Sunday, December 05, 2010

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

So you want to be a ranch wife?
 by Julie Carter


    Score: Gate - 1 Ranch wife - 0 And the town folk likely wanted to call authorities to report a beating when they saw her in town on Monday.
    Anyone with any knowledge about ranch wives knew exactly what had happened when she said the words "a gate and a cow."
    With a shiner that sent black and blue over most of one side of her face, an eye that peeked through a narrow slit in the swelling, and bruises that obviously weren't leaving anytime soon, she laughed and said, "You should have seen it yesterday, it was a lot worse."
    It's an old story and this tough little woman proved that it's still an ongoing hazard for the ranch wife - a husband that says, "Hold that gate and don't let her (the cow) by."
    In a hundred years of cattle ranching, the bovine species has never gotten the memo about that particular plan.
    At something maybe close to 5 feet tall, this little gal grew up holding her own in the corrals sorting and working cattle. Gender has never required allowances for special treatment when it comes to ranch work.
    When the operation is a "mom and pop" deal, mom has to pull her share of the duty without regard to stature, age or necessary domestic duties.
    As a thousand pounds of cow steam rolls toward a gate with an obvious determination to exit through it, and the little woman holding said gate knows "this is gonna hurt," there is a flash of mental calculating that determines what happens next.
    With Herculean strength, at least in her mind, she more often than not will try to hold her own, ergo hold the gate, against the cow, steer or even a freshly weaned 500-pound calf. With a hope of the odds and perhaps angels on her side, she prefers that option to the likely hollering or maybe even a cussing from the "boss."
    Or worse yet, the thought that she "can't do this job." She knows from experience there are consequences if she decides to pitch the gate away and run.
    With any luck at all, the results won't require a wild and bumpy pickup ride to the "local" hospital emergency room a couple hours away. That would really mess up a well-planned afternoon of getting some cattle sorted and tended to before dark.
    But sometimes, the cow wins. Odds are she'll be a favorite cow, one that's raised 5-6 good calves.
    And although she's a little on the cranky side even on a good day, her production stats determine that she be given dispensation for her attitude and grievances against the little missus.
    And the missus? Well according to the head cowboy, she needs to get a bag of ice on that eye because she's got a job in town that she needs to tend to on Monday. Have to keep the priorities in order so as to make a living.
    There are a few tough gals who have learned quitting is sometimes a temporary option. Nothing taxes a good ranch marriage like working cattle together in the corral. Sign language and hollering are a given, as are threats of cold meals or worse yet, a week of Spam sandwiches.
    Worth remembering is the story about the cowboy who, in his anger at his non-compliant help in the corral, told his wife to "just go on to the house. I'll finish up by myself."
    Obediently she got in the pickup and drove home. However, in his tempered state, he had forgotten that they'd come to the pens together. That pickup she drove off in was the only vehicle at the corrals.
    It was an eight-mile walk back to the house.

Julie, a purple-heart veteran of the cow and gate wars, can be reached for comment at

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