The Farm Chronicles: Round up

Note: The Farm Chronicles is a weekly feature documenting life as a result of growing up on a farm in rural Ohio. Some subscribers unsubscribe apparently because they do not understand this retreat from normal news analysis. Hang with us, it’s only a once a week departure to a time when America was different than it is today.

It was that time of year again—the early spring. It’s when Dad would go to Oscar McWilliam’s ranch outside Sedalia, Missouri, to buy horses. Since school was still in session, I went through my annual beg-a-thon to go along. I loved these journeys to buy horses. It was fascinating to see how my Dad and Oscar wrangled each other for days about horses and prices, never having a cross word, but negotiating nonetheless. Oscar was this old-time cowboy. He was over six ft tall, and a bit leaned over from age. He wore an old beat up straw cowboy hat and when he talked, he hardly moved his lips. He was a frame right out of a movie, only real life—with real life lessons and old cowboy wisdom.

I was probably about 14 for this trip. And Dad said it was OK with him if it was OK with Mom. She couldn’t resist my charm, so the answer was “yes” if I got all my homework done and had my assignments from school. No problem. Oscar and his wife Mary, a handsome woman of Native American descent, greeted us at the ranch. We got caught up on all the family news, and on to the business of selecting horses. Oscar had several penned up in the back part of the barn. There was one he wanted me to ride, a nice bay Quarter Horse mare. She worked out pretty well in the barn, but Oscar wanted me to take her on a trail ride the next morning—to gather up some cattle in one of the back pastures. I was excited, for sure.

After a hearty breakfast (Mary was an excellent cook), I saddled up the mare and Oscar said there were four Hereford cows he wanted me to bring back. And he pointed me in the direction. Well, Oscar had over 800 acres, but I went in the general direction he told me. That mare and I walked for hours looking for those cattle. We entered a scenic valley with a spring stream flowing gently through a green meadow. I dismounted and walked along the stream where I found the biggest tadpoles I had ever seen—they were probably as large as silver dollars. Soon, we came to an old abandoned homestead. Inside the old one-story cabin along-side the stream were eight Hereford cows. I didn’t know which ones were the four Oscar wanted and it was getting late in the day—we must have been 10 or more miles from the barn.

So I rounded all of them up and started herding them back in the direction I came. Nothing looked the same. I was headed in another direction all together. I found a fence-line which was rare in open range, and followed it. Hours later near dusk, thinking I could be lost, my prayers were answered. I spotted a familiar clearing ahead. 20 minutes later, I proudly guided the cows into the barnyard. Oscar and Dad were waiting for me, trying to appear that they weren’t worried. Oscar, through a wry smile, said, “Well, Billy, you did a good job here, but you brought back four cows that aren’t mine. I think they are the ones my neighbor said he lost.” I was thinking to myself, “I could have been among the lost, too.” As the Lord said in Ezekiel 34:16, “I will seek the lost, bring back the strays.” He does, even when we are supposed to know where we are headed.

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Bill Wilson