The hidden years in Canada 60, the oldtimer

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Monday 15 June 07:51


The oldtimer

‘I can not wait until it starts,’ said Richard, ‘and I,’ said an old man next to him, ‘can not wait until it's over.’ What do you mean, I asked bending past Richard, to he old timer cowboy sitting next to him. ‘Oh,’ the man said, ‘I love horses, and I like the thundering of hooves it is pleasing to the ear. Just like the old days when the stampede really rolled across the prairie. ‘ He laughed and got a far away look in his eyes, looking at a distant past which he probably could only see. ‘You saw it happening,’ he said. ‘The horses raised their ears and put their nose in the wind and sniffed something in the air and as the first run started running the rest followed, they are herd animals. They run on the fear that they call upon themselves. You would then adjust a few men along the flanks to lead the group while preserving, otherwise your horse was sucked into the flow. That was the time before the cattle trains came. We were days in, days out in the saddle until darkness fell because horses are jittery animals and stand together in clusters at night.’

‘About how long ago are we speaking, sir,’ I asked the man? ‘I was 20,’ he said without haste and paused, ‘I was a drover, cow poke, between 1915 and 1920. We had nothing. Our boots and our hat, even the horse you got in loan if you did not have one from the ranch boss. ‘ I looked at him and saw his face parched, tawny as with fishermen is the case, when you are exposed to the weather, wind and rain and sun and eventually it takes it’s toll. I figured that the man was about 80 years old. Old cowboys are always difficult to estimate, but they can just as easily be 60 or 70 on the way to 80. They all age quickly in terms of old skin and then change no more. They all develop a bowlegged walk because of the years of horse riding and have a tranquility that radiates from them because of the alliance they’ve had with the great outdoors, to which they ave been exposed over a lifetime. It were always lonely old men, most never got married and they were all, almost petulant.


‘That must have been a special time for you,’ Bev joined in the conversation. The man lifted his hat a little, 'Hi ya Ma'm. ‘ This was not a bullshit Calgary stampede tourist, this man was real, he would would make Clint Eastwood fade away as a cowboy, the authenticity splashed from him. ‘It was a great time,’ he continued. ‘The cook put up camp and would make bean dishes, but not as they are made now. Real stews, each group  had a man who had become too old to ride, who cooked and made coffee and such ready. Our cook was named John, but because there were so many Johns, he had a nickname. John dung. ' ‘John dung,’ said Don surprised? ‘Yes, he did not smell very nice,’ and he raised his hat again briefly to Bev, ‘with apologies to the young lady.’

‘Did you have a nickname,’ Bev asked, ‘You bet Ma'm, yes young lady. I was singing whippy. ‘ ‘How did you get by such a name,’ I asked. ‘Well,’ the man said, ‘I was handy with the whip and I often sang around the campfire and those were great times, then others  snag along or they made with their hands a blow hollow sound, like the clickety clack of hooves. Then you took some coffee and you talked about what the coming days would bring under the starry sky, and then it was always one that began to sing. You were days together and although there was all kinds of scum we all felt very connected. ‘ Rico and I understood what he meant, sharing his story coincided with our lives on the fringes of the construction industry.

‘Well, then you came into a town and the cows or the mustangs were held within the bead and then you went to freshen up at the village pump and then to the pub and then you had some trouble with the Indians.’ ‘Why,’ asked Bev? ‘So it was, it just happened,’ said the old timer, ‘they looked at you too long to lure you out or they thought you looked at them too long. Well then your friends went standing up and so would you. ‘It was amazing, I thought, how those two worlds met. Nothing much has changed in this land of prairie and cold weather for 80 years. ‘Well I would not have wanted to stand up,’ said Bev. No, neither did I, nor most of us, but it just happens. You get sucked into it. ‘ ‘Was the Queen's open then,’ I asked? ‘Where is that bar asked the old man?’ ‘Besides the old freight station,’ I said, ‘it's the only bar in the neighborhood.’ 'Ladies night and things like that, ‘the man asked with a wink ? Even then, I thought !! ‘Yes, there was a bar there, but it had another name, it was called the old well, or something like that.’ I got the picture, cowboys would have liked  a name like the old well  it had a good sound to it.


‘Do you still sing those songs sometimes,’ said Bev? ‘ No, ‘the old man said,’ Most guys are long dead. ‘ ‘Which did you like best?’ She asked? ‘Without a doubt, the song of the Navajo trail. Do you know that song 'and we all had to shake our head. ‘Today you have only shit on the radio,’ grumbled the old man, but it was beautiful, the Navajo trail '.. He looked ahead and searched the words ... When The Moon is starting to border ... I climb into my saddle and ride .. the Navajo trail and what do you know ... he looked helplessly around him .. oh yeah, it's morning already.. 'Shall I sing it, ‘he said suddenly , ‘then you must  make hoof noises and he cupped his hands and gave a mated rhythm.’ 'Okay, he said, ‘to the beginning, let the horses start coming' and we did it without shame. With an unsteady voice that grew stronger per line and that developed into a baritone we heard the story of the Navajo trail.

San Daniel 2015

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