I graduated from Unadilla High School in 1970, having no idea what I wanted to do for a living. That hadn’t always been the case. There were times during my youth when I was sure of the career path I wanted to follow.
My earliest memory is of wanting to be an Injun. That was what Native Americans were called on the black and white westerns in the 1950’s. My inspiration came from a cartoon character of a young Indian boy. His carefree life roaming the woods seemed quite appealing.
I’m not sure if I saw him on television or in one of those short clips that used to be shown at movie theaters before the main picture. I only have a vague recollection of how he looked, but I can clearly remember in my preschool innocence telling people I planned to become an Injun.
Then I learned from TV westerns that the Indian life was not as idealistic as I had thought. They painted their faces and rode bareback in circles around wagons, whooping war cries while cowboys shot them off their horses. I wondered why the Indians kept repeating a strategy that predictably failed. Eventually they would leave or be chased off by the Cavalry. Smoking a peace pipe was seldom cause for celebration. It more often represented a temporary break in their concessionary struggle for survival.
I gave up my dream of becoming an Indian, but I didn’t have any interest in fighting them either. Thankfully the cowboy roles in future westerns shifted to herding cattle and rounding up bad guys. Becoming a cowboy seemed like an option worth pursuing. It would of course require that I have a horse. That’s when Mable came along.
Daddy bought Mable from our neighbor, Mr. Junior Spradley. Before Mr. Junior acquired her, she had spent most of her life in the circus ring. Mable didn’t understand that trotting in circles was no longer appropriate. She was fine with another horse beside her, but hopelessly stubborn if ridden alone.
Bryce Bledsoe rode his horse, Red, over to our farm one day. We raced down the dirt road in front of Uncle Emmett’s store. Bryce stopped his horse when we reached the highway, but Mabel and I kept going. There wasn’t any traffic on the road at the time, so it worked out okay. It made me a bit nervous, but I was thrilled to find out that Mable had a high-speed option.
When I saddled Mable a few days later she fell back into her circus routine, determined to trot in a tight circle. I pulled hard on the reigns, confidently expecting to impress her with my cowboy skills. She bucked me off instead, then kicked her heels in the same air I was breathing. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to get scared, but Mama saw it all from our kitchen window.
When Daddy got home, she told him Mable had to go. He got in touch with Mr. Herman Sangster who came with his livestock trailer. I don’t know where Mable went after that. We thought she had a mean streak at the time, but I realize now she was just trying to do the right thing. Mable had been trained to follow a circular path. She didn’t understand that life offered something much better.
When Mable left, I didn’t give up on becoming a cowboy. Daddy found a brown and white Appaloosa named Chief in The Market Bulletin. Chief was a fine-looking horse, but lazy beyond measure. Like Mable, he would gladly run when he had company. Alone, however, he would lie down and roll on his back if you demanded anything more than a walk. There were multiple times I had to jump quickly from the saddle to avoid getting a crushed leg. With Mable and Chief I had taken two shots at becoming a cowboy and missed badly both times.
Joining the Indians was in the distant past and cowboying didn’t seem to hold much promise, but I had learned some things along the way. I had learned that Indian life was a lot more complicated than I had first thought, and I had learned that it’s hard to teach an old horse new tricks. Riding Mable had taught me one other thing. If you follow a perfect circle, you’ll always end up right where you started.