There are many close families that are no blood kin to each other. I have a salebarn family.
For 21 years I rode pens at the South Coffeyville salebarn. Some of those people have generations who worked on that yard. The Lowrey family is one of these. Several of those generations became my family, too.
When I first started at the barn, Jack Lowrey was sorting. Then he got his leg broken (the first of two times at the salebarn). When he came back, he told the yard man Dick Edens that he would either be horseback or not be there. Looking back on it, Jack was probably upwards of 70 by then. You never know how old a cowboy is – a young one can look old and vice versa. Cowboys do tough jobs outside and get banged around quite a bit, so it’s hard to tell about age.
At that time, Jack’s son Jimmy was working for Ratcliff Ranch. He had the camp at Blue Ribbon. Jack and I dayworked with him. Butch Richardson was the strawboss and the commercial part of the ranch ran yearlings. We doctored many foot rots and shipped a lot of yearlings. Jimmy would send us to doctor foot rots in pairs. Jack was older and I’m a girl, so those younger guys would pair up in a hurry. Jack and I just thought it was funny because we wanted to work together anyway. By the end of the day, Jack and I had doctored as many as any other team, and sometimes more.
When Ratcliff Ranch decided to quit yearlings and run cows, Butch said he would just retire. Jack said, “well, they’ll never call us any more. I’m old and you’re a woman.”
One day in the cow alley, a mad old Charolais got by the pen gate. Jack was coming up the alley and he tried to stop her. She hit Jack, knocked his horse out of the way and kept going. Hours later in the killer cow sale, Jack said, “you know that cow hit my leg pretty hard, it kinda hurts.” Turned out that was the second time Jack got his leg broken at the salebarn.
Jack said I saved his life once. He was trying to shut the gate on a cow pen that was too full. Some were horned and all were snorty. I was bringing the next set and all of a sudden, Jack just fell off his horse. Out cold. I busted through my cows and got off to try to get Jack out of the alley. Mad, bad cows everywhere. My wonderful Salty was between us and my set and she was trying to hold them all by herself. I couldn’t move Jack or wake him up. I decided I had to try to get a gate shut in the alley.
Meantime I was yelling at someone, anyone, to stop the sale. I got the gate of the pen Jack had open chained across the alley. Salty and Jack’s mare from Fisher’s were behind me. I saw Jesse, Jack’s grandson, out in the parking lot and started yelling at him to come help me. Jesse helped drag Jack under the fence. Turned out Jack had a bad heart valve. Didn’t know it even though it had been that way all his life. His circulation had gotten low enough for him to pass out.
Jack broke the colts in the family. He said his son Jimmy didn’t want to and he couldn’t get the grandsons to do it. I don’t think that was exactly true, but it was how a cranky old cowboy saw it. He raised some colts, but the last one he had was a yellow filly, and I’m not sure he raised her. By then Jack was in his 80s. He already had her saddled and hauling in the trailer the first time I saw her. Of course he tied her to the fence to soak and see the world while the sale went on. He did this for a few sales and then he started leading her down the alley. All this time I kept saying “Jack, don’t you get on that filly the first time. The boys will or you can snub for me. Don’t you do it.”
Finally one sale day when it was over, I went in to clock out. I should’ve known something was off because that filly was still tied to the fence. Sure enough, when I came out. Jack was on her.
Jack’s son Jimmy might be the best all around working cowboy I’ve ever known. He’s worked a lot of ranches and he’s a stockman, too. He knows where a cow is going to go before she knows. I’ve have seen him sort into multiple pens himself many times. He’s a good roper. Everyone was always happy when Jimmy ran the sale, because he was so good at it and things ran like clockwork.
One day it had just been a mess. We had way more cattle on the yard than would fit. A waterer had broken in one of the outside holdover pens and it was flooded out there. I had two pens of black steers side by side and the pens were too full of course. The steers broke the gate between pens and now were all mixed. Jimmy came walking up the alley about this time. I said , “Jimmy, the gate is broken between 398 and 400 and all those steers are mixed.” He looked at me and said, “well, my give-a-shitter’s broke,” and kept walking. That was hilarious because mostly Jimmy never said anything, but that was one time I think he’d had it.
Jimmy’s wife Lisa is one of the best cooks ever. She ran the salebarn cafe for a long time and the Supper Club across the street, which for all the years I worked at the salebarn was owned by the same family who owned the salebarn. She is one of those hard core ranch wives that can do anything needed and did a lot of it with a baby on her hip. She kept a bucket of banana Laffy Taffy for salebarn workers in the cafe because she knows cowboys love candy. When we came in for breakfast she’d hold that bucket out for us to fill our pockets. Made the best deserts ever. Different every Friday.
Jimmy and Lisa have two sons, Mike and Jesse. Both very good cowboys. Mike’s the oldest and his kids are mostly grown now. Mike and I have worked together quite a bit. We dayworked for guy named Patterson with other salebarn family members which I will write about another time. Anyway Pat had this one pasture that hadn’t been completely gathered in maybe ever, so Mike and I were part of the crew hired to gather up or catch whatever else was in there. To give you some idea, there were calves, two year-old bulls, three year-old bulls and cows that could brush up on an asphalt parking lot.
Of course we started out by trying to make a gather, but nothing much would bunch up and they just mostly ran off, so all there was left to do was rope whatever you found, tie it down or to a tree and come back with a trailer. I was hunting in the brush and Mike came crashing by. “Come help me. I’m out of tie strings!”
Jesse, the younger of the two brothers, grew up to haul a lot of cattle. He liked to team rope. Once at a pasture roping he wasn’t riding his regular mount and I asked him what he thought. He said, “well this horse ain’t fast enough for this, but if I catch quick enough, maybe he won’t need to be.”
Mike and Jesse were little boys when I started to work at the salebarn. The boys grew into men, got married, had families – children and grandchildren. And yesterday, out of the blue, we lost Jesse. As was his way, he was trying to help someone in a car wreck. Justin Roberts, another member of our salebarn family, said it best: “Jesse would help anyone at any time.” He was so young and there was still much to do.
The good news is, he’s reunited with his grandparents and Jack can gripe at him about riding colts. Many of our other salebarn family are there and I know they are all happy to see each other. The rest of us will keep him alive in our memories until we see him again. He’s my family – cause family doesn’t have to be blood.