Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

Nobody Chats Like a Cowboy

Posted By on March 9, 2009

Fort Davis. About 2 miles (as the crow flies).
As a kid, I rode every summer up at a most excellent camp in the High Sierras. We cantered, galloped, learned to do an emergency dismount from a gallop, and just generally felt at home on the back of a horse. During my marriage-related 7-year sojourn in England, I thought it might be an idea to take some lessons in dressage (as the wife of an Englishman, I was trying terribly hard to fit in).
It was an idea, but not a real good one. Not that I would ever hold onto it, but where’s the horn on this saddle, guys? And what is the point, exactly, of riding around in a circle with a snotty-looking hat on your head and jumping over shit that it would be just as easy to walk around? Riding is for going somewhere, and doing something.

My wrangler.

My wrangler.

I kept with it for a couple of months, but then I fell off, and landed hard, in the middle of a jump. After that, I shelved the whole thing up there with other bright ideas from that period, like making fettucine in an electric pasta machine (it takes 3 weeks to clean the machine afterwards, and Di Cecco is better). During my three years in southern Spain, my (first) husband and I were suddenly so poor that we never even drove over to Portugal, much less went riding.
My horse.

My horse.

Back in Los Angeles, I had the chance to go to a dude ranch in eastern Oregon, on a fam trip with a bunch of Hollywood location managers. (A fam trip is where movie people get a free vacation in return for remembering the high points of the spot the next time a director says “I need a ranch, pronto!”) My partner on that trip wasn’t an experienced rider, but I wasn’t going to let that slow me down. I signed up with the advanced group, and we got to round up some actual cattle. It was pure heaven. (My partner stayed in the corral on a horse called Sweetheart, who almost gave him a coronary when she broke into a very slow trot. I can still see his petrified face, as he tried to hang on with his knees while holding the reins way up over the top of his head.)
Dutch points out a Texas longhorn

Dutch points out a Texas longhorn

Fast-forward ten years. What the hell happened? I love to ride, and spent a chunk of my childhood at the Hollister Ranch, just north of Santa Barbara. Well, what happened was life, and there’s no point getting all sappy about it. Cowgirls aren’t supposed to cry.
When I discovered the presence of the Prude (dude) Ranch up in Fort Davis, a mere twenty miles away from my Marfa bungalow, I signed right up. The first time I went up, I somehow managed to turn south on 118 instead of north, and missed my ride. This was actually a good thing, because I would have been tagging along with a bunch of plodders. So, I rescheduled.
“It’ll just be you and the wrangler,” said the nice woman at the desk. “And why don’t I put you down for a ‘challenge’ ride?” Yeee-haw!
And he runs....

And he runs.

On Saturday, I arrived bright and early and met my wrangler, “Dutch.” He offered me a little rubber two-step-thangy to get up onto Blue Moon, the gray gelding who was to be my partner for the next two hours. I curled my lip at Dutch (in a nice, friendly way), spurned his rubber steps, gave Blue Moon some love n’ respect, and mounted up. All in about 30 seconds.
“Ah don’ know about this ‘challenge,’” was the first thing he said. “Ah got to think of the horses, y’know.” I looked at the dangerously rocky terrain, demurred, and allowed as I’d be happy with just any ol’ thing. So we set off, heading up and downhill, over dry washes, across ravines, past an old dam that looked like it hadn’t seen water since the fall of the Alamo, and eventually, up to a majestic plateau. Dutch had quite a lot to say. (Of course, I spend my life asking leading questions, so he wasn’t the least bit out of line.)
Me and Dutch, right at home on the range

Me and Dutch, right at home on the range

Dutch is his nickname, of course, but he got it handed down to him in kind of an interesting way. The great-great grandfather of Adrian Dutchover (my wrangler’s full name) was a Belgian guy who happened to witness a murder on the Belgian coast near Antwerp in 1842. He was then kidnapped by the murderers, drugged, thrown onto an outward-bound ship, and held for four years. When he escaped–or maybe was released–in Galveston Texas, he had the questionable luck to be forcibly conscripted into the U.S. Army. Since he spoke no English, the recruiter christened him “Dutch all over,” and he served with honor in the Spanish-American war as Diedrich Dutchallover. When the war ended (by now he had learned English), Diedrich shortened his name to Dutchover. After a colorful stint as one of only two guns on the first San Antonio-El Paso mail run in 1850, Dutchover became the first white settler in La Limpia, now known as Fort Davis. He raised sheep and made his own wine, and at one point had to remove an Apache arrow from his back.
Dutch's great-great grandfather's name, on the Pioneer Cemetary sign

Dutch's great-great grandfather's name, three lines down on the right

He also fathered the man that fathered the man that fathered my wrangler Adrian Dutchover. After a very full frontier life, he and Mrs Dutchover were buried in the little Pioneer Cemetary in Fort Davis, which was dedicated in 1966 by Lady Bird Johnson. (Mrs Dutchover perished four years after Diedrich, in a buggy accident on the rocky terrain.)
So, Dutch is fourth-generation Fort Davis, quite a history and not particularly common in Texas (see: the Bush family). He’s currently a senior at Sul Ross University in Alpine, studying history, while working on the side as a wrangler at Prude Ranch.
“Not surprising you’d choose history, with a background like that,” I piped up. “What do you plan to do when you graduate?”
“Coach football,” he says. Hmmmm. My romantic vision is a tad dashed. But teaching history is a good sideline for a football coach, and I can’t imagine this award-winning competition roper ever getting too far away from his deep roots among the cattle, horses, sheep, and dust that run strong in his blood.


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