By Dr. Arn Anderson, DVM
When I was twelve years old my grandma in Casper Wyoming sat down in her favorite chair under the photograph of JFK and woke up dead. She died of a massive heart attack and left my grandpa alone. They had been married over 60 years. They ranched outside of Fort Laramie and then moved to town when the Depression took their land. But this story is about my grandpa who came to live with me in Texas during my eighth grade year.
“Slim” had run away from Nebraska to Wyoming as a boy and had worked cattle up until 1931 when he moved his family to Casper and started driving trucks for the oil patch. At the age of 87 he moved in with us still wearing a Stetson and a white shirt buttoned at the collar. For a boy turning thirteen, my grandpa was a dream come true. He chain smoked Camel unfiltered cigarettes, drank bourbon, embarrassed my mom and told great stories of cowboy life in Wyoming.
By his memory default all his stories took place in 11 and 12 (1911 and 1912). I would try to bait him into telling stories, it beat TV and I soon began to realize they all had a lesson to teach. By Christmas of that year I was feeling pretty cocky and full of myself. That’s when he told me about the bobcat.
It seems that entertainment was hard to come by as a young ranch hand outside Chugwater, Wyoming in “11&12”. Slim took to improving his roping skills and keeping a ledger of his accomplishments. He roped steers and heifers, he roped cows and bulls; he roped mules, colts and mares. Then he got creative. He roped goats and dogs, sheep and sheepherders, he dropped loops over hogs and even chickens.
As his expertise grew he ventured into the wild kingdom dallying off coyotes, deer and he swears an antelope. Now he was telling the story and I was thirteen and believed it all, so ya’ll play along. Then there was the bobcat.
As the story goes he was checking cattle north of town by a rock butte when he jumped a large bobcat asleep under a cottonwood tree. The cat took off and Slim spurred his pony, putting his rope into action. In a split second his loop was in the air and the hondo was thumping the back of the big cat’s head. He yanked the slack and spun his pony around confident in his greatness and skill as a roper. Grandpa took a long drag on his Camel and crossed his legs as he continued the story.
Before he could pat himself on the back twice the captured cat clawed its way up Slim’s wooly chaps, around to his back shredding his white shirt and launching under the brim of his new hat and over his head. This landed the Stetson wearing bobcat on the horse’s head and the pony broke plumb in half as any respectable cow horse would do with a bobcat on his head. The cat sailed through the air losing the Stetson. Slim lost his hold on the rope, which smoked around the horn and took off through the sage, attached to an angry feline.
Young Slim stayed with the horse for two or three bounces before landing with a thud on his backside. He watched as the horse bucked away then broke into a run heading back to headquarters. He pulled himself up, found his dusty hat (smelling faintly like cat urine) and started the long walk home.
On seeing his horse with an empty saddle drinking calmly at the windmill the other boys had headed out to find Slim. They found him walking stiffly with a bloodied back, a shredded white shirt and his mangled pride. The first question was what had happened. At this point in the story my grandpa snuffed out the cigarette in the ashtray, shook his head a little and simply said, “I told them, ‘boys don’t ever rope a bobcat’”.
A veterinarian friend of mine told me more than once that you only get in trouble when you start to believe your own garbage. Now he did not use the word garbage but this is a family magazine and profanity seems out of place. But his point was that real problems start when we begin to believe we cannot fail, that we are really that good and we can do no wrong. We have all done this; we stop vaccinating because we are excellent managers and our cattle are never ill; we do not need to semen test our bulls; we don’t need to use antibiotic, dewormer or fly spray by the label because we have done this before and we never had a problem. We become our own source for advice. Even worse we may begin to believe that our neighbor’s problems are due to their inability and would never happen to us.
I was pretty big on myself at thirteen, and from his room at the back of the house my grandpa could tell where I was heading. It took many years to understand why he told the bobcat story. Maybe I needed to be humbled, maybe I bit off more than I could chew but in any case years later when I can’t believe something went wrong I remember what to expect when you rope a bobcat. Genuine humility is a virtue. If someone or something does not humble you God will. More times than I care to remember the thing I thought I had hammered hammered me. Slim’s back and pride healed up and he went on.
Slim lived the whole year with us in El Paso. He shared innumerable cowboy parables and proverbs that I remember at the oddest times. After the bobcat in “11&12” he threw away the roping ledger and went to chasing Gertie McCormick outside Ft Laramie. He won that contest which takes us back to that 60-year marriage. Grandpa went to visit my cousins the next fall, fell asleep in a Denver hotel room and woke up with Grandma at the age of 88. I will remember that year and will try not to rope any bobcats.