I was saddling my young mare for the first time one morning in 1965 when Howard Thornton, a young black boy who lived on our place, came up. He watched as I finished cinching the strap and allowed as how he would like to ride her. I told him he could and as he put his foot in the stirrup he asked if she was gentle. I responded affirmatively but knew darn well I was lying. I had no idea how the roan would react, I only hoped she was gentle. Howard mounted and I handed him the reins and stepped back a couple of steps as the horse started to walk. She took two steps and arched her neck and bucked just enough to throw Howard upward a couple of feet. As his butt was coming down she bucked again as forcefully as she could and met him coming down. Howard was thrown upward and forward over the horse’s head and landed flat on the ground with a ‘Whomp’! He jumped up unhurt, looked at me wide-eyed and said, “Uh Huh, See there! You lied!”
One would think Howard would have learned but he was a good-natured boy and very forgiving when I said I was sorry. It was this forgiving nature that nearly did him in one day when it was time to bring the cattle from the back pasture. We had a crossbred herd of Hereford-Brahmas and they were half wild. You had to handle them just right. I put Howard in the middle of the pasture as a blocker and went to open the south gate, intending to lead the herd to the barn for spraying. The herd bunched up, knowing something was afoot. I opened the gate and drove through before getting up in the back of the pickup with a bucket of range cubes. I saw the entire herd was staring at Howard who was dressed in black and I have to admit who looked like a black bear standing out there alone. I saw instantly I had messed up and yelled to Howard that whatever he did, don’t run. He instantly went on high alert. I could see the whites of his eyes from a hundred yards and I knew he was scared witless.
The lead cow, a brindle with a calf by her side saw the fright on his face and took two steps toward Howard and Howard took two steps back. Two more steps forward, two steps back. It was like a cartoon. “Don’t run or they will take to you. Don’t run. They’ll get you if you do!” I yelled. Three steps forward, three steps back. The brindle cow started a fast walk toward Howard with the herd following and that was that! Howard started backpedaling as fast as he could and the herd took off for him in a full stampede. In spite of my warning, Howard turned and took off across the pasture like an NFL wide receiver with the herd bellowing close behind. The cows seemed to be enjoying chasing this black apparition who was screaming “HELLLPPPP!” He was going so fast and taking such strides I could see the soles of his bare feet as they kicked up over his shoulders and pointed backward. The whole bunch hit the gall berries at the edge of the pasture with the brindle Brahma scant inches from Howard’s back. A cloud of dust enveloped the area and I could hear fence wire stretching and staples popping. “Lord God, have they killed him?” I wondered.
I took off to the spot with the pickup and got out with my shovel, fully intending to bury Howard right there and tell no one what happened. As I stepped through the high bushes at the edge, I saw Howard up a maple tree, wide-eyed and trembling like a leaf and I’ll swear he was so white he looked like a Polar Bear.
Howard watched me like a hawk from that day forward and never trusted me again.