Thinking Outside The Box

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"You ranch-raised kids are just different."

I gave Angela a questioning glance. I had known her for all of her life. My dad, Gene Pyle, and Angela's dad, Ed Taylor, were also life-long friends.

Angela responded to my glance without my having to ask her to explain. "I don't know; you just think on a different plane than the rest of us do. Those Cline girls (Pat and Raymond's daughters, Tommie, Jerry and Jacque), they are the same way."

I remember little else about our conversation that day, but those words struck a note and Angela is right. Ranch kids do think on a different level. They are, for the most part, raised to be cowboys. Yes, even the girls. It has been said of many a Tonto rancher that: "His daughter was his best cowboy he had." So, are ranchers, cowboys, and ranch-raised kids really different? Does a wild bear . . .? Judge for yourself.

A little cowboy of five years was trying to dig some ornery old cows from their bed ground under a low-limbed cedar tree atop a ridge. He yelled and shook the limbs of the tree from his seat in the saddle, but the cows were bushed up and refused to come out. Totally exasperated, he added crying and cussing to his attempts to oust the cows, but to no avail. Some of his crew was down in the draw below, and his grandfather rode to the little boy's aid.

"Havin' some trouble are you, son?" his grandfather asked.

"I can't get these damn ol' cows to move," complained the little cowboy.

"You know son, I am here now and I'll show you how to put them out o' there, but if you get in a scrape like this and we don't hear you, you can always ask God for help."

"Grandad," bawled the youngster, "I got to have someone a horseback!"

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  • My cousin, Sarah Pyle (Luckie), was about four years old when she fell off of an old white mare that we called Tricksy. The incident took place on Main Street in Payson, but no one saw it happen. Sarah was walking back up the street crying and leading Tricksy along when Bill Haley took notice and came to her rescue. "Where are you hurt, honey?" he questioned her.

"I'm not hurt," came the reply.

"Well, why are you crying?"

"I can't get back on."

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  • The teacher grabbed the little boy by the ear, pulled him outside the door and shut it so his friends couldn't hear from the classroom. "Ray, I have told you about cussing. I won't have it! Not one of the other children use those words. Now, what do you have to say for yourself? Can't you behave like the rest of the children?"

"No ma'am," he sobbed, then went on to explain. "None o' them other kids has t' drive their cows up the Strawberry Grade!"

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  • Jakie Randall was about five. We were on top of the mountain (Mogollon Rim) camped at the Buck Pasture. The aspen leaves were crackling and gold, a sure indication that it was fall roundup time. Jake and Peggy Randall, Jackie's parents, my dad, Gene Pyle, and Bud Jones, Jakie's grandfather, were seated with Jakie around the supper table.

Jakie was putting away a fair amount of grub when he looked up from his plate and asked, "Pass the cheese."

I had picked up a platter and started to pass it along when Peggy gave his plate a glance and replied, "Jackie, you've got cheese."

"I know," replied the exasperated little boy. "I want to put some back."

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  • As I look back, I can easily see why we ranch-raised kids are different. Some of us were not only taught to be of an independent mind, we were often placed in situations where it was imperative.

In September of 1952 my dad was offered the job by then Chief Executive of the Theodore Roosevelt Council George F. Miller (the Chief) and we were soon living at the R Bar C.

As soon as we had moved in, the Chief gave Dad his first and only order during his eight-year tenure there. "You know more about running a ranch than I do," the Chief said. "Just go ahead and do it."

With the coming of that first spring on the R Bar C, my horse, Scout, and I got our first real experience handling cattle by ourselves.

Dad and I would ride the lower R Bar C country which included Hell's Gate, and bring the cattle into Bear Flats. Usually, it would be too late to drive them on to the ranch, so we would park them there at a salt ground, return to the ranch, then come back for the cattle next morning.

Dad would help me start the cattle out of Bear Flats on the trail to the ranch, then leave me, as he went to look for more cattle. For hundreds of feet, the trail climbed through the rocks onto a bench above the bluffs of Tonto Creek. Where Christopher Creek joined Tonto, the trail left Tonto to follow Christopher Creek still climbing in long steep, winding series of switchbacks. The cattle had to make their way up the grade. Often the leaders would walk off and leave the drags. Other times some ol' boss cow, or bull, would just stop in the trail and refuse to let anything pass. It would take a beating with the dangerous end of a rattlesnake to move the obdurate bovine. In either case, when I tried to push the drags too hard, they would quit the trail in their quest to avoid me.

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  • Sometimes, I would have to rim out and hold up the leaders, hoping the drags would catch up of their own accord. Or, I would have to ride past the drags, cut into the herd and move the boss cow up the trail to give the others room to go.

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  • Often, baby calves would tire and sneak off into the brush along the mountainside to lay down. It was a man-sized chore just keeping the cattle together. If I managed to have them all when I reached the level bench, I would try and hold everything up and get a count to see if I still had all the calves. If not, I had to figure which cows were missing calves and start them back down the trail to pick up their babies. Before that, I would try to make sure that the straight cows (those that had their calves with them) were parked, that is, settled in and would stay where I was leaving them.

When I would finally locate the missing babies and get them up onto the bench with their mothers and the main herd, the cows at the top would be well rested. When I started them toward the ranch again, the rested cattle would again walk ahead down the trail ever increasing the distance between themselves and the lagging cows with the baby calves. This is how a cowboy learns to cuss! When Dad would come in, he would ask me how it went and I would fill him in. Then, he might offer up a few comments as to how I could have done something different and avoided a problem.

At some point I figured out that this was just his way of letting me learn about cattle, along with multitude of other things I needed to learn. Dad, and my grandad, Floyd before him, taught kind of like Mother Nature. The test often came first and the lesson afterward.

So, if we ranchers, ranch kids and cowboys tend to think a little different, maybe it is because we were raised to think that way. If we think outside the box it is because we never knew there was a box.

Looking Through The Smoke by Jinx Pyle, Blue Fox- War to the Knife! by Jinx Pyle, The History of Gisela, Arizona by Jayne Peace, and Crossing Trails With Marguerite Noble are available at Jackalope Books, Sue Malinski's Art and Antique Corral, and East Verde Trading Company, all in Payson. My Hopscotch Life by Jay Kemp is for sale at Sue Malinski's. All books were published by Git A Rope!

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