"ONE OF THE BEST UNKNOWN AUTHORS IN AMERICA
ROGER DEAN KISER, author
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I WAS ONCE A COWBOY
"Silt, Colorado!" hollered the Greyhound bus driver as he pulled off to the side of the road. I grabbed my small bag and climbed off the bus. At the side of the road was a large man, who was standing beside an old army jeep.
"Are you Roger Kiser?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," I replied.
"My name is Owen Boulton. I own the Rainbow K Ranch," he said as he stuck out his hand to shake mine.
The Juvenile Judge in Florida had sent me to Colorado to work on a ranch. It was a program set up to help troubled teenagers. Within a week I became a full fledge cowboy. I was assigned a large horse named "Brownie" and was given a full outfit of western wear as well as a list of duties, which started at around four o'clock each morning.
Things went rather well for the first couple of months. We worked from 4 a.m. until 6 p.m., seven days a week. We bailed hay, branded cattle, collected chicken eggs, mended fences and shoveled cow manure. It was a never-ending job. The best part was my horse, Brownie. I guess she had been given that name because she was brown in color. In addition to my other chores, it was my job to care for her. I fed, bathed and brushed her down on a daily basis.
Every morning, when I came out to collect the eggs from the chicken coop, she was waiting for me by the gate. I would walk over and pet her on her side. She would toss her head backward and make a strange sound, like she was blowing through her lips. Slobber flew everywhere.
"I bet you could sure whistle loud, if you had some hands," I told her.
She stomped her feet and turned around in a circle. I cannot think of any person or any thing that I loved when I was a young boy, but that horse was one thing I would have died for.
After we ranch hands ate our breakfast, I was told that I would have to go with several of the older men and repair fences up on the northern range. We loaded the jeep with fencing materials and tools, and off we went. It was almost 7 p.m. when we got back to the ranch. As we drove up to the barn, I saw about 20 ranch hands sitting around in a circle. I got out of the jeep and walked toward them.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"It's your horse, Brownie. She's dead," said one of the men.
Slowly, I walked up to where Brownie was lying in the corral. I bent down and petted her on her side. It took everything I had to keep from crying in front of all those men. All at once, the corral gate opened and Mr. Boulton came riding in on an old tractor. He began scooping out a large hole right next to Brownie.
"What's he going to do?" I yelled.
"We always bury the horses right where they drop," said one of the ranch hands.
I stood to the side while he dug the hole for Brownie. I wiped the tears as they rolled down my cheeks. I will never forget that feeling of sadness for as long as I live.
When the hole was dug, the men stood back so Brownie could be moved into the large hole. Mr. Boulton lowered the large tractor scoop and moved toward Brownie.
"Please, Mr. Boulton! Please don't move Brownie with that tractor bucket. You'll cut her and mess her up!" I yelled.
I ran in front of the tractor waiving my hands and arms up in the air.
"Look here, boy," said Mr. Boulton. "We have no choice but to do this when a horse dies. She is just too heavy to move by hand."
"I'll get her in the hole. I swear I will, Mr. Owen, sir," I screamed.
I ran over to Brownie and pushed on her head as hard as I could, but she barely moved. I pushed and pushed as hard as I could, but her body was just too heavy. Nothing I tried would move her any closer toward the hole. Finally, I stopped and I just lied there in the dirt with my head resting against Brownie's side.
"Please don't use that bucket scoop on Brownie," I said over and over again.
One at a time, the ranch hands got down off their horses. Each positioned himself around the large brown horse and they began to push and pull with all their might. Inch by inch, Brownie moved toward the large hole in the ground. All at once, she slid downhill. I raised her head as best I could so that her face would not scar. The next thing I knew, I was being pulled down into the hole.
Suddenly, everything went totally silent. I just sat there at the bottom of the hole with Brownie's head resting on my lap. Dust and dirt was settling all around me. Slowly, I got to my feet and placed her head flat on the ground. Then I positioned each of her legs so they were straight. I removed my western shirt and placed it over her face so that dirt would not get into her eyes.
Then I stood there crying, as my best friend was covered with dirt. Most of that night, I stayed in the barn cleaning Brownie's stall. I cried until I could cry no more. I guess I was just too embarrassed to go back to the bunkhouse with the rest of the ranch hands.
Early the next morning, I walked back to the bunkhouse to shower and change clothes before going out to collect the eggs. As I entered the small, wooden house, the ranch hands were up and getting dressed. Lying on my bunk was $8 and some change. On a match book cover was written, "Buy yourself a new western shirt."
When I looked up, all the men were smiling at me. One of them said, "You may be a city boy, R.D. (that's what they always called me), but you definitely have the heart that it takes to be a real, honest to goodness cowboy."
I wiped my swollen red eyes and smiled real proud like.