From Pecos Tales by Paul Patterson
Trail drivers, mule skinners, sheepherders, ox jockeys, wild Indians, and cow boys (old time spelling) operating under, or rather a-straddle, one-horse power are a thing of the past. Old West characteristics, and characters, we should think, no longer exist in this fast-paced space age.
However, there are rare exceptions, the rarest of these exceptions being one Gid Reding, a personal friend of mine. To quote an old-timer discussing Gid Reding’s exploits:
“if you haven’t heard of Gid Reding you ain’t been many places and you haven’t been around here a- tall.”
Gid, now of Ft. Stockton and points west of the Pecos, has been in his day wild horse breaker, wild horse hunter, officer of the law, cook, Old Mexico soldier of fortune, explorer, snake charmer---you name it, he’s done it. He sounds completely out of place in this age, until we learn that he has also been an aviator.
Last summer he turned down my proposition to write his biography, saying with characteristic modesty that he hadn’t done anything anybody else couldn’t have done. “Besides,” he said, “nobody would believe it anyhow.” Maybe not, but seeing is believing and I have seen him do incredible things with horses. And I hope Gid will forgive me for relating a couple of them.
In February of 1931 the late Hermon Carter (boss), my brother John, Jimmy James, Walter Edwards (cook), and I passed through the Arthur Hoover country across the Pecos with 485 head of horses. We stayed all night at Hoover headquarters, at which ranch Gid was straw boss and horse breaker.
Among this mixed herd was a bunch of outlaws, the most outlawed of all being old Danger Boy. Well aware of Gid’s way with horses, we sicced him on Danger. Here, we figured, was a case of the irresistible force, Gid, up against the immovable object, Danger. Frankly, I had seen old Danger in action, and I would have given him the edge. But that was before I had seen Gid in action.
We nooned at the Hoover horse corrals, and before we got through eating dinner (Gid had rather fool with dangerous horses than eat) he was crawling around under Danger, tickling his hocks, pulling his tail and cutting all sorts of didoes with the old hellion. Most incredible to me, however, was when he bridled Danger, vaulted aboard bareback and loped him around the corral. Unbelievable! I had never seen an old 7h done that way before, not even the gentle ones. They just didn’t savvy the bareback way at all.
Since Gid and Danger Boy turned out to be such a compatible couple, and since Hermon didn’t want our rough-string riders, Jimmy and John, maimed, he made Gid a present of the horse.
It had fallen to the lot of Hermon and me to ride the old worn-out horses; Hermon had passed his bronc- riding prime and I hadn’t reached mine, though I was of age. But it was dreary, heavy going, so
monotonous that I prevailed upon Hermon to let Gid take the snakes out of a little outlaw called Ramona and turn him over to me, which he did.
Once we were outside, a hound pup with approximately a thousand hind hocks to select from, shoes to nip0 old Ramona’s heels, and the little critter came out from under Gid’s spell---and me--- simultaneously. But through commiseration for Gid, perhaps, he continued to jump back under me--- that time and three more times that afternoon. Thereafter he adhered to Gid’s teachings and made me a splendid mount the rest of the trip.
Jimmy James, who although without Gid’s power over horses was as big and as powerful as most, should have let Gid put a quietus on old Firecracker. That critter pitched eighteen times with him that afternoon. John, by some strange method of his own, managed to get along with the likes of Cement and Suffolk, although now and then Cement would throw him off.
After we had delivered the horse herd to Claude and Gene Linthecum west of Orla, I went back and went to work with Gid at the Hoover Ranch, I arrived with a little train of cattle at Baldridge Switch some ten miles south of the ranch and Gid met me at the train. My first question was, “How’s old Danger Boy?”
“Why, I’ve done turned him over to Grandma---to ride to church a-Sunday.”
He hadn’t turned him over to Grandma, but old Danger was eating out of his hand. Had it been any other man alive, the critter would have eaten the hand. While I was there he did turn Danger over to Bill Wyatt, but only briefly. Somewhere back in Danger’s history he’d gotten a touch of alkali which made his hind legs go limber after a long ride.
One day we were down at Baldridge picking up some horses when Danger, seemingly, played out on Gid.
“I’m little and light. Let me have that son-of-a-bitch. He can carry me on in, igod.” For a little man Bill could cuss big.
They got down and changed saddles. No sooner had they gotten remounted than along the highway came a car. Its sudden appearance boogered Danger and he shied rather violently to one side. Here Bill figured to kill two birds with one stone. He would show both horse and tourist that here was another Gid Reding. He reached up and spurred Danger in the shoulders. Played out or no, the old pony showed his original, deep-down character. He was a whirling, wheeling sort of bucker but he “throwed” poor Bill straight up instead of straight out. Once Bill was up again and at himself, Gid asked him if he could make it home.
“Not on that raunchy son-of-a-bitch, I cain’t.”
Again they switched saddles. Again Danger was dog gentle, also dog tired. And Gid let him set his own gait going home. As attached as Gid and Danger had become to each other, Gid realized that 263 square miles and days ten to fifteen hours long were too much for the old pony’s strength. Something like a half-acre arena and a ten-second day would be more agreeable to the old pony’s health, also more to his liking. So he swapped him to the Pecos Rodeo Association. There, Gid said, he reverted immediately to his old ways. Gid saw him come out of the chute two days and he unpacked a cowboy both times.
After I had spent the latter part of the winter on the Pecos with Gid, Mr. Hoover sent me and Fletcher Freeman down to the Live Oak ranch in Crockett County with Kay Black and his bunch. Kay’s first question to us was: “Do you boys crawl around under horses like old Gid does?”
“Why, no,” said Fletch, “a man could get snake bit crawlin’ around on the ground like that.”
Not only is Gid noted for his ways with snaky horses, but he is also famous as a dominator of snakes. I have no proof of the latter; I left there while snakes were still in hibernation. But many of my other friends bear witness to this fact. Gid was always noncommittal when I pressed him for details, but he did admit to “fooling around with them.”
“Gid,” I asked, “wasn’t you ever scared, messing around with them things?”
“Yeah, once. One time down in Del Rio. I was getting a shave when a little pet snake I kept down in my shirt stuck his head out to see what was going on. I thought that dad-blame barber was going to cut my throat.”
Crowding seventy now, he isn’t much different from what he was in that winter of 1931. He is a little grayer, perhaps, with his head held slightly more to the side from a neck broken years ago. Otherwise he is just as tall and straight. You still won’t hear about his exploits from him. You can tell he was a cowboy, all right, but not by his clothes. He wears neat, shop-made boots and a disappointingly narrow- brimmed hat. To see him standing around you wouldn’t realize that here is one of the last links to the old West, a man who has seen stirring times both a-horseback and afoot, not to mention in canoes down the mighty Colorado and in airplanes over revolt-torn Old Mexico. In fact, you could be around him for weeks and nothing about him would strike you as unusual, except that he neither drinks, cusses, nor smokes.
His secret with horses and snakes, Doc Green says, is absence of fear. This sounds logical to me since I personally witnessed his absolute lack of fear with regard to Danger Boy and other critters just as dangerous. The only creature---this is pure speculation---Gid could have fear of is the female of the human species. That is, he has never gotten himself entangled in the holy bonds of wedlock.
“Gid, when are you going to get married?” somebody asked.
“Well, when I can find some bench-legged little old gal that can cook a jackrabbit to my particular taste over a slow cowchip fire.”
What with horsepower now gone for good under the auto hood and cowboying now only a matter of mechanics, Gid has been forced to convert most of his action-energy to thought. That is, in his mellowing years he is turning more and more to philosophy. And, despite the fact that his schoolhouse
schooling was of the very briefest, he can match wits---and wit---with the best of them, as evidenced by some of his sayings.
“The reason your rich friends give away so much advice is because they can’t make it work anyway.”
“If I had listened to all the don’ts I’ve heard I would have missed all the did’s.”
“Silence may not be golden but at least it keeps your unsolicited wisdom out of the verbal wastebasket.”
“ I know I’m not any smarter than the people who differ with me., but I am not going to prove it to them at the top of my voice.”
Gid’s parting bit of philosophy was this: “Paul, just remember the last stand is a noble stand, but it was the last fall that cost old Custer his golden hair-do.”
These words were clearly and cleverly put for a man who had to leave school in the third grade or thereabout, and then educate himself after work hours. This meant, on most old-time cow outfits, between the hours of ten p.m. and four a.m.
But there is something besides these wise words that, to me, marks Gid as a philosopher in the true sense of the word. A philosopher, according to my dictionary, is “one who reduces the principles of philosophy to practice in the conduct of life; hence, loosely, one who meets or regards all vicissitudes with calmness.”
For example, how many people of your acquaintance would “regard with calmness” the constant and continuous misspelling of their name? Not many. Well, for forty years I have been spelling Gid’s surname R-e-d-i-n-g and Fletch Freeman (now Crane’s deputy sheriff) has been spelling it R-e-d-d-i-n-g.
One of us is wrong. Yet old Gid has never called either of our hands on it. Like a true philosopher he has continued to regard it as one of those many vicissitudes one takes with calmness Gid still hasn’t told me which spelling is correct.