Incredible Western Women Series
For those of you just joining us, here’s a little background…
Born in the small town of Colville, WA, I was raised in the Spokane suburbs and moved to rural America with my husband a little over three decades ago. Country life is an amazing place to raise our sons and grandkids. Here on the Colville Reservation, we have lakes, rivers, and creeks to fishing and swim in, hills and mountains to ride horses and hike on, and plenty of space to enjoy family time.
Four generations have grown up and enjoyed this land and all it provides.
I’d like to share rural America with you through the words and photos of incredible western women.
And if you are a western woman or have someone in mind who can share their stories with us, please pass on their name and contact information to me. I’d love to include them on this journey.
So now, let’s open the corral gate and hear from this month’s western woman!
It is a pleasure to introduce Deanna McCall to you all. She is an amazing writer and storyteller. I met her online and have come to admire her cowboy poetry. She’s got a lot to share, so let’s get started!
My husband, Dave, had recently undergone knee surgery and was grumbling about some fairly wild yearlings we hadn’t been able to gather before his operation. Every time the calves managed to get away. I told him a friend, Shantel, and I were going to go look for them. He snorted.
We ranch in rocky, steep country, covered in brush and trees. We use small traps (corrals or pens) to catch our cattle. While my friend and I hooked up the trailer and loaded our horses, Dave hobbled down to the barn on crutches. He proceeded to tell us where and how to look for the remnants. I rolled my eyes while sarcastically telling him I was so glad to know that. Geez.
Shantel and I drove to where I figured the cattle would be. Below us lay a small pasture in a steep canyon, with a small creek running through it. Growing up on a ranch, I was taught to think like a cow and if I were a cow, this is where I’d be.
There was a wire trap on the hill that we would use if we were successful. We rode down the steep ridge, weaving through the brush and trees. In this country we often “hunt” and “trap” cattle. You need to move quietly, to get in a position that ensures the natural direction for them to go is the right direction, away from you.
You also pray they won’t take off like deer when they spot you. We try to tame our cows, calling them and making them come to us for feed. Life is a lot easier when they come to you, rather than run away from you. However, this was a bunch of yearlings we were after. Gathering yearlings is sometimes compared to gathering quail. They blow up in your face and scatter all over.
We spotted the cattle and split up, Shantel easing to one side of them, while I went to the other side. We gradually got the cattle together, taking our time and letting them ease along. We came to the gate leading to the trap. This would be the place where they’d take the trail uphill, or we’d lose them. Cattle don’t like going uphill and look for the path of least resistance.
One of the bigger heifers turned into the gate and the others followed. We looked across at each other and grinned. We’d caught the buggers who had evaded capture several times! I crossed my fingers they’d take the gate on the top and not turn around.
As the cattle scrambled up the trail, I heard a 4-wheeler above us. Crap. I hoped it wouldn’t scare the cattle and have them run back over us. I then heard my husband calling the cattle. I should have known he couldn’t stay home.
We shut the gate on the cattle and he insisted on backing the trailer up to the chute. I watched him hobble over to the truck and back it up. He parked so close we couldn’t open the doors, so Shantel used the escape door and got them open from the inside. She manned the back gates while I got them into the alley.
Dave squeezed through the brush to prod the cattle up the alley with his crutch while he hung on to the boards. Now, no one could say he didn’t help.
We left the horses and 4-wheeler in the trap. We’d come back for them. As we were driving home, Shantel and I were pretty proud of ourselves. Dave told us it was all luck we caught the yearlings. We rubbed it in more. Shantel was still laughing when she remarked a calf standing alongside the road was a twin to one we loaded. Dave looked out his window and swore while sliding to a stop. He yelled, “The damn calves are getting out!”
I jumped out and ran back to the trailer to see the last calf jump out of the escape door. We caught the yearlings, but we sure forgot to shut the darn escape door. Some hands we were.
A Treat for You!
SHE NEEDS TO RIDE
She watches cows on the hill thru the window pane, thru the drizzling rain
Looks to see if there’s calves by their sides, thinks maybe she should ride
Been told again it is time to go eat, she needs to find her seat
She notes the green has begun, it just needs some sun
She wonders if they are her cows, or maybe her daddy’s, she allows
Can’t see a brand from here, or any mark on the ear
Go catch her horse in a bit, she never did like to just sit
Her slicker was in the saddle shed, right by the cat’s bed
The walker’s wheels begin to slide, she’s thinking she’ll ride
There’s a tug on her sleeve, someone telling her she can’t leave
She decides to try ol’ Dunny today, she doesn’t care what they say
When she needs to ride, she’ll ride, they can’t keep her inside
Supple leather in her hands, a communication she understands
His willingness to always please, that unity ‘tween her knees
She wonders if that’s right, the memories begin to fight
A sorrel, a paint, a buckskin, a bay, who’d she ride yesterday?
Smell of institutional food is in the air, it seems to hang there
A tv blares from the wall, there’s handrails in the hall
She hears the laughter and some clangs, singing and some little bangs
She knows the sound of pans and tin, the smell of coffee drifting in
Knows she’s expected at the table, but, her minds at the stable
Wondering about the horse eating, not silly place-name seating
The cattle on the hill are black, she tried to think back
Red necks only came to mind, she didn’t remember that kind
She stares down at the wrinkled hand, at the worn thin wedding band
Tries to conjure up his face, to only find an empty place
He’d been gone for so darn long, she was alone but strong
The visions were so bleary, recollecting made her so weary
She found a seat facing the hill, eyes closing against her will
Rest a bit ‘fore going outside, she really needed to ride
No one thought anything of her nap, hands slowly sliding off her lap,
The gentleness of her smile as she rode her very last mile.
Saddles scarred, sturdy and plain
On the ground sits one split rein
Leggins hooked over the horn
Armor from branch and thorn
Short stout taps hang down
On rigs not seen in town.
Old tin coat with raveled cuff
Rests on hands dark and tough
Shirt pre-torn from the other day
Worn once more ‘fore thrown away
Battered hat with torn brim
Faces scratched from a limb.
We wide the rough country.
Cinches checked one last time
‘Fore into saddles we climb
On horses steady and sure
Savy of the snakes whirr
Scent of javelina and bear
The cholla and prickly pear.
Slide down a rocky slope
Slippery as a bar of soap
Duck under branches too low
Following where cattle go
Through brush heavy and thick
Knowing the old cows’ trick.
Cactus and algerita abound
Cracking branches sound
Cattle and thicket collide
Gouging your ornery hide
As a cowpony parts the way
On another brush poppin’ day.
We ride the rough country.
~©Deanna Dickinson McCall, 2018~
Connect with Deanna
Deanna Dickinson McCall currently ranches in the mountains of New Mexico with her husband, Dave. She is from a long line of ranchers, people who revere the land and livestock, and love their livelihood. Deanna and her husband spent 22 years raising their 3 children on a remote Nevada ranch without electricity or phones. Besides ranching in several states, she’s ridden for paychecks, sold feed, and received cattle at sales yards to make ends meet when necessary.
The stories she writes are generous slices of this life. They are tales of gritty existence, simple honest love, a code of honor still upheld, and beating overwhelming odds. They are about the people and land of today’s West. Her voice of experience cannot be mistaken as you read and are drawn into her writing.
Her poetry opens a door allowing you deep into her world, often touching a heartstring as she writes of the ranch life and people she loves, or sends her reader into laughter as her wry humor rings true.
Deanna has won various awards for her writing, including Academy Of Western Artists, Western Music Association, Women Writing The West, Will Rogers Medallion Award, NM/AZ Book Awards.
Deanna is the author of 4 books : Mustang Spring, Rough Patches, Rough Patches II, & Split Reins. You can hear her poetry in her own voice on her award-winning CD Riding and her newest release and winner of the prestigious Wrangler award: I’ll Ride Thru It.
Deanna and coauthor Gay Gardella now have their cookbook, Cowboy Cuisine: Beyond Biscuits and Beans available on Amazon.