BARBWIRE BOB – 3-21-24

The name of this column came from a hardware store friend, Dave Samuelson, owner of the business, who gave me this title of “Barbwire Bob”.  The name seems to have stuck. Barbwire covers the west and protects private ownership of property. Newspapers protect public interests so there is some connection to journalism and the west.  

I tell the story of when I was eight-years old my dad purchased me a new pinto horse that I called “Paint.”  He was black and white, a large gelding, very gentle, and could run like the wind.  My old horse “Nancy,” had pinned back her ears and chased me out of the horse pasture weeks before.  After the scary encounter with her, we found her dead the next day. Obviously, the older mare didn’t want that youngster riding her anymore and she must have been very sick.

With the new horse I could grab some oats and walk up to him with other saddle horses nearby in the horse pasture. The horses were kept adjacent to the Yampa River with access to the barn corrals where they could get hay in the winter and graze in the pasture in the summertime.  To ride them we could woo them to the corral with hay and oats.

I led a lonely life growing up on that ranch.  My brother Henry Gilbert, named after my mother’s relatives, was six years older than me. We played games together, he taught me chess, and we played canasta.  He was a brilliant scholar his entire life beginning  in his childhood. We were both home schooled by my mother with the classroom in our ranch bunkhouse, a wooden framed one-room living quarter for what we called a “hired man.”  It had no running water, and an outdoor privy.  My dad had excavated a cement “root cellar” to store potatoes and canned garden produce. It was large enough to put the wooden framed house on top of the cellar foundation. I barely remember moving the structure and putting it on top of the root cellar.  The building was about 50 yards from our ranch house.  It was used for a seasonal hired man, or men, in the summertime.  Ranch hands would dine with us in the kitchen, enjoying my mother’s great cooking.  Most meals were fried in iron skillets, always beef, gravy, potatoes, and vegetables with fresh cream and milk for dessert.  One of my first duties in life was to fetch wood and coal for the large kitchen stove.

My school-teacher mother started home schooling my brother and cousin John, both of similar ages.  He would drive an old Model A Ford truck from their ranch down to school.  I can remember being alone in the ranch house while the trio were at the bunkhouse school.  Recalling that I couldn’t tie my shoes and that mother had to do that for me.  One day, as she was heading to the bunkhouse school, she refused to tie my shoes and told me to do it myself.  I was very unhappy, crying, as I was left alone to deal with my high-topped shoes.  Like it was yesterday, I remember sitting on the linoleum floor attempting to tie my shoes.  Mother was right, it was time to learn. I mastered the task and joyfully joined the school in session.  That began my attending school with my brother and cousin at an early age.  I know that I was around four-years old because my grandmother Nicholson, living in Buena Vista, had mailed me a birthday package that contained a leather bombardier military jacket. Unfortunately, she had included a jar of her canned strawberry jam that had broken in the mail.  The red jam had spilled on the front of the jacket, but I loved the coat anyway and wore it all the time. Somewhere there are pictures of my fourth birthday, and the “jelly” jacket.

Back to the horse pasture. I bribed the horse with a handful of oats and was able to grab his mane and climb on his back without a saddle or bridle.  The other half-dozen horses got spooked and took off running.  “Paint” joined the chase with me hanging onto his mane for dear life riding bareback. The horses took the trail back to the barn  next to a barbwire fence.  As we galloped along my bare leg was inches from the jagged wire fence and if I fell from the horse’s back onto the fence I could have been seriously hurt or killed.  We made it back to the barn and I gave a gasp of relief, never to ride another horse without a saddle and bridal, hence the nickname.

When my brother reached junior high school level, following World War II, my parents purchased an aging Victorian house in Craig for $4000.  My mother was hired to teach the third grade.  I was old enough to enter the first grade, but I could already write long hand and read, so they put me in my mother’s third grade class.  I was always the young student in the class. (That’s another story.)  My brother started into the seventh grade and became the class valedictorian in high school and was accepted to MIT back in Boston.

We would return to the ranch on weekends where I would greet my dogs and cats and hunt with my 22 rifles for critters.  I spent many days alone hunting with my dog, and fishing in the nearby river.

Life was good. I was a happy boy. Good memories.