The Mustanger

Gus Cashman was a hard working man, strong and weathered.  His neck had wrinkles as deep as the Grand Canyon, and his eyes were as blue as Lake Tahoe.  Out of the smile on his face hung a hand rolled cigarette.  From so many years of riding horses, Gus had learned how to roll a cigarette with one hand while keeping the other hand on the reins.

The year was 1932 and Gus was in his fifties.  He had spent his entire life ranching in central western Nevada and was down on hard times like everyone else that was in the heartless grip of The Great Depression. There was only one way he was going to be able to provide for his family and that was to become a mustanger.

Gus always loved to see the wild horses running out beyond his ranch when times were good.  He even cut loose one of his favorite stallions to breed with the mustangs to create a good line for the future.  Then in the spring he would ride out to bring the stallion back to the ranch. Things were different now for Gus and he had to catch wild horses to sell for dog food to survive.  He had no choice but to be a mustanger, and it broke his heart.

He learned to devise clever ways to catch the wild horses like building small corrals in the Pinyon pine forests that he could run them into.  He used small box canyons to herd them into and “closed the gate” behind them.  Sometimes he would just chase them down and rope them.  He would only take the runts for the dog food slaughter houses and released all the other horses to run free again.  Other ranchers in the area would shoot the horses and leave their carcasses for the coyotes and buzzards to eat.  They didn’t want their cattle to have to compete with the wild horses for food.  Gus could never let his children see him shoot a horse for no reason.  Sure, he was a mustanger, but not a brutal one. The bottom line was that it came down to providing for his wife Sara, his son Brindle and his daughter Jodie.

Brindle and Jodie would recall in later years how when their father turned over the horses he captured to the dog food people, he had a tear in his eye.  It was not something he wanted to do, and he was not proud of it.  He just wanted to be a rancher, grow some hay, raise some cows and horses, and try to be as self-sufficient as possible.  He needed the horse money for dry goods that he had to purchase in town.

In summer Brindle and Jodie worked hard to help their mother and father with all the chores and tending the vegetable garden.  Milking the cow, hacking off the head of a chicken, feeding the animals and collecting eggs were all part of their daily routine. At night they used to love to listen to their father tell stories.  Their favorite one was about Thunder, the last wild horse.

Gus would always start the story by saying, “Wild horses running free across the desert sands with their manes and tails flowing fast in the wind, brings out a certain feeling in me, deep down, western and longing to be set free.”  Then he would begin to tell the story as Sara, Brindle and Jodie listened with contented smiles on their faces.

“This is the story of Thunder, the last wild horse in America,” he said.  “They were all standing around outside the ranch house as the boss was telling them about Thunder, the great, white, wild stallion. At that moment Thunder appeared on top of a mesa in a ray of light amidst a dark storm.  They could see the power of the animal and the muscles in his chest, as he glared so white in that shaft of light that it nearly blinded them.  As lightning struck off in the distance, riders approached trying to corner Thunder on top of the mesa cliff that was one hundred feet off the ground.  Just as it looked like Thunder would be captured or killed, he jumped from the cliff and galloped away free.”  Gus would always sum things up by saying, “And that’s why Thunder is the last wild horse, because no one could ever catch him!”  This was usually enough to put everyone in a nice mood to go to sleep, as Gus looked lovingly upon his children before he left the room.

As the years went by and the nation started to snap out of the depression, Gus and his family were able to resume ranching and did not have to rely upon selling horses for dog food anymore.  He had secured a lucrative hay contract with the race tracks down in Los Angeles, because his hay was of such a superior quality.  Brindle and Jodie both married, raised families and kept the ranching tradition going.  They now adopt wild horses and bring them back to their ranch just to look at them and let them run around free.  The grandchildren love to ride them.  Before Gus died he said, “The spirit of America is just like in that wild horse-unbroken and free.”

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