A year ago, a car was parked along the dirt road leading to the ranch and a man was on the other side of the barbed wire fence wandering in the field. This is quite a common sight here in southeastern Arizona, however I recognized neither the vehicle nor the occupants.
As soon as I heard the voice I recognized instantly that it was none other than cowboy poet Baxter Black standing there before me in all his cowboy glory, eyes twinkling out from under his wide-brimmed hat as he introduced himself and his wife the very delightful, CindyLou Baxter.
It seems Mr. Black was given the wrong date for the Southwest Pioneer Cowboy Association picnic to be held here in the Chiricahua Mountains, and he and CindyLou had arrived one week prematurely. Susan and I were just as happy to invite them for lunch, and while I welcomed our new friends and guests to Sunglow Ranch, Susan took to the kitchen making the finest lunch ever made under pressure. Baxter recited his poem, The West, phrases of which continue to this day to pop into my head such as, “the wind is the moan of the prairie” and “they don’t call it Death Valley for nuthin'”…
Today, over a year later was held this year’s SWPCA Cowboy Picnic. Over a hundred guests were in attendance just down the dirt road from the ranch, and a glorious steak dinner was cooked-out and beautifully served to all. More than one cowboy guest remarking to me that, “there are less and less of the real old-time cowboys left.”
Stackable plastic and metal folding chairs were ‘circled up’ after the meal, as raffle prizes and story-telling began. Cowboy poetry was recited. Stories were shared from the heart, and a celebration commenced for the real cowboys and cowgirls who were in attendance. Many sentences began with, “The Smith Ranch”, or “The Price Ranch”, or “The Riggs Ranch” and beautiful, time worn cowboy phrases like “prit’ near” and “howdy” were oft’ spoken.
A bit slowed by age, these were the originals–the ones who’s family tamed this very wild west from the 1870’s onward, and who continued in their parents’ footsteps ranching in this faraway land. Back then, this land had only recently been delivered up, wrested violently from the Chiricahua Apaches as their parents became the first white homesteaders here.
Now, a bit grizzled, thin and worn with age–it was clear that I was in the company of real cowboys and real cowgirls. Lord knows the hardships they faced. I couldn’t help but feel I was watching the passing of a way of life, and the end of an era. But I saw extraordinary character in these wrinkled faces, and simple lives.
Baxter and CindyLou never made it this year, but I’ll be looking down the road for them when next year’s cowboy picnic comes around. Heck, they prit’ near made it last year.