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CROCKET HOTEL & MOTOR INN 301 EAST CROCKETT irrfirr-1 srOr sr ii , PIE1r,” 711,u -sn -lo I GARAGE 11″9 111,-11. 4A111.166111″ BY THE ALAMO Hotel & Motor Inn NONE MORE CONVENIENT, MORE COMPLETE OR MORE REASONABLE . . . FOR THE FAMILY OR BUSINESSMAN. FREE PARKING, SWIMMING POOL, ICE MACHINE. FULLY AIR-CONDITIONED. 24-HOUR TELEPHONE. FULL HOTEL SERVICE. REGISTER FROM YOUR CAR. MOST CREDIT CARDS HONORED. SAN ANTONIO, Texas’ convenient, downtown rRAKEtni \\mOTOR 1 INN FREE PARKING now, paid him back for the coffee he had given us the night before. Punk didn’t even bother apologizing for having recommended this place. We were “kindly throwed in” together now. As he drove away and waved us on, we read his thoughts with satisfaction: “They’ll do.” After Punk left us, we felt our empty stomachs and our frayed, unslept nerves, and were not so certain. It took several hours of sunshine for our bedrolls and saddle blankets to approach dryness. We pushed on, not too excited by the prospect of another day riding the range under a threatening sky. Late in the afternoon the rain came again lightly, and we broke out our slickers, hoping that Buck Jackson’s was near, wishing, really, that our mothers might be there to scold us and feed us and make us go to bed. “Why can’t I be one” was giving way to “Why can’t I go home?” But one thing we soon found out about the way these ranch people play the cowboy pantomime: it bolsters the spirit of a man riding on the plains. It makes him feel like he can make it on without his mother. BUCK JACKSON drove out to meet us at the gate. “Get on in to the bunkhouse!” he shouted familiarly at two almost strangers, adding with humility, “Who’d of thought to bring a slicker out to this dry country?” The best way to describe Buck Jackson’s spread is to say that it is a no nonsense place, a working ranch, where guys can horse around. Everything there is used; it all makes working sense. A tangle of worn corrals and a line of plain buildings and inside the main house, everything in working order: dusty old sofas in the living room, a tattered cheesecloth over the big eating table, which is set with various jars and bottles of essentials bearing the stains of long refilling. All evening men were shuffling in and out, lounging on the sofas, eating as they came from the ample bean, roast, and coffee pots in the kitchen which all seemed to be brewing 24 hours a day. The only adornment in the house, which gave the place away, was a large mural on 8 The Texas Observer the living room wall, depicting a group of ranch hands, half-naked, scrubbing themselves down behind the barn, obviously spanking out for a Saturday night; all caught in startled poses by the approach of a jeep full of women reading “Dance Committee.” A man’s province this no, a boy’s province. Buck stood around the house, supplying every newcomer with grub, joking around with the guys in the front room. From his agile posture and his boyish expression one would suppose him to be about 15 rather than 50, bubbling over with adventure because his folks had given the place for the weekend, to invite all his buddies out. We were relaxing in the atmosphere, almost forgetting that we were there on the pretext of talking to an aged cowboy, to hear tobacco-spittle yarns of earlier days. “Old Phil was in here a minute ago,” Buck apologized, and peeked into the crowd: “Anybody seen Cowboy Wilson? These boys want to talk to him about the history of the area.” The fellows looked around sheepishly, embarassed by the publicity. “Ain’t nothin’ happened around here,” one of them chortled, “especially for Phil. His main worry is to get back into town for a haircut and shave.” “You’ll see him in the morning,” Buck explained, playing the no nonsense man again. “We’ll be riding out to the Northeast pasture to round a bunch in.” About five a.m., Buck Jackson pushed his head through the door. “Okay, you trail riders,” he grinned, “let’s hit it.” If he lives to be 90, I think Buck will always get excited early in the morning of a day he can spend in the center of the hands. In the living room, I had seen a gold buckle presented to him in the 1940s proclaiming “Buck Jackson, World Champion Rodeo Announcer: Madison Square Garden.” Everyone in West Texas seems to know him; he had been announcing the Pecos Rodeo for 40 years. As we stirred into the kitchen, there he was, grinning, popping eggs into the huge vat of grease, handing them out as people came to the table. After wolfing down the eggs and barbecued beans \(these people would probably all come down with a fever if they went a meal without something There, sitting cross-legged with his coffee and watching the dawn, was the one I knew, from the chin stubble and the unruly white thatch of hair, must be Wilson. He looked so lonely. Maybe nothing much had happened to him in these 80 years, like they said. The farthest thing from my mind was to burst upon him and ask him what it was like to be a real old cowhand. I hesitated. He raised up on his pencil-thin frame, took his cup to the sink, and sauntered out toward the barn with bone-weary gait that had a curiously agile spring worn into it. A little later Rex and I saddled up and rode out to meet the drive, as Buck Jackson had invited us to do. We approached cautiously, but Buck was again the effortless master of ceremonies. “Come on,” he said, “just stay back of me, and you can give us some help.” Just then the herd spilled over the ridge, and I rode out to stay clear, trying to look like I would do to tie to. Before I knew what was happening, I was caught in a line of riders, circling the herd to bunch it on. The reality of it! I was, in full armor, indistinguishable from a distance, even by my actions, from the rest of them; less than five miles off the old Goodnight-Loving, and I was herding cattle. I looked ahead. There was Cowboy Wilson, loping easily and gracefully in the saddle, a position from which he doubtlessly had seen a good many of his 80 years. Behind me came a spurt of lingo between two hands: “Hey, Stringbean, I dropped my chaw . you think the kid there has some terbacco?” My dolly rope was cinched; for the moment I became Buck White, working cowpoke. Then the reply:”Nope.” Just a punk kid again, a slickered dude riding around in their pasture. I glanced back at Wilson. How many years would it take to learn what he knew about cow work? How many years even, before I could get the job done? And yet an instant before I had felt, and looked, like part of his outfit, old and broken in. What a great game it is, to be a cowboy, when the reality is so close and so distant. In our elaborate mimicry, we hadn’t really fooled anyone. We were just playing cowboy, riding through, and these authentic cow punchers, doing it for a living, had played right along. Perhaps they, like the boys who first rode out here, knew that riding the range will always be a grand play, and not just a job. We rode away from the drive; I had told Buck that we would have to be moseyin’ on. At a safe distance we stopped and turned in the saddle, and watched the working hands play like cowboys. On the ridge Cowboy Wilson spurred his horse around a few runaways. Over the hill came a younger buckaroo at a gallop, yipping and Waving his hat around like Hoppy, Gene, and Roy. Rex glanced over: “Who are those guys?”