James Kenney and The Cowboy Way
By Mike Capron
Making a cowboy is kinda like making a cake. There are a lot of ingredients that go into creating both of these little delicacies. You have to mix everything just right and then let her bake. Good cowboys and good cakes are not an accident.
James Kenney knew he wanted to be a cowboy around the same time he started school but his schooling didn’t offer any ridin’ and ropin’ so he moved on to where the cowboy classes were being held.
He headed out to where the best professors were offering the most advanced instruction. It never occurred to him there was any other way. Simple as a box cake, all you had to do was ride, rope and watch a cow. He never looked for a turn-around, he just went straight ahead. James provided for all his needs with a horse, cow and a rope.
Lucky for me, I met him at a time in my life when I needed him most. I also was looking for one of these cow-punching experts who could offer me some guidance on how to survive this school of romantic hard knocks.
James was a generation ahead of me when we met and already a cowboy. He was also a championship calf roper, family man, rancher, world champion cutting horse trainer, and working on his second NCHA futurity champion. I was a newlywed, pumping gas at Nickel Creek, day-working and dead set on punching cows for a living.
Early one morn a cattle truck turned over right down the road from the Nickel Creek filling station. Suddenly, we had a highway full of fat heifers. Some were trapped inside, some were ready to butcher and a bunch more had broke out and were scattering all over the country side.
The loose cattle were leaving the scene of the prison on wheels as fast as possible. People were gathering to help out but none of them were horseback. Plenty of help were tending to the cripples and the fresh kills.
The word was given to make use of the animals that couldn’t be moved or reloaded. In short order the filling station was converted into a butcher shop and there was fresh carcasses hanging from the rafters of the gas station. Nothing was wasted but it was impossible to buy a gallon of gas.
You couldn’t drive close enough to the gas pumps for all the dead beef hanging from the shed roof over the drive-way. Meanwhile loose heifers were trying to find a new home just as far away from all this commotion as possible. I was the only one mounted and that sure didn’t bother me, as I was having a lot of fun in spite of the fact that I had crashed threw the septic tank behind the gas station chasing a heifer.
The local law enforcement decided I needed some help as I wasn’t getting the job done fast enough for them. They were concerned about these renegade bunches of heifers running back and forth across the highway looking for a hole in the fence. So I called all the neighbors. James Kenney was the only one I could get ahold of and he said he would be right over.
I was sure busy gathering and penning what I could in a set of pole corrals that were about one half mile from the highway and across from the gas station. I felt like I was finally earning my keep when James came driving up in a new car pulling a new in-line trailer.
He unloaded a mare with a new fancy stable blanket on her. I think that was the first time I ever had seen a horse with a blanket on. I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be much help with the job we had to do. Guadalupe Mountains was no place for a fat soft ‘show’ mare.
At the time I didn’t know it, but this pretty filly was Uno Princess, the to-be NCHA Open Futurity Winner in a couple months. It took me a long time to understand why James took her for this job. Now this is where the cowboy way starts shinning; this was the only horse trailer on the ranch, the only horse on the ranch that had ever been in a trailer and the only vehicle that was rigged up to pull a trailer.
No one knew what this mare was and James didn’t explain. He just unloaded her and helped out till we had the job done and everything was taken care of. Then he loaded the mare and went home. We had gathered and penned fifty or so heifers and reloaded on another truck. It was in country that was anything but a ‘prepared arena’, like the Will Rogers Colosseum in Ft. Worth.
To James’s way of thinking, it was just a horse and a cow and he gave his horse credit on how to get around in order to beat the cow. The mare had the advantage. She was raised in this country and the heifers weren’t. He showed her what he wanted done and then got out her way so she could do it.
It was pure and simple to James; go help your neighbor and take whatever you have to get the job done. No wonder Ft. Worth was no big deal for Miss Uno Princess. After I watched them in action I was pretty sure that James had baked a lot of cakes.
I was fortunate to go to work for James shortly after that and I stayed as close as possible to him because every time I did, I learned something. This story isn’t over. It’s just beginning, and I will tell more stories about James every chance I can.
Uno Princess was the 1968 Open Futurity Champion in the National Cutting Horse Association. Her rider and trainer was James L. Kenney who was inducted into the NCHA Members Hall of Fame in 1991.
Read more about Mr. Kenney and his life with horses: The Cowboy Life of James L. Kenney as told to Sally Harrison, 1996 James Kenney