By: Tyler Jacobs
You’re not supposed to write about funerals in a blog post. However, it was last month that we buried my uncle “Bo” and the brief eulogy, familiar faces, and the lack of a cell phone distracting me offered some true revelation and clarity regarding my ever-present attraction, even love, for all things western and wild. Cattle, cowboying, hunting, fishing, neighboring, and even life in a Texas deer camp, all came from initial experiences shared with me by “Bo.”
Being raised in East Texas, my grandparents ranched along several miles of the San Jacinto River bottoms, and the upland mixed timber where we wintered the cows. My first substantial memory of Bo (and always accompanied by my aunt Holly), was that of being invited along with my cousins to bring our horses and camp along the river for two weeks during the early part of summer. I was seven or eight years old. Campfires, tarpaulins stretched between cattle trailers, horses tied everywhere, numerous cousins and friends, all color my memories, regardless of how accurate they are.
The most vivid memory was baiting droplines in the river. I can see us crisscrossing the river and sandbars, working our way upstream to check each of them. Bo walks to within eyesight of each dropline tied to a limb and can instantly decipher what may or may not be on the hook. All the kids stood in awe when Bo tells us to hold the small stringer of channel cats, and he takes his shirt off, knowing there’s something big on the line. Slowly approaching the dropline, he suddenly disappears below the water line as his feet fail to find footing below him. After an eternally long time (for a 7-year-old to watch), Bo re-emerges with a 25-pound blue catfish above his head, gripping it only through its gills with one hand. Best catfish I have ever had, filleted, fried and finished by all of us kids in one night. That was the wildest thing I had ever seen.
I think I was twelve and was asked to come help pen cattle, and at that time we were running Simmental bulls on our Brahman-cross cows. Those bulls did not like the summer heat, and sure did not appreciate getting bothered with kerr dogs. We had most of the cows and calves penned, and went back to grab everything that had slipped off into the timber and brush in the river bottom. The ranch shared a three or four acre natural lake near the southern boundary, and the long-haired Simmental bull decided to find relief from both the heat and the kerr dogs by wading into the water.
Bo and I, and two or three others, sat horseback on the bank to devise a plan, dogs barking as the bull swam away from us, not knowing there were always two or three alligators on the far bank. It did not take long for the alligators to awake from their slumber among all the commotion to notice that stubborn bull swimming right towards them. Bo said, “Well, this will be worth watching,” and soon thereafter a 2,000-pound bull met three alligators nose-to-nose. The immediate and direct reversal of the bull resulted in the alligators on his tail, and shortly thereafter on dry land surrounded by cow dogs. Bo remarked, “Never expected those ‘gaters to be the best cow dogs we ever had!” That was the wildest thing I had ever seen.
A few years later, we were penning cows and had some friends there helping us, one of which was “Bubba.” I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but we were casually riding without dogs among the palmettos and oak trees, when Bo hollered “Pig, pig! Somebody rope it!” Bubba was riding a three-year-old colt, but as the pig crossed his line of sight, he could not resist the urge to shake out a loop. Bubba roped that pig, but a dead, standing tree quickly came between his horse and the pig on the end of the rope, immediately reversing the pig’s trajectory towards Bubba’s three-year-old colt. Bubba was tied on hard and fast, the colt thoroughly rejected the idea of the pig being under his legs, and the entire event was anchored to a dead tree. That was the wildest thing I had ever seen.
There are so many stories, many of which were shared by eulogy or fellowship afterwards – of elk hunting in New Mexico, the numerous accounts of helping neighbors when they were in a tragic bind, calving heifers, building deer camps, training mules, and endless other accounts. It is strange that it took a funeral for a man in his mid-40s (myself) to identify the primary genesis of my love of all things western and wild. You know what they say, “funerals are for the living!”