The Hundred and One Ranch
Working for the Hundred and One was almost like being home. The fellas were pretty friendly although on occasion, just like home, there would be a fight or the threat of one. The men knew how to cuss and Owen quickly picked up some choice phrases.
There was not just one but several bunk houses and these depended on what part of the ranch you worked on—a ranch that covered some 110,000 acres of land and that encompassed three towns: Bliss, Red Rock and White Eagle. Teddy Roosevelt had visited there and had told Owen and his friends about it when they visited him near Elmer. It was owned by three men, brothers—the Miller brothers who had inherited it from their father, George Miller.
The ranch was an entire industry encompassing hundreds of cowboys, craftsmen, cooks, farmers, and businessmen. Begun in the 1870s, the ranch had grown in space and cattle, and a whole industry to keep it running. George Miller had been a decent, caring man and when he turned it over to his sons, they followed in his footsteps where a handshake on a deal was as good as gold! Of course, Owen was interested only in the cattle, so he signed up as a wrangler, and settled in one of the numerous bunk houses designated for cowboys.
His day was pretty routine: a huge breakfast at the bunk house, feed and brush his horse, saddle up with about twenty other fellas and hard work begun on fence mending or moving cattle from one range to another. At the end of the day, it was back to the bunk house for dinner, some poker or just lollygaggin' around until bedtime. Owen often gathered with others 'round the fella who could play a pretty good guitar and sing with them. He became interested in learning the guitar and bought himself one with his first pay. Before long, he was playing pretty well himself.
At times, he missed his parents and brothers back in Elmer, and made fumbling efforts to write them. He figured that northern Oklahoma Territory was pretty far away from Elmer so his dad wouldn't be riding up there to get him, so he let them know where he was. Since the ranch had its own post office, it was easy to write to them and he hoped they would write back to him. He told his mother that he was doing "real well" and not to worry about him.
When he finally heard from his mother, she told him that Allie, his step brother had left home and had signed on board a ship out of New York. She said he wanted to see the world, too. Owen was shocked and hurt that he didn't get to tell Allie goodbye, or even to know that he was going to do such a thing. Mattie also wrote that his brother, Worth had met a young woman from Altus, and was planning to marry her. Her name was Annie Belle Steele.
A pang of guilt hit Owen in the heart and he wished he were home again. He was tempted to pile on his horse and take off for home. But then, nothing was said about his dad or what he felt about Owen leaving home—only words from his mother. Then, the testosterone returned and he put the letter away, thinking that he could handle anything any man put in front of him.
One day, a clownish looking man came riding up on a mule. He carried an outsized saddle bag and was very protective of its contents. He was obviously simple minded but he asked for work. The Hundred and One was not one to turn anyone away, so they put him to work cooking and washing dishes for Owen's bunk house. Owen took an immediate liking to him and they became friends. Owen, of course became a big tease and enjoyed playing practical jokes on Bucky, as he called himself.
"Where'd you get such a name, Bucky," Owen asked. ""Cause I'se such a good rider. I can ride them broncos, boy!" he laughed. "Why I bet I could ride anythin' you put in the corral!" he boasted. Owen laughed at this and chose to ignore his bragging. "I could!" he emphasized. "You jest watch me. I'm gonna ride me some broncos sometime soon," he said.
Owen paid little attention to Bucky's bragging because every time some broncs were brought into the corral for breaking, Bucky would decline. "Nope! Them's not bad enough," he would say and walk away. The men in the bunkhouse laughed at Bucky and paid him no mind. It was all just bragging, they thought.
The Hundred and One was in the middle of a new project—a "Wild West Show". Easterners who came to visit the ranch seemed enthralled with the skills of the cowboys, their roping and daring rides that some of them showed off for the "city slickers." Zack Miller, one of the owners got the idea that they could put together a wild west show with cowboys, even Indians that lived nearby, do some fancy riding and Indian dancing and take the show on tour around the country. It would make money, he was sure.
They brought in some broncs that were especially difficult. They called them "lawless" horses because no one could seem to break them. Most horses could be broken in a short period of months by riding them, introducing them to the bridle and saddle, but not these "outlaws". They were impossible to break. So, Zack began to develop a whole herd of the outlaws to take on the tour, let would-be riders take their chances at riding one, and get a hefty "purse" if they could stay on for at least a minute.
It was part of the job of Owen's bunkhouse to work with some of these outlaw horses, to see if they could be trained or given to the herd of outlaw horses. The cowboys would gather round the corral, break out a bronc and see if anyone could stay on the horse, and "break" them to the saddle. This was very rough work and sometimes, a cowboy got hurt. So, only certain cowboys became noted for their abilities to ride a bronco.
One day they brought in a beautiful stallion, a white horse with a flowing white mane. He was especially wild, and even some of the accomplished cowboys declined to ride him. It was obvious that he was not only an outlaw, but a killer, and few people dared to get on him.
When Bucky saw the horse, he climbed the fence and walked right up to the outlaw as if to jump on his back. One of the men pulled him back before the horse could attack Bucky and pushed him out of the corral. "What in the samhill do you think you're doin'?!" he yelled. That horse is a killer. "You simple-minded goose! He coulda killed ya'".
Bucky didn't seem to hear the man but began to talk excitedly. "Yep! Yep! That's the one! That's the one! I can ride this feller. He's bad enough. Yep! Saddle him up. I can ride 'im. Just let me at 'im," he said, dancing on one foot and then the other.
Owen came over to Bucky. "Bucky! Calm down!" Owen put his arm around Bucky and turned him toward the bunkhouse. Bucky resisted and kept saying he could ride him. Owen kept talking as he all but pushed Bucky into the bunkhouse. He poured Bucky some whiskey and gave him a shot. But Bucky just kept talking about riding that horse.
Most of the men continued to ignore Bucky or tease him about getting killed on that horse, which was really no joke. But Bucky would not listen. He insisted that he could ride that horse. He was beginning to get on everyone's nerves.
One day, after they had managed to get a saddle half way on the white horse, the horse stood bucking and raring on his hind feet, trying to dislodge the saddle. One of the men, a quiet man, had begun to talk to the horse to calm him and was actually doing a fair job of getting him to calm down. Owen wondered, then if they might not try "gentle breaking" the horse, a procedure where two mounted cowboys got each side of the bronco, snubbed his saddle to theirs and forced the horse to walk without bucking. He was a beauty and it was a shame to send him off to a wild west show when he could do much better as a trained horse.
The man kept talking gently to the horse and the horse was listening. It was apparent that the horse was an intelligent animal. Perhaps he had been mistreated in some way and was only reacting to humans in the only way he knew to react.
Just then Bucky appeared, talking excitedly. "Oh! You got him saddled. I can ride him. Let me. I can ride him. I just need to get my spurs!" and he took off for the bunkhouse. The cowboys along the fence were irritated by Bucky's constant insistence that he could ride that wild horse. "Why don't you let Bucky ride him?" one of the cowboys yelled at the horse handler. The gentle man holding the horse's reins looked askance at the cowboy. "You want to get him killed?" he asked.
Just then, Bucky appeared wearing his spurs and blabbering away about riding the horse. Two cowboys decided to have some fun so they jumped down and pushed the gentle handler aside. They took the horse's reins and handed them to Bucky. "Sure, Bucky. Let's see what you got. You been tellin' us for so damn long about your ridin' skills, let's see 'um. Git on 'im if you can."
With that, they backed away and left Bucky holding the reins. Without hesitation, he sprang onto the horse's back with the skill of a champion rider. Of course, the horse began to buck ferociously. It was then that everyone noticed Bucky's spurs. They had been sharpened to a point and gleamed in the sunlight like daggers.
Bucky stabbed the spurs into the horse's withers and the horse screamed in pain as blood spurted from his sides. Bucky stabbed again and again. Then, he ripped the neck of the horse with the spurs, dragging them back as he stabbed and opening up a great gash on each side. The horse was screaming and bucking and falling, now fatally wounded from the spurs.
The horse fell to the ground, unable to go on. Bucky was not smiling. He was not laughing. He got off the horse and looked at the cowboys along the fence, now aghast at the scene. He spit on the dieing horse and then turned to the cowboys.
"My name is Smithers. And this horse killed my brother last year. I've been waiting for the chance to ride him and kill him. Now I have done so." With that he walked back to the bunkhouse and began packing his clothes. When he emerged from the bunkhouse, he was wearing a very nice outfit. He walked down the hill from the bunkhouse and disappeared. In an hour, he came back riding a fine mount on a beautiful saddle with silver trim. He looked at the horse one last time and rode away, never to be seen again.
They had to shoot the white horse since he was wounded beyond healing. Owen and the other cowboys were simply struck. No one said much of anything for some time. Then, they all began talking at once. No one could fathom what had happened. This silly little man had appeared out of no where, made himself known as simple-minded, then killed one of the most beautiful horses Owen had ever seen.
It did something to Owen. It made him sick. He valued all horses for their beauty and strength, for their usefulness. But this! This was beyond description. How could a man do such craven harm to a thing of beauty—even if it was mean—even if it had killed his brother. The horse was only defending himself. From that day on, Owen pledged that he would never mistreat a horse. He would feed them until they were fat and if they were unbroken, he would always use the gentle method until the horse understood that it was all right to have a saddle on his back and a human riding in it.
[Author's Note] Owen Mead described his experience working on the Hundred and One.