with love, from Texas
Although I have spent many winters in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, my first Memories of Texas are not really of Texas at all.
The Rio Grande Valley sits at the southern end of the great plains; my home in Saskatchewan sprawls near its northern end. Despite stark differences in climate and history, the two share more similarities than you might think. The grasses that grow on native prairie in Texas grow in Saskatchewan, too, and birds that nest in the north country often winter here along the Gulf Coast. Both Texas and Saskatchewan share a bent towards brutal weather. Both inspire the same sense of limitlessness, with their far horizons and vast skies. Maybe that combines to shape people with a similar combination of hardy self reliance, neighbourly kindness, and unashamed wackiness. Maybe that is why I have always felt at home in Texas.
My earliest memories of Texas are not of Texas itself but the mythological Texas of my childhood. My parents’ Saskatchewan farm bordered the Matador Community Pasture which had begun as an offshoot of the Texas Matador Ranch, and during my father’s youth had been run by Texas cowboys. They left us place names - Stud Butte where a young cowboy had been thrown to his death by a bronc, East Camp where the cowboys had their summer quarters – and stories of their exploits. Kids in other times and places listened to tales of Paul Bunyan or Rip Van Winkle. I grew up on stories of Legs Laird.
Legs was the first and, as far as I know, the only foreman of the Canadian Matador Ranch. He was not someone you wanted to mess with. In the early days, about the time my grandfather homesteaded the land that became my parents farm, disputes sometimes flared up between the cattlemen and the famers. It was an unequal contest. No sod-buster stopped to argue his right to cut hay on a dry slough bottom while looking into the stony face of Legs Laird, sitting astride his big gelding with one hand on his six-shooter.
Apparently, some of the cowboys found him a hard man, too. One left a bequest in his last will and testament that a pound of rat poison be purchased and given to Legs Laird with the instructions that it be taken forthwith.
The Canadian Matador Ranch was turned into a Community Pasture over ninety years ago, and the Texas cowboys have long gone. However, some imported Texas traditions live on: a fierce love for the native prairie, local backing of rodeos (we call them stampedes), pride in good horses and good horsemanship. But the six-shooters never caught on. I guess that is one way Saskatchewan and Texas differ.
After all, it’s hard to fire a hand gun with mitts on.