In the 60’s one of the last sweet spots to hide out was Stone County Arkansas. Rent an old farm site for $40.00 a month, buy land for $27.00 an acre, not a building code in sight, old time mountain music any time you wanted and beer was bootlegged, hauled into a dry county in the trunk of a black 1947 Chevrolet four door, on back roads with names like The Devil’s Elbow and Red River Road with a theme song “Thunder, thunder, over thunder road. Thunder is my engine, lighting is my load”… written by actor Robert Mitchum. Wild times.

Colorado was my home, late in 1969. Working for a large sportsman’s club, my job was leasing hunting land for the taking of elk and deer. My responsibilities required horses, trailer, 4x4 truck, pack gear and a big Resistol Silver-Belly western hat. The style of the time. You’d never expect a big felt hat could get a guy in trouble.

I had time off in early spring. Colorado was usually covered with wet snow and slick roads. Rivers muddy and unfishable. A good time to stay out of the mountains and a perfect time for a road trip. Colorado Springs, Colorado to Fox, Arkansas was and still is 894 miles. Two days comfortable driving plus I had an old Alaska Camper. Stopping any time to rest or make coffee was a good break from the drive.

Visiting old friends John and Lare was my destination. John was building a log cabin near Fox and Lare was creating a tree house near the White River. John had a horse named Old Tom. Tom was in a fenced one acre pasture at Lare’s rented house. Tom was suffering from a split hoof - a condition requiring good farrier work. While we sat around drinking coffee, John said he had a local horseshoer coming to try to help Old Tom. A few boys had tried to fix the split hoof but only managed to piss the critter off. John had Junior Branscum come and see to his horse.

"Now, Junior was more than just a local hero - I knew him from stories. He was a Rock Star in the cowboy world, Rodeo Rider, horse breaker and a top hand in his younger years in Colorado."

Junior shows up and we go back to rolling cigarettes and drinking more coffee for another hour. No rushing time in Arkansas. Junior is ready, steps off the porch and goes to his pick-up truck. He hauls out his shoeing box, sets it on the ground and reaches back into the truck and gathers an oil stained, twisted up, nasty old lariat, and under hands the tangled mess to me and says…..”Here, you got the biggest hat, go catch that horse.” Now friends, I am not a cowboy. Never was and never will be. I may have thrown a loop over a fence post, but never have I caught a horse with a lasso and in the presence of the real top hand.

John opened the gate. Lare tipped his hat and gave me a thumbs up. Junior rolled another Prince Albert. The only thing lacking was a Mexican trumpet band playing El Deguello.

Walking into the pasture, I wiggled out the best loop I could manage. My only roping knowledge was Will Rodgers 1922 movie “Ropin’ Fool”. I got the fool part nailed. Old Tom was across the pasture. He’d been roped before.

I’ll make this story as quick and painless as possible. I walked up on Tom who moved off along the fence. With my back to him, to maybe slow him, I pinched him to my right shoulder. As soon as I saw him come into my peripheral, I underhanded my loop. It hung in mid-air and damn if that old horse didn’t stretch his neck and lowered his nose slipping into my noose. I jerked the slack rope to tighten around his neck. The rope was burning through my gloves till a freight train came in the form of a big nasty knot in the end of the lariat. Party over. Old Tom straightened me out parallel with the ground and dragged me a nasty 20 yards.

Did I mention where we were wasn’t called Stone County for nothing.

Lare ran out, grabbed the Lariat and talked and walked Old Tom to a reasonable state of calm. Junior came by me, picked up my big hat - slapped the dust out of it and dropped it on my chest. I heard him say “Good enough”. Cowboys don’t waste too many words.

Six years went by. A ranch I had leased was a mountain pasture property called The Sanger. As pretty an old family ranch as you could find. All the barns and buildings were log and stone. All the pastures were big parks edged by aspen and Colorado blue spruce. The east boundary was The Blue River, a gold medal trout fishery. The lease was from the great niece of the original owner, about four generations past. It was a jewel of a hunting property. The owner said that her father had left, in his will, hunting rights to two cowboy buddies. I told her that as big and as well populated with elk as the place was a couple extra hunters couldn’t hurt. I cut the deal.

All the cattle had been moved down out of the high meadows by the second Elk Season. All ranch work was still on horseback and wagon. Opening of season I had picked a stand of aspen trees to tuck into to wait out an elk. I sat and spotted for elk from the back of my horse, Rosco. Not too much later I spotted two riders working along the aspen edge, about five hundred yards south of me. I could tell the riders were cowboy stock by how they set their horses and the comfortable way they rode. People might question being on horseback to shoot an elk, well it was cowboys taught me that a four legged critter is less fearsome to an elk than a two legged one. Well the two men moved along at an easy pace. Even backed into the trees I was easy to spot. We traded waves.

One of the riders pulled up checked out my horse and gear, tipped his hat and said…”Spotted your big hat from down below, catch any wild horses lately?” Sure enough, it was Junior Branscum getting one more jab at my hat. Before I could organize a proper and witty response they moved on. Never saw or heard of Junior again. Rosco and I hauled a fair number of elk out of the Rockies, big silver belly hat and all.

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