Written by Jill Tamburelli. One in a collection by Allen Bachoroski, Local Historical Writer and author of “Tales Along the Highway of Legends”
Cowboy art takes me back to a time that I often wish I could be in just to experience the adventure and challenge that the cowboys must have when they first brought cattle to the Colorado Territory. “Cowboy Art” helps to make the days of yesteryear more vivid to us modern folk. It brings to mind a person who keeps the old-time feeling of the cowboy alive in me. His name is Lester D. Smith, as he likes to be known: Less,as all of his friends call him.
To know him is to know an old-time cowboy. He makes sure of that. When he dresses for working with the cattle, he always dawns his day by putting on his levis and western shirt and his hat and boots. He never forgets his chaps and wrist cuffs. They protect him from the brush and trees along the trail. There are not many cowboys these days that even know what wrist cuffs are, but my dad still uses them. “It’s part of being an old-time cowboy,” he says. (personal conversation)
His leather vest and chaps are of his own making. He wants to make sure that they are authentic and like the cowboys of yesteryear. His leather cuffs are one of the very fist things he bought with his own hard earned money when he was fourteen years old. He made his own tack for his horse in those days and still braids bridles at 74.
When Less talks about cattle or has advice for younger cowboys, they listen because they consider him a “heck of a hand”, and his advice is well worth taking. Often times he sits with his guitar in hand singing songs that the yesteryear cowboy sang around a campfire while bedded down at night with his cattle along the Chisolm Trail.
Everyone likes to hear the old-time stories that he tells about his younger days as a cowboy working cattle in the prairie and in the Colorado mountains. Although his work as a cowboy spans the years from 1929 to the present, he always tries to keep up the image of the old-time cowboy alive. One of his favorite old-time sayings is, “Eat bacon and beans most everyday I’d rather be eatin prairie hay.”
He told the following story that took place around the time when the first highway was put through Southern Colorado between Walsenburg and Aguilar.
I started out one morning to round some horses up in my brand new Stetson and my white shirt, along with all the attire that’s needed for rounding up a bunch of horses. The state built fences on both sides of the arroyo that went under the highway and strung a single barbed wire across the gap between the fences.
When I went to get the horses I forgot all about the barb wire. The horses headed for that gap. If they would have gotten through there I would have had to ride about ten miles more to round em up again and so I was ridin’ fast, tryin’ to get in the lead. Me and my horse Tarzan was travelin’ so fast it seemed like we were going a hundred miles per hour. We were going so fast that we went right under that bridge. I forgot about the barbed wire even though I knew it was there. But I tryin’ to stop them horses. Somethin’ told me to duck just as I got to the wire and as I leaned over, the barbs caught my hat. The hat saved me from getting may head sawed by the barbs. They cut slices in my hat instead. I wasn’t worried about the hat though. I was worried about my ear being cut off. Luckily it wasn’t, but the barbs did cut it enough to make it bleed like a “stuck hog”. When I left home that morning I forgot to put my bandanna around my neck so I didn’t have anything to stop the bleedin’. So by the time I got to the pond and got the horses settled, the sleeve of my right arm was completely red with blood. I got off Tarzan and reached down into the muddy pond and got a handful of mud and plastered it on my ear to stop the bleedin’.
When I was young it wasn’t like it is today. When we got old enough we was turned loose and we had to learn everything the hard way. I had to do everything myself. But it was a good experience. I really made use of the sayin’, “live and learn”.
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