Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Face to Face With A Longhorn

We're hiking along a circular trail through wildflowers, grasses and cockleburs to see "The Johnson Settlement." It's in Johnson City, Texas, and it's where President LBJ's grandfather and great uncle started their cattle droving business during the Civil War.

Before our walk, I'd read where the boys made a fortune off cattle they never owned. They'd find unbranded cattle wandering the Texas plains, herd 'em up and move 'em on to market in Kansas. Along the famed Chisholm Trail.

Easy money.

The wandering cattle came from herds belonging to ranchers off fighting the war. No one was home to herd up and brand the calves, so the babies just grew up on the land, and wandered right into the hands of entrepreneurs like the Johnson boys.

Legal, but still, easy money.

So I'm thinking about those cows and the boys who just whisked them up and sold them, when we walk into a clearing and, voila, the settlement. We find a log cabin, some barns, a windmill and ... Wow! Two Texas longhorns. Within spittin' distance!

I've never been this close to a longhorn. I'm so close, I could touch them. So I try.

I walk up to the fence, and the black and white guy looks up. I whistle, snap my fingers and put my hand through the fence. And I talk friendly. "Here, boy. Here, boy."

Look! He's walking toward me. Man, those horns are huge! So long!

My dog Jacob, a large standard poodle, steps back away from the fence as the steer gets closer.

"It's OK, Jacob." I assure him.

Then WHAM! MAN! The longhorn slams his left horn right through the fence, and whacks Jacob on the side of the face. Jacob yelps (more startled than hurt) and backs off. I don't back off and WHAM SLAM, the longhorn tries crashing through the fence at me. He maneuvers those massive sabers deftly and bangs my arm briefly as I jerk it away.

Now Jacob and I both jump away from the fence. And the longhorn settles down.

I notice that as long as we keep our distance, he keeps his attitude peaceful. So we keep a big distance.

As we amble far away from the longhorn and through the rest of the settlement, reading historical makers and peering into doors, I start thinking about those Johnson boys. And if they ran across longhorns like the one we just met, then I'm thinking they earned every penny they got.

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