“Just An Old Cowboy”

By
Pamela R. Blaine
© June 2003

Folks said that Billy was a bachelor, a loner, just an old cowboy who kept
pretty much to himself.   He was a thin, wiry man with a ruddy complexion
and wrinkled brow.   I suppose he was an old cowboy but

he was ageless to me.

 

I don't recall the first time I ever met Billy, he was just always around from the time I can remember and was part of my childhood like the old red barn
and the giant maple trees in the yard where I grew up.  Billy never called me
by my given name.  To him I was  "Little Lady" and the
nickname made me feel kind of special.

 

Billy sounded a little like Walter Brennon when he laughed and
you could easily pick out that laugh in a crowd, although you rarely
saw Billy in a crowd.  He was pretty much a loner and he seemed to
like it that way.  Yet, I always wondered if there might be
more to Billy than met the eye.

 

Most of the time Billy could be found out on his little place on the edge of town.
He lived alone in a little shack not much bigger than a tool shed but
his horses had a barn many times the size of his house and he took

 better care of them than he did himself.  He was an "ornery old cuss" as

 my Granddad described him but I could tell by the way he

said it that he liked Billy.

 

I once asked Mama if Billy had any family and she said she thought
most of his family had died and she didn't think he had anyone.

 

One thing Billy did have was plenty of horses, and he also ran a few cattle
on his place.  He made most of his living from trading horses and selling
scrap iron.   He also used his team of workhorses to do odd jobs for people
around the area.   His workhorses, Nellie & Daisy pulled wagons, mowers,
disks, and harrows.   Billy never had a car and his only means of transportation were his horses, so if he needed to go further than he wanted to drive his team of horses, he would walk or hitchhike.

 It wasn't uncommon to see someone hitchhiking once in awhile

because it was relatively safe in those days and people saw it

as giving folks a helping hand.

 

Billy would let me ride his horses and I guess I rode just about everything
from ponies to work horses but he usually traded them so fast
that I didn't get a chance to get too attached.  Sometimes the horses
came with a name but if they didn't, I'd get to pick out a name.

Rebel, was one particular horse that I remember because I named him
and because Billy let me take him to the Ft. Madison Rodeo up in Iowa.
I belonged to the Pioneer Rangers Saddle Club and we all went to the rodeo
the year that I turned fourteen. 

 

The parade route was long and at one point,
Rebel didn't think he wanted to cross railroad tracks but finally gave in
and trotted across them quickly as if he thought they might burn his hooves.
Rebel had been bred for racing and he loved to run and so did I.
He was really a little too big for me as I had a hard time reaching a stirrup
to mount up and Billy would teasingly ask me if

I wanted him to get me a stepladder.

 

I only remember being in Billy's house one time.  I stepped just in the

 doorway because he said, "Come on in" as he was hunting change to give me for the milk I had brought him. 

 

There was a drawer that had been left open next to the door
where I stood.  I looked down and there laid a snapshot of a very

attractive girl with her hair blowing softly in the breeze.

I didn't recognize the girl in the picture so I said, "Billy, who

is that pretty girl?"  Billy turned to look at what I was talking about

and that was when I saw something different in his face.   I can't really

explain it but as he fixed his eyes on that picture
his face softened and he became quiet for what seemed like a long time.
He carefully picked up the picture as if he were

afraid it might crumble in his hands.
He continued looking at the picture and then suddenly

remembered that I was there.
Without looking up, he simply said, "That’s Lenore, we were

engaged, she's gone now."
It was then that I understood more about Billy than I ever had before. 

Billy did have somebody once and he loved her so much

that a part of him was still with her.
Maybe Billy was "just an old cowboy" but
I'll never forget the way he looked at his Lenore.

The sweet Lenore hath "gone before,"
with Hope, that flew beside,
Leaving thee wild for the dear child
that should have been thy bride -
(from Edgar Allen Poe's "Lenore)