photo © Kevin Martini-Fuller
THE RED COW
by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)
“I almost put my rope on her once
But then I thought it through.
I had my day in the sun long ago
So I left her for someone like you.”
“Sounds to me like she run you off,”
I said to the silver-haired man.
“Why there ain’t a cowbrute anywhere
Too much for a hand worth his sand.”
We were talking ’bout the Ol’ Red Cow,
Legend ’round these parts,
And it’s been said she’d put fear and dread
In the punchiest cowboys’ hearts.
An old barren cow who’d escaped all the drives
Because she was big, mean and clever.
The manager said she was twelve years old.
The old man said she’d been there forever.
Now legends don’t scare a boy of nineteen
Who thinks he’s the pride of the nation
And I’m thinkin’, “Now, if I pen this ol’ cow
I’ll sure have a good reputation.”
“Where do I find this renegade beast?
This scarlet scourge of the prairie.
Why, I’ll lead the hussy through the bunkhouse door.
You’ll think she was raised on a dairy.
“I’ll bring her in and she’ll bear a grim
‘Cause she’ll know that she’s had her lickin’
For I’m a hand from the faraway land
Where the hoot owls romance the chickens.”
A gleam appeared in the old man’s eye
And he was grinnin’ a little too much.
“Why, I’ll tell you where the Red Cow lives
And while you’re gone I’ll carve you a crutch.
“Oh, and give me your address ‘fore you leave,
You’ll want me to write your folks.”
I left him there to amuse hisself,
I didn’t care for his little jokes.
The Sabbath sun caught me ridin’ Ol’ Gus
Sneakin’ through the brush like a ghost
‘Til we come to the mouth of the canyon
Where the outlaw had been seen the most.
We come upon on old dirt tank
‘Bout halfway up that draw
And standin’ there for her mornin’ drink
Was the biggest cow I ever saw.
Her horns weren’t ripped, she wore no brand
Her ears were long and slick
And I thought of a big ol’ rhinoceros
I’d seen in a Tarzan flick.
Well, I knew if I showed myself to her now
Back up the canyon she’d go
So I eased up high so’s I could drive her down
And I’d catch her in the big flat below.
Well, I cinched up a notch and shook out a loop
And pulled my hornknot tight,
Then I eased Ol’ Gus to the edge of the brush
And showed myself, ready to fight.
She jerked up her head when we come in the clear
And a startled look filled her eyes.
I had to grin for my little ruse
Caught the wily Red Cow by surprise.
She’s scared and confused with no place to hide.
I’ve wrecked her psyche, I think.
But she stood there, sized up her latest of pests,
Then calmly went back to her drink.
We sat there and stared at each other awhile
‘Til the Red Cow had drunk her fill
Then she stretched her back and ever so slowly
Started walkin’, towards me, up the hill.
Why her stride betrayed no fear at all.
It was like she’d been through this before.
‘Bout then I started to doubt my own smarts
And I pondered the Red Cow’s lore.
Her slow steady walk turned into a trot
And her mouth began to foam.
The closer she got the more that I wished
That me and Ol’ Gus had stayed home.
The walls of that canyon somehow looked steeper
And it looked a lot narrower too.
My perception had changed on a whole lot of things
And my brashness I started to rue.
I’d made my brag back at the ranch
‘Bout the worth of a man who would balk.
Now I found myself fallen victim
To my own yappin’ tongue’s foolish talk.
My moment of truth was on me now
And my smarts was fightin’ my pride.
The cow was locked in on me and Ol’ Gus–
Then my outlook was rectified.
The boss hadn’t sent me out here
On the wildcat venture, of such.
If she didn’t bother him then why should she me?
Hell, one ol’ red cow don’t each much.
Fifty feet ‘tween me and the cow
Another thought entered my mind.
There were many like me but this cow that I faced
Was one of the last of her kind.
Who was I to alter her fate?
Her freedom she’d fought long to keep.
Far be it from me to ruin her life.
Oh, I could pen her. But then could I sleep?
I cringed at the thought of a grinnin’ old man
And the scorn I would see in his eye,
But I knew I was right so I tipped my hat
As the famous Red Cow trotted by.
The old man was waitin’ when I rode in,
The bunkhouse door open wide.
“I got things ready for you and your cow!”
A stool and a pail stood inside.
Well he rode me hard and put me up wet
‘Til he seen that my pride was full peeled
But the scorn I expected he never showed.
He said, “Son, I know just how you feel.
“You ain’t the first to change his mind
After doubtin’ the Red Cow’s lore.
Few boys your age have dealt with her kind
But on her coup stick you’re just one more.
“There comes a time in every man’s life
When he’s forced to face his limitation.
Now you feel like a fraud but your judgment was sound
So, Son, you ain’t no imitation.
“Aw, you talked a lot but you took your shot,
Which is more than many have done.
She force fed you crow but that taste we all know
So welcome to the humbled ranks, Son.”
Well the years have gone by and I reckon she’s died,
I know I never saw her again.
But with all my heart I hope that ol’ girl
Never saw the inside of a pen.
And though she’s gone her legend lives on
And I’m proud to be part of her lore
For times have changed and the brute of her kind
Is rarely seen anymore.
The young sprouts now ask me ’bout the cow
And tight-throated I think of that day.
I recall my old friend and what he told me back then.
Then I grin at these pups and I say,
“I almost put my rope on her once
But then, I thought it through …..
© Larry McWhorter, used with permission
This poem should not be re-posted or reprinted without permission
A much loved and respected cowboy’s cowboy, poet, and musician, Larry McWhorter left behind an impressive collection of poetry.
He has commented on this poem, “I had a lot of fun writing and performing this one, especially the parts with the old man. Those old coots loved to give you enough rope to hang yourself with and then watch you trip over the slack before you could get to the tree.”
Texas songster, reciter and poet Andy Hedges gave a fine recitation of “The Red Cow” at the Western Folklife Centers’ 28th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. See it on their YouTube channel.
Larry’s friend, Texas singer and songwriter Jean Prescott produced an impressive double-CD album of his work in 2010, with his recitations and also recordings by some of his friends reciting his work, including Oscar Auker, Red Steagall, Waddie Mitchell, Andy Hedges, and others. Find more about that project at CowboyPoetry.com. The CD is available directly from Jean Prescott at jeanprescott.com and at CD Baby and other outlets.
Find more poetry and more about Larry McWhorter at CowboyPoetry.com.
This photograph of Larry McWhorter is by Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed the cowboy poets of the National Cowboy Gathering for 35 years. Check out some chronological portraits and more at the link for his new project. Find more of his photographs at his site.
>>>>This is a schedule post while we’re on a break for the National Cowboy Gathering, returning February 4.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but for other uses, please obtain permission.)