May 2010
Through the Fence

A Moment of Indecision

Some visitors, and particularly salesmen, always seem to show up at the worst possible moment. My friend, his wife and some of their ranch hands were working cows one hot summer afternoon and had just penned a wild Brahman cow that, in his words, "would fight a buzz saw." They had to separate her from the other cows and carefully work her into the squeeze chute just to keep her from going on a rampage. She was lying down in the pen off to the side in the shade of a huge live oak tree. Everyone was tired and taking a little break, working up the nerve to deal with her. She was probably plotting their deaths as she dozed in cool shade.

The cow dogs they used to round up the cows were all lying in the dirt just on the outside of the pens. There were about four or five yellow curs and some Catahoula Leopards, all panting in the hot sun waiting for the next chance to work.

During this lull in the action, a feed salesman drove up. On the way to deliver his sales pitch to my rancher friend, he moseyed through the pen where the old Brahman cow lay. Oblivious to the imminent danger he was in, he propped his cowboy boot casually on the bottom rail and began making small talk. The dark shade prevented him from seeing the killer cow as she eyed him warily. No doubt she was thinking the salesman needed to get over the fence and she was more than willing to help him do so.

"Hit the fence! NOW! You’re in the pen with a wild cow!" my friend yelled abruptly to the naïve salesman.

Thankfully, he obeyed quickly and scrambled up the pipe fence. However, he paused momentarily right as he straddled the top rail. He glanced down at the dogs, several of which had those eerie white-blue Catahoula eyes. He looked back into the dark shade at the cow already on her feet, snorting and pawing the ground. He looked back down at the dogs bristling and baring their teeth. Undoubtedly his mind raced as he debated the lesser evil—being gored by a 1,000 pound cow or being torn to bits by a pack of wild dogs.

He made his decision in a panicked split second. In a flash, he hopped off the top rail and took two hurried steps amongst the dogs towards the adjacent pen. Somehow, he managed to clear the lot of them and made it to safety without incident.

My friend and his wife stifled a snicker, but the ranch hands weren’t so polite. They howled with laughter as the trembling salesman wiped his brow with a starched hankie. I guess it was better to have a little human sweat to wipe off his head than a bunch of cow slobber on his backside. Although his dignity had been compromised, his hide was intact.

He wisely decided to reschedule the sales call for a safer, more convenient time. He waved nervously as he stepped in his truck, mumbling something about calling on them later. The salesman slung gravel in the air as his tires spun rapidly, grabbing enough traction to make the quick getaway.

Once the dust cleared and the laughter subsided, everyone turned toward that big surly cow that was still standing and staring toward the driveway. They were sobered instantly at the reminder that they still had to work her. And, by that time, she was in no mood to be disturbed.

No matter how wild that cow was, however, there was no hurry to sell her. Every rancher who has had one like her knows the unwritten law of the range. It states that every unruly cow that is sold has a replacement in training, ready to take her place. That old Brahman cow’s evil understudy was probably penned in the lot that day, watching closely and taking mental notes.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..