How Old Is The Girl In The Billy Boy Song The Last Cowboy

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The Last Cowboy

Ka-ching. Ka-ching. Ka-ching. The spurs on cowboy boots – the unmistakable sound. An old sound, dating back to the Roman legions of Julius Caesar and beyond, that evokes feelings of reverence, awe and fear. American cowboy. Long days, wagons and toughness are all words used to describe cowboy life to schoolchildren when they visit pioneer museums on field trips. But just like gunslingers in the Wild West, the traditional cowboy life is now only preserved in movies like Lonesome Dove and history books.

Or is it? Are there any real cowboys left?

My family and I were recently invited to attend the annual cattle show at Steiner Valley Ranch in Whitney, Texas. I’ve always considered myself an outdoorsy guy, so I figured it would be fun to get some photos of kids with dusty old men in big hats. Images of Billy Crystal in “City Slickers” filled my head, but I wasn’t sure what to expect.

We arrived late at night after driving no less than 20 miles off the dirt road. Steiner Valley Ranch, or SVR as it is called, was established in 1849 and seemed to last forever. Our crew of 12 was greeted by Wanda Harris, wife of the ranch manager and purveyor of all things good. Perhaps the kindest woman in Texas, her hospitality, generosity and cooking are legendary in these parts. I heard there was even a song written about her! After settling into our ranch house, Mrs. Harris advised us to get plenty of rest tonight. Jay likes to saddle up at dawn.

As my alarm went off, I was certain there had been a mistake. “No one in their right mind gets up this early!” I thought to myself. As we rubbed the sleep from our eyes and sipped coffee, we wondered what the new day would bring.

Ka-Ching. Ka-Ching. Ka-Ching. Heavy, rhythmic footsteps across the front porch indicated that someone was approaching the door. “Oh my god! It’s him!” I accidentally said out loud as a lump formed in my throat.

For years I have heard stories about this traditional old school cowboy in Whitney, Texas. “Tough as nails.” “Eyes, sharp as a hawk.” There is even a story, as legend has it, when he “stitched his own stitches while leading a cattle drive!” Jay Harris – Ranch Manager at Steiner Valley Ranch… He was at our front door!

Two quick knocks, and then the door opened. Time stood still and no one was breathing as he entered the room. Taking off his hat, Trail Boss took a quick look at his newest ranch hands and said in a gruff voice, “Good morning girls. Let’s go, we’re running late.” I think he smiled, but he wasn’t sure. But what I did know was that he was at least 8 feet tall and now I believed every story I had ever heard about Jay Harris.

As we helped saddle the horses in the pre-dawn moonlight, Jay and a host of other “real” cowboys gathered and discussed the day’s game plan. Hall of Fame Cowboy David Merrill was even there! I never realized that jobs like this still existed and I was in awe of the strong people who called this home. The saddle leather creaked as they mounted and disappeared into the darkness as I secretly wished I was one of them.

We heard them before we saw them. A few hours after sunrise, scattered across the horizon, brave men on horses drove the first group of cattle towards the corral where we waited patiently. A few stragglers in the canyon complicated the ride, but the trail boss sent out a few of his hands to break them off and round them up. The herd was carefully led into the pen where the real work began. Purebred Angus are sprayed with pesticide and cows are separated from calves. They asked me if I wanted to palpate one of the cows to confirm that she was pregnant. I advised that it was much better to leave it to professionals like them and decided that I could leave that task on my “bucket list” for another day. The calves were taken into a large “roping pen” and the Trail Boss held a safety meeting while the SVR branding iron was placed in the fire. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I could tell by the mood that things were going to get exciting!

When a team of experienced cowboys tied up the first calf and threw it to the ground, I realized the enormous effort required to “work cattle”. There are no boys and very few men who have the courage and fortitude to call themselves “cowboys.” These guys were pros in everyone’s books and had obviously been doing it for a long time! Jay Harris linked most of them from his favorite old horse, the Amiga. Adrian Hinojosa was also a talented roper and asset to the operation. Amber Tiwater played the vet and gave all the shots. One by one, each calf received an SVR brand and was vaccinated, marked and castrated. Their mothers protested and waited impatiently in the pasture to be reunited with their calf.

As the dust settled in the late afternoon, Jay decided to wait for the day and invited us over for dinner. A mountain of Steiner Valley Ranch rib eye was served, and every imaginable side dish and dessert was available. I believe it was the best meal ever. I was able to visit Jay and gained a lot of insight into cowboy life. Their work is real, meaningful and important. Their lives are purpose driven, pure and honest. It is by no means a 9-5 job, and there are very few rich cowboys. Janitor, veterinarian, fence builder, welder, carpenter, accountant, plumber and heavy equipment mechanic are just some of the duties required of a cowboy. Day off? Not here. Jay advised going back to work after church in the morning.

The cattle drive lasted 3 full days and we were exhausted. When the last calf received the SVR mark and was released back to pasture, I felt proud to be surrounded by such hardworking people of honor and spirit. Real American cowboys. I learned so much about getting back to basics and the joy of hard work and free living. I’ve found that happiness and fulfillment are directly proportional to the amount of dirt under your fingernails and sweat dripping onto the ground. This land was settled by brave men on horseback like Elgin and Mike Guentert and that legacy lives on today in people like Jay Harris. I treasured the time I spent with Jay and Wanda Harris and the finer Christians I have never met. I solemnly believe that my life is better after meeting them and I can’t wait to go back.

Jay Harris, the last cowboy? Probably not, but certainly one of the best and most respected in Texas. Special thanks to all the cowboys who help keep the spirit alive, including David Merrill, Rob Beasley, Jeff Sanders, Ronnie Doss, William Herd, Joe Hinojos, Agustin Hinojos, Adrian Hinojos, Justin Moore and Bo Wohleb. Hats off to each of you. Job well done, cowboy.

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