The Spirit of Dogie Long is the story of an infant boy who is found by cowboys on a cattle drive from New Mexico to California in the 1870s. During his first 12 years, the crew teaches the boy how to handle himself among cattle, horses and cowboys the Cowboy Way, with honesty, compassion, and integrity. His horses, in effect, teach him the same values.
Excerpt from Chapter One, “THE SPIRIT OF DOGIE LONG”” by JPS Brown
Dogie is all I’ve ever been called. A cowboy is all I’ve ever been. I’m probably about 12 years old. I don’t know much else about myself. The little bit I do know has been told to me by my partners the cowpunchers who found me when I was a baby in the back of a wagon right after a big rainstorm.
I always ask the same questions of the cowboys who were there when I was found and they always give me pretty much the same answers. I ask how they thought to look in a wagon for a kid and they say because they heard me squall and my squall was the worst they’d ever heard. I ask how come I was there and they guess I was just put in that wagon so I could roll around in it until it stopped. I ask who left me there and they imagine that only the Boss knows, because they sure don’t. I ask them was it my folks who rolled me up there and left me and they don’t think so because as long as they’ve known me nobody ever came looking for me. If I had folks, they sure would come to get me, if they could. I ask them why I’m called Dogie Long or any name at all if I don’t have folks. They usually answer that a dogie is an orphaned calf, so that’s the only name that really fits me. I’ve been a dogie for as long as I or anybody can remember, so Long fits me, too. That’s always left me satisfied with who I am. Dogie is pronounced doegie, like a little doe, not doggie, like a little dog.
I say that all I’ve ever been is a cowboy. Well, I’m all cowboy, but I’ve only worked at it since I was three and there’s a lot I still don’t know about it and a lot I still can’t do. I’m a good horse wrangler. A wrangler lives with the remuda on a cattle drive. I’ve spent my whole life driving cattle from the ranges where they are born to the markets where they are sold.
Remuda is a Spanish word that means, more or less, horses at rest. The Mexican vaqueros gave us that name for the band of saddle horses that is not being used for the day‘s work, the reserves that have been given the day off. Cowboys need to rest their saddle horses often because horses get tired when they work cows. A wrangler’s job is to see that the remuda rests, has grass to eat, and water to drink. The wrangler stays with the remuda as it moves and grazes along with the herd.
Often, when I’ve been alone with the remuda, I’ve wondered how I came to be right at that place at that minute. Time would stop for me and I’d wonder what I was doing on the mother earth at that certain place and time. I wondered how was I put here and where I’ll go from here. It bothered me that I didn’t know where I came from before my partners found me.
My partners tell me that my folks must have cared about me a lot, because I was clean, healthy, and wrapped in a warm blanket when I was found. I could not have been more than a week old. They say that my folks must not have intended to leave me alone for long, because the team of horses they used to pull the wagon I was in was still harnessed and tied to a tree close by. My puppy lay under the wagon. He jumped up and barked when cowboy Billy Bee heard me bawl and lifted me out of the wagon and onto his horse with him.
I was found near a deep, wide arroyo, or wash. Arroyo is a Spanish word we get from the Mexican cowboys. Billy Bee and his partner Darrell Jarvis were at work on a cattle drive for the Adams, Brown and Cunningham Cattle Company. Their job that day was to scout ahead of the herd and find the best place to cross that arroyo, because it flooded from bank to bank after the storm. Most of the time that arroyo was the kind of wash that stayed dry, but that day it ran deep with fast water from a heavy rain that had drenched that whole country for several hours. Cowboy Darrell Jarvis, who was with Billy Bee, searched for tracks around the wagon to find out what happened to my folks, but the heavy rain had washed away every sign of them, except the clothes they left in the wagon.
Billy Bee carried me and Darrel carried my puppy back to their outfit’s camp. An outfit is what a cowboy calls the company he works for. Cap, our old cook, has kept me in his camp and fed and watered me ever since. Cap says that my folks could not have been gone for long before I was found, because I wasn’t hungry when Billy Bee brought me to camp. None of the cowboys ever believed that my folks went off and left me on purpose. Everybody is sure that something drastic happened to separate me from my mother and father.
The water ran fast and deep everywhere along that arroyo at the time I was found. The herd had to wait all the rest of the day for the flood to calm down and it milled around on my folks’ campground and wiped out any sign of them that might have remained after the rain.
The campground is the place where the cook builds his fire and feeds his cowboy crew. When Billy Bee and Darrel reached camp with me is when I guess I became a cowboy. Every cowboy on that crew was happy that I’d been found before I got too hungry and thirsty, and before some old wolf or lion found me and ate me. From that day on, I was a privileged character with those cowboys. Being a privileged character has gone right on for 12 years and very few people ever treated me any different. Maybe that’s because I’m the Dogie and dogies always get the best treatment, and maybe it’s because a cowboy crew is a family and in any family the youngest ones get the best treatment because they need it the most. Then, maybe it’s because nobody ever found out what happened to my folks. Most of the cowboys were youngsters and had been separated from their folks, too, by one thing or another, but they looked after each other and didn’t worry about it much anymore.