I had been doing more and more round ups with Pa lately. Sometimes if he needed all our cattle rounded up, he would even let me stay home from school, but usually he reserved my roundups for when I wasn’t in school. When we did this, I had to use Blue Boy, and I didn’t much care to do that. I finally decided to broach the subject with Pa one Friday night as we sat outside enjoying the fresh air.
Pa took a big puff off his cigar and slowly blew the smoke out as he sat looking up at the stars. I stretched as I sat down next to him. “That sure was a long, dusty ride today!” I commented to Pa.
Pa could hear the question in my voice. He put his arm around me and pulled me close. “I couldn’t have done it without you, son. I’m sure glad you decided to stay home from school today to help me!” He suddenly hugged me close to him.
I lifted my head up to see the smile on his face. “Blue Boy sure was tired.”
Pa nodded. “Yeah, I expect he was, son.” Pa took another long, slow puff off his cigar as he looked down at me. His eyebrows were raised in a silent question.
“You know, he’s just a colt himself, and I want to make a cutting horse out of him. But I have to ride him back and fourth to school everyday, so I was thinking that…” My words died in the night.
“That what?’ Pa asked as he patted my shoulder and squeezed me tight again.
“Well, I don’t ask for much, do I Pa?” I suddenly asked.
“No, you are pretty satisfied with what I’ve given you, it seems,” Pa answered.
“And I’ve done pretty good in school too, huh?” I asked.
“Yes,” Pa nodded as he threw his cigar down and smoothed the hair from my forehead. “Yes, you’ve been pretty good…this week.”
“Well, I just thought that instead of using Blue Boy, we could maybe buy a nice cow pony.” I held my breath as I looked straight into Pa’s eyes. I saw him thinking, but his eyes were sparkling.
“Oh,” Pa grinned. “A cow pony, huh? So you’re thinking about maybe going on more roundups with your old man, are ya?”
“Oh, yes sir!” I answered.
“Well Mark, I tell you what.” Pa turned and looked at me. “Now, I have no problem buying you a cow pony. In fact, I’ve been thinking on it some myself – Blue Boy isn’t one, and I know that he’s your pet. But you aren’t very good at grooming your own horse, and I don’t have time for grooming more animals. So as soon as you learn to do your own grooming without my getting on to you about it, we’ll talk about it.”
“You mean it, Pa?” I suddenly asked. “You really mean it?”
Pa nodded. He grinned at me. “I mean it!”
I jumped up and started to run toward the barn. But Pa was quick as a whip and suddenly grabbed my hand. “Wow there, cow chaser! Where ya going?”
“To groom my horse!” I declared.
Pa laughed. “I’ve already bedded down the stock for the night, son. I’ll let you do it in the morning.” Pa stood up and gave me a firm pat on the backside. “But for now, how about going to bed, huh?”
“Oh Pa, I don’t have school tomorrow!” I started to whine. But Pa crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows at me. “Oh, I mean Yes sir!” Then I took off inside.
The next morning I hurried out of my bedroom and sat down at the table. Pa sat the oatmeal down in front of me. I began eating it as I talked excitedly. “When can we start looking for a cow pony?” I asked.
Pa laughed. “When you have proven you’re ready,” he answered.
“How long will that take?” I took a long drink of my milk.
“Well, it won’t be tomorrow!” Pa answered.
I finished eating and ran to put my dishes in the sink. Then I hurried out the door to work on grooming my horse. Pa came out to check on me. I thought I was almost done, but he suddenly pointed out some dirt on Blue Boy’s back. He warned me that it could cause a saddle sore. I cleaned it off.
Just then, we heard someone riding into the yard. It was Mr. and Mrs. Sawyer stopping by to tell us a horse trader was in town.
A horse trader? Hm, now this would take some thinking! I stood and patiently listened as Pa and Mr. Sawyer talked. Pa suddenly said that I had a good instinct when it came to horses. “Oh Pa, you know more about horses then I do!” But I must admit that what he said made me feel really good! But Mr. Sawyer told me that I had to know everything about a horse before I decided on buying one!
As they rode away, I asked Pa, “Why isn’t it enough just to know a good horse when you see it?”
“Well, there’s more to it then that, Mark,” he said. “First thing you gotta know when you’re trading with a real horse trader is to figure you’re gonna get skinned.”
I never really thought on that. I always thought about the practical things like…“Well, are you supposed to know the stock too?”
“Well, that’s half of it. The other half is knowing the man. You…uh…you weigh everything he says and then try to think of all the things he hasn’t said.”
It sure sounded like a lot of work, if you ask me! “I’d rather raise my own then go through all that!”
“Well, that’s probably the best way,” Pa stated. I hadn’t ever seen a real horse trading before, so when Pa asked me if I’d like to see one, I made no hesitation to respond with a “Sure.”
We saddled our horses and started on our way. “Pa?” I asked as we rode side-by-side.
“They have all types of horses there, huh?” Pa nodded without saying anything. “Well, they may even have a cow pony?”
Pa turned his head toward me and gave me a strange look. “What? I’m just asking!” I stated quite innocently.
Pa nodded. “Uh huh,” he said. “It will be fun to look at anyhow.”
I sighed and Pa looked at me with raised eyebrows, but I didn’t say anything more about it.
As we rode into town, I asked Pa if I could go get some candy. “No,” he answered. Then we saw Mr. Sawyer leading a stallion away. It was a beautiful horse! I was actually sort of excited. Boy, if they had a horse like that, I knew they must have a cow pony in there somewhere, and if I worked it just right perhaps I could convince my Pa to buy it instead of waiting.
But then, Mr. Sawyer told my Pa we might as well turn around and go home. What? When I had my heart sat on getting a cow pony today? I wasn’t going to just sit here quietly while my cow pony may be getting away. In a nice, calm voice I asked Pa if we could look anyhow. He obliged me. Boy, was I excited!
We walked into the corral and started looking at the horses. The horse trader, a colonel, came up to us and asked what we were looking for. You know what my Pa said? He said we were looking for a cow pony! I remained calm, acting like it was no big deal, but inside, my heart suddenly leapt. I just knew I’d be able to find what I was looking for today! Pa did find a nice horse, but when he told me to look him over, I felt a bowed tendon, so I knew he’d be out of the question.
I sure was disappointed. I figured Kansas had gotten the best horse after all. But as we turned to leave, the Colonel suddenly stated he had a nice pony that would be right just for me. “A pony!” I exclaimed excitedly. Maybe that would be just the right pony for me. But when I was just about to plead with Pa to let me see it, Kansas came back into town and started yelling.
He sure was awful sore at the horse trader! He said that the horse was suddenly lame and he demanded his money back. Pa started to go over to look at the horse, but Mr. Sawyer told Pa not to embarrass him. We went into the store to give Miss Hattie our supplies.
I bet you can guess where I went as soon as we walked into the store too. I walked up to the candy jar and put my head down in front of the jars, staring at the candy. “Here’s my list, Hattie. We’ll be in to pick it up later. Come on, boy.” Pa tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and looked at Pa then back at the candy. Pa raised his eyebrows. I followed him without saying a word.
When we got back outside, Mr. Sawyer and the Colonel were still arguing about that horse. I told Pa I thought that looked like a really nice horse! I would mind having him for our own and riding him around! He was a real beauty! Pa went over to look at the horse. Then he told Mr. Sawyer that he didn’t think there was anything bad wrong with the horse, but he wouldn’t believe my Pa.
Do you know what Pa did? He bought him from Mr. Sawyer! We had this new beauty of a stallion for our very own now! I was awful excited and couldn’t wait to ride him!
Oh yeah, there were these two really mean men there too. They wanted to beat my Pa up while ago because they said he was “high and mighty” because he wouldn’t answer their nosey questions. Pa turned around and threatened them, and boy did they go a running! Well, while we were walking him away from the horse trader, those same two men came up and started to pester my Pa. But you know my Pa – he can usually get folks to back by just using words. Believe you me, you don’t want to make my Pa mad – it’s no fun! I know!
That sure was a long walk home! Pa left me behind to get the supplies while he walked the stallion Razor home. I caught up with them on the trail and Pa told me to go on to the ranch and start on my chores. Walking five miles was sure a long walk for my Pa!
I was working on cleaning up the yard when Pa got home and I ran to the barn when he got there. “Can I ride him when his leg gets better? Huh? Can I Pa?” I asked excitedly.
Pa laughed at me. “We’ll see, Mark.”
I ran my hand across his back. “He sure is a beauty! You think I can use him to chase the cattle? Huh? You think I can Pa?”
Again, Pa laughed. “No, I think we need to start you out on something just a bit smaller, son.”
“Well, can I ride him to school and stuff? Huh? Please Pa, just to show all my friends?” I suddenly grabbed on to his hands and he stood up from looking at his leg.
“My goodness, Mark!” Pa laughed and shook his head. “Did you sneak some of that candy when I was looking or what?”
That was Pa’s way of telling me I was being a pest. I suddenly stopped as he grabbed one of his tools and did something to the horse’s hoof. My eyes just about popped out of my head when I saw what he was holding. "There you are son. Just long enough and curved enough to reach the quick. The horse walks on it, get sore, and he starts to limp,” Pa commented as he held up the nail for me to look at.
I was suddenly shocked. That was awful cruel to hurt a poor innocent horse like that! People like that shouldn’t be allowed to be around animals or people if they wanted to hurt them. I suddenly didn’t understand what was going on. “Why?” I asked Pa.
“Well son, the country is full of people who think they can outsmart a horse trader. They buy a fine horse like the stallion at a bargain price and figure they’ve beaten him. The trader puts that trick nail in the horse’s foot, the horse goes lame, and the buyer brings them back.”
“And then he just gives the man back half his money?” I asked, shocked. Pa had always taught me to be honest and tell the truth. I just couldn’t believe that someone would cheat people like that! “That’s not right!”
I petted the horse some more. The Colonel sure did pick the wrong man to mess with when my Pa walked into town! "Well the Colonel won't get this horse back for half price,” I declared. Pa was rubbing off something on the horse’s back. I couldn’t believe this! The horse was a different color.
I knew Pa was teaching me a lot about horse trading, and the more I learned, the more I was convinced on what I wanted to do when it was time for me to get my new horse. Suddenly we had visitors. Pa told me to go inside, but I really didn’t want to leave him out here alone. “Trouble?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Pa answered and told me to go on inside. I did as he told and waited inside the house for a long time, but he never came. I finally ran back outside. I had heard a gunshot, but it had been awhile so I figured it was safe.
It was. Micah was there. He came to Pa’s rescue! “Pa!” I shouted as I squeezed past everyone. Pa put a hand on my back and told me everything was okay.
Then Pa told Micah he’d bring the horse back into town a little later. What? I wanted to keep him – he was a real beauty! But Pa said he was a stolen horse and belonged to someone else.
After everyone left, I petted the horse and asked Pa if he thought we’d get another horse as good as this stallion. "Well, uh…maybe if we do some trading,” he answered.
"Yeah but, that's awful risky. The first thing you gotta remember when you're trading horse is that you’re gonna get skinned.” When Pa had told me that earlier I didn’t understand. But after seeing the cruel things the horse trader had done to this poor horse I knew that was true.
Sure, but you have to know the stock too.” Yes, I had asked about that just a few hours ago! I knew Pa was checking to see if I had learned this lesson.
"Ahh but that's just the first half of it, the second half is to know the man. You weigh every word he says and then you try and think of all the little things he hasn't said.” It all made sense to me now. But then I got to thinking about it. This really wasn’t the route I’d like to go. “Frankly, I'd rather raise my own."
"You know son, that's probably the best way,” Pa answered.
Pa hitched up the wagon and we started into town with the stallion. We talked some along the way, but neither of us brought up that subject that was really on my mind. When we got to town, Pa took the horse down to the Livery as I went in to wait at Micah’s. I heard lots of noise inside and came in to see what the commotion was all about. Micah slammed the door shut to the jail room. Micah turned and smiled at me. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Oh, those two boys are back there fighting. It seems they are disagreeing on who went wrong in their plan to get that horse from the Colonel.”
Pa walked inside then. Micah handed him an envelope and a pen. Pa signed a piece of paper and shook his hand. I stood there wondering what was going on. “There was a $500 reward for the return of this stolen horse, son.” He smiled at the look on my face. “Let’s go see Mr. Hamilton.”
“Uh, Pa? What are we going to do with that money?” I asked.
“Put it in the bank,” Pa answered with a smile.
“All of it?” I asked.
“All of it,” Pa said.
“Well….” I stopped. “I-“
Pa came back to where I was standing and pushed my hat down on my head. “We’re going to put this in your special account I’ve been building up to help you get started either by going to school or buying your own piece of land.”
“Oh,” I said. “What about getting me started on a nice cow pony?”
Pa grinned at me. “Then we are going to go to the restaurant for supper.” I began walking beside Pa again. “And then, we’re going to go see Mr. Merrick at his horse ranch. I hear that he usually has some nice cow ponies you can buy young and raise up yourself.”
I stopped again and started up at Pa. He had his arms crossed and a big grin on his face. “I’d say you’ve learned quite a lesson today, boy. And I’d say that money I got back from the Colonel should just about buy that horse of yours.”
“Oh boy!” I suddenly cried. Then I jumped on Pa’s back and we went off toward the bank.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
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