CHAPTER IV. RANCH LIFE
RANCH life on the open range may be somewhat wild and lonely, but it is as free and independent to the rancher as it is to his unfettered cattle that roam at will over a thousand hills. As a place of residence for a family of women and children it is undesirable because of its isolation and lack of social and educational privileges; but for a man who cares to ‘‘rough it’’ it has a rare fascination. Its freedom may mean lonesomeness and its independence monotony, yet it is very enjoyable for a season. Like anything else it may become wearing and wearisome if continued too long without a change, but its novelty has a charm that is irresistible.
Ranch life is untrammeled by social conventionalities and is not burdened by business cares, but is an easy, natural life that is free from all kinds of pressure. It relieves the tension of an artificial existence, and worry and vexation are forgotten. Time loses its rapid flight and once more jogs on at an easy pace; and its complete isolation and quiet gives nature a chance to rest and recuperate
The ranchman, if he is in tune with his surroundings, finds a never-failing spring of pleasure. If he is company for himself he is well entertained and if he is a lover of nature he finds interesting subjects for study upon every hand. His wants are few and simple and the free life that he lives develops in him a strong and sturdy manhood. He is the picture of health and is happy and contented as the day is long.
However, such a life does not suit everyone, as individual tastes differ. Prejudice also exerts an influence and is apt to estimate all western life as crude and undesirable, being in a transition state of change from savagery to civilization. Be it even so; for, if the savage had never existed to furnish the ancestry that civilized man boasts, civilization would not have been possible. It is only natural that this should be so as, in the order of nature, evolution begins at the bottom and works up.
There is perhaps no condition in life that can be called perfect, yet of the two extremes we choose to believe that civilization is preferable to barbarism; but an intermediate state has the advantage over both extremes by avoiding native crudeness upon the one hand and excessive refinement upon the other, both being equally undesirable.
COWBOY SPORT. Photo. by C. S. Fly
Happiness, which we all profess to seek, exists in some degree everywhere, but we are always striving to acquire something more. In our constant struggle for improvement, progress undoubtedly is made in the right direction. With refinement comes increased sensibility and an enlarged capacity for enjoyment. But, such a state in itself is not one of unalloyed bliss, as might be supposed, since it is marred by its antithesis, an increased amount of sickness and suffering, which is the inevitable penalty of civilization. In such a progression the pleasures of life become more, but the acuteness of suffering is also increased. The mistake lies in the fact that in our eager pursuit after the artificial we forget nature and not until we acquire a surfeit of that which is artificial and grow weary of the shams and deceits of the world do we stop and think or turn again to nature to find the truth.
In the early days the frontier was the rendezvous for rough and lawless characters of every description. That time has gone by never to return in the history of the nation, as the rustlers have either reformed and become good citizens or long ago left the country by the lead or hemp routes. The change in the times has been such that never again will it be possible to return to the conditions that existed in the early settlement of the west which gave to desperadoes a safe hiding place.
The people now living on what is left of the frontier will, as a class, compare favorably with those of any other community. There may be small surface polish, as the world goes, but there is much genuine gold of true character that needs only a little rubbing to make it shine.
The ranchman deserves to be correctly judged by his true character and not by any false standard that is artfully designed to misrepresent him or to unjustly bring him into contempt. He may have a rough exterior, not intending to pose in a model fashion plate, but in real life where he is tried there is found under his coarse garb a heart that is honest and true which responds with sympathy and kindness for anyone in distress; and his generosity and hospitality are proverbial and stand without a rival. Men from every position in life, including college graduates and professional men, are engaged in ranching and whoever takes them to be a lot of toughs and ignoramuses is egregiously mistaken.
The strength, virtue and intelligence of the nation is found in its large middle class of laboring people that is largely composed of farmers and mechanics, men who work with their hands and live natural lives and are so busy in some useful occupation that they have no time to think of mischief. In this favored land of freedom all of our great men have been of the common people and struggled up from some humble position. A life of toil may seem to be hard, but it conforms to nature and natural laws and favors the development of the best that is in man; and he who shirks toil misses his opportunity. Whatever tends to wean men from work only weakens them. Luxury and indolence travel on the downward road of degeneracy. They may make pleasant temporary indulgence, but are fatal to ultimate success.
The average ranch is not intended to furnish luxuries, but to serve the best interests of the business in hand, that of growing cattle. It is usually a ‘‘stag camp’’ composed entirely of men who occupy a rude cabin near some convenient spring or stream of water, where they keep house in ranch style and live after a fashion. No money is ever expended in unnecessary improvements, but every dollar spent in repairs is put where it will do the most good. The house furnishings are all of the plainest kind and intended to meet only present necessities. The larder is not supplied with luxuries nor is the cuisine prolific of dainties, but there is always on hand a supply of the necessaries of life.
Every man has his particular work to perform, but unless it be on some large ranch where the force of men employed is sufficiently large to require the services of a chef, he is also expected to assist in keeping house. It is an unwritten law of the ranch that everybody on the place must share in this work and if anyone shirks his duty he must either promptly mend his ways or else quit his job. It is seldom, however, that this rule has to be enforced, as the necessities of the case require that every man shall be able to prepare a meal as he is liable to be left alone for days or weeks at a time when he must either cook or starve.
His work consists in riding over the range and marking the condition of the cattle; line riding to prevent the stock from straying; looking after the springs and water holes and keeping them clean; branding calves, gathering steers for market and assisting in the general work of the round-up. Every day has its duty and every season its particular work, yet there are times of considerable leisure during the year. After his day's work is done he repairs to the ranch house, or to some outlying camp, whichever happens to be nearest when night overtakes him, for every large ranch has one or more such camps posted at some convenient point that furnishes temporary shelter and refreshment, where he rests and eats his frugal meal with a relish that only health and rough riding can give.
If he is at the home ranch in winter he spends the long evenings before an open hearth fire of blazing logs and by the light of the fire and the doubtful aid of a tallow dip lounges the hours away in reading and cogitation; or, if in the company of congenial companions, engages in conversation and pleasantry or any amusement that the party may select. At an early hour he turns in for the night and after a sound and refreshing sleep is up and out with the dawn. After breakfast he mounts his horse and in his striking and characteristic costume of broad sombrero, blue flannel shirt, fringed chaperejos and jingling spurs he rides forth to his work a perfect type of the gallant caballero.
ROPING A MAVERICK.
THE ROUND-UP. Photo. by C. S. Fly