Parker County Today April 2017 - Page 62

Skulls and bailing wire in an interestingly cluttered antique barn (Mel W Rhodes) not just bovines!” he was quick to correct and insistent. “There are a lot of cattle out there, and I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of head of cattle, and friends of mine ranch to this day — longhorns are in a class all their own. One of my very best friends — we’ve been friends since we were old enough to know each other, I’m almost 70 so probably 65 years — he’s a rancher, lives at Sterling City and has probably 80- 90,000 acres scattered across Texas and he raises several thousand head of cattle, and those are bovines. But these aren’t,” he assured, nodding at the Boys who’d just wandered onto the grass behind the house to graze. “There’s just something special about a longhorn. I mean I just can’t imag- ine anybody not thinking there is. [And apparently a lot of people think they’re special] because I tell you they wear the bar ditch out in front of this place taking pictures of the Boys.” Today’s longhorns are descended from the wild stock driven north out of Texas during the great trail drives of the 19th century, particularly be- tween 1866 and 1886. It is estimated some 20 million head were herded to railheads in Kansas for shipment to Chicago and points farther east. Longhorns, a random mix of Spanish cattle gone feral and European stock brought west in the 1820s and ’30s by white settlers, were hardy, aggressive and adaptable. And unique among all 60 other breeds. “What is so unique about the Tex- as Longhorn? What makes it different from the multitude of other breeds now available in North America? Simply this: The Texas Longhorn was fashioned entirely by nature right here in North America. Stemming from ancestors that were the first cattle to set foot on American soil almost 500 years ago, it became the sound end product of ‘survival of the fittest,’” writes Dr. Stewart H. Fowler, PhD on the animal science site of Okla- homa State University. “Shaped by a combination of natural selection and adaptation to the environment, the Texas Longhorn is the only cattle breed in America which — without aid from man — is truly adapted to America. In his book The Longhorns, J. Frank Dobie states this situation well: ‘Had they been registered and regulated, restrained and provided for by man, they would not have been what they were.’” Texans returning from the horrors of the Civil War found their former lives in shambles. Marauding Indi- ans and neglect had pushed back the frontier. Rounding up longhorns and driving them to market put gold in Texan’s saddlebags, and fueled a flagging economy ruined by the war. One begins to see Pat’s point — long- horns are not just bovines. Never have been. Pat’s Boys are not wild like the longhorns wrangled by cowboys of the 19th Century. But they are big and can be dangerous. When up close and personal with them, say while hand-feeding them, Pat keeps his wits about him. When these animals turn their heads, a lot of space is invaded. Cinco, Pat’s tall, dark and heavy long- horn sports a 9-foot span of sharp- ended horns. Twister’s and Concho’s horns are shorter, but get the three of them together looking for that hand- out of cake and it can feel like you’re in a blender. You have to watch out for the sharp ends, you see. Pat plays down the danger but admits to having been knocked down a time or two. I watched the big-eyed juggernauts with a mixture of awe and anxiety, ever ready to duck or dive out of the way. And I counted my fingers after slipping pieces of cake into their slob- bery mouths. While Pat is mighty fond of Cinco, he has an extra special soft spot for a longhorn named “King Boy.” His skull and horns hold a place of distinction on the sheltered back porch. “King Boy was special,” he said. “King Boy had it all. He weighed about 1,800 pounds and had the shape and tri-coloring, the Texas Twist horns. He had the tempera- ment. He was kind of like ol’ Cinco down there — you could brush him, he’d eat out of your hand, you could lean on him. You and I could be down there talking and I could lean over him and he’d just stand there. He kind of liked people. He was just magnificent, probably the prettiest longhorn I’ve ever seen. He was the quintessential longhorn.” The cowboy cried three years ago when King Boy died. “He was 15 when I had to put him down,” he said, maybe a slight catch in his voice. “He broke his right hind hock and couldn’t get up.” Many fond memories of the not-so-long-gone longhorn glimmered in Pat’s blue eyes. Sometimes a man’s pet critter finds its way to the heart. “I’ll probably have longhorns the rest of my life,” he concluded. “Long as I can get down there with a bucket of feed to feed them. They’re just part of me and part of Texas, and I just enjoy that.”