Sunday, April 24, 2016
The Cowboy Prayer
Sul Ross, Joaquin Jackson, and the Boys
The Cowboy Prayer
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
We went to Alpine for a few days.
The occasion was the Texas Trappings festivities. The actual showcase of Western art and craft took place at the museum on the campus of Sul Ross University, but the whole town is the backdrop for the annual event. Thirty years ago Gary Dunshee, co-owner of Big Bend Saddlery, saw the potential of creating a cowboy gear and Western art event in Alpine. He, along with a number of other folks, turned his idea into reality. Once a year the gates are opened and a big hooey is sounded. It has become a venue of some of the best artists in the United States and central to artisans who know the difference between a freno to hang on the wall and one that actually works in the mouth of a horse.
So, to cow country we went. Some rich Texans were probably there, but so were some folks who still make a living horseback. We saw them with their puncher creases and their pants tucked into their 18” Jose Luis Sanchez boots. We heard it in their talk and we digested it when the subjects of birth weight EPDs and grass strength were broached.
The big gala is billed as the best party in the Big Bend. It was a very good party, but, being cowmen, we surmised that if Jake Hooker or Jodie Nix had been there to play Texas dance music under the stars above … it would have put some icing on the whole affair.
Sul, Joaquin, and the Boys
Sul Ross’ memory is forever etched on the south side of a hill on the east end of town. There the university named in his honor looks out over the community. Red brick and matching red rock dominate its architectural theme. It fits Alpine as well as it fits the region, and what a great grama grass country that is. Big ranch country it is and the appearances suggest ranching is still a dominate theme and not a declining heritage.
The man, Sul Ross, was a study of Texas history. On the morning of December 19, 1860, Ross led two Texas Ranger companies and a detachment of 21 U.S. soldiers against a Comanche encampment in the Pease River Valley that turned out to have Cynthia Parker within its numbers. When Ross saw two Indians on one horse and another Indian wrapped in a buffalo robe riding singly, he and Lt. Tom Kelliheir spurred their horses and gave chase.
Catching up with the rider in the buffalo robe, Ross had his finger on the trigger of his revolver and about to squeeze off a shot when the Indian stopped, threw back her robe to reveal her bare chest, and held up a small child.
“Americano, Americano, Americano … Me Cincee Ann!”
Years later in 1887 after becoming a captain in the Rangers and fighting 135 engagements in the Civil War, Lawrence Sullivan Ross was sworn in as governor of Texas. With little money in the state’s till, he moved Company E from nearby Ft. Davis to Murphysville when the railroad reached that place (the town would be renamed Alpine). The Company was mustered out in April of that year.
Saturday morning found us in the parking lot of the Big Bend Saddlery. Owners Gary Dunshee and Bret Collier hosted a chuck wagon breakfast that was worth the whole ticket. Fresh cowboy coffee hot off the fire with cowmen dressed in their everyday attire was a great way to start our final day in Texas. We ate a breakfast off the back end of a chuck wagon as if we were getting ready to fork our horses for the day’s work. While some continued eating, others moved closer to watch Wilson Capron and Buddy Knight demonstrate the art of the blacksmith and their techniques creating works of art from wrought iron and steel with hammer and anvil. Capron is recognized for his overlay engravings that define his contemporary interpretation of Texas and California style bits and spurs. Knight, a well known cowboy, silversmith, and blacksmith, has worked on ranches for over 40 years. He is a master of metal fabrication for ranch or ranch house.
Then it was back to visiting or buying something in the Saddlery. The discussions were weather, politics, cattle market, and the state of our union. Standing with a group, somebody noted that Joaquin had just arrived.
“You mean that’s Joaquin Jackson?”
Indeed it was and I offered my hand. I suggested he wouldn’t know me from Adam, but, out of the mold of Big Foot Wallace, Sul Ross, and Texas Jack Hays, I knew who he was. We talked briefly and he went on to fill his plate.
Joaquin Jackson must now be arrayed with the most famous of all the Texas Rangers. His first book, One Ranger: A Memoir made him known far beyond his home state. His legend grew when he submitted his resignation when then Texas governor, Ann Richards, secured the entry of females into the Rangers. It made her mad. When she was asked to write a blurb for his book, she let the hammer down on the requester, her former lead counsel, Shelton Smith.
“You tell that old bastard that I’ll give him a blurb for his book, but I know he rode his horse from Amarillo to Austin to turn in his Ranger badge when I was governor, and I damn sure don’t appreciate it,” she fumed.
“No, Ann, that’s not right,” Shelton suggested.
“I know it’s right. I know what he did!”
“No, Ann, that’s not right,” Shelton continued in a conciliatory tone … “He rode his horse from Alpine to Austin to turn in his badge.”
Of Prayers and Commandments … The Cowboy Prayer
Next door to the Saddlery is Spradley Custom Hats.
Three hats for three New Mexicans were bought there after breakfast. Nearly three hours were consumed in the grand trade. Each bone colored hat started out with an open crown and five inch brim, but personal preferences shaped them to the individual wearer. One left the shop with the five inches intact but bound, ribboned, and shaped to a mountain cowboy look. The second became 4½” with a punchy two dot crown, and the third became a 4¼” brimmed, 6” fronted cattleman dipped just a tad. Three identical hats they were, but … three completely different hats when they were worn.
We enjoyed Jim Spradley immensely learning he had been a cowboy years ago on the Ladder. We conversed, too, with the clientele and visitors that wandered in and out. At the point Jim’s son and daughter-in-law came in with their two kids, Jim had to shut it down to shake his son’s hand and then hug and kiss the kids and their mother. It was genuine and we offered our own salutary formalities.
We were in cowboy country and we felt at home.
The shop itself was polished and reflected a history of its loyal clientele. On the wall among the hats racks was a summary of the only rules anybody needs to live by. The title was The Ten Commandments for Texans, but it wasn’t just for Jim or for his fellow Texans. The New Mexico contingent saw it the same way.
By happenstance, the first thing I saw when I got home and opened Joaquin’s new book, One Ranger Returns, struck me as an expanded corollary. It was the Ranger’s Prayer by Pierre Bernard Hill, Texas Ranger Chaplain. The two together, the commandments and the prayer, offered a summary of what The Trappings of Texas was actually trying to capture. It is the essence of our way of life. When combined, it became:
O God, whose end is justice,
Whose strength is all our stay … Just one God you are.
Be near and bless my mission today
As I go forth today … forever honoring my ma’ and pa’.
Let wisdom guide my actions,
Let courage fill my heart, and … no telling tales or gossipin’
And help me Lord, in every hour
To do a Ranger’s part … like gettin’ myself to Sunday meetings.
Protect when danger threatens,
Sustain when trails are rough … and never puttin’ nothin’ before you, my God
Help me to keep my standard high
And smile at each rebuff … no foolin’ around with another fellers’ gal, hankerin’ for your buddy’s stuff, or killin’.
When night comes down upon me,
I pray the, Lord, be nigh …
Whether on lonely scout, or camp,
Under the Texas sky … never takin’ what ain’t mine and watchin’ my mouth
Keep me, O God, in life
And when my days shall end,
Forgive my sins and take me in,
For Jesus’sake … Amen.
Unequivocally, it is … a cowboy’s prayer.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Amen and Amen.”