Cracker Cowboy: ‘He was more horse than I was cowboy’

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By Bill Roberts

In 1995, I married and left the farm at Fort Lauderdale. My dad paid me my part of the proceeds of the operation money I had put in at the start.

I leased sections of pasture on Wiles Road, west of Pompano, on a rock road that ran straight into the Everglades. The land I leased was in the piney woods. The front section was improved with two windmills and good grass. The back section was woods and wire grass. The place had about 100 head of brood cows and five bulls on it. I bought this stock from a local cowman with plans to put another 100 head of cows on the place. The cow people who I had worked for while farming with my dad had always supplied me with a horse, but, now, what I needed was a horse of my own.

After asking around and watching the want ads, I came across a man in Indiantown who had a 7-year-old gelding that was a trained cow horse. Well, this sounded like what I was looking for. I called the man in Indiantown and told him I wanted to look at the horse. He gave me directions to his place, and we set a time and day when I would be there. I had a good feeling about this pony, and I pulled my horse trailer with me. When I drove into his yard, I saw a middle-aged man who looked like a cowboy with a lot of miles on him. He was coming out of the barn with the prettiest black horse I had ever seen. He had him saddled and ready for me to try out. I rode him around the yard a little, and he told me to take him out in his pasture, which had some gentle cows in it.

He said to push one out of the bunch. When the cow tried to get back to the other cows, that horse came alive, and it was all I could do to ride him. He was way more horse than I was cowboy. Well, I rode him back up to the man and asked him why he would part with a horse like this. He told me his wife was in bad health, and he was trying to make money to get by on. I asked him where he had gotten a horse like that.

“Well,” he said, “it’s a long story.”

A big cattleman in Okeechobee ordered the horse from one of the best horse ranches in Texas. The horse was to be shipped by train to the Okeechobee City Depot. In the meantime, the cowman had died and the horse wound up at the station, and nobody showed up to claim him. The word got around that there was a horse tied to a tree at the depot, and some of the cowman’s relatives showed up. It was a surprise to them. They didn’t have any use for a horse and didn’t want to pay the freight bill.

One of the individuals in the crowd was the man from Indiantown. He was the only one there who knew anything about horses. He was the high bidder and took the horse home and used him a couple of years and wouldn’t have dreamed of parting with him if it hadn’t been for his wife’s illness. He had already sold most of his cattle.

I asked him if the saddle went, too. He said the saddle, rope, whip and bridle were included. I forked over $500 and loaded the horse in my trailer and went back to Wiles Road in Pompano. That horse turned out to be more than I could have hoped for. He was making me a much-better cowhand. You could part cattle, rope calves or catch bulls off of him.

Well, my wife’s younger sister, Gail, was visiting. Her middle sister, Donna, and her boyfriend, Ronnie, were also there. They had driven in Ronnie’s old beat up car, and Gail wanted to ride my horse.

After much begging on her part, I saddled him and was leading the rider around the yard, which was fenced with a gate at the entrance. After a round or two with me leading, Gail was getting brave and wanted to ride the horse on her own.

I knew better but finally gave in and turned the two loose. That was mistake No. 1.

Mistake No. 2 was not closing the gate to the road. Things were going good to start. Smokey, the name of the horse, was walking around slowly, but Gail decided she wanted to go faster and gave Smokey a nudge. That was all it took. In two jumps, he was running wide open.

I saw what was going to happen and made a dash for the gate, all the while telling Gail to pull back on the reigns. But Gail had frozen and never pulled back on the bit.

I never made it to the gate, and they were on the rock road headed toward a busy highway about a mile away. 

Ronnie jumped in his old, ragged car and was in a high-speed chase trying to get ahead and block the road, but his car hood flew up and blinded his view. He was afraid he would hit Gail and the horse, so he had to stop.

I was following with my pickup and horse trailer, but they were all a long way ahead of me. When Smokey got to the highway, he jumped the paved road and headed north. A truck driver had seen the danger and was trying to chase the horse to the side of the road.

Smokey had been running unchecked for five miles now and was beginning to tire out. The trucker finally got him stopped. When I got to where Ronnie had stopped, he got in the truck with me, and we caught up to Smokey and Gail, who had both made it a total of six or seven miles. Smokey was lathered with sweat and heaving and shaking all over.

Well, that was the end of my big black gelding. He had busted his wind and never again could get into as much as a lope. I had to sell him to a man who had a little riding stable in Davy. Smokey was fine for kids to ride because he would never get into more than a walk from then on.

It was a hard lesson that I never forgot, and I never let myself fall in love with a horse again.

Now, dogs were different, and I can’t help myself when it comes to a good dog.


Bill Roberts is a Cracker cowboy and artist who resides in Cedar Key.