We said goodbye to a classic cowboy Saturday. Benny was 83 years old and had spent all of those years working cattle, riding horses, and helping people.
When I say all those years, I mean literally all those years, as he started out life on horseback as a baby, swaddled in a saddlebag as his dad worked on the ranch near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, where Benny grew up, one of thirteen kids. By the age of three he was riding on his own and helping out with the chores. He competed in high school athletics and even won a football scholarship to Highlands University, but I suspect the sports he really loved were the ones he did on horseback, team roping and steer roping, and he excelled in those, too.
Benny ran his own cattle and worked cattle for other people in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and other parts of Texas. Bill bought some land and ran cattle on it for a brief time, and Benny helped him buy and sell, haul and doctor, and whatever else was needed. One time they were rounding up the cows and Bill was on the 4-wheeler, Benny on his horse, probably the mare he called Hillary, and Bill got knocked off the 4-wheeler. Benny informed him, “See, I told you that thing wasn’t as good as a horse.”
Yes, Benny really loved his horses. He had cattle in the pasture around his house, but what I remember were all the horses, especially the mares and colts. I think he just kept the cattle around to pay for the horses, which he bred, bought, and sold. He even had some race horses who won a few races.
But, then, Benny just loved animals. I also remember a goat, a donkey, at least two llamas, a pony, and all kinds of dogs and cats. Strays always had a home, and people dumped animals on him when they tired of them because they knew he would take care of whatever they didn’t want anymore.
Benny also took care of people. He helped out when people were in need, and he played a large part in the success of the bracero work program, seeing to it that the men had food and lodging and a job.
At the memorial service the family invited people to tell stories and memories about Benny. I shared that he had brought me cactus and rocks that he came across when working cattle , so now he will live on in my cactus garden.
Pictures of Benny, along with his boots, hat, saddle, rope, and an American flag honoring his service to his country, graced the front of the First United Methodist Church. In fitting cowboy style, Randy Travis sang “Amazing Grace,” and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans ended with “Happy Trails to You,” because Benny would have wanted it that way.
Till we meet again, Benny.