I also had the chance to chat with Tyler Brentmore, a newly published western author, and his take on the heritage of the American Cowboy. Welcome Tyler.
Heritage Days are not a new phenomenon, and in some parts of the West I’ve traveled through locals would be hard-pressed to identify when normal life turned into heritage. The beds may have gotten softer, communications a mite easier, but a working ranch still needs its working men, and most of those are cowboys.
In my adopted second state of New Mexico there are around 6,800 stock-raising ranches. Including their support services, their businesses employ 18,000 people and pump over $2bn into the economy. This isn’t heritage, it’s normal life.
Over in Quay County, where the red dirt roads grid out the original surveyor’s one mile sections, feet are still pushed into boots, hats onto heads, at a time of the morning most town-dwellers don’t know exists. Breakfast comes later.
I mention to my host the stop-start tire dust threading its way towards us across the flat landscape. He doesn’t even lift his gaze. “Oh, that’ll be Henry.” State news might arrive through the television or radio, but the mail comes from a neighbor with a USPS sticker in the cracked windshield of his pickup. If Henry drops it in the mailbox or stops to collect the mail-to-go, there might be a wave. If he drives up to the ranch house he’s bringing more than letter news and everyone downs tools. It’s been a system that worked before telephones and email, and if it ain’t broke there’s no reason to fix it.
Henry carries more than mail and news, he carries goodwill and quiet concern. He has a standing invitation to collect vegetables from the garden which he’ll drop off later on his route – to the recently bereaved, to the returnee from surgery – and he’ll hear how things are over a coffee and pass on what’s needed. In a widespread community of fiercely independent people, I can see the benefit. It’s the reason my host is a First Responder EMT.
On Sunday we ride to the family church, a modern, airy building. I join in with the hymns, I listen to the sermon. It’s the notices that catch my ear, the community pulling together, encouraging their young by fundraising to augment a scholarship, congratulating a junior rodeo rider, supporting the family of a disabled serviceman. Over refreshments I hear plans to lend equipment and manpower, to share a cost. There’s talk of travel both near and far, of books read, jokes shared.
Then we’re out in the parking lot and I’m admiring the red-painted one-room schoolhouse strategically set on trimmed grass opposite its sprawling modern equivalent. “I was schooled there,” says the beaming woman who’d earlier poured coffee, “and I went to college.” I don’t doubt it, the way I know she’s told the story to grade students across the way. We should all seed a dream.
We ride out towards The Caprock where the wind turns the turbine blades. We’re heading for a single withered tree, all that’s left of a fruit garden. Grandparents lived here, raised stock, grew corn, taught the next generation how to work with the land, with the animals. The foundation line of their home remains plain in the thin dirt. It’s hardly bigger than the pickup we’ve traveled in. We talk of the dust bowl, of tornados, of hailstorms. But we talk, too, of childhood memories, of swinging from the tree, of sitting on the porch on Grandpa’s knee watching sunsets that filled the sky with fire and took away the breath.
Writers like me ill-serve these people. We focus on the notorious, the sensational. Sure, they were here: Black Jack Ketchum roamed these lands, William H Bonney, Dave Rudabaugh and many more. But such as these were far outnumbered by those pioneering men and women who did not try to take the easy route, those who kept to their purpose with courage and determination in the face of adversity, those who could, and still do, seal a deal on the shake of a hand and a look eye-to-eye. It is their traits that we write into our fictional heroes, when such heroes and heroines surround us every day.
If you are planning to enjoy a BBQ on Saturday, or shout for the barrel-racers, or just listen to a Country tune as you drive through landscapes to bless the eye, give your support to the National Day of the Cowboy. Deep down its values are yours.
Tyler Brentmore writes historical Western fiction. The first, Dead Men’s Fingers, follows a man as he finds the inner strength to face his past and do what’s right to protect his family.
Visit with Tyler Brentmore at: http://www.tylerbrentmore.com