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A couple of years into my cowboying in Marion County I got a call from a man who was living on the Castro farms, northwest of Ocala on Highway 27. He told me he managed the cattle operation for Bernard Castro and he had heard that I was day working and had some good dogs. He had a similar arrangement with Castro that I had with the Double F Ranch out at Moss Bluff - we could day work on the side on our own time.
He wanted to know if I would be interested in helping him and a couple more cowboys round up and catch some cows on a big place at Okahumpka that bordered the Sunshine Parkway. He also asked me if I knew at least one more cowboy that could help us catch those cattle. He said he had lined up one well-known rodeo clown and day worker by the name of Burl Stokes, from Bushnell. I told him that I had a young boy that had been helping me and was making a good hand. I agreed to meet him at Okahumpka.
Then he told me his full name was Theo Johns and he was from Okeechobee County but had been barred from that county for some minor incident where he had almost killed his father-in-law down there. I didn't ask any questions at the time. I didn't think the incident disqualified him from the job we had ahead of us.
Theo planned for us to meet at a little country store in Okahumpka and we could look this place over. We agreed that the next day would work for both of us and a time was set. We both got there at about the same time the next day. I was a little surprised at the looks of Mr. Johns. He was kinda slight built, 5' 10" or 11" maybe, 140 pounds, and showed a lot of Indian blood in his features. I later found out he was at least half Seminole.
We hit it off right away, and I found out he was very well-formed about the people and area where I was raised on Lake Okeechobee and there was the possibility we were at the little elementary school at Canal Point - on Lake Okeechobee - at the same time.
We got in his four wheel-drive pickup and found the gate to the pasture. Mr. Thompson had told Theo where the key to the gate was hidden and we took off down a graded road that made a big loop up along the Parkway. It looked like a pretty rough place, lots of thick hammocks, all over the place.
We spotted a couple hundred cows, but as soon as they saw us, they vanished. I told Theo these cattle were going to have to be roped and he got a big smile on his face and said "Good!"
On our way back to the little store, Theo and I agreed this was going to be a big job. We had seen a little motel over on Highway 27 that didn't seem to be doing a lot of business. So, we each pulled up to the office, and asked the lady about renting a double room for a couple weeks. We told her we needed to tie our extra horses overnight to some of the trees in the little wooded area behind the motel. She was very helpful, and offered to give us a good rate on the rooms. We told her if we got the job, we would be back.
Now the most important part of the whole deal was the pay. The rodeo clown, Mr. Stokes, had known Mr. Thompson all his life and told us he was tight, but fair, and would keep his word once he had given it. Theo explained to him that most of the cattle would have to be caught at so much a head. From what Mr. Stokes told us, there had already been several attempts made by some of the Rexall Rangers, and all that happended was that not one cow was penned, and they had only made the cows crazier.
The story has a few sides to it, and I will try to keep then understandable.
Well, the negotiations went in our favor only if we were as good as we thought we were. I didn't know how good Stokes was. He made me a little apprehensive when I met him the morning of the big start.
I had a couple of typical cow dogs and Theo had his best dog right out of the Florida cur mold. My protege, Buddy Fort, had a good like jip that would find a cow in a heart beat and stay all day. But, Burl Stokes had a half dozen little dogs that looked like they were part-Chihuahua. They were tearing around his big old white horse, which looked like it was part mule. I noted his rope on the saddle and you could use it for a well rope.
Theo had noticed the look on my face and rode over to me and told me because he knew Stokes, not to get concerned. Looks are deceiving. I now know that was true.
Mr. Thompson had brought his regular help, a big old rangey kid, still in his teens. With this noisy and motley crew, we started the big Thompson round-up.
We held the dogs behind our horses as best we could. I half expected the fice dogs to jump a rabbit or what ever fice dogs do. I was surprised how they minded Burl's voice.
We had rode through a hammock and when we broke out in an open field, there were forty scrub cows grazing in this old watermelon field that had been harvested the year before. There was a three strand barbed wire fence around most of it, with a few holes in it. This looked like we might be able to bunch these cows up.
We sent the dogs ahead, and tried to get around the cows. When the dust cleared the three strand fence had a whole lote more holes in it, and everybody was chasing a cow. We had a total of four cows tied to trees and the rest had disappeared.
See part 2 in next week's Beacon