••KEEP••Lee Pitts Mug
Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at leepitts@leepittsbooks.com.

Tis’ the sucker season.

Over the years, I’ve been invited to go on several trail drives as a non-paying participant! I realize what an honor this is as there has been a rush of people paying for the privilege to “drink and drive”.

At the invitation of an ex-friend, I was invited to take part in a three-day trail drive that seemed like a month. He promised “it would be the time of my life” and boy, was it ever! Besides wasting three days, it completely destroyed my self-esteem.

On the first morning, the two designated trail bosses chose up sides like we used to do on the playground. You remember what a humbling experience that could be. All the good players get picked first. The choicest positions, those of riding point, swing, or flank, went to the paying participants. I was chosen last… to ride drag, which is synonymous with getting picked to play right field. I don’t think my status was entirely due to me being a freeloader.


I’d been on previous round-ups with the trail boss, but a round-up is not to be confused with a trail drive. The trail boss always rode a real nice mare, but as I have mentioned previously, I happen to ride a noble steed by the name of Gentleman, an intact stud. The last time on a round-up with the trail boss, Gentleman tried to breed his mare while we were both mounted. The trail boss rode the rest of the ride looking back over his shoulder.

I think the real reason I was picked to ride drag was to put the maximum amount of real estate between Gentleman and the mare of the trail boss. And that’s how the guy who is used to riding herd instead rode drag, along with 12 spoiled kids and 14 dogs, all of non-working variety. The good dogs rode point, the bad dogs and I ate trail dust.

When you ride drag, you are basically herding two things… coyote bait such as gimpy cows and blind bulls and animals that have not yet developed brains, such as baby calves and all the children of the good cowboys who rode point. Riding drag is a misnomer because what you end up doing mostly is walking. If you insist on riding, the baby calves will walk between your horse’s legs. It’s like herding a bunch of cats. By the time we got to the bed ground, some of the kids and baby calves had new brothers and sisters.

Grown cattle will not usually stampede in the daytime, but that’s not true with calves or kids. I noticed that both groups were getting hot, bothered, and hungry, so I did what any good cowboy would do: I sang a soothing song. For some reason, my singing had the reverse effect on all the little knotheads, and I was soon faced with that most dreaded of cowboy fears… a full-blown stampede. The thunder of their tiny hooves was deafening as they ran in an uncontrollable tidal wave. The calves were upset too. In a blind frenzy, I mounted my horse and tried to turn the kids and the calves in a circle around a gimpy cow. Neither the kids nor the calves would do as I instructed.

I knew that the responsibility for not spilling the whole herd was on my shoulders, and with delirious abandon, racing at high speeds over treacherous ground, I was able to turn the herd into a tighter and tighter circle. We finally hit the corrals in one big swirling ball, which now included ten dogs, 12 screaming brats, 14 calves, two chickens, a gimpy cow, and a show hog that belonged to the trail boss’s kid. To this day, I don’t know how it got involved.

Not surprisingly, I got a call again the following year to participate in the trail drive. “Lee,” said the trail boss, “you were a real hero last year riding drag. The kids found you entertaining, and you, sure enough, quieted the stampede. We wanted to invite you again this year.”

“Friend, and I use the term loosely; I’m a little like those spoiled little brats you saddled me with last year. I don’t care what names you call me; I ain’t gonna come!”