He was a good Dakota rancher with the stubborn Norwegian determination that allowed him to break even in the unforgiving country north of Mobridge.
He raised four children on the ranch. They were his cowboys, farm hands, truck drivers, fence builders and horse breakers. They also learned to cook, sew, can fruit, butcher and do laundry. They were all girls.
I, Baxter Black, have known many farm and ranch families who have had only daughters or the girls were better help than the sons. Most dads handle it well and soon realize a girl can run a hay baler, a squeeze chute or spirited horse as well as a boy. But it’s a different relationship. There’s always his nervous worry that maybe she won’t be able to do it, that his expectations are too high. In the daughter’s case, she actually tries harder and usually becomes better able to prove herself qualified in his eyes.
Anyway, the daughters of our good Dakota rancher grew up and all married men with no cow knowledge or cowboy skills. They’d have even made poor chore boys. But all the girls lived close enough to the home place to be able to come help Dad during the branding, shipping and fall work.
Last October, fate decreed that three of the four girls were unable to attend the gather. The burden fell on Katrina and her dude husband Norville, a merchant and Lewis and Clark reenactor.
“Which horse do you want to ride?” asked Katrina.
“Well, none of ’em, really,” said Norville.
“Then see if you can catch Rocket,” she said.
Thirty minutes later after Rocket had stepped on, bit and exhausted Norville, he was saddled. They rode out and Dad sent them to the northwest corner.
“You take the creek,” Katrina instructed Norville. “I’ll ride the ridge.”
As they finished their circles and met, Norville admitted he had seen two other cows, but they wouldn’t stay with the bunch.
“You go back and get those two, and I’ll push in what we’ve gathered,” she said.
Two long hours passed before Norville straggled in with the delinquent cows. Katrina and her dad waited by the gate and watched Norville’s arrival. He looked like he had been eaten by Babe the Blue Ox and regurgitated. His hat was gone, his nose was bloody, both eyes were the color of prune juice and his right sleeve fluttered in tatters.
“I ran into a tree,” was his only explanation as he rode by, eyes front.
Katrina explained to her dad how she’d sent Norville back for the two cows. He shook his head, “You should know by now,” he said. “Never send a boy to do a woman’s job.” PD