South Texas with a couple days off, it’s 99 degrees and the sun is shining, what to do? I suggested we go to a water park or at least some place with a pool. Kirstyn wanted no part of that, she wanted something much hotter and dustier. “How about a dude ranch?” She suggested. We found just the place, the Rio Grande Vista Ranch advertised that their two day ranch rider package would “Turn city slickers into Vaqueros over the course of a weekend.” “That’s exactly what we need!” Kirstyn exclaimed. I love westerns, and this sounded perfect. We’d be riding the range of the famous fictional Texas Rangers Woodrow Call and Augustus Mcrae. So we booked our package, which was surprisingly inexpensive, and headed to the store to purchase the gear we’d need. We found a store that advertised “GUNS AMMUNITION SADDLES WESTERN WEAR” Its surprisingly easy to buy a gun in Texas, so when we left the store, I was wearing chaps, spurs, boots, a big white Stetson and a 357 magnum strapped on my hip. The proprietor of the store assured me that a gun permit would be an unnecessary extra cost. Kirstyn was similarly attired but with a cute little Derringer tucked in her leather vest. On day one of our ranching experience, we arrived promptly at 6 am. “Don’t be late, tardiness is unacceptable” the email from ranch owner, Kitt Carson read. When we arrived, he was waiting to meet us in front of the bunkhouse “Call me Kitt!” He shook our hands vigorously with a broad genuine smile. “Let me introduce you to the ranch foreman, he’ll be your guide.” He started toward the stables. “Captain McDonald is his name, he’s a tough S.O.B. But fair, you’re gonna love him.” When we stepped into the stable The Captain was supervising the saddling of some horses. Kitt introduced us and left us alone with the Captain who said nothing during the introduction, occasionally spitting tobacco juice. “So you’re a military man?” I asked. The Captain looked me up and down, said nothing and spit some tobacco juice near my boots. Very awkward, I was thinking to myself when the Captain finally spoke “saddle those horses hippie.” The words seemed to appear as if by magic from behind his large moustache, no lip movements were apparent at all. He was a tall man, white haired and wearing boots, jeans and a plaid shirt. An imposing presence. “Yes sir” I said impulsively. Have you ever saddled a horse?” I asked Kirstyn as we headed in the direction the Captain had nodded almost imperceptibly. As luck would have it, Jesus the ranch hand was ready to help us out. “Is the Captain always like that?” I asked, speaking softly enough I was sure the Captain wouldn’t hear. “He’s a mean S.O.B, and don’t fuck with him” Jesus advised. Kirstyn and I exchanged glances “Oh good”
Out on the range, after Jesus had showed us the basics of horsemanship, we rode out to gather some cows and move them to a new grazing area. At least that’s what I think we were doing, the Captain wasn’t very forthcoming with information. There were several other guests on horseback, all Texans from places like Dallas or Houston. We spoke very little amongst ourselves, Jesus had warned us the Captain doesn’t like idle chitchat. Some of the cows were in a mesquite thicket and the Captain decided I’d be the best candidate to get them out. “Go in there after em hippie.” His voice wafted out of his moustache followed by a stream of brown juice. I spoke gently to my horse, hoping he would know what to do. My horse did know what to do, he found a path into the thicket, ducking under some branches. I didn’t duck enough and ended up on the ground with my shiny new Stetson in the dust beside me. The Captain shook his head in disgust and shot a stream of juice into the dirt beside my hat.
That night we slept in old army surplus sleeping bags on the ground next to a small campfire. Apparently the bunkhouse was for the folks that bought the fancy package, they also get steak and red wine rather than the canned beans we had for dinner. The Captain warned us that rattlesnakes might climb into our sleeping bags before riding off to his quarter for the night. “What do I do if a rattlesnake does climb into my sleeping bag?” Kirstyn asked the Captain’s back as he rode off. He spit tobacco and carried on. The other folks in our group looked as frightened and confused as we did.
At first light, Jesus rode into our camp looking worried “the Captain says there’s cattle rustlers down by the little draw, we’re putting together a posse, load your guns”
“What!? You can’t be serious!” One of the men in our group asked “Shouldn’t we call the police?” “Women don’t need to come, but I wouldn’t try the Captain’s patience” Jesus seemed dead serious, so we all mounted up and followed him to where the Captain was waiting for his posse. “They’re down there, behind that thicket, get your gun out hippie and go flush em out” I was stunned, cattle rustlers? Really? It’s 2018, are people rustling cattle? The thought of riding a horse that I barely knew how to control after a gang of armed thieves was not very appealing, but the Captain… Well, nobody wants to see the Captain angry, so off I went.
As I approached the area the Captain had indicated, I could hear men talking. I tied my horse to a bush and quietly tiptoed my way toward the bandits. “Hands up!” I hollered, because I couldn’t think of anything better to say. The men spun around to face me and pulled their guns. I dove to the ground. There were three of them, all armed and now shooting in my direction. I took aim and in the distance I heard the Captain’s voice “Shoot the bad guys not the cows hippie!” Very encouraging, I thought as I squeezed the trigger. The shootout lasted mere seconds I’m sure, but to me, time slowed down. Bullets thumped the ground next to me I took aim and shot several times till I heard the Captain “Check fire! Check fire!” I rolled for better cover behind a fallen mesquite log. As I tried to peer through the bushes I heard a struggle over near my adversaries and a moment later the Captain “Come on out hippie, I got em.” The Captain had three men tied to a tree “Good work hippie, they wasted all their bullets shooting at you, now go find Jesus and get to work!” The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful, and the Captain was almost pleasant, he even suggested we should come back to the ranch again some time. I’ve decided I don’t like horses that much though.