/By Lauretta J Stevens
COWBOYS, BRONCS and RATTLESNAKES
Richard Levi Towns was a twentieth century cowboy who knew the joys of spring, the heat and dust of summer, the thrill of harvest and the rigours of a prairie winter.
Born to be in the saddle and six decades of riding with the spirt of Mother Nature, provided Dick with many experiences.
His legacy is his story as told to the author by him with his own brand of subtle cowboy humor.
“Cowboys, Broncs and Rattlesnakes” weaves humorous true stories of one cowboy’s life into a tapestry of western Canadian history. From the first wild buggy race with his tiny four-year-old hands trying to wrangle the reins and bring the racing horse under control while his tipsy grandfather egged the horse on, to the final branding, Dick’s legacy awaits for the reader to discover.
His life was rich for the many cowboys, farmers, and orses that he worked with over sixty-seven years. Living in the heart of rattlesnake country provided Dick with many vivid tales.
Enjoy waling in the boots of a simple, devoted cowboy.
Read a Chapter
My earliest recollections were of visitin’ my grandparents who lived near Rathwell, Manitoba. I sure liked my Granddad. He were sure some character, bein’ small in stature ‘long side us Townses, with a full droopin’ mustache and bushy eyebrows over the kindest lookin’ eyes (brown, I think). You know, he mighta been small in stature, but come to think of it, he stood proud. I suppose some folks today would described him as a banty roaster type, exceptin’ he weren’t no show off.
There were this one time, when we was visitin’ Granddad and Grandmother, she scared me near to death. Granddad had some business to take care of in town so him and me hitches up a team and wagon, tellin’ Grandmother we’d be back in time for lunch. I were ’bout four year ole and I kin ‘member bein’ purty excited ’bout gettin’ to ride to town with Granddad.
Now, Grandmother were a whole different story. Oh sure, she were small like Granddad. I think she woulda tipped the scales at ninety pounds soakin’ wet but she were mean lookin’. She had these piercin’ stern blue eyes with a long straight nose that made her hawk-like. She could darn near scare the britches right off you with just a long hard stare. I come darned close to hatin’ her ’cause I fell out with her when I were little and god damn, I wouldn’t give her the time of day. Nosirree, I suspect that if Granny and a grizzly bear had it out the grizzly would lose. However, when I got grow’d up enough to see it, she were the best of the two. Bless her ole soul!
Granddad swung me up to the wagon seat like he were swingin’ a lariat. Him and me blathered all the way there ’bout grow’d up things. When we gets to town Granddad takes me into the hardware store and picks out a pair of overalls for me, tellin’ me “Gaffer, try these here things on, see if they fits you. You needs them for helpin’ ’round the farm.”
I were some excited ’cause them there overalls were just like Granddad’s and ‘sides them happened to be my first pair. In keepin’ with the day, Mother always dressed me in knee pants. I had to wear knee pants till I were ’bout thirteen ’cause that were the way it were then.
That day I didn’t worry none what Mother and Grandmother were goin’ to say ’bout me and my bib overalls. With Granddad sayin’ that a kid couldn’t help ’round the farm, with them citified clothes on, was all the encouragement that I needed to go into the back of that hardware store and change into them bib overalls. I come struttin’ out of the back just as Granddad were payin’ for them pants.
One look at what Granddad laid on the counter told me them overalls were right expensive. I couldda bought me a pile of my favourite sweets with that money Granddad had handed the storekeeper. As it were, Granddad give me some coins to buy me some sweets.
‘Course I had to buy myself some “chewin’ tobaccy”. It were them nickel plugs of licorice. I had to be like the growed ups so I called it me “Tobaccy”. Granddad and all the boys chewed so I figured I should too.
He swung up onto the seat and left me to clamber up the wheel to the step and over the edge of the box where I hopped onto the seat. Now that I had myself some overalls, Granddad figured he didn’t have to worry no more ’bout me gettin’ dirty. I were sittin’ up there beside Granddad prouder than a banty rooster, cause I had me on my overalls with a pocket bulgin’ full of “tobaccy” just like my Granddad.
On the way back to the farm I couldn’t figure why Granddad kept chucklin’ everytime I pulled out my “tobaccy” and ripped off a chaw; after all I were doin’ my best to imitate him and the rest of the boys. Now, spittin’ took practise and I hadn’t reached the stage where I had practised spittin’ so to be on the safe side I swallowed the juice, which didn’t hurt none ’cause it were only licorice juice. I were afraid I would make a fool of myself in front of my Granddad had I tried to spit over the side of the wagon the way Granddad did. I made up my mind there and then to get right down to practisin’ spittin’ soon’s there were no growed ups ’round.
So I goes in, when we gets home from town, prouder than ‘ell ’cause I got me new overalls on and a bag full of “tobaccy” in my pocket. Yessiree, I give seven or eight people a chaw of my “tobaccy” and by gum, they all said it were good. Now, Grandmother come flyin’ in, boy, she were madder than a wet hen. She were one of them temperance ole biddies but that day she come awful close to jeopardizin’ her good name.
First thing she said were, “You blasted ole fool, buyin’ that young’un them overalls! He ain’t ole enough to be wearin’ long pants. No dignified family would let a young’un his age run ’bout in long pants.”
Granddad tried reasonin’ ’bout me needin’ them for ’round the farm. Well, Grandmother didn’t pay no heed to what Granddad were sayin’. By this time Grandmother were screechin’, “And further more, you ole bat, lettin’ that young’un pretend them licorice candies are chewin’ tobaccy is down right sinful.”
Comin’ from Grandmother them were purty harsh words. Then to make matters worse, Grandmother grabs my bag of “tobaccy” and throwed the whole damn works in the stove, carryin’ on the whole time. She told me she didn’t want me pickin’ up such a dirty habit and how she were savin’ me from some horrible fate. I wonder what she would have said had she found out I started smokin’ real tobaccy when I were six.
Howsoever, I decided right there and then; she were a mean ole woman. I never did get over it till I got ole enough to know who she were.
Granddad were an ole bugger; he got me into lots of jackpots. ‘Course he used to get into lots of scrapes on his own, too.
He had an ole drivin’ horse that could really roll. Ole Jim could jog right ‘long, especially if he got a glimpse of another horse. He hated to have another horse pull out and pass him, which meant there were a lot of buggy races ’round that Rathwell country where Granddad lived.
There were one thing peculiar ’bout that horse. If you hitched him up and didn’t drive out the gate and straight to town (where you would have to leave him in front of the store) he would balk. Once you drove him to town you could drive him any place you wanted to with no trouble at all.
One time, Dad and Uncle Bill (Scarrow) got caught with him. They hitched Ole Jim so they could drive over to the neighbours. They made it out the gate and almost a mile from Granddads when Ole Jim come to a complete halt. No ‘mount of coaxin’ on Dad or Uncle Bill’s part would get Ole Jim to move. ‘Bout this time Dad said he figured Ole Jim were part mule.
He got out of the buggy and went up to Ole Jim’s head where he took a firm holt on the lines either side of the bit. Dad set himself and begun to pull as he coaxed Ole Jim to take a step or two. Well, Ole Jim set himself and pulled in the opposite direction makin’ Dad and Uncle Bill all the madder. Dad had to give up when he figured that horse just weren’t goin’ to budge none.
Uncle Bill suggested that they take the buggy whip to Ole Jim. Dad knew better than to use the buggy whip on him ’cause that wouldn’t work either. Granddad told Dad, “A body can half kill that dadburn horse. Whip him all you want, but he ain’t gonna move for you. That there can be one stubborn ole mule.”
Dad had to get on him and ride him the rest of the way. Jim would only balk when he were hitched up. Leave him hitched up and climb up on his back, that were the secret to gettin’ him movin’ ‘gain.
The air would get a bit thick when Ole Jim would pull his balkin’ stunt. If Ole Jim weren’t such a good horses Granddad woulda traded him off. See, Ole Jim could scatter when he wanted to.
There were one time I prayed that Ole Jim would balk, but no such luck. It all began when Granddad had to go to town to get repairs for the mowin’ machine. I ‘member I were ’bout four year ole ’cause my sister, Altie, were a baby then. I begged Granddad to let me go with him. He talked Grandmother and Mother into lettin’ me go. He told them, “The young’un will be good company on the trip to town.”
We rode on down main street to the pub where Granddad helped me down outta the buggy tellin’ me, “You’re a big lad now so run ‘long and get yourself some sweets.” He handed me a few coins.
Granddad headed for the pub throwin’ this comment over his shoulder to me, “I’ll just step in here for a quick shot while you’re off to the store.”
I were happy as ‘ell, and goes struttin’ off to the store to buy me some candies. Granddad tellin’ me that I were a big lad and lettin’ me go to the store by myself made me feel like a real man. On the way to the store and back to the pub there were a lot of distractions for a four year ole. It took me a fair piece of time to get back to the pub ’cause when Granddad come out of there he weren’t walkin’ so good. He’d had a little too much redeye (that’s home brew).
We made it to the buggy where Granddad clambered onto the seat and took up the lines. He decided he weren’t in too good a shape to be drivin’ home. He handed me the lines sayin’, “You’re ole enough to be drivin’ home.”
Well, I thought I had the bull by the horns. Second time that day that Granddad made me feel all growed up. ‘Course he knew if you give Ole Jim his head he would go straight home. It weren’t the first time he’d got into the redeye and had let Ole Jim take him home, but I didn’t know that then.
We were pokin’ ‘long down the road when we come up behind a gypsy wagon, as Granddad called them. They weren’t real gypsies, just people movin’ from one place to ‘nother.
There were a lot of folks on the move in them days and for some reason Granddad didn’t like drifters so he called them gypsies. As we drew abreast of them, I guess the redeye and his sportin’ blood got the best of him. He throwed a few taunts at the fellows in the buggy ’bout the ole nag they were drivin’.
Well, that driver weren’t short of sportin’ blood neither. The race were on. Here we was neck to neck rocketin’ down the road. Me, just settin’ up there, drivin’ that horse, feelin’ prouder than a cut cat lappin’ up cream.
All of a sudden Granddad grabs up the whip and gives Ole Jim a cut ‘crost the rump. You should have seen that ole son of a buck take off. Right shortly my proud feelin’ turned to near panic as Ole Jim broke into full stride. Here I were, four year ole, on one side were a buggy full of gypsies and on the other side were a drunk ole Granddad yellin’ taunts and curses while under me were a bouncin’ buggy. Up front was Ole Jim in his height of glory, stretched out there in a mile eatin’ pace. The wind were whippin’ in my face causin’ my eyes to water so I couldn’t see the road. I tried to haul up on them there lines, but Ole Jim kept goin’ like someone set fire to his tail. By then we had passed the other buggy leavin’ him eatin’ our dust, when the thought hit me that we were gettin’ close to the gate at home.
I was tryin’ with all my might to slow Ole Jim down but he would have nothin’ of it. I were hopin’ he’d decide to go into his balkin’ act but Ole Jim had other ideas. I guess I needn’t have worried. Ole Jim took that corner never even breakin’ stride. Mind you that buggy come ’round on two wheels throwin’ dust and dirt over ‘ells half acre. Ole Granddad were laughin’ and yellin’, when we roared ‘ell bent for leather into the yard.
Ole Jim pulls up in front of the barn and come to a nice gentle stop. That’s when I seen Mom come runnin’ and I knew she were none too pleased. I hadn’t realized before but somewhere back down the road I had lost my hat.
Oh Boy, did we catch ‘ell. We’d forgot to pick up the repairs at the blacksmith shop. After that I weren’t allowed to go to town with Granddad no more. Bein’ so young I couldn’t figure out why ’cause that sure were a fun trip.
Ole Jim were a good horse but… One winter Granddad were drivin’ him to town. As they were crossin’ the railway tracks, Ole Jim slipped and fell. He fell so hard that he killed himself. Granddad were purty upset, but when the word got ’round that Mr. Scarrow’s horse were dead there were ‘ell of a lot of happy rig drivers ’round Rathwell. They had spent too many years eatin’ Ole Jim’s dust.
Lauretta Stevens is a Multimedia Production Specialist, Media Trainer and Author. Over the years she has written numerous manuals, articles, short stories and a series of children’s stories.
Her many years spent on the Pony Chariot and Chuckwagon circuit as daughter of a charioteer, wife of a chuckwagon driver and circuit photographer provided a strong background for the writing of Cowboys, Broncs and Rattlesnakes.
Rare is the book that I can not put down once I start reading. Cowboys, Broncs and Rattlesnakes fits in this category. The author captured Dick’s life, spirit, humour and lingo. It was as if Dick was once more sitting across from me at my kitchen table reminiscing with his own brand of cowboy humour.”
Peggy Hass. Long Time Friend
When I received Cowboys, Broncs and Rattlesnakes I was thrilled. I new many of the people who are mentioned in the book. I started reading it immediately and did not put it down till I had finished it. Lauretta captured the essence of Dick, his friends , and his humourous stories of memorable events in his life.
– Patricia Kowalik
Cowboys, Broncs and Rattlesnakes is a beautifully illustrated life story of one of the last of the true cowboys. It is a treasure trove of old time photos and hours of humour . Lauretta captured the spirit of my long time friend and branding partner.