“What is this … four?” I asked Pete.
Pete wasn’t going to answer me. He never said anything, except maybe a snort when he saw me bringing him a bag of oats.
I sang as I counted to myself the number of canyons we’d climbed down into and then up the other side.
Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies
It’s your misfortune and none of my own
Whoopie ti yi yo, git along little dogies
You know that Wyoming will be your new home
That’s all I knew of the song my dad used to sing, but it seemed to fit so I sang that part over again.
The dogie came up missing the day before, and just before the trail boss left to check in with the owner in town he told me to go look for it if it hadn’t come back to the herd by sun-up. It hadn’t.
As I climbed up and out of canyon number four my thoughts went back to the herd. I’d left them there with Cookie. He was supposed to keep an eye on things while I rode out for the stray, but by the time I left he was nursing his gut. If it flared up like usual, he wouldn’t leave his bedroll all day
But I had my instructions so I rode out. Besides, we had the cattle in a box canyon and the wagon was blocking the entrance. Cookie could keep an eye on them from there.
Oh yes, the box canyon. That makes five all together. I sang a little more.
I ride an old Paint …
“No you don’t,” I told myself out loud. “You ride a buckskin.” I went back to singing about dogies for a while.
“Sure would like to find this dogie, Pete. He don’t have a mama to go looking for him and bring him back.”
Me neither, I thought.
Mama died young, and that was a long time ago, long enough that I’ve been out on the trail more years than I know. Long enough that this was my third Pete I’d put a saddle on. The first two I got when they were just fillies. Sure they were female horses, but I like the name Pete. Named my first horse Pete, named my second horse Pete, and when I got this one as a colt I finally had a boy horse to name Pete. Made it easy to remember my horse’s name too.
We made our way through the stand of trees and found another canyon. Probably not a real canyon, ’cause it was small. More like a gulch. But I called it a canyon anyway. Down we went.
“This makes six, Pete.”
No answer, like the last time and the time before that and the time … well, like always. I turned him down canyon a ways looking for dogie tracks, then back up canyon to look some more. Nothing. We climbed up and out.
The sun had passed noon long ago so I decided to ride west a bit and cross the canyons on the way back further down to see if the calf might’ve gone downhill a ways. They usually do.
I rode further on and finally found a spot I could turn left and drop back down into that gulch.
“Pete, do we count this one again?” It didn’t seem right, so I didn’t. “This’s number six, then.”
Searching for this dogie made me think of that story the trail boss read to us a couple nights back. Something in the Bible about Jesus looking for a lost sheep. I don’t much care for sheep, but if Jesus was a shepherd maybe sheep herders aren’t so bad a bunch.
The story said the shepherd left ninety-nine sheep alone to go look for one that wandered off. Well, I only left fifty-seven head of cattle, but they might as well be alone if Cookie’s really in a bad way. Much as I would’ve liked to hurry back, I didn’t like the idea of that dogie spending another night out on his own.
“Number five again, Pete.” Up and down the canyon in each direction. Still no calf.
The trail boss said the sheep in the story were people, that Jesus went looking for lost people. I wonder how many canyons and gulches Jesus would have to count to find me?
I sure didn’t want to ride back into camp without that dogie. If Jesus was out looking for me, I wouldn’t want him to head back to the sheep pen without me either.
Down another slope we went, canyon number four. We turned up canyon and passed a boulder, got blocked by a stand of brush. Only the brush wasn’t standing still. Something was in there and that something was bawling like a calf without a mama.
“Found ‘im, Pete.”
I climbed off Pete and pulled my rope from around the saddle horn. The calf had wedged himself under a thick branch and couldn’t work himself out. I slipped the rope over his neck, drew my knife out of the sheath and hacked away at the branch until I could bend it back off him.
“Git along little dogie,” I sung quietly as I reached my arms underneath him to lift him from the brush. Thorns poked through my sleeves, but I didn’t care. Couldn’t feel any pain at all, as happy as I was finding that calf.
This is just like the sheep story too, I thought. In the story everybody cheered when the shepherd brought the lost sheep home. It’ll sure cheer Cookie up to see him, even if he’s feeling poorly.
The trail boss said everybody in heaven cheers when Jesus brings someone home too. Was Jesus out riding canyons looking for me? I’d have to ask the trail boss when he came in tonight. It’ll be late.
If they’re still up, I’ll ask the boss if he has that Bible story handy. I’ll ask him what it’s like when Jesus finds you.
Cowboy’s story continues through the week, Monday to Friday. Come back tomorrow for part two.