Nine years ago, 09-09-2000, I suffered the worst wreck of my life. I was living with my mom, Dorothy Pyle, on our Canyon Creek Ranch in New Mexico. I threw a saddle on Jetson, a Quarter Horse Paso Fino cross, and as my dad would have said, “a hell of a wagon” meaning he was a good traveling horse. I waved goodbye to Mom intent on making a little circle, taking the Flying V Trail into the Middle Fork of the Gila River, riding down the river for about six miles then turning up Canyon Creek to home. I wanted to check on the salt in the Bull Pasture and roll up some downed barbed wire at the old Flying V Headquarters in the bottom of the Middle Fork.
As I crossed the mesa to intersect the trail, the morning was crisp and clear with a few white, mare’s tail clouds drifting easily across an azure sky. It was one of those days that make a man glad to be alive, riding a good horse, a beautiful day, and a job worth doing. Soon we were at the rim of the Middle Fork starting our descent down the steep trail which dropped over a thousand feet into Middle Fork Canyon and the river. I rolled up the wire and checked the salt box which had been licked to the bare wood. My work done, I started down the river following the trail which crossed and recrossed the river several times. Occasionally we would climb out onto one side or the other of the river as the canyon narrowed then we would drop down to the canyon floor again. The edge of the river was chocked with willow and young cottonwood trees. Occasionally the canyon would widen out crowding against the 1000-foot-high red bluffs and I would be riding amongst great ponderosa pines and big cottonwoods.
Jetson enjoyed breaking into a trot when the trail climbed out and although it was often rough and narrow in these places I would let him go as he was sure-footed as a goat. Thus, we traveled the six miles down to the mouth of Canyon Creek where it joined the Middle Fork. We turned up Canyon Creek with Jetson anxious to be on the last leg of the ride and both of us enjoying it.
We had traveled about a mile up the creek when Jetson, true to form, broke into a trot where the trail climbed onto the west side of the canyon then passed through a saddle and dropped back onto a grass-covered flat. Here, he pulled for more slack, wanting to run. I checked him and he responded by jumping straight into the air, leaving about five-feet of daylight between the bottom of his hooves and Mother Earth. When he came down, all four of his feet hit the ground in unison, like a table falling out of the sky and I felt something like a ball of fire raging from the small of my back to the base of my skull. I still had both feet in the stirrups and figured I was in good position to pull him out of this foolishness. So much for my intentions. Jetson launched a series of moves that would have done justice to a sidewinder on a red ant den. He got me leaning over the saddle and threw his head up splattering my nose all over my face; at least that was my thinking at the time. Jetson followed his head until he was vertical to the ground; thinking he was going over backwards, I rolled to the side and pushed away from him. Still, I landed directly behind him. I was rolling to my left as fast as I could, but only in my mind! I couldn’t move and everything went black! There had to have been an angel riding with me that day, nine years ago, because Jetson did not come over backwards on top of me.
It was an hour before I could move my legs. I dragged myself across the creek into a little hollowed-out place in a pine thicket and racked pine needles for cover against the coming cold night. I was at 8,000 feet elevation. It was the longest night of my life. I remember sticking my thumbs into each nostril and jerking out to set my nose; blood everywhere.
I knew when Jetson showed up without me at the ranch, my 80-year-old mom would be scared witless. I was more concerned about her than myself. All that night pain kept me from moving and I never slept. The next morning I built a fire, warmed up, drank deeply from the creek, and made a crutch from a dead willow limb. I had traveled about half-a-mile at 4 o’clock that afternoon when some neighboring ranchers found me and loaded me onto a horse. I rode the five miles to home with clinched teeth; there was no other choice.
I never saw a doctor. It was four months, maybe a little more, before I was totally healed up and haired over again. That’s OK. My dad told me, “The only sure way to kill a cowboy is to cut off his head and hide it from him.”
Com Siempre, Jinx
P.S. Stop by Git A Rope Trading Company, 408 W. Main St. in Payson and pick up a bottle of Snake Oil! Also get your copy of the “Pleasant Valley War” by Jinx Pyle. Git A Rope carries other books by Jayne Peace Pyle and Jinx Pyle. See you there! Phone 474-0011.