It was a beautiful summer morning as Pat and I, plus 10 other riders, left headquarters to gather the herd for branding. The sun was cresting the horizon, and the lead horses were kicking up a little dust that turned golden in the waking light. There was the usual banter back and forth between neighbors over whose horse was the worst behaved that morning. One rider even pulled away from the crew and spun his horse in a circle a couple of times to show him who was boss. Meanwhile, our resident ranch dog, Odie, the blue heeler, was peddling right beside Pat’s horse, anxious to go to work.  

The ranch road we were following had washed out over the years going down into a wide ravine. There were three sets of tracks in and out of the ravine, created while trying to avoid high centering the feed truck in the deepening ruts. As we trotted up to the gulley, our horses suddenly got humpy and two started jumping sideways. One rider began frantically hauling on the reins trying to get his horse’s head up. Another cowboy grabbed for the saddle horn as his trusty steed hunkered, spun a hundred-eighty degrees with all four feet off the ground and launched for headquarters. Cowboys and horses were scattering like quail and nobody knew why.

Then someone spotted the snake.

After some consternation, cussing and cajoling, all the horses with riders mostly attached were nervously gathered some distance from the source of the trouble. Pat handed his reins to the nearest neighbor and unlashed his lariat from the saddle. Snugging the loop into a hard knot half the size of a man’s hand, Pat cautiously approached the snake. The rattlesnake decided this looked like trouble, so he began rapidly slithering down one of the tire ruts toward the bottom of the gulch.  

With the snake concentrating on getting away, Pat quickly edged up behind the reptile and popped him on the head with the knot of the lariat. That slowed the rattlesnake down so Pat could dispatch him with a few more whacks of the knot. Nudging the snake with his boot, Pat was satisfied the critter was dead. So, he grabbed the snake by the rattles and flung him toward the fenceline away from our path of travel.

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Tying his string back on the saddle, Pat climb aboard his horse, and we gingerly eased our nervous steeds toward the ravine. That’s when Odie grabbed the snake by the tail, trotted toward us and began swinging the dead reptile in circles! The rodeo started all over again in earnest. 

Best I can remember in the heat of battle, Pat was yelling, “Odie, no! Odie, no!” while Odie swung the snake in an ever-widening arc. The rest of us were just trying to keep one leg on each side of our horses and get away from Odie and the snake. The problem was that neither horses nor riders were sure which direction qualified as “away.” I can tell you there were plenty of wall-eyed looks – and that was just the riders.

Eventually, Pat convinced Odie to drop the snake, and we cautiously moved into the gully. Odie was so proud of himself he couldn’t understand why everyone was upset with him. You could just see the cartoon question mark above that dog’s head with the caption, “What’s wrong? Didn’t I do good killing that snake?”  end mark

James Beckham