The Farm Chronicles: Caliente Red Man

Walt and Irma Head and their daughter Jane were fixtures in our farm community for longer than most can remember. Jane is a year older than me and we really haven’t been in touch since shortly after high school, but I always considered her as kind of a sister. She was an only child of parents who were the salt of the earth, truly. Walt and Irma were the most kind and humble people I knew growing up. Yet there was a showman side to them. Imagine my reaction to find these serious parent-type people once had a roller skating act called “Fun on Wheels” where they famously performed at county fairs, lodges, night clubs and various parties for some 25 years. They were married for 69 years.

They lived about five miles from our farm. Dad and Walt were good friends. My earliest memory of Walt was when Dad was combining Walt’s oats. I was about eight years old. Dad let me ride with him on the tractor pulling that old rickety John Deere combine to Walt’s farm. Walt said that I could ride on the wagon and help with the bags of oats while Dad combined. As the day drew down and we unloaded the last of the oats, Walt unhooked the wagon to go back to the field and meet Dad. We were getting on the tractor when Walt stopped. He pointed to a fairly large rock just sitting on the cover over the power take off of the tractor. He asked if I put it there. I said I hadn’t. Wondering how it got there, he said, “Why that is a large piece of flint.” He held me spellbound as he told me how the Indians used flint to make their arrowheads.

As Jane and I grew older, we got involved in 4-H, but in different clubs. We would see each other at school, but also at horse shows. Before one of our horse buying trips to Missouri, Walt told Dad he wanted to buy Jane a good horse. It was one of the trips I was blessed to go with Dad. We brought back about 10 horses. And a couple of them were options for Jane. There was one horse, Caliente Red Man, a registered Appaloosa gelding, that I was trying to finish training. He was spirited, liked to buck, and a little tricky to handle. Needed a lot of work. Jane and Walt came over one day to see the horses we bought. We kept trying to get Jane to look at the two we thought best suited her. But the tall red roan gelding caught her eye. “Saddle up that one,” she ordered, pointing to Red Man. I said, “Jane, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Being strong willed, Jane was having nothing of it. “I want to ride HIM,” she said emphatically in a way that only Jane could. Even Dad tried to talk her out of it. But she insisted. I warned Walt that the horse was pitchy. He just nodded his head. Well, Jane took Red Men out in the field and rode all over. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Red Man did everything Jane asked of him. It was like they were made for each other. Red Man was born for Jane. Psalm 33:17 says “A horse is a false hope for victory,” but Jane and Red Man together won many victories. It was that rare but awesome kindred spirit of horse and rider as one. Something like love at first sight, but even deeper. When it’s right you know it. And Jane knew it.

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Bill Wilson