A Texas Cowboy For The 21st Century

Mike East — Photographs Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

I traveled in my 2007 Malibu with my wife and two granddaughters in July, 2010. I stayed in my friend Michael East’s Santa Fe Ranch in south Texas. It was there where I saw a most unusual function for a Toyota truck.

I have never had any respect for those men that drive those large twin cab (or crew cab) pickups particularly those that mount a bank of lights on the roof and attach what looks like a streetcar’s cow catcher to the front. My lack of respect is especially so when I see these lumbering vehicles being driven in Vancouver.

Now in South Texas I don’t think I ever saw (in my four days there) one single Audi, Mercedes Benz, Volvo or a BMW. I saw lots of 4x4s particularly the Cadillac. But the car of choice is the truck I have so little respect for.

Michael East has had the crew cab pickup in as many brands as they make them but he says the best has been his Toyota Tacoma. I had no idea of what he was talking about until I saw him in action. One morning he told me, “We are going to pen some cattle.”

Now Michael East’s main ranch house and ranch entrance is on the west side of US 281, 10 to 21 miles south of Linn. In his truck (with Rebecca in the back seat) we crossed 281 and headed south for a while and we then got to a large gate which Rebecca learned to open. From there we drove on the caliche and sand road and passed several pastures called potreros in Spanish even though they usually hold cattle and not ponies.

Michael explained that he had to move some 15 head of cattle from deep within the pasture and then out by a trap gate (the gate is much like a subway turnstile and it can only go in one direction). When we finally found the head of cattle they immediately hid inside a tight group of mesquite trees. These are called motts in English and motas in Spanish. A large mott is called a mogote.

It was then that I found the usefulness of the Toyota. Michael drove it and stopped right at one of the exterior trees. The cattle fled. He then closely followed them weaving in and out. He would put the pickup in reverse and then zoom around. After almost half hour it seemed that the cattle had returned to the original mott and they were as far as possible from the trap gate. Michael told me, “The trick is to move them and let them go where they want. You want to tire them a bit but not so much that they will get hot. Then they will do nothing or even become aggressive.” It was a case of patience. We moved around and up and down and after about 45 minutes the cattle finally moved to the edge of the pasture where there was a fence. Driving on their tales and not allowing them to move away from the fence Michael somehow managed to have the cattle go out from the pasture. He explained that even though it was close to 90 Fahrenheit he had to leave the windows open and not use the air conditioner. The truck would overheat in such severe turnings and reversing. Every once in a while Michael would yell, “Duck,” or “Careful,” as we closely wove between mesquites. Fresh growth on these trees have terrible thorns and the branches would have hit me on the face had I not ducked. The pickup will soon (I am sure) lose all its paint because of the constant scratching.

It occurred to me that Michael’s pickup was being used as an efficient horse. It would have taken a lot more time and perhaps many horses to ride from the ranch house to the pasture and handle the cattle. Michael explained that this particular head of cattle was made up of old cows that had been used for years to produce calves. They had now arrived to the end of their breeding life and they had to be herded and taken away to make hamburger.

Once the old cows had been moved out of the pasture, Michael used his iPhone to contact cowboys to open gates and herd them (on horseback) into the appropriate pens.

When Michael was had finished he was approached by his foreman’s brother Carlos Urias who said in Spanish, “How much do we owe you for this?” To which Michael answered, “A new truck.”

Michael then informed Carlos that one of the cows was ubrada (had large udders). There was perhaps a young calf back in the pasture. This cow did not become hamburger meat that day but was taken back to the pasture where she would lead the cowboys to her young.

The cowboys of Santa Fe, Texas

Link to: A Cowboy For The 21st Century

Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.