Holding the Cut



by Carl Lane Johnson 
The Diamond and a Half Ranch that I was raised on had about 100 sections, consisting of one 50-section pasture, one 25-section pasture, 3 gigantic horse pastures and a couple more pretty large pastures. When the two large pastures were gathered it took 3 days on the 50 section one and 2 days on the 25 section one. The drives and gathers were long and difficult. There were no trailers, so it was high trot, lope, high trot, and lope from the time we left the corrals until the boss (Daddy) had made the entire outside circle, dropping all the men off. Then, depending on where the cattle were, how they handled, where the cowboys were and if they were awake and not lost, the drive was commenced. 

Generally we would get them thrown together and have the herd held on the roundup ground by 10:00- 11:00AM. The men that had made the longest circle and/or had the most trouble with cattle in their area would go to the corrals and change their “drive horse” for their “roundup horse”. Their drive horses weren’t good at holding a herd or cutting cattle out and were pretty well played out. While these men were catching fresh horses, the children and less talented cowboys got to hold the herd. From my point of view (at 5-10 years of age) it took an inordinate amount of time, talking, unsaddling, saddling, topping off, and getting back to the herd. And then the best part!! Daddy would come over to me and some other young ‘button’ or totally inept cowboy, take us out a ways to where he was going to put the cuts and show us where to be and what to do. 
There were usually two men working the herd, cutting out whatever class of cattle that needed to be separated. Keep in mind, there was no water break, food break or rest break for us ‘peons’; we were on the job continuously from breakfast until we penned all the cattle and could get to the water can or else eat at the midday break. 
If it was a big gather with lots of cattle to work, most of the men, moving very slowly, would go to the house around 11:00AM-1:00PM to eat. After eating they would smoke and visit leaving us lower echelon hands to hold the main herd and the cuts. When the big bosses all got back, we ‘buttons’ and day hands were relieved to go eat. “Now, hurry up, slick it down and swallow; it will rot. Come on back. We need you to help hold these cattle,” Daddy would instruct us. 
Since we were young and dumb, we would rush to the house, stuff our faces, and lope back to the herd! And then we’d get to hold the cut. Towards the end of the herd being shaped up, invariably the two men working the herd would get together in the cattle, slouch over into one stirrup, roll a Bull Durham cigarette, smoke, point, visit, discuss, look at the cattle, smoke, lean over into the other stirrup until I would be completely exasperated (but never say a word). Finally after much discussion as to what cow needed cutting out, what didn’t, if she was wet or dry, on and on, we would pen the cuts and sometimes get to hold a new set of cattle that were being cut out!! 
After everything was shaped up to Daddy’s satisfaction, all the cattle were penned; and, if it were summer, branding would commence. 
In those days the calves were left on the cows, just a few cows stripped off and put over in another pen for a little slack in the branding corral. And for us ‘buttons’, we got to run the dope bucket. That was a gallon bucket cut on three sides folded over and wired together, making two buckets with a handle in the middle. In one side would be linseed oil and the other side would be Smear 62, each equipped with paintbrushes. If a gallon bucket wasn’t available, two coffee cans were wired together. We were then instructed to be ready, on stand by, and as soon as the hot iron was removed, to liberally apply the linseed oil to the brand so as to help in healing. When the bull calves were castrated and dehorned we were to switch brushes and put the 62 on in big gobs, paint in and around the wounds. That was done to protect the cattle from screwworm. Daddy always encouraged me and said I had the most important job in the branding pen. He would brag on me as I got linseed oil and 62 on the calves, on me, and everything else. 
We always branded in July down there. I don’t know why, as it was hot as hell. And then to cap off a wonderful day, seems Daddy always had a bunch of cattle that had to be driven somewhere late that afternoon. 
There is no way to describe the pain and suffering of crawling back in the saddle, covered from head to toe in Smear 62 and driving a bunch of ‘give-out’ cows in 100 degree plus temperature. Smear 62 burns on contact and keeps on burning. Exquisite discomfort!! I couldn’t wait to get to do it again the next day! Also couldn’t wait ’til I got big enough to run things my way, the right way!! I’ve made full circle and if there was still a dope bucket, I would probably be back to running it! 

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