Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Corral Branding
by [?]

All that night we slept like sticks of wood. No dreams visited us, but in accordance with the immemorial habit of those who live out–whether in the woods, on the plains, among the mountains, or at sea–once during the night each of us rose on his elbow, looked about him, and dropped back to sleep. If there had been a fire to replenish, that would have been the moment to do so; if the wind had been changing and the seas rising, that would have been the time to cast an eye aloft for indications, to feel whether the anchor cable was holding; if the pack-horses had straggled from the alpine meadows under the snows, this would have been the occasion for intent listening for the faintly tinkling hell so that next day one would know in which direction to look. But since there existed for us no responsibility, we each reported dutifully at the roll-call of habit, and dropped back into our blankets with a grateful sigh.

I remember the moon sailing a good gait among apparently stationary cloudlets; I recall a deep, black shadow lying before distant silvery mountains; I glanced over the stark, motionless canvases, each of which concealed a man; the air trembled with the bellowing of cattle in the corrals.

Seemingly but a moment later the cook’s howl brought me to consciousness again. A clear, licking little fire danced in the blackness. Before it moved silhouettes of men already eating.

I piled out and joined the group. Homer was busy distributing his men for the day. Three were to care for the remuda; five were to move the stray-herd from the corrals to good feed; three branding crews were told to brand the calves we had collected in the cut of the afternoon before. That took up about half the men. The rest were to make a short drive in the salt grass. I joined the Cattleman, and together we made our way afoot to the branding pen.

We were the only ones who did go afoot, however, although the corrals were not more than two hundred yards’ distant. When we arrived we found the string of ponies standing around outside. Between the upright bars of greasewood we could see the cattle, and near the opposite side the men building a fire next the fence. We pushed open the wide gate and entered. The three ropers sat their horses, idly swinging the loops of their ropes back and forth. Three others brought wood and arranged it craftily in such manner as to get best draught for heatin,–a good branding fire is most decidedly a work of art. One stood waiting for them to finish, a sheaf of long JH stamping irons in his hand. All the rest squatted on their heels along the fence, smoking cigarettes and chatting together. The first rays of the sun slanted across in one great sweep from the remote mountains.

In ten minutes Charley pronounced the irons ready. Homer, Wooden, and old California John rode in among the cattle. The rest of the men arose and stretched their legs and advanced. The Cattleman and I climbed to the top bar of the gate, where we roosted, he with his tally-book on his knee.

Each rider swung his rope above his head with one hand, keeping the broad loop open by a skilful turn of the wrist at the end of each revolution. In a moment Homer leaned forward and threw. As the loop settled, he jerked sharply upward, exactly as one would strike to hook a big fish. This tightened the loop and prevented it from slipping off. Immediately, and without waiting to ascertain the result of the manoeuvre, the horse turned and began methodically, without undue haste, to walk toward the branding fire. Homer wrapped the rope twice or thrice about the horn, and sat over in one stirrup to avoid the tightened line and to preserve the balance. Nobody paid any attention to the calf. The critter had been caught by the two hind legs. As the rope tightened, he was suddenly upset, and before he could realise that something disagreeable was happening, he was sliding majestically along on his belly. Behind him followed his anxious mother, her head swinging from side to side.