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Bill Roberts' CRACKER COWBOY: The Heather Island Bull

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By Bill Roberts
I was day-working in Marion County for a group of cattlemen that had cattle in several pastures, including the Ocala National Forest, where the cattle, more or less, roamed over a large area.
This was the end of the open range, as encounters with automobiles became more frequent, especially of Highway 40 from Ocala to the East Coast.
One night, a scrub bull was causing a problem on the highway. He had almost brought traffic to a halt and refused to get out of the middle of the road. The law was called and, after the bull put the officer back in his cruiser, it was decided that a call to the bull’s owner was in order.
When the officer got ahold of Billy Holly, Billy told him he’d get some help and chase the bull back into the scrub. Billy called Ray Martin, his cattle partner. They decided to call me, and I brought my dog, Ring, to help chase the bull out of the road. When we got to where the bull still had the road blocked, I put Ring on him. That dog went right up and caught and caught him by the side of the head. The bull slung Ring about 10 feet up into the air, but he got up again and took after the bull.
According to the racket, they were headed southwest, but because there were few roads in this part of the scrub we had to backtrack to get ahead of the bull. When we got to River Road, we came upon a tired and beat-up dog. Then we knew the bull had probably swam the Ocklawaha River and gone into his old stomping grounds on Heather Island. Four or five other cattlemen, including the Martins and the Hollys, had cattle in a big area between the Ocklawaha and Dead rivers that separated Heather Island from Marshall Swamp.
About a year later, Billy Holly called and said he had a bunch of cattle in a 20-acre trap next to an old cow pen on the island. The bull that had given us the slip a year prior was with this bunch, and he wanted to get him this time. Billy and his crew had had the bull in the cow pen before, but he always tore out. This time, they had beefed up the pen and wanted me to bring my horse and a couple of dogs.
I brought old Ring, who had a score to settle with the bull, as well as a younger dog, Buster.
When they got the bull in the pen and had their truck backed up to the loading chute, everything was ready, except the bull. About halfway up the chute, he jumped over the side and landed back in the pen. By the time he got up and was underway, Ring and Buster were in hot pursuit. When he started over the trap fence, Ring and Buster piled him up. Before he could get up and run again, I had a rope around his head. When another cowboy got a rope around him, we put the bull in my horse trailer. I was told to take him to the Ocala Livestock Market. It was the day before the sale, and they would keep him in a pen until then.
This sounded like a plan. And I was to return to Heather Island where they were going to be marking and branding the calves and yearlings that were in the trap.
Well, I made it to the market and backed my trailer up to the gate where, after at first not seeing anyone, I later noticed a young man standing there. We pulled a gate next to the horse trailer, and I told the youngster to hold the gate tight against the side of the trailer while I turned the bull out – supposedly to run down the chute and into the market. But, instead, the bull made a u-turn and decided to catch the youngster, snorting and hitting the gate. This was too much for the young man, and he turned the gate loose and made a run for it.
The bull was loose. And he was only 1 1/2 miles from downtown Ocala. I had to catch him, no matter what, so I unhitched my trailer and asked the youngster if he could drive a pickup.
“Yes, sir,” he answered, so I grabbed a rope, jumped in the back and told him to pull up close enough to the bull that he could be roped.
The bull was, by now, headed south toward an old railroad overpass. When we got up to him, he was up on a rise to my left. He came down and rammed the truck and then came behind. I got a loop on him, but with nothing to dally my rope onto I had to turn the rope loose. The bull was dragging the rope and going under the overpass. When he got to the other side, he turned into the state highway work camp. I told my helper to stop and move over, and I took the wheel. When the bull started into the yard, I ran up on the rope with my front tire. It held and even turned the bull a flip. I jumped out, grabbed the rope, and the bull made a run at me.
There was a clothesline pole behind me, and I ran to it and took a wrap about it. But it was too slick, and the bull pulled me to him. I saw this wan’t going to turn out too good, so I dropped to the ground and covered my ribs with my arms.
That bull was trying to drive me into the ground, and he pushed me up close to the clothesline pole and tried to butt it hard enough to knock me off. After four or five attempts, he gave up and ran off into the field, dragging my rope.
Now we needed the horse trailer, but we had to go back to the market to get it. When we got back to the field, the bull was waiting for us. I eased around the blind side of the trailer and opened the escape door up front. I opened the tailgate, too, and spotted the end of the rope close to the trailer. When I got out, the bull spotted me. I grabbed the rope and ran back to the trailer with the bull behind me. I went out the escape door and hollered at my young helper to shut the tailgate, which he did, and we soon had the bull back to the market.
When I got back to Heather Island, the crew was finishing the branding and asked me if there had been any trouble with the bull.
“No, I didn’t have any trouble with the bull,” I answered.
“Well, how in hell did you get most of your clothes torn off?”
The above is one of the many stories found in Cedar Key native Bill Roberts’ “All I Ever Wanted to be Was a Cowboy.”