“Windy Bill was a Texas man,
And he could rope, you bet;
The steer that Windy hadn’t tied,
Well, he hadn’t met him yet…”
This post is dedicated to my great Uncle Ab English, who celebrated his 90th Birthday just a few weeks ago. Uncle Ab has been a cowboy near all his life, aside from being a south Texas peace officer for a while.
He had a well-deserved reputation for being able to rope anything with hair on it. Some of you Turkey Creek hands might recall that fact.
Here’s to you, Tio, ‘El último de la línea.’…
On the very northern end of Burro Mesa, near where the west entrance road for Big Bend National Park snakes by, a shallow dry run begins to gather off the surrounding rocky foothills.
As it drifts along westerly the run intersects Alamo Creek, which in turn empties into the Rio Grande below the cemetery at La Coyota. It has no name I am aware of, but to me, it is ‘Busted Saddle Draw.” How it came to that name is the subject of this story.
Some years back I was prowling this general area from near Apache Canyon up to the badlands north of the mesa. I was seeking out a likely cavalry route for my upcoming novel entitled ‘¡Cristeros!’
It was the middle of summer and past mid-day when I finally figured out how to get off the mesa’s far north side, at least where one could do so on a horse. During this search, I must have come across a half dozen were thrown shoes, beyond merely old and rusting away under the desert sun.
It came to me that a long time ago, others had puzzled over the same question. Be the vaquero, cowboy, Army scout or Apache, such questions arise repeatedly in such a rough, craggy land. Different times and seasons, but the same problems and challenges.
I turned back, easing my way down and away from the rimrock. With shoulders aching from the ALICE pack, sweat trickling freely from my hat brim and back, and my feet in near open rebellion from scrambling among rock infested slopes most of the day, softer ground and a more level playing field called out to me. Both lay in the direction I was heading.
Ambling past a long-abandoned fence line of rotting posts and not much else, I calculated the reason for it being there. Not too far away to the south, over a nearby low pass, had once been an Indian camp. The camp was there because of a spring that had since ceased flowing. But during the time this line was strung, the water was still there. Wherever water was found in this perpetually thirsty desert, men came to and stayed.
Still aiming for the shortest, easiest route back, I started up a low rise to get a better view. However, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye and I forgot all about my self-imposed aches and pains. It was a rusty cinch ring from an old-style saddle of yore.
Looking closer, I spied what had to be the remains of a likewise aged wooden tree, near rotted away. Following along the general downward path of the tiny run was a metal brace for the tree itself, some saddlebag buckles, and another girth ring.
The last remnants to some cowboy’s most prized possession lay before me, leather parts all eaten away by rodents many decades before, and scattered about hither and yon.
Now here was a real head-scratcher, which I promptly did upon removing my flat-brimmed Stetson. What in the world….?
My eyes went back to the rotting saddle tree. There was no sign of any pommel; wood, metal or otherwise. Then an old tune called ‘Windy Bill,’ of the like vintage of what was scattered around me started through my mind.
Might be this unknown rider had a fine little wreck, perhaps because of tying off unto something a little more stout than bargained for.
After the dust settled and the cussing stopped, he was hopefully still mobile enough to limp back to that spring. There had been a line shack and wagon road leading to the spot, once upon a time.
I imagine he wasn’t really happy and left that saddle just exactly where it lay.
Had some choice words about what he had unsuccessfully latched onto, as well as the lower Big Bend country and the ‘cowboy life’ in general.
Buena Suerte, amigo.
And like the words to that catchy tune go, I ‘drifted on down the draw’…
To listen to the song ‘Windy Bill,’ please click the link below:
Ben H. English
Author of ‘Yonderings’ (TCU Press)
‘Destiny’s Way’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
‘Out There: Essays on the Lower Big Bend’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
Facebook: Ben H. English
‘Graying but still game’
Museum of the Big Bend
Big Bend Saddlery
Creative Texts Publishers
Crockett County Public library
Medina Community Library
The Twig Book Shop
Old Town Books
The Boerne Bookshop
Marta Powell Stafford
Lone Star Literary Life
Historic Fort Stockton
Alpine Radio – Texas