Role Models

C.J. thanked his good fortune for finding Clem and Bud. The cowboys were everything he wanted to be since he left Pennsylvania, and they were taking him into an awe-inspiring country: pine trees, mountains, and red rock formations that had to be placed by the hand of God. If there was a Garden of Eden for cowboys, this was it.

He said as much to Clem and didn’t receive the response he expected.

Clem laughed. “You’re a poet, ain’t ya? Well, I guess the sunrises and sunsets are something to make you think.”

Thinking of Something Else

Bud’s rumbling voice exploded in a snort. “I think behind every tree and rock is either an Indian about to come out, or a steer that won’t. This country is all uphill until you make a wrong step, then you fall for a mile.” He hacked up a phlegmy glob and blew it away where it stuck to the bark of a ponderosa pine. “What touches my heart is a bunkhouse with a cook.”

Heat rose to C.J.’s ears. When would he quit embarrassing himself? The time passed when he should have grown up. He’d better get back to man-talk. “Where’s the ranch you’re headed to? D’ya reckon they’ll hire us?”

Bud’s deep drone vibrated across the trail. “We won’t arrive anywhere but Hades if you don’t quit paintin’ words and start looking. No wonder you got shot.”

A Possible Destination

If Clem felt scolded, he didn’t show it and answered C.J. “There’s a settlement a ways yonder I reckon we’ll head for. It’s where people meet up and relax. You can find work or make a little money at cards if you’re lucky. Do you play Show Low?”

“Never heard—”


The one word from Bud changed the subject and Clem switched. “But first, we’re headed for Bud’s Uncle’s ranch. We’re going to see if we can’t find some of his strays and push ’em back to his place.”

Cowboy Work

C.J. got the feeling they were waiting for him to say something, but he had no idea what. They already teased him as a tenderfoot, so he rode in silence thinking of a proper response.

Clem seemed unable to keep his thoughts to himself. “Ever do any branding?”

C.J. wanted to appear savvy and helpful and tried to craft an appropriate answer, but they might want to make him prove it. “No.”

“Do you know how to read brands?”

“Not really.”

Bud’s rumble joined in. “Yes or no?”

“No.” This was humiliating. He’d finally arrived in cowboy country, and C.J. didn’t know a thing. He straightened in the saddle. Everybody had to start somewhere. “Look, if you guys don’t want me around, that’s fine. I’ll make it on my own.”

How About A Running Iron?

Clem laughed. “Simmer down, Indian Fighter. We don’t want any gunplay.” He pointed his finger in the air and flicked his thumb to look like a pistol shooting. “Do you know what a running iron is?”

“No.” C.J. almost added an expletive but couldn’t bring himself to say it aloud.

“Well, see? That’s all we’re asking,” Clem said. “We have to know what to teach you, don’t we?”

C.J. breathed to the bottom of his lungs—lesson learned. From now on, he’d stick up for himself. “OK. Where do we go to find the strays you talked about?”

“Well,” Clem puckered his lips. “That’s where it gets a little bit tricky.”

Is C.J. with the best possible companions to learn the cowboy way of life? Leave your comment now.

Here’s a brief look at a running iron.

To read the series click on the down arrow in the Archive list, start with Tales Old Roy Told and work up.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

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4 thoughts on “Strays

  1. I have a running iron exactly like the one shown in the reference page. I probably could get in trouble just for owning it. Patsy’s dad carried in on his saddle and if he found an unbranded calf, he would put the company brand on it. The possibility the calf belong to anyone else was virtually nil.


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