Ranchers’, cowboys’ wives life not as idyllic as most believe

By Glenda Price

Life as a rancher or cowboy’s wife is idyllic, “they” say. I, personally, would like to know who “they” are, and whether they ever have stumbled along in those wifely boots.

The romantic stories show and tell about the husband and wife working as a compatible team: helping a heifer birth her baby, giving a dogie lamb a bottle of colostrum, shoeing a horse, driving the feed wagon in the winter, and a multitude of other duties — as equal partners.

I remember my mother running the vaccine gun along with whatever else needed doing during branding. Then the cowboys, neighbors and whoever else had showed up during the work went to the house, washed up and hung out waiting for supper.

Not my mom. She washed up and still had to get supper on the table. Luckily, she was organized and had put a beef roast and vegetables in the oven early, so she was able to get everybody fed fairly quickly.

Did my dad help? No. Did any cowboys offer assistance after they ate their fill? Nope. They all patted their full bellies, bragged on Mom’s cooking and went outside to … rest up a bit.

My husband was a typical cowboy in that regard. One time after I’d been ill a couple of weeks I said to him, “This house is a wreck. I just can’t get feeling good enough to tend to it all.” That was his cue to say he’d help me out.

Here’s what happened. He flashed his magnanimous smile and said, “Hon, you know that mess doesn’t bother me.”

Another part of the “idyllic” working relationship bothers me as well. The wife’s job includes chores like opening and closing the gates or riding the dusty drag when they’re moving a herd of cattle. Drag, the laggards, is where the baby calves end up who are bawling for their mother and who are tired and would rather lie down. So the drag rider has to encourage the babies to move along or, as a last resort, load them in front of her in the saddle.

So she’s got this baby calf on the horse with her and some smart britches old cow decides to quit the herd and go back where she “come from.” Wife must decide whether she can hold the baby on while they retrieve that cow or pretend she doesn’t see the cow leaving. She chooses the second option.

Along about then is where the screaming starts between the wife and the cowboy – the idyllic couple.

It begins with, “You let that old cow get away. And anyway, why you carrying that calf? He can probably walk.”

It then escalates into, “Whatta you care if the baby calf dies? I don’t think you’re much of a cowman, after all.”

That, folks, really rips it. This happened with a couple I know who, for my protection, must remain anonymous.

She, disgusted, said, “I’m going to the house and then to town … forever,” and galloped away.

As he took off after her another cowboy asked, “Why don’t you just let her go?”

The answer: “She’s wearing my spurs.”

Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at glendaprice00@comcast.net.