The job that almost happened

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Normally, I would not talk about the many details that fell through on us, but I'd like to share with you what happened on this "almost job" and what my partner and I learned on this trip to Lykes Bros. at Brighton.

In the early '70s, Theo Johns and I were winding down a project in McIntosh where we were catching some angus cattle for a little cow and horse ranching outfit that was going broke. They had 78 to 80 angus cows that they had to get rid of, and they had no idea how to get these cows that they had spoiled and couldn't even get close to. Well, we got most of them, and we worked ourselves out of a job and had no prospect in sight of anything else when we heard a rumor about some action in Okeechobee County.

The Lykes Bros. at Brighton were taking bids to catch some 14-year-old steers they had marked and branded as yearlings and hadn't seen much of since. They had trapped a few in the last 14 years, but there were close to 100 left, and they wanted them caught but didn't have the help or time to do it themselves.

Big steers in the 1000-pound range were bringing good money at slaughter, and they figured they could pay some professional cowboys to catch them and still make a profit. Theo called down to Brighton and talked to Charley Lykes, who was interested and wanted us to come down and meet.

Mr. Lykes was an interesting man and he treated us well. He wanted to know about our experience. We gave him several references.

Theo was keeping a low profile because he had been barred out from this county — something to do with an accident that happened many years ago. We were hoping the statute of limitations had run out on this, and Lykes said he could put us up in his bunkhouse.

We spent the night on the ranch, and the next day we were to get with his foreman who was going to take us around the area where the steers were supposed to be.

The next morning, when we got to headquarters, Lykes called us to his office. He showed us a big mounted steer head on the wall and explained that this was what they looked like. The steers horns must have been 6 feet from tip to tip. I told Theo we'd have to get longer ropes.

Well, we loaded up with the foreman in his pickup that morning and went to where the steers were last seen. It must have been nearly noon when we saw the first steer. There were also deer, turkey and wild hogs aplenty. As we came around a little hammock, three monster-big steers tore out of a thicket and, in a couple of seconds, had completely disappeared.

They were every color of the rainbow and all had big horns. We saw maybe eight or 10 that day, but the foreman estimated there to be between 70 or 80 left.

All this time, Theo and I were calculating the number of men and dogs that would be needed. When we got back to Lykes' place, we told him it might take up to two weeks and that it was going to cost $80 a head. He wrote this down and told us he'd get back. We had heard that Lykes was always cheap, and we believed it, meeting his cowboys and seeing their gear.

They used croaker sacks for saddle blankets and a few still rode McEllen saddles. In about a week, we heard through the cowboy wireless (or the rumor mill) that some local Okeechobee boys had gotten the job at $35 a head on the last day of the job and had gotten paid with a high-priced stud horse killed by an old rig (a bull with only one testical), and they wound up shooting the old, almost, steer. Theo and I both sighed in relief and knew we had dodged a bullett.