My dad was a ranch manager for absentee owners, so he was the on-the-ground boss.
When we were quite young my brother and I began working alongside him. He called us his “top hands,” which made us feel proud – and work even harder.
I remember one day after we had about 300 head of cows and calves gathered and headed for the home corrals he gave us his special grin and said, “My cowhands and I don’t care if it’s three head or 300 — we can handle them.”
In due time I married a cowboy who had a job on a big outfit 60 miles from town. His pay was a small amount of cash each month, beef (maybe, if the boss’s wife remembered to share) and a place to live, which turned out to be a 2-room rock contraption with a path to an outdoor privy.
I could have lived with that (maybe) but after about a week my new husband informed me he had been told that cowboys’ wives were not allowed in the corrals and absolutely not horseback. We were, however, permitted to fix dinner and bring it to the windmill closest to the day’s work.
So I was summarily demoted from top hand to “bored out of my skull little wifey” with no homemaking skills and no desire to learn any.
“I didn’t like it,” is a huge understatement. I don’t know if the bosses were afraid of women, were intimidated by those of us they knew to be good hands, or just plain contrary.
I later read a story in Western Horseman saying this “no female” rule was common on big ranches in those days.
You’ve heard the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy,” I’m sure. That applied to our situation in capital, underlined letters even though I wasn’t even about to be a Mama yet.
We stuck it out about four months. The no female rule aside, we figured out if we continued on ranches with him in cowboy jobs we would eventually find ourselves 65 years old with no future – just no more work — when we could no longer hack it.
So we checked out and went to my father-in-law’s ranch. Eventually, we decided to go to college and join the ex-cowboys of the world.
A check of the classified ads in livestock papers nowadays reveals rancher’s hopes that some actual cowboys are out there — the kind willing to work for the pleasure and not much money.
I saw one advertisement made to order for such a hand. Work included doctoring sick Okies, calving out heifers, repairing windmills, welding, horse breaking. They’re still asking for married couples, wanting the wife to cook and clean.
Another ad said “team ropers, windshield cowboys, horse whisperers need not inquire.”
I bet some of us cowgirls could be running those big outfits by now if the owners weren’t so scared of us.
Some cowgirls I know even have big-time college degrees in such subjects as wildlife management and beef cattle genetics.