Bull Tales

Feb 12, 2010
by WLJ
Sometimes the “Old West” fights back

The bosses here at WLJ have asked me to introduce myself:

My name is Bing and I tell stories. I’m your new columnist.

I’m not comfortable introducing myself. So I’m only going to do this once, then I’ll get back to what I do for a living—telling stories.

I’ve spent the last 25 years chasing around the Pacific Northwest writing about and taking photos of people on farms, ranches and their nearby communities.

What most people haven’t realized while I was pointing a camera at them is that I’m a trained storyteller. I gather snippets of conversation and stories creating a human geography of the rural world around me.

Because you, the readers of WLJ, and I are new to each other, you probably oughta know that I need to make a living telling stories because my ranch isn’t going to carry the financial load.

My wife and I run a small “Mom ’n Pop” sheep operation in the high desert of Oregon. We decided on sheep because we knew we’d need to find a niche market to survive—and we were surrounded as far as the eye can see by cattle outfits.

So that’s what we’re going to talk about in Bull Tales. Ranchers, ranching and the people and critters we work around every day. One story might be about the hired man who is so tired of stepping out of his boot in the winter mud that he’s ready to bawl. Another could be about the absentee ranch owner who rides to his own branding in Dockers with his toes pointed straight down and his heels up in the stirrups.

One thing I’ve found out over my years of chasing around ranch country in the Pacific Northwest is there are two different American

Wests—the new one and the old. And, sometimes when someone from the Modern West reaches out to touch the old ways—they fight back.

A while back, two buckaroos were riding drag on a bunch of Brahma cross cattle deep in the desert of southeastern Oregon. They turned and saw a shiny, white BMW approaching from behind on the dirt road. The driver—obviously a tourist—rolled down his window and asked if he could move past the herd.

“No problem,” one buckaroo said, “just go slow and keep moving.”

Perhaps the driver was overwhelmed by the “Westerness” of the situation.

Maybe he felt that if he could touch some of the Old West, he would carry the memory throughout his life. No one knows exactly why the driver did what he did.

Passing the last of the cattle, he rolled down his window and brushed his hand along the flank of an old range cow.

Startled, she leaped straight into the air. When the cranky cow returned to the earth, she snorted her disgust and wandered off.

The suprised buckaroos had no idea which was more spooked, the recently goosed cow or the wide-eyed tourist who watched an acre of cowhide go sailing past his nose.

Quickly, the tourist pulled his arm back in the window. He finished moving through the cattle and went on his way down the road—trash can lid sized dent in his door.

The buckaroos grinned nervously at each other and kept the herd moving.

To this day, no one knows if the tourist is sitting in a fancy office spinning tales about his days “on the range,” or if he’s embarrassed and happy that his arm wasn’t shattered into a million pieces. Either way, the tourist hasn’t been seen in that country since. — D. “Bing” Bingham [Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller. If you have a story to pass along, contact him at bing@ bingbingham.com.]