November 2017
Homeplace & Community

This Cowboy Stood Strong

Remembering Horseman and Humanitarian Brian Sumrall

Brian Sumrall lifts a rein for a close-up shot at a Southeast Stock Horse event in Headland, Feb. 2014. (Credit Saralyn Harder Photography)

 
   
   

Renowned western singer and cowgirl Adrian Brannan’s, a.k.a. Adrian Buckaroogirl, lyrics, "And you laugh at the old man in the beat up truck. Smile at the young couple with the kid who can already rope, but what you don’t see is the breed of man, who still stands strong to feed this land," conjure up an image of a beloved fifth-generation rancher who continues to wear a big ol’ cowboy hat in Heaven. He will have a smile on his mustached face and a twinkle in his eye. The legendary late Brian Sumrall of Batson, Texas, who was a steward of livestock and the land and a friend to many across the nation, would be the face you put on that cowboy.

Sumrall was a longtime member, clinician and former president of the Stock Horse Association of Texas, and served as a firefighter with the Houston Fire Department and as a senior captain with the Batson Volunteer Fire Department.

At only 39 years of age, Sumrall was killed in a tragic accident on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, when a pickup truck struck the rear of his large Kubota tractor as he was carrying out his final act of selfless service in the Earthly realm. He lost his life while delivering hay in an act of generosity typical of his nature to a cattle owner affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Rare and unparalleled are the words that Bubba Cathey of Winnie, Texas, used to describe Sumrall, who owned and operated SHS Cattle Company along with his wife, Rana, known affectionately as Miss Rana, and their 10-year-old son, Gavin.

"Brian was a brave, honest, genuine, dependable, caring and admirable husband, father, firefighter, friend, horseman, clinician and role-model who lived his life to serve others," Bubba disclosed. "For a man who wore so many hats, he was distinguished in all aspects of his career and life. To know Brian was to know greatness. Whether you knew Brian for five minutes or twenty years, there isn’t a doubt that he impacted you in a positive manner and truly touched your heart. Brian is the first man I’ve known to be a jack of all trades and master of all. I’m proud and honored to have known Brian and can say I, along with so many others, will strive to pass on the graciousness and kindness he shared here on Earth.

 

Brian giddily opens a box of supplies crucial to relief efforts in his hometown of Batson, Texas. The supplies were gathered by a remarkable group of Alabamians. This photo exudes the nature of a true cowboy Christmas … receiving much needed supplies in a timely manner ensured the survival of livestock in an urgent situation. (Contributed by Betty J. Harrison)

"To say it was an honor to accept the 18 wheeler of donations on Brian’s behalf is an understatement.

"Seeing Sumrall’s will and determination to serve people live on after his passing reassures me that God’s plan is much bigger than any we can dream up. Knowing that his passion for serving others is still in action illustrates just how bigger than life Brian was."

The Texas ranching industry, along with its time-honored traditions and values, needed an advocate after Hurricane Harvey spewed hellfire in epic proportions of rainfall and flooding not experienced in at least a century, and, Sumrall, with his booming voice, was the man for the job.

While orchestrating massive relief efforts for his hometown of Batson and helping other areas hit hard by Hurricane Harvey, Sumrall made his intentions clearly known and rallied support for the ranching industry and western way of life with the stirring quote, "I am in a fight … to preserve my heritage, my son’s legacy, and the traditions and skills of my grandparents."

"Brian’s impact on the world around him was obvious through his Harvey relief efforts as people from all over the country reached out to Brian to make donations," Bubba revealed. "After Hurricane Harvey, Southeast Texas, as we knew it, was no more. What were once vast acres of green grass and cattle pasture, are now covered by several feet of water – leaving people homeless and their spirit broken; and leaving pets and livestock tired, confused and desperately needing assistance. Livestock were stranded without grass or food for several days and without higher ground to inhabit. As a horseman, cattleman and servant of God, Brian worked tirelessly to provide the community, friends and strangers alike, the opportunity and means to save their livestock, which for many is their livelihood. Brian assisted by helping to gather, load and deliver feed, hay, medicine and all materials in between to ensure the survival of livestock that so many people had worked their whole lives to obtain."

A vivid storyteller, Sumrall intertwined humor and heartwarming accounts of goodwill among the harrowing accounts of dealing with injured and dead horses and cattle, casualties of Hurricane Harvey’s wrath.

He worked around the clock in his role as a volunteer firefighter in his community as it was impossible to commute to his fulltime job as a firefighter in Houston amidst the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Harvey.

For five or six days, he was stuck in either a firetruck or a pickup truck executing relief efforts. During that time, he helped redirect around 2,500 vehicles as a result of impassable roads.

On an unforgettable Thursday night when the rain and floodwaters began to recede and he was standing at the four way completely exhausted, he witnessed the welcoming sight of West Texas cowboys hauling a half-top trailer behind an impressive rig.

"I leaned up in there, and I said, ‘Hey, are y’all used to working floods in Limestone County?’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I said, ‘Alright. Well, you boys can reach that bridge. It’s going to be dark soon.’ I sent them through and I’ll be dang that three days later they weren’t eating omelets at my house after dragging cattle out of the flood."

Sumrall divulged another account of an old-school farmer who had never been handed anything and had to be convinced to accept assistance with his 300 head of cows in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Sumrall said he wished to tell the colorful, yet touching story, to his grandchildren one day and asked if it could be placed in writing in a kind manner.

"I pulled up with a flatbed truck and knocked on the door. You would have thought the Jehovah’s witnesses were knocking on his door when he went to answer it," Sumrall relayed.

The wife of the farmer answered the door to tell Brian "to go on with that feed" he wanted to give to the couple to help with their cattle. Knowing the farmer was within earshot, he asked the wife to tell her husband to get his "bohunkus" outside.

"He called me an ugly word or an ugly derd. I said you need to get your cattle straightened out, and I got hay coming," he fondly recalled.

The farmer replied that he would whip his tail if he unloaded one sack of that dang charity feed.

"I said, ‘Well, you’re gonna get tired of whipping before I quit trying,’" he relayed.

Sumrall left the farmer and wife hugging each other and crying that day. The farmer soon returned the act of kindness by filling up all of the tractors at the relief point, saying it was the least he could do.

Betty J. Harrison, Chunchula, is an active participant in the Alabama Stock Horse Association and Southeast Stock Horse Association events, and one of many whose journey with horses has been inspired by Sumrall. She has been highly instrumental in garnering crucial support and supplies and serving as a voice for Batson relief efforts.

Harrison emphasized the importance of helping areas affected by natural disasters in the most effective manner.

Brian Sumrall embraces his son, Gavin, at the Heritage Days Classic in Liberty, Texas, Sept. 2014. (Credit: Saralyn Harder Photography)

 

"I also believe that places like Batson, and there are thousands of these little rural towns, are left out of the headline relief efforts," Betty said. "I understand the greater good, and where the most can be helped at a time. But if we ignore these small towns after this type of disaster then they will die. These people depend on the sale of cattle in the fall to make it through the winter and to have calves in the spring. The cattle they depend on either drowned or are now weak or sick. To ignore this threatens to eliminate the way of life for a lot of people. To know these donations go directly into the hands of these people in the form of medication or hay and feed means a lot to those of us giving."

Batson and nearby ranching and farming communities also affected by Hurricane Harvey face a long road ahead as it pertains to the rebuilding process. These areas will experience a hard winter in 2018 as hay crops have been damaged and forage has lost nutrient value as a result of the tremendous amounts of rain and flooding.

Harrison and others will continue with the relief efforts in Batson. Anyone interested in furthering their cause can send a donation through Paypal to the email address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Most importantly, Sumrall wanted to convey that our great nation is more unified than we could ever imagine and, despite perceived differences and varied backgrounds, we are all more alike than not. He said Hurricane Harvey taught him that lesson.

His sentiments echo the lyrics from "This Cowboy’s Hat," sung by another great cowboy who also walks the streets of gold, the late Chris Ledoux. "Well, there’s always been groups of people that never could see eye to eye, and I always thought if they ever had a chance to sit down and talk face to face, they might realize they got a lot in common."

 

Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.