While visiting Willits for Thanksgiving, on Black Friday I dropped into its elegant feed store/pet store/tack shop/ranchwear and coffee shop, J.D. Redhouse & Co., in the middle of town on the highway. I was looking for something in catnip for a friend and eyeing a Woolrich Alaska Shirt at a 40% discount for myself. But I settled for a cup of their excellent coffee. I noticed a fine Border collie sitting calmly under a coffee table, praised her to her master and we started telling dog stories. These stories eventually led to the subject of Covelo, which usually brings a frisson to the hearts of those in Mendocino clustered about its principle highways. But the collie owner announced that his son had a little ranch over there and was partners in a herd of several hundred cows. The father was proud and relieved that his son, around 30 and married to a Covelo girl whose mother I once knew, had found the cowboy way.
There are a number of serious cowboys and cowgirls in Covelo and Round Valley is a good place for stock. One of the first things you notice about the place is that horses seem happier there and the cowboys and Indians drink together at the Buckhorn. Twenty years ago during a period of some federal obstruction of the natural order of stock raising, one night at the Buckhorn a native cowboy raised his voice to the throng and announced that there ought to be a reservation for both Indians and cowboys. No one objected, not even the Indian owner of the bar.
The proud father gave examples of some cowboy skills his son had learned. They were riding one morning up to a roundup in the hills when they saw bear tracks. The son remarked they looked about a “half hour old.” His father, an LA surfer in his youth, was skeptical. “How did you figure that out?” he asked.
“Well, you see the bear’s track is on top of the hoof mark of one of the two horses that I know started out 45 minutes before we did.”
This seemed to surprise the father. It was as if he had not recognized that his son was capable of such a feat of common sense. On top of that, they were evidently learned in Covelo.
Next he told a story about cowboy mechanics, involving the broken or severely wounded axle of a vehicle that was patched up adequately for it to be driven back to civilization or at least Covelo. He said that what had amazed him was the not one of the cowboys in the four pickups traveling together had a tool set but that by mixing bits of equipment and tools from all four truck beds they managed to splint the axle sufficiently to get the vehicle back to town. For a man who had spent years in the construction business, where people have toolboxes, wrench sets, screw driver sets, power tools and generators and such in their pickups, it was an incredible event.
I remarked how I had once sought and found help from a Covelo cowboy in a matter involving defending myself in what seemed likely to be a fight at some point in the near future. My friend, a retired bullrider and local cowboy, told me that he “always tried to git ‘em down, git behind ‘em, git your teeth in their ear and your finger in their eye.”
“Works for me,” he added.
Fortunately, I never had to see if it would work for me.
Later, walking around the streets of Willits observing middle-aged tourists shopping in stores offering hippie attire and artifacts, it occurred to me that cowboys were here before either hippies or yuppies and will likely outlast both. At least compared with most contemporary life styles the working cowboy way seems plain and durable, built for survival. It has a capacity to transcend generations. It remains to be seen if organic gardening will take root in the next generation. Even dope growing is a plaything of politics. In Covelo at least, cowboys will outlast everyone but Indians. In Covelo, June Marie’s clothing store doesn’t offer many shirts with buttons. It’s mostly snaps — horse-blanket warm flannel for winter, poly for summer. Year in, year out.
Cowboys are forever, at least in Covelo. ¥¥