I love working with my Pa on the ranch! No matter what we’re doing, it’s a nice feeling to ride beside my Pa as we work with the herd, milk the cows, or gather the eggs. We spent countless hours together doing such things, and I can’t help but to wonder what pa ever did without me!
Today was no different. One afternoon, Pa and I were out riding when we heard one of our cows mooing a lonesome moo. Pa wanted to have a look. As I got off my horse, I grabbed a hold of one of her horns and patted her nose. “Looks pretty sad, Pa!” I stated. I watched as pa started looking around and wondered what he was looking for.
“A calf. You’re not remembering your lessons,” Pa answered my question. It seems every time we’re working together Pa is always teaching me something. He lets me help out in every aspect of ranching and farming, and expects me to pull my own weight. He said that was the only way to become a good rancher! This was no different. There had been many times in the past when I had watched a calf being born and helped it along in the world or Pa had shown me signs of a new birth. I should have known by now what that lonesome crying meant, but I hadn’t.
So, to prove my point, I did as Pa told me and took a close look at her. As I did so, I tried to remember what my Pa had told me in my head. “Let’s see now, a cow that just calved…I looked under her, then suddenly stood up and exclaimed, “Pa, she calved not too long ago!”
Pa used that as another learning opportunity to teach me she had calved within the last two weeks.
Like I said, Pa used every opportunity to teach me. I rode along with him as he followed some tracks, and I got to learn a bit about tracking. He could tell the tracks were heading down toward Cottonwood Ravine, and I was ready to go right in there. Good thing it hadn’t been my decision though, because Pa gently chided me and told me we couldn’t jump to conclusions. I followed him as we went to talk to Mr. Ashford, a young Englishman.
One of the men told us to wait inside while he went to find Mr. Ashford. Boy, was I surprised when my Pa opened the door to his house! There were all sorts of neat things in there – things like I’d never seen before! I just stared in amazement. The first thing I did was go up to a wall and touch a strange looking thing. I sure was sorry, cause I nicked my finger on it!
In fact, I was so amazed as I looked at something called armor and such that I asked Pa what all these things were. I guess he expected me to know, because he asked me what they were teaching in school now days. Naturally, I retorted with “the three R’s.” But that wasn’t the answer he was looking for and he questioned me further on this matter. I reckon he was a bit concerned that I wasn’t learning enough if I didn’t know about such things as armor and such. So, he asked me if I was getting any history lessons.
“Oh yea,” I answered. “American.” Then I started telling Pa about the price of beef. I picked up some strange sort of tool. I asked Pa if they used it to kill their cattle, but Pa started telling me about how solders used it to break through the armor of their enemies! I hadn’t ever heard of armor! I was a bit impressed, but I still thought a gun would offer more protection. I couldn’t even imagine what life was like outside the range – that’s really all I ever knew! Pa took this time as another learning opportunity to teach me about the history of England. Looking back, I’m glad I had those opportunities! I never realized at the time just how much I learned from listening to a smart man like my Pa.
As Mr. Ashford came in, I kept nosing around. Neither Pa nor Mr. Ashford seemed to mind much. But I did get a bit over-curious and knocked over some armor. Pa told me to be more careful.
Pa and Mr. Ashford get into an argument when Pa mentioned that one of our calves was rustled. I just stood and listened, because Pa ha taught me to keep my mouth out of adult conversations. But as we were leaving the house, I turned and looked at Mr. Ashford. I think I kinda felt sorry for him crossing my Pa. I knew from experience that my Pa wasn’t one you wanted to make mad!
Pa and I rode out to where Mr. Ashford’s foreman and some men were working. The men looked mean, but my Pa was pretty mad that his calf had been taken from him. Pa told me to stay in the saddle, and again, I could just be an observer to the conversation. I heard Pa tell the foreman, Wagoner, that he would be in Cottonwood Ravine tomorrow to find his calf.
I couldn’t believe what I saw! Mr. Wagoner actually struck my Pa with a whip. It hurt me to see my Pa treated like that, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. As I watched, Pa just looked at all the men sneering at him! Why, they didn’t act afraid of him at all! I sat and just waited for my Pa to do something, but he never did.
As he came over and climbed on his horse, I asked Pa if he was going to let them get away with it. I didn’t think they should. First he took our calf, then he hit my Pa in the face with a whip! I was mad at them for doing it, and I thought my Pa should be too! But Pa didn’t answer me. After we had ridden away a bit, pa stopped for a minute. I told him that I had hoped he’d yank that whip right out of his hand.
I’m telling you, I sure did get a lot of teaching moments that day! Pa told me that there was a time for fighting and a time for walking away. I wasn’t sure I understood.
The next morning, Pa was getting ready to go. By now, you should know that anytime there’s trouble, I worry about it…a lot. I think my Pa probably worried too, but he did his best not to let me see it. I didn’t want to see anything happen to him, so I asked him if he had to go. “After all, it was just one calf!” I stated. I didn’t think one calf was worth my Pa’s risking his life for.
But then my Pa brought up the “Principle” thing. It wasn’t the first time I heard that word, and I knew it would be the last time! My Pa was always big on that. He always tried to do the right thing and always expected everyone else to do the same. I didn’t like the thought of my Pa going there by himself, so I asked him if I could come with him. Since I didn’t have school, he told me I could. That made me feel really big – going with my Pa on an important mission like this!
When we got near Cottonwood Ravine, Pa made me stay at the top. I had expected to go down and help him, but he made it clear I was to stay up at the top. I didn’t like staying up there, because if he got into trouble, I couldn’t help him out! As Pa started down to the ravine with our cow to see if she could find her calf, he turned and looked at me. Then when he got to the bottom of the ravine, he turned and looked at me again. I guess he was making sure I was obeying his orders to stay put.
I waited up there patiently. But soon Mr. Ashford came to see what was going on. Mr. Ashford wanted to know what my father was doing, but I knew I didn’t really have to tell him – it was pretty obvious what was going on! I knew my Pa was smart and he knew what he was doing. That’s why when Mr. Ashford said Pa couldn’t find the calf, I didn’t believe him. I believed in my Pa and what he was doing.
Mr. Ashford left and I continued to sit and wait for my Pa to come back with the calf. After what seemed like a long time, I heard gunshots. From yesterday, I knew there were several men against my Pa! I couldn’t stay up here and wait while my Pa might be getting shot up. Though I didn’t know for sure how I was gonna help, I had to try. For that reason, I rode my horse down there as soon as the shots started sounding. I had to help my Pa if there was no one else to help!
As I rode down, I saw the men turn and start shooting at Mr. Ashford. He didn’t even have time to grab his gun! I had to help. Because my love and concern for my Pa was stronger then my common sense, I rode right into the middle of the shootout. I had to do whatever I could to protect my father. Mr. Ashford tried to get me to go into hiding, but I wouldn’t be any good there. Pa screamed for me to get out of there, but I couldn’t! He was in trouble and needed help.
I grabbed Mr. Ashford’s rifle from it’s boot and held it tight. Mr. Ashford came over to get me out of the line of fire and I started to hand him the rifle. But then someone started shooting at me. So I dove into the ditch to get away from the gunfire. I had done something – I had gotten Mr. Ashford’s rifle for him.
Pa screamed my name, but I couldn’t do anything with bullets flying all around me. I must admit that I was really scared! I heard the gunshots cease, and pa call my name again, but I still couldn’t look up. I was scared, and I just felt that I was still in danger. Then I heard one last shot ring out. Mr. Ashford had killed the last gunman!
I lifted my head up to make sure my Pa was okay. “Mark!” Pa cried again. This time his voice held a bit of relief in it that I was okay. He started running toward me to embrace me. I ran toward him. He picked me up and held me really tight. He told me he was all right. He knew I needed to hear that. As I lifted from him and looked at his face, I saw that he was crying. I knew it was from relief that I was okay. I guess I had given him a pretty big scare.
I was so proud of what my Pa had done. But I don’t think Pa wanted me to be proud. He told me that using his rifle over a calf was a last resort. I understood and knew it was probably wrong to feel proud of my Pa for getting the bad guys. But I was still proud. This was yet another opportunity to teach me. “This was a last resort, Mark. I wish it hadn’t come to that!” My Pa declared.
I told him I understood. I did.
Pa and I took our calf and cow back home. That night after I finished the dishes, Pa told me to come sit beside him in his leather chair. I did. It was time for one final teaching lesson of the day. “Mark, I was really scared today. You know that, don’t you?”
I nodded. “I was so relieved to see that you were okay that I couldn’t talk to you about what you had done wrong at the time. But now, I feel I must talk to you about it. As your father, son, it’s my job to protect you.”
I lowered my head so I didn’t have to look into his eyes. But pa cleared his throat. “I want you to look at me, Mark.” I lifted my eyes back up and looked into Pa’s stern eyes. “What order did I give you today before I took the cow down to the ravine?”
“You told me to stay up there and out of sight,” I answered.
“Then why did you disobey me?” Pa asked, the stern expression still on his face.
I swallowed hard. “Because I was scared for you, Pa. All those men against you.”
“Oh. And so you decided to ride into the middle of a gunfight?” I lowered my head. “Mark.”
“I just love you so much Pa! I couldn’t sit up there and-“ I started.
“Mark, I gave you an order. That order was to be obeyed no matter what!” Pa stated. Then he sighed and closed his eyes. “I shouldn’t have let you come. This was partly my fault. I know how much you love me and it would be hard for you to stay away.” Then Pa put his hand under my chin so I would continue looking straight into his eyes. “Son, the next time I give you an order, I want it followed. No matter what. There was nothing smart about what you did today.”
I nodded. “Yes sir,” I answered. I knew he was right.
“Okay. Why don’t you get ready for bed. Then you can spend some time thinking about this.”
I did. When I got in bed, it was too early to go to sleep, so I laid awake and thought about it. It gave me the chills now as I thought about it. But at the time, I was afraid my Pa would die and that was all I could think about. Pa came in to say goodnight to me later. He sat down on the bed and looked down at me. “I’m sorry Pa. I know I was wrong.”
“I’m sorry too, Mark. It was wrong of me to put you in a situation where you’d have to make such a tough decision. So please understand in the future why I may leave you behind at times.” Pa laid a hand on my forehead. “You’re so special to me, son. You are all I have left, and I couldn’t stand it if something were to happen to you. So if I hold on to you a little too tight, try to understand why.”
I smiled as I drifted off to sleep at the touch of my father’s hand brushing my cheek.
*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
The Angry Gun
around The McCain Ranch