Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs I was having a blast photographing the Ranch Rodeo at Brent Romick Rodeo Arena on Sunday night when it dawned on me that I have completely whiffed on my childhood dream of growing up to become a cowboy. And I have only myself to blame.
I've spent most of my adult life in the perfect locale for weekend cowboys and never got my act together. Sure, I have Perly Green's old working saddle hanging in the garage. I even have a filthy pair of rawhide chaps stashed back there, too.
However, if I was going to be a genuine wannabe cowboy, I already would have an old one-horse trailer hitched to Grateful Red with a big gray quarterhorse inside. And I would know how to throw a rope and mean it.
If you weren't among the hundreds of people who packed the grandstand Sunday night, you missed an opportunity to watch more than 50 local cowboys work in teams of four in an event that tested traditional ranching skills. They had to show they could accomplish everything from a straightforward heel catch to milking a wild cow into a beer bottle without getting gored by a set of 11-inch horns.
It was great fun, as long as I stayed perched on the arena fence with my camera.
The summer I turned 8 was one of my most memorable ever. That was the summer I visited my second cousins on the Wilson Ranch in North Powder, Ore. North Powder is just south of LaGrande and tucked up against the Blue Mountains.
During that all-too-brief visit, I got to help doctor calves in the corral, and I was pretty much hooked on the cowboy lifestyle.
Real Steamboat cowboys were showing off their skills in the rodeo arena Sunday night.
The Ranch Rodeo required teams of four to enter the arena and park their horses in a narrow pen. When the gate was closed, four head of cattle were ushered into the opposite side of the arena. There was an innocent-looking calf, a wild-eyed cow with unusually long cowboy stabbers, and two steers. Of the two steers, one was wearing a leather protector over its skull and horns, and the other was not.
The cowboys had to perform four separate tasks, in no particular order, but as quickly as possible within a five-minute deadline.
Several teams began by herding the steer without the horn protectors back into the pen their horses had just exited. Most accomplished that task with no problems.
Next, many of them roped the calf, dismounted to stretch it out, and painlessly branded it with whitewash. Not all of the calves were as innocent as they appeared. I saw one who sat squarely on a cowboy's back, pinning him momentarily in the dirt.
At the same time the calves were getting whitewashed, other team members were often roping the second steer so that it could be wrestled to the ground and hog-tied. This third task produced some near wrecks and dished out a fair amount of pain for the cowboys.
Maximum hilarity resulted from the fourth task - roping the cow and persuading her to give up a few squirts of mother's milk, which had to be aimed into the neck of a beer bottle while the cows arched their backs in an attempt to snag the cowboys with their wickedly untrimmed horns.
None of the cowboys chugged the raw milk. At least not that I saw.
I shoulda been a cowboy, but it's darn near too late for me.
When I returned from North Powder and enrolled in Mrs. Parkin's third-grade class in the fall of 1961, it was a foregone conclusion that I would complete a large, illustrated report on the cattle industry and the lives of cowboys. I took great pains to draw every piece of equipment that working cowboys need to survive life on the range. I even copied the various cuts of meat on a beef carcass using tracing paper.
I still have that report, bound in orange construction paper, in a cardboard box. But it doesn't make me a bona fide cowhand.