It was summer in the year of 1879 when John Overstreet found himself chasing cattle for B-Spec, a west Texas ranch headquartered near Guthrie. The Texas sun beat down hard on a man out there because there just wasn’t anything to keep it off of him. John wore a wide-brimmed hat, but even that wasn’t enough out in a country where a man on horseback was a good ten feet taller than the tallest plant around.
The terrain didn’t do anything to cool things off, either. Between the sparse scrub brush, white or gray sand shown to reflect sun back at a man. So that, even with the hat, a man stood a good chance of being burned to a dark brown on every patch of exposed skin. The tin-horns could often be spotted by the fact that although they had worn a hat and their faces weren’t sunburned, they hadn’t considered the sand that reflected like a mirror and the undersides of their chins were beet red.
And it’s only May, John thought to himself with dread. Already the temperature had pushed well into the nineties, so he could only shudder and think what it was going to be like come August. Every well the ranch could come up with would be needed that year, so he figured it was only a matter of time before they had him off his horse and onto a shovel-one of the few jobs that cowboys liked less than mending fences.
He had already spent a goodly amount of time cleaning out the existing wells and tanks-”tank” being a west Texas expression for a little body of water that folks all over the rest of the world called a pond-and knew there was going to be more of that work to come. When the early summer rains did come, and he knew they would, they caused rivulets of water that swept across the country with speed and force and deposited wagon loads, not just of silt, but of brush and tree limbs in the tanks. So the praise of water was often drowned out by the grumble of having to clean up the mess the water had made.
But John was no stranger to hot, hard work. He had spent a couple years down trailing cattle and wild horses in the Big Bend country and no man who came out of there was ever accused of being a tinhorn. If the banditos didn’t get you, the heat and dust would, so anyone who came out alive was already a man of some standing wherever he went. Still, there were days when he wished for a better climate in which to chase cattle.
Over the winter, he had read a dime novel about a young man that had gone to Alaska. It had been a good story-better than most of the ones he had read in the pulps-and the thought of those snow-covered lands fairly made him squirm in the saddle as he felt the heat of the leather seeming to burn a hole though his britches. He’d seen snow a few times in his life and-as much as he had hated it at the time-that was how much he longed to be in some at this point in time.
He cast a look at the longhorn steer he was chasing back towards the main herd and he had an idea even that steer was hating Texas right about then. He had always had it in his mind that cows were fairly stupid animals-even if his livelihood-and didn’t figure they cared much about the surroundings they were in as long as they had something to eat and some water. John was thinking that on a day like this, even an animal as dumb as a cow would like to be shut of hot west Texas.