A short piece written for National Cowboy Day.
Dallas Kincaid watched with satisfaction as he saw the steers being rounded up for the cattle drive. He watched as his hands herded them into the pens, roping the calves and occasionally an uncooperative steer, wrestling them to the ground and once released seeing them trot back into the herd.
He kept an eye out for one particular young cowhand whom he had taken under his wing. He smiled as the youngster herded a stubborn cow away from the brush and back to the herd. The young man had a tendency to be a bit reckless at times and he didn’t want to see him hurt. His hands were well experienced at gathering up the cattle and once they were all penned up and the remuda selected he felt a great sense of satisfaction.
The next morning Cookie showed up with the chuck wagon. Dallas hired the same man each year and the jovial cook grinned at him as he observed the activity. He had seen the boss watching one new young trail hand and he grinned. “A new one hmm?”
Dallas grinned back. “Yep and one that bears watchin’.”
The old cook gave his boss a knowing look. “Ya interested in that one hmm?”
Dallas felt a slight flush rise to his cheeks and growled. “Maybe, he’s a bit reckless and I don’t want to see him hurt.”
Cookie grinned and winked and tended to getting his chuck wagon in order for the drive.
Dallas watched as the men prepared the herd and rode up to Jalen Brooks and said, “Kid, keep an eye on the cattle, ride slow and you’ll be riding drag, like the new hands should.”
Jalen scowled. “Why do I gotta ride in back. It ain’t fair!”
Dallas raised an eyebrow. “Because I’m the boss and I say so and its tradition, has nothin’ to do with bein’ fair.”
The youngster frowned, but gave his boss a mock salute touching the brim of his hat and rode off to the back of the herd as he had been told, but his posture and facial expression had told Dallas what he thought of things.
The lead cow started off after Cookie had taken off with the chuck wagon. He always went first so he could set up by the time they were ready to stop for the noon meal and the one at the end of the day. Tomorrow morning he would also prepare breakfast for everyone before taking off once again to meet them for the midday meal.
By noon Jalen was in poor spirits. He had been hot and dusty. Riding drag was the worst position because all the dust and dirt kicked up by the cattle drifted back there. He had urged the stragglers and made sure the cattle stayed together as he should, but he wasn’t happy about it. By the time they stopped for lunch he definitely was out of sorts.
Dallas had worked as hard as his men keeping the herd together, even though he rode point. By the time they stopped Cookie had a hot meal for them and Dallas sat on the tail gate of the wagon as he ate.
Jalen, scowling went up to him. “I wanna talk ta ya boss!”
Dallas looked up at the young man quirking an eyebrow at his tone and form of address. “I suggest you rephrase that request Jalen.” He said mildly.
The youth grit his teeth. “Can I talk ta ya boss?” He asked.
“That’s better.” Dallas rose and said, “Let’s walk down by the creek over there for a bit and we can talk. We can’t be long though, we’ll have to get movin’ soon if we want to make good time by nightfall and find good water again.” Dallas had done this drive many times and knew where the good water was for the cattle as well as grazing, but delays could make them fall short of their destination, making them arrive after dark, which could be dangerous.
The two men walked down to the creek and once there, Dallas turned to Jalen. “Now, what is it kid?”
“I ain’t gonna ride drag no more.” He told his boss huffily.
The man raised an eyebrow. “You’ll do as I say as I’m the trail boss and if you don’t want to you can turn around right now and go back to the ranch.” He said calmly.
“No! Ya can’t send me back!” The teen protested.
Dallas said, “I can and will…and if you push me I’ll need to show you I mean what I say.”
Jalen pouted. “Ya can’t do that way out here.” He told Dallas.
The older man smiled. “Oh, I can and I will.”
Jalen gave him an incredulous look. “But…”
His mentor said, “Yes?”
Jalen turned to stomp off.
Dallas caught up to the youth and turned him and landed several hard swats to his seat. “Now you can drop the attitude or I can make it very hard to sit your saddle as well as ridin’ at the back of the herd.”
Jalen danced at the hard swats and bit back yelps as his backside was stung.
“Yes Sir.” He replied respectfully.
The older man nodded. “Very good. Now, let’s get back and no more complainin’. If I hear any more you’ll be doin’ another kind of complainin’ understand?”
The eighteen-year old dropped his head and sighed. “Yes Sir Mr. Dallas.”
Dallas drew the youth into a hard hug. “Good, now let’s get these cows on the move.”
Jalen snuggled into the hug and his green eyes smiled at the man who he had come to love and respect. “Yes Sir, no more complainin’ and I’ll do my job to the best of my ability…please don’t send me back ta the ranch.”
Dallas smiled. “All right, I won’t, but remember what I said, I can make you complain a whole lot more about bein’ too sore to sit your saddle, but sit it you will, am I clear?”
The younger man nodded. “Yes Sir, as clear as a crystal stream.”
The trail boss smiled and giving the young man, a final hug walked back to the others to get moving once again. He was happy the boy hadn’t pushed him harder. He really didn’t like to have to discipline him, but was satisfied that the several swats he had given him had changed his attitude and pulled him back into line. He liked Jalen and recognized that the young man had captured his heart and he would do whatever he needed to keep him safe.
Once the herd was moving again Jalen grimaced as his bottom still stung a bit, but smiled as well as he realized that Dallas Kincaid really did care about him, having an adult man care about him in a way he hadn’t known before and needed in his life.