On the Trail: Following the Cowboy Code:

My last posting left us heading for the Moorhouse ranch house for a cup of coffee with legendary Tom Moorhouse.

I don’t remember many details about the house. Only that it seemed all Texan, solid as a rock, and there was a lot of native rock. It seemed to have come out of the Texas prairie of its own accord. I saw few signs of Tom’s fame, just one photo of him on a magazine cover hanging near the kitchen.

Rounding up horses on the Moorhouse Ranch.

As we moved to a small nook off the kitchen, I noticed a copy of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life on an end table. I was in the middle of reading it at home, so we discussed it a little while he put coffee on to boil.

We wanted to show our gratitude for his allowing us to participate in the roundup and to assure him we would not get in the way. But he seemed more relaxed about the whole thing than we were and peppered us with questions faster than we could interrogate him.

He poured our cups to the brim and I took a sip of cowboy coffee like Daddy used to make. I like coffee in the mornings and occasionally on a cold night, but I can spot an all-day (in all kinds of weather) coffee drinker and Tom was one of those. Just like Uncle Arch (Shep’s dad) and Teadon (my dad). The coffee was not as bitter as I remember Daddy’s being. In fact, it was really good if you didn’t mind chewing a stray ground or two.

He shared a little history of the ranch and showed us the dugout that his ancestors had built as their first home. We could see the entrance from where we sat having coffee. Tom is justifiably proud of his father Togo and his deep connections to historic Texas ranching, but he has that Texas cowboy brand of humility about everything.

He told us roundup preparations would begin in the afternoon on the Parramore Ranch and told us how to find it. I knew that large ranches are often made up of smaller ranches run by different managers. I assumed the area where we were going was part of the Moorhouse, but was not for sure. I think they leased the Parramore. The roundup mattered—working with Tom Moorhouse mattered—not the ranch.

Shep and I followed Tom’s directions to the Parramore (between Guthrie and Aspermont) and unloaded our horses just after noon. We saddled them and gave them some needed exercise.

Legendary Cowboy Tom Moorhouse

We were relieved when the chuck wagon arrived (towed behind a pickup). That assured us we were in the right place. We offered to help, but the young cowboys who erected a canvas cover over the wagon had obviously done it many times.

The horse remuda, along with extra saddles and tack, arrived in a deuce-and-a-half truck soon after. About twenty head were unloaded in a corral a few yards from where our trailer was parked and our horses were tied.

Usually unperturbed by such things, Rowdy seemed disturbed by the invasion of new horses on turf he had already claimed as his own. It was not like him. He worked at his lead rope until he got enough slack to stand closer to TT.

The cook arrived in a small sedan (not the usual cowboy transportation) just as the wagon cover was finished. A dozen or so cowboys were not far behind. We were surprised to learn that the cook was a traveler who cooked for several outfits. He was young, affable and full of conversation as we helped him unload some of his utensils from the trunk of the car. He went right to work with the fire and cast iron cookware.

Tom Moorhouse arrived soon after, carrying a fairly large mattress rolled into a bedroll. I was surprised at the size of all the cowboy bedrolls. Made for comfort, but too big to tie behind a saddle.  In what seemed like only minutes, we sat down to sourdough biscuits, beans, stew, and peach cobbler. Coffee and gyp water were the only liquids.

The cowboys eyed us with friendly wariness. One could almost read the question in their eyes as they wondered how much extra trouble we were going to be. They were polite, but short on helpful information.

We knew there was a pecking order and a cowboy code of sorts that we did not want to break.

We always hobbled our horses at night on the Brazos trip, but figured they would be just fine tied to the trailer. I knew that Rowdy had learned how to roam with hobbles and worried about him getting into something he shouldn’t.

Tom’s head wrangler (we’ll call him Jackson because I can’t recall his name) finally told us to throw our horses in the corral the rest of the horses. “They’ll stomp around all night and keep you awake tied to that trailer.” We were relieved to have acceptance and led them into the big corral.

The rest of the evening was just about perfect. Squatted by the campfire, I asked Jackson about my old friends Calvin Peters, then manager of the Quien Sabe, and Sam Brown, working cowboy, novelist and poet. He knew both. Seems the cowboy community is closely knit, though hundreds of miles apart.

We sat around the campfire until close to bedtime, then watched other another small group of young cowboys arrive from Oklahoma. Like us, they just wanted to do a roundup with Tom. I heard one of the ranch cowboys tell the newcomers to be cocked and ready if they wanted to help with a Moorhouse roundup.

Shep slept in the trailer and I unrolled my bedroll outside. I had learned my lesson on the Brazos trip and had added a small cot mattress that could be rolled up in the bedroll and still be small enough to tie behind a saddle.

As I drifted off to sleep, we still did not know what the next day would bring. We had a lot of simple questions that we were embarrassed to ask for fear of sounding like greenhorns. Would we be away from camp the next night? What would we eat the next day and did we need to carry our own food? Did we need to take provisions to last for more than a day? Should I put my bedroll and saddlebags on the horse in the morning?

The answers were to be surprising. More next week.

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” –Thomas Paine, The Crisis, No 1, 1776

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