Unexpected Role Models

By Chris McClure, Contributing Editor

There seems to always be a kid whom other kids pick on. It might be that they’re a little bit different, or maybe there’s something in the family history that has set them apart from everyone else.

For small town rural America, it’s something that couldn’t be escaped in the years when I was growing up. No, I wasn’t “that kid,” although I didn’t really fit with the “in” crowd.

One comes to mind, however, when I start thinking of the colorful characters of my hometown on the southern edge of the Texas Panhandle. It’s not so much that I was thinking of “that kid” who grew up to be a reasonable, successful individual, but I was remembering an old man who lived just outside of town. He was only one generation removed from some of the earliest ranchers in the area.

My neighborhood was right on the edge of town. It seems strange to talk about my neighborhood, because in spite of having grown up in town, I always thought of myself as a country kid. Maybe it’s because that’s where my heart was – out on the farm, checking cows with my granddad.

Anyway, my parents used to play bridge with some of my friends’ parents. They would often play into the wee hours of the night, and all of us kids would be out long after dark, playing hide-and-seek or something. We also used to hide in the cotton field that bordered our edge of town and use it as a base to chuck dirt clods at the house of the kid I mentioned previously. Yeah, I know we shouldn’t have done it, but back then I was a bit of a follower and kind of drifted into it with the other kids in the neighborhood.

That cotton field belonged to that old man. In my early years, he was known to occasionally shoot at the spray planes as they applied pesticides to some of the neighboring fields. It was because he had a number of high-dollar Quarter Horses, and he claimed the planes were disturbing his horses. He also would occasionally shoot off his rifle when he saw kids (I wonder who?) in his cotton field. I’m quite certain, today, that he didn’t actually shoot toward us, but at the time, we thought he did. We all had a healthy fear of him.

That old man always intrigued me. I wanted to get to know him, but was afraid of him. In some ways he was living history. By that time, he was mostly retired, and his son had taken over his ranching operations, which were among the largest in the county.

As I grew older, I learned that, back in the 1950s, the old man used to have a rodeo at his place nearly every Saturday. He had some of the best roping and ranch horses in Texas, too. His son has also passed on, but his grandson still operates a couple of fairly large ranches.

The grandson stocked one of those ranches with horned Hereford cattle that came off the Walter Graham ranch southwest of Amarillo. The Graham ranch is still in operation, but a bit smaller than it once was.

Walter Graham used to own a couple of sections of land just northwest of my granddad’s place. It was known as his “bull pasture.” During the off season, it would be home to a large number of Domino-bred Hereford bulls.

My granddad ran a herd of registered Black Angus cows at the time. Sometime in the late 1960s he “banged out” and had to liquidate his herd. He restocked with commercial Angus cows and bought bulls from Walter Graham to run with them. He was turning out top-notch black-baldy calves and getting top dollar for them before they became popular. His freezer was usually full of some of the best beef you could lay your hands on back then.

I guess all of this is to say that my roots in the cattle industry are firmly planted, and I had some interesting and innovative role models from the very start. I hope and pray that I can help one or more of our grandkids get a start in the industry. I am gratified every time one of them shows interest. I see it as a responsibility to help them. I hope everyone in the industry has that same sense of responsibility.