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(This story appeared in Echoes of the Ozark III, an anthology produced by Ozark Writers League.)
Young boys are always ready for an adventure. Paul, age eight, and Newt, age eleven were no exception. Coming around the curve approaching home I saw the two of them standing beside the road. They were looking across the pasture toward the creek, waving their arms and shouting. When they calmed down enough to understand them, they started talking about a buffalo. Since they both liked to fish, and were pointing towards the creek I assumed someone had caught a fish that the boys thought was a buffalo. They became indignant, and directed my attention across the pasture towards the milk cows. There it was, just like the old west, a real, live buffalo bull.
All the excitement had started at my parents’ house. Mother and Dad lived up a side road from us, or as we all called it, "out behind the barn". Dad glanced out his front window and saw something grazing in his front yard. He thought it was a neighbor’s cow, but taking a closer look he realized it was a buffalo. When he called our house the foster girl staying with us answered the phone.
"You ever seen a buffalo?" Dad asked her.
"No," Diane replied.
"Git up here. There’s one in our front yard!"
Diane ran out of the house and headed toward the barn. The fastest way was to take the shortcut around behind the barn. Just as she turned the corner at full speed, the buffalo came around the corner from the other side. Almost colliding head-on with the furry creature, she screamed and headed back for the house. Also spooked, the buffalo headed down the drive, across the road, and through the fence into the pasture. Barbed wire fences don’t mean anything to a buffalo. Seeing the jersey milk cows he must have decided they were the closest things to his kind he was going to find. As the buffalo loped across the pasture to join the ladies the neighbor’s teenage son and daughter came panting down the road. Their father had bought the buffalo with the intention of crossing it with his cattle. It was fastened in the barn, but soon kicked the stall apart and left. The teenagers had been chasing the buffalo all over the neighborhood all morning. By now, they were worn out and had their own idea of what to do with the animal if only they could catch it. They thought a neighborhood barbecue was in order.
Since the buffalo had settled down with the milk cows it seemed a simple thing to get them all in the corrals. The cows were accustomed to coming when called. Since they were stirred up from having an unknown animal amongst them it didn’t take long for them to funnel into the corral with the buffalo in the middle of the herd. After a little maneuvering the buffalo was separated into a loading pen. The bull stood with his head down and looked like he had lost all his fight. One of the neighbors went to get a trailer, and came back with a rickety, one horse trailer. Three of us eased into the pen to try to load him. Suddenly he raised his head, whorled to face us, and pawed the ground. The room in that pen shrank, and everyone grabbed for the fence. The bull now had his second wind, and was angry and ready for battle. That trailer didn’t look like it would hold him even if we managed to get him in it, which was doubtful. Barbeque was looking better all the time. The teens called their dad and told him if he wanted the buffalo loaded he would have to come do it.
While we waited for the dad to get there the buffalo got restless. Getting a running start, he tried to jump the first pipe gate and landed on top of it. The gate sagged, giving us a curved, designer gate for years. The next gate was a little lower. The buffalo cleared it, and he was on his way to freedom. The neighbors all left to continue the chase, but there were chores to do and cows to milk. We didn’t hear anything else about the buffalo for several days. Eventually, someone several miles away managed to catch him in something that would hold him, and his freedom ended. We never heard what was finally done with the buffalo, but there never was a barbeque.
Zona Crabtree, 2007
Tale of a Tail
(This is also a true story, and appeared in OZARK READER magazine.)
A soft blanket of snow covered the hard sheet of ice spread across southwest Missouri that morning. It took a full pickup load of hay each day to feed the beef cows that were calving in the pasture. Two year old Joe Paul stood in the seat between his dad and I and watched as the cows and calves came running to meet us. While the herd circled the pickup one small black spot remained by itself on the white expanse. It wasn’t moving, and we feared the worst. Joe stopped the pickup beside the calf, and I got out to check. The little thing was cold to the touch and was stiff as I slid my hands underneath to pick it up. Farm people don’t give up on their animals easily, so I laid it on the floor under the heater vent of the pickup.
By the time we got home the calf was stirring slightly. Farm kitchens often serve as temporary nurseries. The calf came to rest on an old rug in a corner beside the dryer. There didn’t appear to be enough life in it to bother about blocking it in with chairs. Joe Paul was fascinated by the calf and stood there watching it as I went about my work. At least it kept him occupied for a time while the other children were at school.
Later that day while working in the other part of the house I heard a commotion in the kitchen. Rushing in, I encountered a pint sized rodeo of one two year old and a very lively black calf. The footing on the kitchen floor was not meant for hooves, and a lot of slipping and sliding was going on. After having a bottle the calf was transferred to the hay barn. It was doubtful the mother cow would take the calf back even if we could locate her, and the weather was too cold to chance trying to pair them anyway. From the time the other two children arrived from school, Blackie became a pet. The children took on the job of feeding him, playing with him as if he were a puppy. Blackie thrived on the attention.
Spring came and Blackie was still in the hay barn even though he was weaned and eating grain. Much of the "first love" had worn off, but the children still went out to play with him. One day Gayle and Newt had gone out to feed the calf. A few minutes later a horrified scream pierced the air all the way into the kitchen. Gayle was still screaming when she slammed the back door open. Taking a deep breath, she gasped out, "Newt pulled the baby calf’s tail off!"
"What? Calm down. How could he pull the tail off?" I asked as I held the trembling girl.
"We were playing, and Newt caught hold of Blackie’s tail and pulled it off!"
"Where is Newt now?"
"He’s still in the barn, I guess."
I turned off the stove and went with her to find out what had really happened. When we got to the calf pen Newt was on his hands and knees frantically trying to bury the majority of a black calf tail in the dirt. From his sister’s hysterical reaction he was sure he was in a great deal of trouble. It was hard not to laugh, but the two children were so upset I tried to keep a straight face. The calf was calmly licking the last of its feed out of the trough. When it turned around it was missing most of its tail, but there was no blood. When the calf had nearly frozen to death the tail must have frozen past healing. It would have soon fallen off by itself, but one tug from a small boy speeded up the process. Blackie continued to be a pet until he was big enough to put out to pasture. And so ends the tale of a tail.