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Cowboy Joe

Joe was a real cowboy from the end of the cowboy era. A real cowboy wasn’t someone who bought a hat or even someone who inherited the ranch and the cowboy life. A real cowboy was someone who worked hard, scraping and saving until he could start up his own ranch.Joe was a “down-at-the-heel-no-account” by his own recollection when he started out in Arizona’s Sulphur Springs Valley 100 years ago. He didn’t inherit a single fence post. Proud but soft spoken, Joe had a capacity for hard work and grit guided by his dream.Tall and craggy featured, with twinkling blue eyes; Joe was quite a figure, even in his 80s, to the 20-something I was when I knew him. A good thing he was in his 80s, too. We both admired a spunky, lean redhead (which is how Joe and I met), and he’d told me I’d have some serious competition if he were 30 years younger. Cowboy humor being a little rough, he and his old cowboy buddy liked to talk loudly about the details of horse castration in my presence, but mostly I enjoyed Joe’s cowboy tales.Old time cowboys barbered each other. That’s why their hair always looked so stylish. One cowboy accidentally clipped off another’s ear top! Curses and blood everywhere, according to Joe’s tale. Gauze and apologies in place, the haircut recommenced. Then the tip-top of the other ear was clipped! Oh, the mayhem! The barbering cowboy, Joe said, had just wanted to “even him out.”Once, at branding time, an old timer wouldn’t stop lecturing the young Joe and his cowboy friends on “how we did it in the old days.” The guy became insufferable and so just as a young bull was touched by the hot iron the ropes “accidentally” loosened and a seared, angry bull was free and looking to call in accounts. The cowboys had quickly retired, leaving the surprised old timer with the bull. Round and round a big tree they ran with the old timer’s oaths interspersed between bull snorts, cowboy laughter and taunts. “Well, c’mon. Show us how you did it in the old days!”The ramrod that the young Joe had worked for was a lazy man. This manager had a favorite tree far from ranch headquarters that he would sleep under while the cowboys did all the work. Back at the ranch one evening, Mr. Manager realized his six-gun was missing. Must have slipped out of his holster under that tree. He sent Joe on a 20-mile round trip on horseback to retrieve the lost revolver. When he found it, Joe considered roping the gun and dragging it all the way back, but at the time he needed the job. Joe didn’t want to be a hired cowboy forever; he had plans and was saving for his own ranch. A hundred years ago – and managers haven’t changed!Joe lived in a sprawling adobe ranch house that he’d built 50 years previously. The place was cool and comfortable, shaded by huge spreading cottonwood trees that Joe had planted as seedlings so long ago. One day, I was shoeing Joe’s horse for him out in the barnyard when Joe called my attention to what looked like an ancient, gray wooden corn crib, about 10 feet by 14 feet.”That was the first house that I built. Wife n’ I started our family in that house.”Not even a proper shed by modern standards, the shack lacked any sort of amenity. Right then, bent over with a horse’s hoof in my lap, I was struck by all that Joe had done – starting from nothing. The cattle ponds, the fences, the buildings, the entire ranch sprang from his mind through his sheer will. I told him in a modest way, so’s not to embarrass him, what a great life he had built for himself and his family.”Oh, I had ambition once,” said Joe, “But I’ve sadly lost it.”The words fell out of his mouth casually, almost humorously, but I could tell he meant it. A proud, hardworking and ambitious man. Now his wife was long dead, his children grown and scattered. He had outlived his dreams and was too set in his ways for new ones.Joe never would go to a doctor. He figured they’d just find something wrong with him, and he didn’t want to die in a hospital with tubes up his nose. One day, Joe was found halfway between his easy chair and the cold embers of his fireplace, a split piece of wood still in his hand.Don’t hold back from life. Don’t grow old with regrets. I’ll wager that your sweetie’s hand still fits in your own – and laughter, last time I checked, is still free. Have the brass to try new things now and again. I can’t think of any man bigger in my mind than Joe was, and so I know that when it comes to gumption, one day we’ll all have “sadly lost it.” Do yourself a favor. Do it

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