Before October 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 American boys knew who they admired and what they wanted to be, cowboys. From the days of Hoot Gibson and Tom Mix to Hopalong Cassidy and the Durango Kid until Gene Autry and Roy Rogers boys of all backgrounds dreamed the same dream. Then America watched as our global boogeyman leapfrogged over us and put us in fear of destruction from above. Cowboys’ six guns became obsolete and American boys, girls too, dreamed of being astronauts. John Glenn orbited the earth aboard a new fire-breathing steed and from 1957 until Clint Eastwood’s movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly that came out in 1966 during the throes of the Viet Nam War American boys left cowboys in the dust. However, since this is America, a sense of emergency and panic can only be maintained a short while before we revert to our roots.
As a one-time American boy I made the same progression. I fell back from my completely unrealistic dream of becoming a physicist to my only somewhat unrealistic, albeit subdued and hidden yearning, to be a cowboy. Returning to the days of Gene Autry was much easier than facing the reality that I will not be helping to settle Mars. However, the declining dreams of a young boy are themselves sometimes painful to reconstruct when one is separated from them by time. But the fates did recently allow me an opportunity to kind of revisit those thrilling days of yesteryear. I got to herd one cow.
Now, when I was playing cowboys and Indians with the neighborhood boys in Pawhuska, Osage County, Oklahoma in the 1950’s several of my friends were, in fact, real Indians and several of them were, in fact, the sons of real cowboys. Of course, since we boys had not yet had the advantage of adult myopia we were unaffected by the niceties of who was supposed to be what. We all were whatever the scenario we thought up called for. Alas, we grew up, sort of.
However, let me return to my recent opportunity to turn back the clock to the dreams of grade school days. When Peg and I bought a cabin in rural Osage County a few months ago we not only found a new home but also a new friend who was the prior owner and a real cowboy. How lucky was that? Anyway, Johnny runs some cattle on our place and those cattle are like the rest of us; they do not always stay put. Occasionally a cow will find its way out onto the public road. Such was the case yesterday. So, as my brother and I were heading to Bartlesville about 20 miles from our cabin to run errands for Peg, we encountered a large black cow with a white face happily munching on the right-of-way bluestem grass. I saw my chance to live that five-year-old boy’s dreams.
I jumped out of my pickup and approached that cow with a confidence that can only come from ignorance. As I got closer and closer to the bovine behemoth, instead of her fearing me as I anticipated she took the attitude of a large animal upset by someone interrupting her dinner. Having neither horse nor rope nor the ability to use either had I had them I retreated and called for backup on my cell phone.
“Johnny, it’s Jim. One of your cows is out.”
“Jim, I’m in Oklahoma City.”
“Johnny, what the devil do you want me to do?”
“Why, nothing Jim, unless you want to. I’ll be back in The Osage in a few hours and I’ll deal with it. This is cowboy work.”
Well, Johnny is obviously a true psychologist as that last statement cut deep into my boyhood psyche. I just clicked off my phone and girded my loins up about me as I ran towards Miss Bossie and waved my arms. Apparently she was so amused she decided to amble back into her pasture and I shut the gate behind her.
Now I know some of you Gentle Readers are probably thinking this event may not be quite as impressive as The Lone Ranger cleaning out a nest of rustlers. But to me it’s just a matter of degree. They both qualify for cowboy status. My dreams have finally come true. I’m going to buy a hat and boots and find a drugstore where I can prop my boots up on the bar rail, tip my hat back and sip a sarsaparilla.