“Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’….” Frankie Laine’s smooth voice drifted into the kitchen, signaling the beginning of our favorite western. My brother penciled one more division problem, then closed the text with a final thump. I hurriedly ran the towel over the cast iron kettle and carried it to the cupboard. No television allowed until homework and chores were done.
Delmer and I knew the lyrics by heart and just how much time we had before the opening monologue. “Cut ‘em out, ride ‘em in.” A distinctive whip crack followed each “HiAH.” At the very end, two cracks resounded just before the final shout: “RAWHIDE!”
Just in time we scrambled to the living room rug in front of the television. Trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) introduced the episode. The drovers moved thousands of cattle from San Antonio, Texas, to Sedalia, Missouri. Danger lurked on the trail. Parched plains, anthrax, wolves, and bandits threatened. Gil and his crew, particularly his trusty ramrod, Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood, who had not yet reached stardom), braved the perils of the 700 mile drive. On cue, the herd started off as Gil gave the command: “Head ‘em up! Move ‘em out!” (whip crack).
So, two weeks later we reckoned we were ready for our own trail drive. In early summer, the family moved our herd of less than 100 cattle about a mile down the road to the south pasture. There they grazed contentedly on tall grasses and drank from the stock dam. Before winter we brought them back to the pastures close to home where the new calves would be born.
Moving cattle involved many drovers, and we all dreaded the event. Without fail, a cow would decide to sample greener grass, or a calf would kick into teenage rebellion mode and gallop off into the sunset. We sensed Dad’s tension as he instructed his crew. He and Don would bring the herd from the yard at home with the tractor and get them started. Mom, Dorothy and Darlene were to take the pickup and cover the intersection a half mile up the trail. Mom and the pickup would park on one side, and the two girls would be ready on the west. Hopefully, no vehicles would approach while the critters were crossing. Deloris was stationed at the neighbor’s driveway. Delmer and I guarded the approach to the oat field. The lush green carpet shimmered in the evening sun as the South Dakota breeze brushed over it. “Don’t let them get in the oats. We don’t need that trampled,” our father instructed sternly as we took our positions just inside the opening to the field.
I nervously adjusted my cowgirl hat, black straw with a white band on the brim. It was not crooked and battered like Rowdy’s, but it had a string tie that hung under my chin, just like his. Delmer assumed trail boss role. “It’ll be all right, Sis. Once the lead cow goes by, all the others will follow. We just make sure she stays on the road.”
I thought, “Sure, Gil,” and headed for the fence line to find a stick. We couldn’t see any cattle coming yet, so we both found dead branches, the sight of which would strike fear in the most wayward bovine. We were ready!
Soon we heard mothers call to their young as they turned from the driveway and headed our way. Heads bobbed as the leaders jogged up the road. Delmer motioned me to come closer to their path. We held our breaths, sticks ready, as the lead cow and her followers hurried by, up the road toward Deloris. With a sigh of relief, my brother turned to me and his silver braces flashed brightly. “We did it!” Hooves crunched on gravel as cows and calves passed. Gil and Rowdy would have been downright proud.
Our thrill of victory was cut short suddenly by a wide gap in the herd. Confused calves bawled for their mothers and turned back to the driveway. In the middle of the road, just short of our post, the two Charolais bulls were fighting! They butted heads, twisted and turned. We watched in horror as their battle brought them closer and closer to us. They swerved off the road into the grass, directly into our oat field. Clumps of dirt flew around them. We yelled “HiAH,”and waved the sticks frantically. One bull went down on his knees. Delmer grasped the opportunity and crashed the weapon down hard on its rump. It cracked on impact, and my brother stepped back as shaggy-crested heads lunged, unfazed.
Frozen in place, I stared helplessly. My trail boss brother grabbed my hand, and we scooted up to the fence line, far from the flying feet.
The last of the herd passed on the road while we watched the fight. Finally, our unhappy father maneuvered the John Deere 520 around the crazed creatures into the oats. The feud for male dominance subsided, and the tractor followed the scrappers as they trotted to catch their throng.
Delmer tossed the remainder of the stick to the ground, and we walked home dejectedly. We did the best we could with what we had, but the bulls had still trampled the oats. We wondered what Gil and Rowdy would have done.
The whip. That’s it! Maybe the formidable sound of that whip cracking would have turned those crazed bulls back to the road.
This fall. Next cattle drive we would be ready!
DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow. She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, Akron, and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of books, (four published so far, fifth to come out soon) "Promises to Keep," which are available at Amazon.com.