chilling cold of a southwest Nebraska winter.
So the family home was constructed. Often the first home was of sod origin. A sod-breaking plow was used to cut the buffalo grass turf—one straight furrow after another. A straight bladed spade cut the ribbon of sod into lengths that one or two men could handle. Then it was laid like rows of bricks on the selected site to form the walls and eventually the sod roof. This first home was cool in summer and warm in winter. Often summer-time visitors included an occasional bull snake or maybe a rattler seeking cool relief from the heat. Sometimes a wooden floor was laid but mostly the floor was just hard packed earth! Great Grand Ma dressed up her new home by hanging gingham curtains on the two windows.
After a few years, if the crops and cattle prices were good or “fair to middlin”, a new house was planned. Wagonloads of lumber were hauled from the lumberyard in town. Neighbors would gather from miles around to help “raise” the new house and later on for the “barn raisin” too.
With perseverance and hard work, for the early settlers were a hardy a lot, who endured and produced an abundance of crop and livestock, as well as healthy and hardy kids.
The families who were raised during these times were hard working, loyal and strong. Their descendants who have carried on through the years still harbor the same strong work ethic that was typical of their early relatives.
But the elements of time, Nature, drought, hail, hard-times and the Great Depression have taken their toll.
This Prairie land is tough and hard to tame. Even after these many years of taming it’s still full of stamina and quickness — like a horse that just doesn’t want to be rode. It’s just waiting for you to show a bit of weakness and when you do and least expect it — it gives you a double-whammy. It will deal you a double hand of dry weather then hail.
An entire year’s labor and expense can be lost. Add to this the debt owed the Bank and the results can be devastating. A forced sale of the original homestead, family farm or ranch causes a movement of folks off their land. At one time there was a family home on about just every 160 acres or quarter section. When one homestead was vacated, it was often added to a neighbor’s holdings, leaving behind the reminders of another family’s hopes and dreams.
Those hopes and dreams vanish and are gone forever. One can wander through an old, abandoned homestead and almost see and feel the family that once called it their home. Shuffle through the bricks scattered around the ground that once was a chimney. Walk among the weeds and grass that have reclaimed the old place and one may find a part of a child’s decaying old button shoe. As one continues the inspection, they can almost feel the nearness of the children playing in the grass beneath the trees that this morning are filled with Blackbirds singing the beginning of a new Spring. Continue on and find remnants of a harness with the leather rotted away leaving only the rusty snaps and rings.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this trip into the past—it- could be that nothing remains the same. Progress continues to march on — leaving only reminders of one’s past.
WHEN DAYS WERE BLACK AND WHITE
Remember when we were growing up in the fifties and things were on a simpler note? Dad’s old car was a 4 door ‘52 Chrysler. He didn’t buy it new but she served the family well. It seemed that it was a bit crowded riding in it and seating was at a premium when we all went to town. Being the youngest of seven kids, I managed to squeeze in where I could. Having the two oldest out of the household didn’t seem to make much difference as far as room was concerned.
We lived in an old 2-story farmhouse that we moved into in 1944, the year of my birth. Winters were cold and the upstairs bedrooms were a long way from being warm. Sleeping three to a bed was required to maintain any degree of warmth for us kids. The old iron bedstead was covered with 3 or 4 quilts that been passed down. Spring finally came then the warmth of summer finally faded the cold memories of winter.
Growing up, I became a broomstick cowboy. With an old Stetson hat on my head, (a hand-me-down from an older brother), I galloped my way around the farmyard and back porch. Visions of Tex Ritter loped through my mind as we chased the bad guys and outlaws; sitting around an imaginary campfire at sundown. At day’s end, I put my broomstick horse back in the closet that served as its stable.
Later on I discovered an old Schwinn bike in the garage. No one took time to show me how to ride, so I just pushed it around the farmyard. One fall day, a cousin from Littleton was visiting and thought it was funny that I didn’t ride it. Between the two of us, we got it figured out and eventually we wobbled and wove our way around the gravel farmyard. Like they say, once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget.
Finally I started school and that doesn’t bring back the fondest of memories. During one noon-hour recess, I was watching some kids soaring high on the swings. Being distracted momentarily I wandered into the flight path of one of the high-flying swingers. (No pun intended!) BAM and SHEZAMM MR DILLON! An unknown and unseen (by me at least!) flying object struck me on the head and down I went. School bells rang! Everyone, including the teacher, went back inside. Class resumed but with one empty desk. Where’s D? Exclaimed one little freckled face boy. Looking out the window, “Hey! He’s laying on the ground by the swings asleep!” Pete yelled! Seems as though I was knocked out for a few minutes and to this day I don’t recall that period of time.
High school brought a whole new set of challenges. To begin with, Dad’s old white Chrysler took its final trip. It was lying in pieces on the workbench at the local Ford garage. Dad traded the Chrysler and all its broken pieces for a 1958 Dodge Cornet, used of course! Now this was CLASS, two-tone green and white, with fins and spinner hubcaps. It even had a swivel driver’s seat. Flip the little lever and it would swing toward the driver’s door. Sit your little skinny butt down and swing right back under the steering wheel. WOW! It even had a push-button transmission. Hit the key and crank it up. Hey Man, we’re Cool now! Can’t wait to drag Main.
Girls were from a whole other planet. Summer’s over and classes begin. What happened to those skinny, string-bean females we knew in 8th grade? These freshman girls look a whole lot better. Rounder and firmer packed. Just like the Winston cigarette ad says! Dates were at a premium. Who would want to go with this skinny farm kid, even if he does wear boots and Western shirts?
The Junior-Senior Prom came in the spring. Being a member of a class of 35 kids and only 10 girls, they were snatched up real quick by the All-Star quarterback and the whole starting line-up. That left the rest of us enterprising young men to our own devices and entertainment. Could be that was the night Ken let the air out of the tires on his old Chevy, drove onto the railroad track and “rode the rails! “. From Haxtun to Holyoke, about 15 miles. Fortunately this was not a main line for the railroad; it was used about once a week by a local freight. When Ken rode the rails across the main drag at Holyoke, the town cop happened to see this Chevy going non-stop down the tracks. The old local yokel’s mouth dropped open and lost his false teeth. Ken waved at the old boy on his way out of town. Surprisingly, no charges were ever filed.
After all these years, one of the most remembered family events that occurred on Saturday nights was a supper of scrambled eggs and green beans. That ranks right up there with Doctor Seuss and green eggs and ham says Sam I Am
THE GIRL WITH THE FADED BLUE EYES
The music in the dance hail seemed to flow out into the adjoining hallway. As the girl with the faded blue eyes heard the music, she followed it down the hall. She walked across the dance floor and sat down just as the caller said, “Now honor your partner and promenade home.”
She cast a glance out across the square dancers and watched them as they circled around the floor, “With an allemande- left with your corner, all the gals to the center and star right. Guys circle left, find your partner and swing.” As she watched, her eyes settled on a tall, lanky cowboy as he grabbed his partner and swung her around.
As this dance was winding down, this lean lanky guy happened to notice the girl sitting alone. He thanked his partner for the dance. With a slow lengthy gait he made his way to the chairs and sat down beside the blue-eyed girl.
After small talk and some slow, awkward introductions, they began to get to know each other. They walked together out of the dancehall and into what was to become a lifetime partnership of sharing, love and laughter. After a few months courtship and meeting her folks, they were married that fall. They were blessed with four kids, 2 girls and 2 boys.
Times weren’t easy but hard work was always there staring them in the face. Their kids went to school and grew up to be responsible, with good values and respectful of others.
With ranching jobs, feedlot work, truck driving and day work; they managed to pay the endless bills that life seems to hand you. Their dream of a ranch someday seemed a long way off. After struggling for many years, they were able buy a few acres and call it their own. They raised some sheep, pigs and put their brand on some mighty good cows. And what’s a ranch without a faithful horse or two. A good faithful dog was always around.
Now after 35 years, they are still together dancing life’s dance, still of best friends!
Here is one of their grand daughters with the same faded blue eyes.
THE FLASH FLOOD OF ‘99
The bright yellow sun brought the dawning of a new day to the sticky and hot month of August. It showed the promise of yet another uneventful day.
The prairie gophers scampered about the floor of the tall-grassed canyon—–concerned only with building another gopher mound and gathering a supply of weed seeds.
Grasshoppers jumped about from the tall bluestem to the nearby wild sunflowers, their only need was to find some flavor-full munching.
The white-tailed hawk glided overhead, slow and lazy, his keen eyes searching for the movement of the busy gopher or maybe a Kangaroo rat jumping through the clumps of soapweed.
Grazing cattle moved slowly along the canyon’s rim, working their way downward toward the bottom searching for the more tender grass shoots as the sun worked its way higher into the blue sky that showed a scattering of white billowy clouds.
As the mid-day heat began to climb a prairie rattlesnake slithered into the shade of the cutbank on the apposing canyon wall. The afternoon temperature continued upward and the white billowy clouds began to give way to a darkening sky and growing thunderheads coming from the Northwest.
A wheat farmer’s green tractor moved across the western horizon tilling the fallow ground. A dust cloud rose in the still air behind the slow moving machinery.
The thunderstorm continued to grow. Soon lightning as sharp as sabers cuts across the black clouds. The dust cloud that billowed up behind the green tractor is gone now as the farm machinery disappears behind the horizon.
The storm rapidly grows and now the thunder can be heard quickly behind the daggers of lightning. Rain begins to fall. Scattered drops soon become a marching army of raging raindrops rushing downward in close cadence.
The gopher that scurried hurriedly scattering weed seeds now seeks shelter. The prairie rattler also seeks out the gopher’s burrow. The cattle bunch up behind the cutbank as the driving rain forces them together.
Soon —- within minutes that seem like hours —- the torrential rain starts to cut washouts and gulleys across the freshly tilled field, sending precious topsoil rushing downhill. The grassy draws become racing streams. The floor of the tall grass canyon is now saturated. The cattle that are bunched under the cutbank grow restless. Something tells them of another danger— rushing floodwater!
They start to mill nervously. Suddenly, the red, one horned cow breaks free and the herd follows her at a run — a run for life. They stampede downstream trying to stay ahead of the rushing and rolling floodwaters. Their hooves find an incline that leads them upward, away from the canyon floor. And the cows’ race on — slipping and struggling —- to reach the eastern rim of the canyon. The rain is driving unrelentingly but they pull themselves up to the prairie plateau and safety.
The thunderstorm raged on, for what seemed like several hours during that fateful hot August night. They say that in the upper reaches of the watershed 14 inches of rain had quenched the earth’s thirst. The water raced down the Little Blackwood Canyon creating havoc as it went. Some say this was the equal of a 100-year storm. Washed out were several country roads, diversion dams and other older flood control structures. The NRD flood dams built in recent times withstood the onslaught rather well. But, regardless of the havoc and the damage caused by the flood, no human life was lost!
28 Nov. 1999
A FENCING EXPERIENCE
One spring day in late April, the pastures were greening. The cows had their new babies — running and bounding around. It was time for one of the important ranch chores: checking the pasture fences before turnout time.
The spring snowstorms had abated and with the warming weather, the grass was coming to life.
The yellow and rusty Ford pickup was loaded with the necessary tools, posts and “Bob Wire”. Leaving the ranch yard to reach the first stretch of pasture fence to check, we turn onto the two-track trail that winds along, over and around the rolling hills and canyons.
The terrain is too rugged to drive very far in the old Ford, so it’s stopped along the ridgeline. To go any farther one must hike along the fence line, so the tools needed are taken from the dented and rusty pickup box: hammer, fence pliers, staple bucket and a short piece of “Bob wire”. So one steps out and walks along the fence line.
The warm spring wind blows through the waving grass. The yucca plants will soon be setting on their flower stalks —- to be filled with white blooms. It feels refreshing to be so close to Mother Nature; to see and experience the beauty of her landscape.
Walking along, stopping to drive a few staples into the line of hedge posts —- one strides out, avoiding the needle like sharp pointed leaves of soapweed.
Stepping down between the soapweed clumps, one feels a wriggling movement beneath the foot. The first reaction is to leap over the moon and as one does — try to identify the species of snake so close to your being. As you come back down to earth, you see that it is just a big Bull snake — stretched out warming in the Sun. “Sorry Bull! Don’t mind me, I’m just fixing fence!”
4 June 1999
It was the 14th day of May. Our youngest son was ready to embark on one of the most important experiences of his 17 years.
The driver of the courier car arrived bright and early that morning in May. Dad had already said his good-bye before he left for work. Mom stood in the early light of the Nebraska farmyard and hugged and kissed her son good-by. Their child, so proud, so grown-up entered the passenger side of the car, not to be seen by his family for the next ten weeks.
Next stop, Reception Center, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. “You there! Of f that bus! Fall in! What are you so slow for? Put your gear on the ground in front of you! You soldier, stand at attention! Do you understand me Private?” This was the introduction to military life. Life as he knew it on the little farm in Nebraska, was going to be put on hold for the next two and half months.
“Yes Sir!” “No Mam!” Up at 4 AM, Oh sorry, that’s 0400 Drill Sergeant! Going on a 2 mile run just before breakfast helps to improve your appetite. “How do you want your eggs Private? Over easy or over easy?” “Is this a trick question, Drill Sergeant?” Getting shots, taking tests, being fitted for new clothes that really make a fashion statement. “Hey! You look like me!”
Physical Training or PT as it’s called takes the pounds off and hardens the body of the farm boy from Nebraska; broad shoulders, slim waist and straight posture. “More PT Drill Sergeant!” “Thank You, Drill Sergeant!”
Marching. Marching everywhere. Need to get somewhere? March. Rifle range. Now this won’t be too bad. Just like shooting at varmints back on the farm, only this time the targets look like man. Field exercises, learning to live outdoors. Civilians call it camping. Road marching, 5 meter intervals, 50 pound packs on their backs, your rifle at high port, ready, 6 miles an hour. “Yes Drill Sergeant!”
Graduation next week! Five days and a wake-up! Mom and Dad will be here! Spit and polish! Dress Greens! So grownup, so mature, so confident, so respectful! “Yes Drill Sergeant! Thank You! Drill Sergeant, thank for making this boy a man!”
HE LAID IT ON THE LINE
I first met him in the late summer of 85. He didn’t look like much. Forlorn, scared, kinda’ like a rag mop with legs. He showed up with his Mom and two siblings. The sorry side of it was that his Mom didn’t like the situation that happened to be handed them. And in her mind the only thing to do was to leave the kids behind and head out on her own.
So, late one night that’s just what she did. Going back to Colorado she said. Didn’t like being displaced in Nebraska. She kissed her kids good-by — told them they were in the good hands of a loving family. His brother and sister ended up with caring and loving neighbors. He decided to stay with me. It was his choice.
I took care of him, like one of my own. When he was hungry, he was fed. When he was cold, he had a warm bed. When the weather turned bad the warm house was his.
We developed a thing called mutual understanding. He learned to tolerate my wife and family. With our kids growing up and he being the new member of the family, he was often picked on and maybe even subjected to some good-natured teasing.
Then the two of us began to grow on each other. When he wanted some space and still wanted companionship he would seek me out. Soon we became good friends. Giving him a loving touch and a compliment was all he asked.
He began to grow and fill out. Soon he didn’t look like the scrawny and scared kid who had first come to us.
As time went by I noticed he had a keen eye and a nose for hunting. Many times in his adolescent he would disappear in the afternoon to return at evening then show me what he had bagged. He always preferred that for supper.
As the days became years our family grew-up and each went their own way; to pursue their own likes and interests, but he stayed with us, my wife and me. There were times we had our spats and disagreements but we always made up and continued on.
Early one fall he went hunting and we didn’t see him for weeks. I thought he had given up on me and went to seek out a life on his own. When I was working around our farm, I would call for him but there was never an answer.
Then one late September afternoon I saw him coming down the hill by the pole barn. He had come home for some rest and healing. He was limping and a closer look revealed that one shoulder was out of place. He looked like he had been in Hell then had made it back. I called him; he limped over and rubbed against my leg. His hair was ragged and unkempt — even missing in spots. A closer look showed cuts and bruises. I walked him to the house.
After some searching and looking, I discovered that he had gone on one of his hunting forays and met up with an adversary that threatened his domain. Being the kind of critter that he is, this was a direct threat to his own territory and maybe life itself.
He had laid it on the line! He stood up and fought for what he believed was his and loved. I didn’t see the fight. Knowing him, I can bet his hair stood on end, his eyes showed fire and muscles tensed. He came out the victor but it wasn’t easy. It must have been quite a battle. He finally won out and put his enemy on the run.
Even though time has passed since this incident, he still shows the effects from it. Both of us have got older and the get up and go seems to have got up and left. But through it all I am proud to say he is my friend this Tom Cat!
25 May 1999
The events written about actually took place. Tom Cat’s family came from Northeastern Colorado and his mother actually walked back to her original home—-taking a period of six weeks time to cover an estimated 100 miles. That could be another story!
I MISS MY MOM …. I REALLY MISS HER.
It was an early fall morning. The coming daylight shows the dew on the meadow grass. The slumbering sunflowers began to raise their droopy heads to greet the morning sun. The whine of the ranch pickup could be heard as it bounced and rattled along the Sandhills road. The noise could be heard by the resting cows and their calves as they slowly began grazing. The calves began nursing their mothers — enjoying the warm milk — a symbol of the strong bond that had develops between them.
The dented rusty pickup — rear tai1 gate missing pulled, a well-used, beat-up stock trailer, loaded with four saddled ranch horses. As the pickup lurched and bounced to a stop the ranch hands emerged from the pickup and unloaded their horses, grabbing the latigo and snugging up the mohair cinches. The ponies flattened their ears against their necks as they felt the cinches tighten against their bellies. The cowboys swung up and on.
It was time for the round up to begin. The cowboys spread out on the rolling hills looking for the momma cows and their calves. From the far side of the hills came a shout and the plodding sound of horse’s hooves pushing against the sod-covered ground.
The momma cows had seen the cowboys and their prancing horses before — knowing they were going to be driven to the gathering corrals at the far end of the full section pasture.
The black baldy calves pulled their foamy and milky faces from their mother’s udders as the cows began to move away from the advancing horse backers, some walking briskly. The older more mature cows putting their tails in the air, began to run, knowing full well what was going to happen.
After a time, the big pasture was gathered, the pairs bunched together and driven to the waiting sorting corrals. The wooden rail gate was open. In short order the empty corral was full of momma cows and their calves. The dust rose from their churning hooves as they milled around the corral — mommas bawling and calling to their calves.
The saddle ponies are tied to the far side of the corral. The men systematically go to work — separating the cows from their calves. The big brockle face steer calf runs along side of his mother as the cowboys push them towards the gate.
His mother runs though the open gate as he tries to stay at her heels. But wait! The strong wooden gate is slammed shut just as he reaches it. Fear, and the unknown, overwhelms him. “Maw-mom” he cries as he circles around the corral looking for an escape so he can rejoin momma. There is no luck! And then he notices the other calves without their mothers and runs in among them seeking safety and refuge. He is still with his own kind but one dominant figure is gone — his momma.
The mother cows are milling around outside of the sorting corral and a dust cloud rises into the air as the big, blue, diesel powered, cattle truck comes churning through the soft sand and stops by the loading chute. The driver steps out, a blue and white cap on his head that says “Mobridge Trucking” across the front. “Morning Boys! Calves ready to load?”
The 40 foot cattle pot is backed to the loading chute and the alley gates are opened. The baldy faced calves are herded into the loading alley, “Maw-mom.” The big brockle steer cries as he and the other calves move down the alley and load onto the semi. The truck gate slams shut as the calves try to bunch up away from the unfamiliar sound. Then they feel movement as the semi pulls away, taking them to an unknown destination.
A few hours and several miles later the truck pulls up at a set of pens known as the backgrounding lot. The truck gate is opened, the calves are unloaded, and the big brockle faced calf looks over his new surroundings. His senses tell him what he sees, hears, and smells are all brand new to him.
He trots down the alley and into a pen with the others. Fresh, sweet smelling prairie hay is awaiting him at the feed bunk. A clean, bubbling water tank gives him a drink but it sure doesn’t look like the tall windmill that gave him water back home in the big pasture. He nibbles on the sweet hay then he goes to the white steel gate and stares out. “Maa-momm!” But he can’t hear momma answer him.
I miss my mom. I miss her a lot!
IT’S ABOUT TIME
With the nod of the head, the chute gate busts open and its time in. The red brindle bull twists, turns, and bucks skyward. The rider looses his bull rope and its no time.
The old beat-up, dented and rusted ranch pickup lurches and rattles to a stop because it’s out of time.
The ranch wife needs time off to tend to errands and go to town for parts.
The friendly AG banker says you have 20 years plenty of time to pay off your ranch.
Need time to buy a new pickup? They will give you 5 years of time to make your payments.
Come fall it’s time to wean calves and time for school to begin. Then the kids start to gather pumpkins ‘cause it’s time for Halloween.
Grandma is making clothes for the new grandson. Its time for him to grow!
Then it’s Thanksgiving time—-time for the family to gather and share good times.
Christmas time comes to Honor the Christ Child and all that is Holy.
Then the New Year arrives and again we meet Ol’ Father Time!
He was born in the spring when the days were warm.
To look at him, he was innocent, meaning no harm.
The spring showers watered him and he began to grow.
All green and bright with nowhere to go.
The cattle and wild critters relished his sweet taste;
young and good-looking, his kind is far from scarce.
July came and the days got hotter.
Growing bigger now but his days were far from being numbered.
His stalk was strong and thick,
able to stand up to the strongest kick.
His stepmother was the summer wind,
blowing harder — testing his strength and mind.
Waving back and forth every day;
Stretching and reaching, Oh! What play.
Fall weather brings a hard freeze.
It hits him hard, just below the knees.
The winds bring a hint of cold air;
The gusts are steady and stronger.
He won’t be here much longer.
With each passing day he begins to wonder,
When will I begin to wander?
The cold weather makes his stalk brittle.
He has thoughts of when he was little.
His younger days without a care—
Soon the ground will be but bare.
It may start snowing
and the wind still will be blowing.
In the midst of a big blow,
He breaks free and starts to go,
Tumbling and rolling and gathering speed
He has no need,
To come to his senses
Soon to be piled into the fences;
Only to be known as a Tumbleweed!
SAND, SAGE and SOAPWEED
These old hills used to be covered with grass
but that seems years ago, so far in the past.
Back when the Indians rode these hills of sand
no one knew the changes coming to this land.
Center pivot irrigation brought the changes.
Now it’s not just cows out on those ranges!
Put those towers up — straight and strong,
But the Nebraska wind comes up and it’s not long
before some of that shiny steel is twisted and bent.
Many of these hills lost Mother Nature’s cover
and have been in corn for years, maybe thirty.
Now when the hard winds blow, these hills are dirty
Then along comes a program called CRP.
That’s the thing to do — seems to me!
Now grass again is growing.
Waving its seed heads in the blowing — wind.
Here and there is a scattering of sage.
Not so you would notice right away,
It’s quiet and discreet. Not the coming rage.
That old sage has had a yearning,
to this land it is returning.
The soapweed is persistent,
to many herbicides— it is persistent.
Its clumps are out there still,
Coming back again to this land that was tilled.
God made us all stewards of the Land.
Help all of us to keep it in His Good Hands!
29 July 2001
SHADES OF GRAY
It was another spring on the Nebraska prairie but this one was different than others.
A warm, dry winter led to an early green-up on the hills and the bottoms. The early season flowers in the ranch yard showed their heads and pretty faces in an array of deep purple, faded yellow and an occasional blue.
The baby calves ran and romped across the greening pastures, racing and dodging the clumps of yucca. The new babes showing their shiny black hides with their faces a snowy white and the occasional brindle or spotted calf showing their Longhorn heritage.
But the early green-up is short-lived. Le Nina is having an effect on us. Strong south winds and the warming temperatures suck the moisture from the soil. The grass in our pastures stops growing and retreats back into its dormant state.
The bull thistles found in the pastures that normally bloom in August have already set seed and it’s only the first of June. The hillsides have lost their luster of green. The grasses are now a more blue green. Things are dry. One can see the grass deteriorate on a daily basis.
Talk around the countryside is centered on drought.
Even the state newscasts are featuring the dry weather.
No hay crops — dry land corn and wheat will not survive.
What started out as a green spring has now turned to shades of gray.
Neighbors start talking of selling their stock. No grass. Area auction markets feature special sales to accommodate the cattle movement off the range. The ranchers face loosing the cows that provide their livelihood.
Sale day trucks and trailers line up to unload. Soon one can hear the chant of the auctioneer.
Cows walk through the ring — some with calves at side. There’s the brindle Longhorn cow. She’s left three heifers in the herd. That black baldy cow of the neighbor’s has spent her life on the ranch, now it’s all over. Even the purebred breeders are feeling the pinch. See the horned cows walk through — horn brands worn proudly.
It’s an emotional day but folks don’t let on. A few tears were shed, but not so you would notice.
Its just dust in your eye.
Shades of gray.
He appears on the Prairie Horizon
Sailing, gliding, so smooth, so effortless.
His eyes are bright and sharp.
The air is still—with only an occasional wisp of breeze.
Swooping down — just a few feet above the prairie grasses.
Perhaps making his own breeze as the grasses nod their heads
As he passes overhead.
A meadow mouse rustles beneath a clump of Little Bluestem,
Unaware of his presence the mouse scurries along enjoying a lunch
of scattered weed and grass-seeds.
Wait!! The mouse sees a shadow on the ground ahead of him —
The late afternoon Nebraska Spring sun warns him of impending doom.
The Sky Glider’s keen eyes detect the movements of the poor mouse. Is it too late?
The meadow mouse’s burrow is several feet away—
It’s a race for life because only the fittest and the quick survive.
The prairie breeze turns into a strong, quick and turbulent wind of whispering death,
as the White-tailed Hawk quickly dives — his sharp talons extended, reflecting the late afternoon sun.
SLIM And PETE
Slim and Pete were truckers. Pete had the newer truck of the two. It might have been fire engine red when it was new but that was a few years ago. Since 0l’ Pete had the truck, it had faded some and gathered its share of road grime and field dust. On the side of Pete’s truck was a little sign that read “Pete’s Truck”.
Sometimes Pete’s little son would ride with him. If Pete’s run would take them away from home for a few days, the little boy would start missing his Mom, as he was not quite 4 years old. So little Pete wasn’t a full—time passenger.
Slim’s truck was older—quite a bit older than Pete’s. He just showed up one day driving this old rig. Slim could have bought it at a salvage yard auction. It was square. Looked like someone had cut the end off of a box. Just enough room for Slim to sit and drive. And to shift this old thing, he had to wriggle side-ways and stretch a mite to find all the gears. It did have a sleeper of sorts; just big enough for an old Army cot fit side-ways.
Painted on both sides of Slim’s truck was “J and B, Palm Trees and Produce, La Blanca, Texas.” No one knew who J and B were for sure. It could be for Jack and Bart, or Jake and Bernie. Nobody knew. As for the palm trees and produce at La Blanca, Texas, that was anyone’s guess.
Slim’s rig was stacked. They stood 4 feet above the cab and both of them were chrome. When it cranked over and fired up, it belched and sat there at idle making a low deep bellow. When he stepped on the throttle going up a hill, it flat out roared!
Most of the time Slim and 0l’ Pete traveled together—–getting their loads and hauling to the same place. Now and then one might see one of them without the other but not that often. They hauled lima beans and spinach to Mississippi. Cotton and peanuts to Georgia; corn from Nebraska!
Just a couple of old farm boys who liked their trucks!
THE OLD CAYUSE
When I first saw her I quickly noticed the miles and distance she had come. Eyes still bright —-but also showing tiredness. Her spirit looked strong though her body outwardly showed the opposite.
She trotted around the corral where I had stopped my feed truck to auger my load of sweet smelling grain mix into the empty and waiting gray, weathered wooden feeder.
I engaged the unloading auger after positioning it over the roof of the feeder. The noise of the steel auger fighting moving against the empty augur housing made a screeching, grating sound. Her ears came up and her eyes went wide with fright as she heard the unfamiliar noise. Head and tail up she quickly trotted to the far side of her corral, seeking safety from this unknown being. I spoke to her in a gentle and friendly way —- wanting to calm her. But I was ignored.
The grain mix soon filled the feeder so I disengaged the auger and the truck noise turned quiet. The old girl cast a glance in my direction and the look on her face showed a relief that this strange sounding thing had somehow gone away.
I called to her again. This time her ears flicked back and forth as she heard my voice. Head held high she looked in my direction, still unsure if she should move away from the fence on the far side of the corral.
I continued to speak to her wanting to show I was a friend and not a foe. After a few anxious moments — she took a few halting steps in my direction. Stooping down, I picked-up a small handful of grain that had spilled on the ground beside the truck. Reaching out I offered it to her, still calling and talking to her.
The old mare came towards me. Moving cautiously she sidled up to the wooden pole fence that was between us. She stretched out her neck — nostrils wide as her nose smelled the sweet aroma coming from my hand. Taking a half step forward, her velvet soft nose touched my fingers — but only briefly! Something in her memory told her to approach this man-thing with caution as she quickly backed away.
Remaining quiet and not moving, I continued to talk, wanting to show her that I meant no harm. I only wanted to be her friend. She trotted a wide circle around the pen, still looking in my direction. As her motion brought her near me again, her steps began to slow and she reached out and took a nibble of grain held in my hand. A huge milestone had just been passed. While watching me the old girl backed up a few steps and with her ears forward and eyes wide, she munched on the kernels of grain.
My eyes quickly ran across and over her body. The first inspecting glance showing a rough and protruding backbone and sharp withers — well defined like the ridgeline of the Continental Divide. Her hide showed several scars — one fairly recent.
She walked with sore feet and a close look showed her hooves were cracked, the result of neglect in a dry climate. No doubt her teeth were worn and uneven for as she chewed her mouthful of grain several kernels spilled out onto the dusty soft ground.
I knew when I first met her that this couldn’t be a lasting friendship. Distance and time had taken its toll. But I wanted the old mare to know that she had me as her friend.
15 October 1999
There is one predominant trait found in abundance throughout Nebraska that affects all of its inhabitants. It can come up at almost any time and without much warning. It sends a signal to all living things that a change is coming that will affect their behavior and maybe even their ability to survive.
It cannot be seen and most times has no physical shape. It can brush past one so gently that they may hardly notice it at all. Other times it can hit you like a slap in the face, waking you to face reality. Sometimes it is fiercely brutal and relentless in its onslaught.
In winter it can be as chilling cold and calculating as a scorned lover. Come summertime it will kiss and caress so gently and warmly. But watch out! That gentleness can explode like an ornery Longhorn steer on the fight; whipping and turning, trying to hook you with those sharp deadly horns.
It can help farmers and ranchers prosper or cause their demise. Blizzards, tornados, hail storms and wild fires are affected by it, and the way it reacts to all living beings.
It causes wild prairie fires to escape all bounds and threaten a rancher’s lively hood, his home, his family and all things held dearly. Including his cattle, his favorite saddle horse, the faithful family dog and yes his land will too suffer.
It causes corn and wheat farmers to suffer through dry years; crop failures and yes, even abundant harvests.
What is this climax that can affect so many things and the ways man and critters react?
WIND! I have known people to say the wind in Wyoming is strong and fierce. Yes it is! The wind in Nebraska must be a very close first cousin. When it blows across the open expanse of prairie and farmland, it is in control—-until it finally tires and gives us relief, at least until tomorrow!