Blame the cowdog

Books | Hank gets no respect in his dealings with cats, cows, and coyotes on the ranch
by John R. Erickson
Posted 8/17/19, 10:26 am

John Erickson doesn’t write parables, but some of his stories about the cowboy life he once lived would work well in church. The Bible refers to us as sheep, sometimes without a shepherd, but we also act like cattle and anger the Owner of the ranch. In 1982, Erickson, the author of the popular Hank the Cowdog series of books, published a bunch of these stories in The Devil in Texas and Other Cowboy Tales. Last month, with permission, we republished two of Erickson’s tales from that volume, and this month we share two more. Look for others over the next few months as part of our Saturday Series. —Marvin Olasky

Confessions of a Cowdog

August 15: My name’s Hank. I’m a cowdog on a ranch in Texas. I never heard of a cowdog keeping a diary, but I’m going to give it a try.

My ma came from good stock. They were Australians, back to who laid the chunk, and they were all good with cattle. Ma used to say that Uncle Beanie was the best cowdog in South Texas.

But she fell in with a bad crowd when she was young, and that’s where she met my old man. She used to tell me about him: “He was a good bloke, but just a wee bit south of worthless.”

I asked her what it was that attracted her to him. She got a far-off look in her eyes and sighed. “We were both young and foolish. He was a dashing rogue. Hank, that daddy of yours could pee on more tires than any dog in Texas.” That always stuck with me, kind of gave me a standard to aim for.

August 25: It was terrible hot today. This long hair makes me awfully uncomfortable. Me and Drover spent most of the morning shaded up beneath the gas tanks. I didn’t think I had enough energy to move—until Pete came along.

Pete’s the barn cat around here. I don’t like him. I don’t like his looks. I don’t like his attitude. I don’t like cats in general. I whipped him and ran him up a tree.

That got me all hot and worked up, so I went up to the septic tank. It overflows and there’s always a nice cool puddle of water there. I plopped down in it. Oh, it felt good. I rolled around and kicked all four legs in the air. When I got out, I felt like a million.

I trotted down to the house, just as Slim and High Loper were coming out of the yard gate. I trotted up to say howdy. I rubbed up against Loper’s leg and gave myself a good shake. I guess I hit him with some mud and water. Made him mad.

“Git outa here, Dang-it!” He’s a funny guy, gets mad at little things. When he’s in a good humor, he calls me Hank. When he’s mad, he calls me Dang-it. When he’s really mad, he calls me Dang-it-to-heck, whatever that means. I answer to all three.

September 1: It was cloudy and cool today. Me and Drover were sleeping down at the corrals. Drover’s my running buddy, a small, short-haired white dog. He’s got no cow sense at all, just doesn’t understand the business. I think he’s scared of cattle.

Well, I was sleeping, don’t you see, and Drover woke me up. “Hank, get up, boy, there’s cattle coming this way, a whole heard of them, coming in like elephants!”

I’m in charge of ranch security. I don’t allow cattle up around the place. I came out of a dead sleep and jumped to my feet.

We went ripping out of the corral me in the lead and Drover bringing up the rear. He was right about the cattle. It was a by-gosh invasion, fifty, sixty head of stock.

As I went on the attack, my ma’s words came back to me: “Bite ’em on the heels / Bite ’em on the nose / Take a hunk of hair out / Make ’em shake their toes.”

Out in the pasture, maybe I would have backed away. But not this time. I was protecting the ranch (did I mention that I’m in charge of ranch security?), and I was prepared to give my life if necessary.

I went straight to the lead cow. She was a homely wench, and had an evil temper to boot. She dropped her head and started throwing hooks at me. Out in the pasture, maybe I would have backed away. But not this time. I was protecting the ranch (did I mention that I’m in charge of ranch security?), and I was prepared to give my life if necessary.

She rolled me once with them big horns, which kind of inflamed me, don’t you see, and I put the old Australian fang-lock on her nose. Ma would have been proud of me. In seconds, I had that north-bound herd going south. Drover was right behind me, cheering me on. “Git ’em, Hankie, sick ’em, boy!”

I sicked ’em, all right, but come to find out, Slim and High Loper were trying to pen them in the corral. How was I supposed to know? Next thing I knew, High Loper was coming at me, swinging his rope and calling my name. “Dang-it-to-heck, git outa here!”

I got chased up to the yard. I don’t know what happened to Drover. He just sort of disappeared when things went sour. He does that a lot.

September 15: Had a wild time last night. Me and Drover was sleeping by the yard gate. Along about midnight, he woke me up.

“Hear that?” he whispered. I listened and heard it. Coyotes, and they were close. “Let’s run ’em off.”

“You think we should?” I was still half-asleep.

“Heck yes. This is our ranch, ain’t it?”

“Good point. But I don’t want any rough stuff. Those guys are thugs.”

We loped up the hill until we could see a coyote standing in the road, a skinny, scruffy-looking little villain. I barked at him and told him to scram, we didn’t allow no coyote trash around our ranch. He told me to drop dead.

I was ready to leave it at that, but Drover thought we had a responsibility to the ranch. “Let’s give him a whipping. There’s two of us and only one of him.”

I counted, and sure enough, we had him out-numbered two to one. “Well, all right, if you think we should.”

He thought we should. So I swaggered out and jumped the coyote. I throwed him to the ground while Drover nipped at his tail.

I sure was surprised when that little coyote’s uncles and cousins and big brothers showed up. All at once I was in the midst of a coyote family reunion. Man alive, they was biting me in places I’d never been bit before.

“Come on, Drover!” I yelled. “Don’t save anything back, boy, this is the real thing!”

Drover had disappeared. I managed to escape with everything but two pounds of hair and part of my left ear. An hour later, I found Drover, huddled up in the darkest, backest corner of the machine shed.

I managed to escape with everything but two pounds of hair and part of my left ear.

I was all set to whip the tar out of him, but he cried and begged and told me that, down deep, he was opposed to violence. How can you whip a dog that says that?

November 1: Got in trouble today. High Loper and Slim were doctoring sick cattle this morning, running them through the squeeze chute and giving them shots and pills and stuff.

Me and Drover were hanging around, watching. The cowboys went to dinner and left all the medicine beside the chute.

Drover went over and sniffed at a cardboard box full of big white pills. “You know what these are? Amino acid boluses. They’re supposed to give energy to sick cattle. They’re good for cowdogs too.”

I walked over to the box and sniffed. “Smells good. But wouldn’t the cowboys be mad if we ate ’em?”

“Oh, heck no. It says right there on the box that cowdogs are supposed to eat them.”

I squinted at the box. “So it does.”

I pulled one out and chewed on it. Say, that stuff was good. I went back for another one, and another one, and then I went back for seconds. It beat the heck out of that cheap co-op dog food.

Before long, the box was empty. When the cowboys came back from lunch, I was sunning myself beside the chute, full and happy and feeling good. I gave the boys a grin and wagged my tail.

High Loper stared at the empty box. “Where did those …” He looked at me. I must have had a few crumbs on my chops. “Why you worthless cur, that box cost twenty-one dollars!”

Huh? I looked around for Drover. He had disappeared. About then the rocks and sticks started flying, and I ran for my life.

I looked around for Drover. He had disappeared.

I found Drover in the machine shed and I jumped right in the middle of him. He cried and begged but I didn’t listen this time. My momma didn’t raise no fool.

“Wait!” he cried. “If you won’t whip me, I’ll tell you a deep, dark, awful secret.”

“Huh? An awful secret?”

“Yeah. Listen. It was all Pete’s idea. He wanted to get us into trouble.”

“Naw. No foolin’?”

He raised his right paw. “It’s God’s truth, Hankie.”

“Why that sorry, no good for nuthin’ cat! Come on, Drover, it’s time to clean house.”

I marched down to the saddle shed, caught Pete plumb by surprise, whupped him, re-whupped him, and ran him up a tree. Drover was behind me all the way, cheering me on.

“Git ’im, Hankie, git ’im!”

That was that. We went up for a roll in the sewer, and I said to Drover, “Boy, I can’t believe Pete would try to pull a deal like that on us cowdogs. How dumb does he think we are?”

He shook his head. “Pretty dumb, Hank, pretty dumb.”

Illustration by Gerald L. Holmes Illustration by Gerald L. Holmes

Confessions of a Cowdog: Part Two

It’s me again, Hank the Cowdog. I keep getting into trouble around here. I don’t know what’s wrong. I try to run this ranch the way it ought to be run, but I don’t get much cooperation.

Take the boss as an example. He ain’t what you’d call fond of dogs. First thing in the morning he’ll come walking down to the corral. Most of the time I’m already down there, checking things out. I’m in charge of ranch security, don’t you see, and that’s such an important job, I like to get out early and make my morning rounds.

So into the corral walks the boss with a scowl on his face. I come up to him, wagging my tail and grinning and trying to be about half-friendly. What does he do? He gives me this greeting: “Go on, dog, git outa here.”

Every day it’s the same. I don’t have to do anything wrong. He just looks at me and those words come to his lips. I don’t understand it.

Well, all right, maybe I do, just a little bit. I’ve made a few mistakes, but they were honest mistakes, nothing he should hold a grudge about.

I guess my troubles with the boss go back to that day last summer. I got myself locked in the saddle shed. Drover, my running buddy, had told me that there was a mouse in there, and as head of ranch security, I figured it was my duty to go in and check it out. Pete the cat is supposed to be in charge of mice, but you can’t depend on a danged cat for anything.

So I was in there sniffing in a comer, and the next thing I knew, the cowboys turned out the light and locked the door. That was a bad deal, me locked up and night coming on and no one out there to guard the ranch.

I knew Drover couldn’t handle it by himself. He’s pretty tough as long as I’m out front doing the fighting and the dirty work, but when I’m not around, he goes up and hides in the machine shed. He won’t even bark at the mailman in broad daylight unless I’m there.

Well, I got in a big sweat worrying about it. What if robbers came in the night? What if the steers came up around the house and started rubbing on Sally May’s evergreen trees? Suppose the coons pulled a sneak attack, or the coyotes came up around the house and woke up High Loper? When Loper misses his sleep, he ain’t fit to live with.

I had to get out of there, that was all there was to it. The ranch was in danger. I reviewed the situation and decided there was only one way out: I would have to chew a hole in the door.

I had to get out of there, that was all there was to it.

I went right to work. I chewed and I chewed and I spit out pieces of wood and I got a splinter in my gum and it took me an hour to get it out. And then I chewed some more.

About daylight, I had a fair-sized hole built in the door, but it wasn’t quite big enough. Then I heard a pickup outside. Someone got out and coughed. I said to myself, “Ah ha, they’ve missed me and they’ve come to let me out.”

The door opened and there was the boss. He looked down at my work and looked at me. His face went red and he roared, “Dang-it-to-heck, you’re eatin’ the door off the saddle shed, get outa here!” That’s the thanks I got for trying to do my job. Did he think I chewed up the door just because I like the taste of wood?

He took off his hat and started swinging it at me. “Go on, git outa here!” I would have been glad to get out. I had spent all night trying to get out. But since he was standing in the door and swatting at me with his hat, I couldn’t get out.

That just made him madder. I dashed around the saddle shed, knocked a saddle off the rack and spilled a can of neat’s foot oil. At last, I ran between his legs and escaped. He throwed a hoof pick at me but missed.

Well, that got his nose out of joint, and he stayed mad for the rest of the morning. We might have patched things up, but we got into another wreck that afternoon.

The boss and High Loper were sorting cows in the front lot after dinner. I was lying outside the corral, taking a little snooze in the sun and catching up on all the sleep I’d missed the night before.

Pete, the barn cat, came up and started playing with my tail. I raised my head and told him to buzz off. He kept it up. He was swatting my tail with his paws.

It didn’t hurt and I tried to ignore it. But then he sank his claws in and struck a nerve.

I can get along with anybody’s cat as long as he knows his place. His place, as far as I’m concerned, is either out of my sight or up a tree. My second-most important job on this outfit, after ranch security, is keeping the cats humble and in their place. I don’t take no trash off a cat.

My second-most important job on this outfit, after ranch security, is keeping the cats humble and in their place.

I growled and gave Pete fair warning. “Best leave my tail alone, son. Run along and play. I’ve got important things to do.”

He looked at me and kind of cocked his head to the side. Then, out of sheer spite, he slapped my tail again.

Drover had been watching from under the pickup, and he came galloping up. His hair was bristled up on the back of his neck and he was showing his fangs. “Get lost, squirt, or we’ll …”

Bam! Before Drover could finish his sentence, Pete slapped him across the chops. He yelped and moved out of range.

“You’re just lucky I didn’t pull off one of your legs and beat you to death with it,” said Drover. Pete yawned. “Look at him, Hank, see what he did? He’s got no respect for a cowdog.”

Ordinarily I would have just whipped the cat and got it over with, but I needed some sleep. I laid my head back down and fell right to sleep. I was twitching and rolling my eyes and having a wonderful dream, when I felt a sharp pain in my tail.

Drover was right there, whispering in my ear. “It was the cat again, Hank, I seen him. He was playing with your tail, after you told him not to.”

“Will you shut up? I know what he did.” I stood up and went nose-to-nose with Pete. “Cat, you’re fixing to get yourself into a storm.”

“Git, ’im, Hank, git ’im!”

“I done told you to lay off the tail and buzz off. Now, are you gonna buzz or do I need to give you your daily whipping?”

“You tell him, Hankie, preach that hot gospel!” I looked back at Drover, who was jumping up and down in excitement. “Will you just shut your little trap and let me handle this?” Back to the cat. “What’s it gonna be, son? Peace and quiet or blood and guts?”

Pete throwed a hump into his back and hissed, right in my face, which is one of about twenty-three things I don’t allow a cat to get by with. Then he popped me on the nose, and the fight was on.

I lit right in the middle of him and had him buried, but he squirmed out and somehow popped me on the nose again. It made my eyes water, it stung so bad.

Drover was jumping around in circles. “Git ’im, Hankie, tear him up!”

Couldn’t quite get a handle on the squirmy little son of a gun. I chased him around the pickup once, then he ducked under the fence and ran into the front lot where the cowboys were sorting cattle. I was in hot pursuit.

Well, one thing led to another. I ran right in front of this snorty old cow, don’t you see, and the next thing I knew, she was blowing hot air on the back of my neck and shaking her horns at me. It sort of took my mind off the cat.

I ran for the nearest cover, which happened to be the boss, and you might say that he got plastered. The old cow took aim for me and got the boss instead. Bedded him down slick as a whistle.

Then I did my duty as a loyal cowdog. I rushed to his side and licked him in the face. He turned red and screeched, “Dang-it-to-heck, git outa here!”

I can take a hint. I know when I’m not welcome. I got the heck out of there.

Who do you reckon got the blame for this? Pete, who started the whole thing? The cow, who did the actual damage? No, no. Good old easy-going, fun-loving, hard-working Hank.

And ever since that time, when me and the boss run into each other, he don’t say howdy or good morning. It’s “Go on, dog, git outa here.”

It’s hard, being a cowdog. You’ve got to take trash off the cats and abuse from the cattle, and you get no thanks, no respect from the boss. I guess that’s why they keep me around this ranch, so that any time somebody fouls up, they can call in old Hank and pin the blame on him. It’s a cruel old world.

John R. Erickson

John is the author of the Hank the Cowdog book series. He and his wife, Kris, live on their cattle ranch near Perryton, Texas.

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  • John
    Posted: Sat, 08/17/2019 11:30 am

    Good old Hank!

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