We have ridden a million miles. We have danced half a million miles. We have penned hundreds of thousands of cattle. We have been to thousands of rodeos. I have headed, slapped out and ridden the chute gate with hundreds of bucking horses he rode. We didn’t have enough time.
I never expected to lose my brother when he was 57 years old, but that’s what happened. Since I am older, I thought I would go first and actually, I just never admitted that I could lose him at all. There are some good things about the way he died. It was immediate. He hadn’t been sick. He never had to suffer the indignities of being old and infirm, lying in a hospital bed full of tubes. We will always remember him strong and able, because he was.
We often talked about how God must love you very much to take you out like that, all of a sudden. We agreed the Lord loved our Granddad John a lot, because he died sitting in the gallery buying cattle. A bunch came through the owner knew Granddad was interested in and the bid spotters thought he must be asleep. When they went to wake him, he was gone. Perfect. Doing what he loved, gone in an instant to glory.
Keith stood up out of his bed and fell flat on his face. Massive heart attack. He was getting up to come to my house. He had remodeled the second bathroom for me, and he was coming back to our house to finish the trim. Then we had tickets to the Born and Raised music festival. We were planning a real big time. In fact, when I talked to him the night before, he said I will be there early (Wednesday), because I want to have it all done by Thursday afternoon so I won’t have to do any work Friday.” He and Mike would meet me at the festival Friday afternoon. But just like that, he’s gone to ride bucking horses in heaven.
Growing up we didn’t have any money, but we were rich. Our family did everything horse and we did it together. Neither of us has ever been without a horse our entire lives. That was he greatest gift in itself, but starting with playdays when we were very small, our whole family spent all our time at trailrides, horse shows, rodeos, wagon rides, camping and riding.
Keith started out riding steers and when he was about 14. Not really big or strong enough yet, he started trying saddle broncs and bareback horses. Daddy hauled him everywhere and for a long time he warped the ground, but he didn’t give up. Eventually he settled on bareback horses because that was his forte, but not before he made the National High School Finals in the saddle bronc riding.
He told a story from going to Douglas (Wyoming) the first time that I loved. As you might imagine, a boy from Arkansas had not been exposed to the caliber of horses nor the caliber of competition that’s out there in the saddle bronc states like the Dakotas and Wyoming. Also, when you get to the nationals, the broncs are not juniors or amateurs, they are regular PRCA bucking horses.
“So we get there, and a lot of those boys have their teepees pitched. Some of them had rode there (he meant ridden their horses to the rodeo).
“Me and Dad went over to the pens and we’re leaning on the fence looking. Finally I said Dad, we need to find a tack trailer. He asks why and I said because my latigos ain’t near long enough.”
But time went on and he kept riding bareback horses and he became a winner. A champion.
He had just finished decorating his new little cowboy’s house. He built a saddle rail all across the front of the living room to display his trophy saddles. Even touching end to end, it wouldn’t hold them all. He had to set one on it’s own stand. He has a lighted display cabinet for his buckles, and being so handy at building things, he had made stands and graduated hangers so you can read and see each one.
Keith was the most organized and punctual person you will ever meet. He was OCD before anyone had ever heard of it. His travel partners will tell you that if you were in with Keith, you might get to the rodeo before the stock did. But there were those times when we rolled in for whatever reason when the National Anthem was playing and he rode just as well that way.
We chuckwagon raced at Clinton when it was still a bunch of cowboys having fun. The first year we entered the horse racing (in the beginning there was a men’s and a women’s) each riding my barrel horse, a mare I got from Keith Hood. We both won. Then Keith used her as our outriding horse. My sister-in-law had a wreck in the race behind me. She was in second and her horse fell in the famous dip in the track and she got run over. She broke her jaw, so the next year, they decided the women would have to race on mules. Keith rode my mare and I jump mounted my Uncle Jimmie’s mule. We both won again. So Keith and I are two-time men’s and women’s horse (mule) race champions at Clinton.
Horse people in my country used to go to the races at Berryville’s County Fair. One year Daddy bought an orphan colt there from Bill and Pete Smith. I think Mom and Daddy might have almost gotten a divorce over that, but I guess he turned out to be the most versitile horse we owned when I was a kid. A Leo bred horse.
We did race him in some brush races and I think he did pretty well. Daddy rode him to head steers and on trail rides and wherever he needed a horse. Keith started riding him when he was 10 or 11 (Keith, not the horse) in speed events at playdays and horse shows.
We went to lots of horse shows where the speed events were tough and that was our thing. They had a sack race event. Two riders hold a toe sack between and run around the end barrel. That may not sound like much to you, but get a couple of horses that can really run and try it. Keith and I were wicked sack racers. He rode that Leo horse and he was on the outside, which is of course the harder spot. We won many trophies big and small, all kinds of year end titles and had the most fun.
Keith was fearless of course. We ended up with a lot of tough competition because others wanted to beat us. The best run I remember us making was in a bigger arena. Of course the bigger the pen, the faster you were going when you rounded the barrel. This time we were pretty wide coming off the barrel because we were moving pretty well. I knew Keith kinda got close to the fence on the outside. When we rode out of the arena I saw the top of the foot of his boot was ripped in two. He had stuck his foot through the webwire arena fence when we made the corner and it cut right through his boot.
Fast forward a few years and Keith was always looking for practice bareback horses. Sundays some of the guys would practice at Harrison’s arena and Larry Griffith would pick up. Keith decided Leo might buck if we flanked him. He did. The first time we tried it he bucked Keith off. So after all those other jobs, now Leo was a practice bucking horse. Keith loved him. After he died Keith framed his papers and hung them on the wall.
Keith was 12 when the bicentennial wagon train happened. Granddad John took a team, and Keith worked a big horse that was half a team in the shafts to his rubber-tired wagon. Dusty Richards was the wagon boss on the Arkansas leg. That was the first wagon train for all of us, the one that caused Granddad to organize a train that our family ran 40 years from Harrison to Springdale.
Although they had been worked a lot and Granddad thought he had his team ready, after several days at a good clip, they started to balk. They had been flipped so many times with a running W they hardly had a hair left, but they just didn’t get better. Exasperated, Granddad wanted to leave the train with them and get something else, so one day the men all left with that team, leaving Keith, Kim, who was 11, me who was 15 and Bully who I think was not old enough to go to school, with Roscoe Scriviner as our outrider. It never occured to any of them that Keith was not perfectly capable of handling harness, horse, wagon and passengers. Of course he was.
I have lived alone a lot of my adult life, and any problem I had – truck won’t run, mower quit, corner post is out of the ground, I could call Keith and he would usually be able to talk me through fixing it or tell me how. Mike and I have always been amazed at Keith’s uncanny ability to lay things out, like working pens, where they work the best and have everything in the right place going the right way. He did that for a lot of clients and we will all miss his abilities. He had remodeled every room in my house except one. Everywhere I look his wonderful carpentry skills and ideas are there. He was a master, but he didn’t think much about that. In his mind, his important accomplishments were riding bucking horses. As Daddy said, “if you don’t believe that, look at his house.”
There are so many stories. I have told some in other blogs and will tell more I know because he is with me always. I have written one poem I think is any good and it’s about Keith called “My Brother and Me.” An outfit called Cowboy Poetry picked it up and published it. The last lines describe exactly how it is with us:
We’ve cowboyed together since I can remember, he’s known me and loved me for free. I couldn’t have had better, we’re partners forever. We’re buddies, my brother and me.