Owen couldn't get over the memory of Bucky and the wild horse. It did something to him, inside. He didn't want to stay on the ranch any longer. He wanted to leave the Hundred and One. He wanted to go home.
But he wasn't ready yet. He heard of a trail drive going to Colorado so he signed on. Soon he found himself herding cattle on the flat lands of northwestern Oklahoma, now the State of Oklahoma. They rode northwest toward the Panhandle of Oklahoma where one could see for twenty miles ahead. "There's nothing here taller than a picket fence," he said. The drive delivered half its cattle to Liberal, Kansas before moving on toward Lamar, Colorado .
It was a hard life, driving cattle all day long. He missed his family. He missed his pals. He wanted to have some fun. He wanted an adventure. The cowpokes on the drive were always tired or in a mean mood. What in the world was he doing heading north when his family was in the south?
When they finally got to Lamar and delivered the last of the cattle, he was ready for some fun. He and some of the trail drivers headed into town for some drinkin' and women. Owen had been away from home for almost two years now, and he was becoming a man, he thought. He had hardened from riding and roping and herding cattle. He had learned to talk tough like other cowboys. He had a good saddle rig and a good horse. And he was a tough dude.
They rode into Lamar and found a hotel where they washed off a month's dirt and whiskers. Owen bought himself a new suit of clothes. Then, he and the boys went to a saloon to find some whiskey.
It didn't take long for all of them to get roaring drunk, and Owen passed out. When he awoke, he was in the back of the saloon in a makeshift bed. He raised up on one elbow and his head was pounding. He was hot, then cold and he reached for the covers. Then, he noticed that his new suit of clothes was gone and he was wearing only his long-handle underwear.
He felt sick, nauseous and fell back onto the bed. He fell asleep again and was awakened by a man standing over him. "Wake up, Buddy. Take this!" The man was handing him a glass with something in it. Owen swallowed the drink and began to regurgitate it almost immediately. "Son of a bitch!" the man cried. "Nell! Come back here, will ya?'"
A woman appeared through a curtained door. Owen could hardly see and he could only make out the outline of a woman standing over him. For a moment, he thought it was his mother. "Hey, Buddy. You all right? You got a fever. That drinkin' you did was just the beginnin' of somethin' else. You have had a bad fever for two days now. I think you got the vapors." She wiped his face with a cool cloth and Owen fell asleep again.
It took Owen a week to get over whatever he had come down with. His trail driving cowboy friends had already left town and he was there in the back of the saloon, cast off like an old blanket. His money was gone and so was his new suit of clothes. The owner of the saloon found some old pants for him and a shirt and boots.
As he got stronger, he asked for a job at the saloon. "I don't have no money," he told the barkeep. "Okay," the barkeeper said. "I could use an extra hand cleaning up around here, and making sandwiches for the bar. It was then that Owen decided he would save up enough money for a horse and saddle to replace the ones that had been lost in the drunken spree, and go home. He had had enough of trail driving and its hard life.
Owen quickly learned the trade of the saloon. He learned to set up drinks and serve them with style. The clientele liked to hear Owen tell the stories that he told—of his tangle with a six-foot long black panther when he was just a kid, of his rout with the school teacher, of Bucky and the white horse. The girls that hung out at the bar were pretty lowlife but they flirted with Owen and he liked it.
Owen lived in the back of the saloon, worked hard and saved his money. When he got enough, he bought another nice suit of clothes, but these were riding clothes that would take him by horseback to his home in Elmer, Oklahoma . It took six months to save enough for a horse and saddle, but he finally found a good gelding that was six years old and a good mount. He was ready to go home!
He kissed the bargirls goodbye, shook hands with the barkeep. "I won't forget what you done for me," he said. The barkeep looked him in the eyes and said, "Go home. Driftin' is a no good life. Go home to that sweet momma of yours. Go home."
Owen did just that and he thought of nothing else as he rode home. It took him weeks of travel, sleeping under the stars and taking good care of his horse. He couldn't wait to see his dad again. He had forgiven him of the quarrel. That silly quarrel that had meant over two years of separation. And for what? He didn't even remember what it was about anymore. He was a man now and he wanted his family to realize that.
He thought about the girls in Lamar and girls in general. He thought about home and making a home. He wanted to get married! It was time. He was a man now.
It was springtime when he got back to Elmer. Grass on the prairie was green and growing in abundance. The spring rains had already come and had given the prairie its nutrients for a good spring greening. "Dad has probably already put in the spring crop," he thought. "I'll get there just in time to help him and Mack and Worth and Bud with chopping cotton." He smiled at the irony of this last thought.
The farmhouse looked a little the worse for wear when he saw it coming up over the rise. The roof looked like it might need some repair, he thought. The painting of the house that his mother had wanted had never been done and it was the same look of unfinished clapboards, only more weather beaten. Even so, it looked like a palace to him as he rode up into the front yard.
His dad, Billy Mead was sitting on the front porch, an odd place for him to be at this time of day. He looked thin, and older—a lot older. Owen piled off his horse and hardly took time to tie him to the hitching post. His dad rose slowly from his rocking chair, surprised and shocked into tears.
"Dad?" Owen called. His dad just looked at him, unable to say anything. Then, he opened his arms to receive his prodigal son! In a shaky voice, Billy called out, "Mattie! It's Owen!" Owen hopped up the porch steps and wrapped his arms around his dad in a bear hug. He was laughing. "Hi, Dad."
Mattie came to the screen door. "What did you say?" she called as she opened the door, then saw her son. "Owen! Owen!" she cried and rushed to his open arms. Owen picked her up and whirled her round. "Momma!" and he kissed her hard on the cheek.
There was a cascade of words from everyone at once—"I meant to write—we didn't know you was comin'—where's Mack and Worth and Bud—you look good—you do too—you've growed!"
After the excitement of the reunion died down a bit, Owen asked after Worth and Mack and Bud again. He remembered that Allie had left home to sign on board ship bound for Europe . But where were the rest of the boys?
"Why! Worth got married last month and he lives in Altus now. He married that young woman, Annie Steele," Mattie stated proudly. "Nah! Worth? Married? Well, I'll be—switched," Owen responded. "I guess I been gone too long," he laughed. "What about Mack? Bud? Are they married, too?"
"No," Billy responded. "They're out in the field, choppin' cotton. I been under the weather for about a week and they've had it by theirselves." With that, Billy sat down, looking rather pale and weak.
Owen looked at his father closer. He looked pale, all right, and old. For the first time, Owen was concerned for his father. "What's been wrong with you?" Owen inquired.
"I reckon it's just old age. I don't know. I've felt poorly for some time now. Mattie won't leave me alone with all her tonics and poultices and stuff. That stuff is what made me sick, prob'ly!" Billy gave Mattie a devilish look.
Mattie returned the look and just gave him a cluck of her tongue, then kissed him on the cheek. "I been tryin' to get him to eat more and put some meat on them bones, but he just hasn't had any appetite. I been tryin' to get him to see Doc Ballard but he won't go—old goat!"
Owen smiled at both of them. He was home, at last, in the arms of his sweet parents. "Well, I'm back home now and I can help out for a change—stead of bein' off in the wilderness!" He hugged them both. "I'm gonna run down to the field and see Mack and Bud. I'll be back quick."
Mattie interrupted. "I was just about to call them in for lunch. Just wait. I'll ring the dinner bell and they'll come in." She smiled at Owen. "You got here just in time to eat!"
[Author's Note] Owen Mead stated that he spent time in Colorado, got sick with the flu, and decided to come home as soon as he could recover and gain enough money to buy a horse and saddle.