By Norris Chambers

             Clifton and I were not typical cowboys as seen in the movies. We didn’t wear a gun belt loaded with bullets and a six gun. We rode horses a lot but we didn’t have saddle bags and canteens hanging on the saddle. We didn’t adorn ourselves with spurs that jingled and jangled, and we didn’t hide behind rocks and shoot at outlaws or cattle thieves. But we performed many of the chores that are necessary when a small herd of cattle provide most of the family income.

            We had 480 acres that was divided into about 80 acres for crops and the rest used as pasture for a livestock herd of about twenty-five to forty head of cattle and three horses and a mule. Usually there was enough good grass to feed the animals and we didn’t have to provide other food. During the winter there were a few times when the grass was not sufficient and we had to provide hay and other edible products. We sometimes burned the thorns off of prickly pears and fed those. The cattle loved the warm, juicy cactus.

            My dad took a big bag of salt and called the cows from time to time. They recognized the call and would come running from all directions. This provided the needed sodium for the herd and gave us an opportunity to count them and inspect them for any health or physical problems.

            Every year after salting the cows were marked and branded. The marking and branding was necessary for identification if they broke out of the pasture and mixed with herds in adjoining pastures or if they were stolen and the owner was fortunate enough recover them after thieves had been caught. Brands and marks were registered in the county court house.

            The brand we used was a simple X marked on the left side. This simple brand did not require a fancy branding iron. Any metal rod would do the job when heated over a hot fire. The mark was described as “Crop the right and crop and under-bit the left.” This meant that the right ear had the tip cut off and the left ear had the tip cut off as well as a “v” shaped notch on the underside. Some marks were more complicated and might read: crop and twice over-bit the right and crop and thrice under-bit the left, There were also descriptions of slices, such as slice lower left or right and slice upper left or right, etc.

            The animal had to be thrown to the ground for the branding. This was generally referred to as “bull-dogging” and was performed by encircling the head with the left arm and twisting the neck with the right. It was an excellent job for new teenagers anxious to demonstrate their strength.

            There was another method of putting a cow or calf on the ground that one person could perform with little effort. A rope was secured around the animal’s horns or neck and was looped around the body just past the front legs and again just before the hind legs. By pulling on the rope from behind the cow would fall to the ground as if paralyzed. We sometimes used this method if no strong bull-doggers were present. I don’t know where my dad learned this trick, but it works well.

            Another common duty of the cattle man was to treat the animals for screw worm infestation. Any open wound, such as a scratch or cut, served as an invitation for a “blow fly” to lay eggs on the wound and start an invasion of larvae. The larvae, if not treated, would emerge as blow flies. The screw worms resembled maggots and began eating on the raw flesh as soon as the eggs hatched.  Usually the wound attracted other flies and more eggs were laid. An untreated animal often died as a result of the wounds.

            The screw worm problem was not confined to cattle – all animals, including wild game, were susceptible to the attacks. Many wild animals died as a result of the screw worms.

            The standard treatment for infected animals was the use of chloroform or some other commercial medicine. The animal had to be thrown to the ground and the worms killed by pouring the medication into the wound. The dead worms were removed with some sort of probe, a stick or paddle, and pine tar was applied to the area to discourage another invasion. Apparently the flies didn’t like the smell of tar.

            I understand that screw worms have been eliminated in the United States and that animals are no longer subject to their vicious attacks.   

Was working with cattle fun?  It had its little humorous spots from time to time, like the day a half-grown bull chased Clifton over a bumble bee’s nest and a swarm of the agitated bees joined the chase. He escaped both pursuers by jumping into the muddy end of a dirt stock tank!