A Cowboy’s Primer
“The buckaroo believes mustang blood is necessary in stock that is to thrive in Nevada.”
J.P.S. Brown’s second novel about cattle ranching and cowboy life today follows the lives of a crew as it gathers thousands of wild cattle on a million unfenced acres of a Nevada ranch. The cow boss, Porter, is worn and wise from 76 years with horses and cattle, but his experience and patience are invaluable. The Paiute Indian cowboy Wilson, is too savage to conform to the ways of the city people who run the ranch from a fancy front office in another state. The main character, Sorrells, holds the crew of wild, independent cowboys together, even though he is as lawless and as reckless as they are.
For all their wildness and rough talk, the cowboys are fine husbandmen who handle big, fast, crafty animals that have strong personalities and wills of their own. The cowboys are devoted to the hard work that is needed to bring wild animals to market, but they also know how to play hard on the rare occasions they go to town.
The life is rough, wild and dangerous and goes on so far away from the mainstream of American life that the author calls it, “a country where the sun sets between us and town.”
The Outfit is owned by an actor whose son runs it from an office on “The Boulevard of Dreams” in Hollywood as a tax write-off. However, the cowboys are paid little for their work. As Sorrells says, “We’d be fools to do it for money. We do it because we were born to it and we’re better at it than anyone else in the world.”
Brown’s sub-title for this novel, A Cowboy’s Primer, is an accurate description of the book. He writes in a crisp, clean, style that fits the Spartan nature of the cowboy’s life and environment…This is an accurate, unadorned portrait of the modern cowboy’s life…this novel is tops. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
-Marc Newman for Library Journal March 15, 1971.
Excerpt from Chapter One, “THE OUTFIT, A COWBOY’S PRIMER”” by JPS Brown
In the time of our great-grandfathers, an outfit was a group of men who packed the gear to husband a herd of cattle to market. An outfit made cattle livestock. An outfit rode into a county horseback, set a price on cattle, either bought the cattle or contracted to drive them to market, defended the stock on the trail, gave it value when it arrived where people could buy it, and sold it for its certain value. Later, the ranches became known as outfits. A ranch is an outfit because it is equipped to husband the bovine from birth to market. A cowboy’s gear became known as an outfit and is its smallest entity. In some countries a man-child might be called a “little outfit” by his father, who was also born to an outfit. He is an outfit too because he was born with all the equipment and potential for the husbandry of cattle. He is born a cowboy and it is an irrefutable fact that cowboys are born and not made.
Bert Sorrells had never stopped to look at this part of Nevada before, although he had been through it many times. This was a part of the state everybody crossed as fast as they could. When he turned off the highway onto the dirt road that led to the headquarters of the ranch called the Famous Outfit, he stopped the old car he called Carlota and got out to stretch and look around.
The only manufactured lines in the country were the pavement stretching north and south and a telephone line crossing east and west. Sorrells saw a flat, dry country covered with short brush and joshua trees. He saw blue mountains high and sounding every side of it. The sky was open. The country had stillness until someone hurried a machine along the highway making a muted rush through the heavy thermal air. Sorrells sighed. He saw no fences. He saw no cattle, but he saw cow chips drying to dust. He climbed back onto Carlotta’s torn cushions and started her up and went on through the fine dust.
The road headed straight toward mountains in the west and made long dips over ground Sorrells had not been able to see from the highway. He began to see cattle. He saw mother cows with unbranded calves. The cattle were in good shape. He stopped Carlotta again and studied the ground. The feed was shad scale, heavy with maturing seed; white and black sage; and a seldom spot of coarse grass, green at the stem and dry on top. This was August and when Sorrells kicked the ground no moisture showed. These were not cattle a man would have to wait on or fetch and carry for. These made their own living.
The road turned north into the mountains. At the summit of these mountains, on a high windy pass covered with tall sage and piñon, the road ended at the man-made improvements known as Headquarters of the Famous Outfit, Ethel, Nevada.
Sorrells drove by an acre of corrals made of eight-inch steel posts filled with concrete and painted with aluminum paint; an iron and tin aluminum painted barn and saddle house; a white, board bunkhouse. He saw tractors, trucks, pickups, jeeps. He saw heavy equipment with its paint worn off from use, blades worn and shiny, bodies greasy, dusty. All were parked beside an open shed four times larger than the barn. In the shed he saw black portable welders, torches, compressors, hoists, jack, steel plates and slabs, and cupboards he imagined were full of fittings, nuts, bolts, spark plugs, springs, shocks.
No men were about. The day was Sunday. All the conglomerate of steel and chipped paint and grease had reverted to its normal lameness as it stood in the attitude in which it had been abandoned on Saturday. It probably would assume useful form on Monday when it would be fired up again and moved toward more improvements over the country. Sorrells saw no flesh and blood of horses or cattle at headquarters that day.
He drove to a square, cinder block house surrounded by a chain link fence. In front of this house an Arizona licensed car was parked. Sorrells recognized the car and stopped Carlotta beside it. He got out. The only shade tree at had been fenced outside the chain link fence of the cinder blockhouse. He wondered how this place could ever be home for anyone. It evidently had once been a community. Streets were still plainly marked by old false fronts of buildings that were now broken, baked boards filled with bent, rusty nails. The new improvements the Outfit had made of steel, aluminum paint, and cinder block might stay much longer than the wooden community had, but they made headquarters of the Outfit look like a prison stockade.