The Horse that Turned Hand Springs

by Joe McCarter (In His Father's Voice)

The year before I went to work for the Diamond outfit, the range horses over in the Payette River country got the mange. It was a helluva outbreak and a lotta horses was sick. There were range horses pretty much ever'where those days. Most of them were branded and usually they were outta cayuse mares and a horse that was better bred up, some at least. A lot of the early ranchers had taken to shootin' the old mustang studs and turning their own, better bred ones, out in their place. It did improve the breed.

John Lemp, who run the brewery in Boise, had a lotta range horses that he'd gotta hold of one way and another, somewhere around fifteen hundred head, as I remember. They all ran west of Boise and most of them over in the Payette and Emmett valleys where the mange was worst. Lemp finally had some high powered vet come out from the east to tell 'em what to do, and that was that the horses all hadda be dipped – twice – and moved to a new range.

I never did hear too much about what ever'body else did since horses are notorious hard to move to a new country and to make 'em stay, but Lemp's outfit gathered his and built vats and done the dippin' and trailed 'em over through the Prairie to the Craters of the Moon country. That was ever'thing – mares and colts and stud horses, as well as a good many three, four, and even five year old colts and fillies that weren't broke as well as a some older horses, some that had been rode and some not. They all had the JL on the left shoulder.

John Lemp had plenty of money, and at first he kept two or three riders camped over there keepin' those old brood mares from trailin' back to the Payette, but after the first year or two they kinda grew accustomed to that country and it seems like he quit sendin' buckaroos over there. It wasn't long 'til ever Mormon from Salt Lake to Salmon City was ridin' JL horses and lots of others besides. Seems like almost ever'one had a JL horse or two around.

Finally after five or six years, Lemp hired a bunch of pretty fair hands to go over there and make a gather, and they ran horses all summer and come up with less than three hundred head. I was workin' for the Diamond Outfit at the time, and we were there on Camp Creek north of Hill City. It was gettin' along towards fall when the Lemp outfit came back through with what horses they'd gathered.

We knew most of the fellers, as I remember there were four or five hands, and they were hopin' to put the bunch in the field we had fenced there on camp creek and do a little visitin' and maybe swap or sell a few. They'd been night herdin' this bunch all summer and, with as few of them as there was, it made a lotta extra work. We told 'em to turn 'em in and they were sure tickled to see them horses corralled.

Lemp had give 'em orders to sell any they could as he was plum discouraged with the horse business and was anxious to get rid of ever'thing. We set up mosta the first night swappin' yarns and playin' poker a little, although they hadn't been paid for a while and didn't have much cash on 'em.

The next mornin' all the Diamond hands was anxious to look the bunch over a little closer as of course ever'body was interested in horses, especially if there was any bargains to be had. Not that the Diamond outfit was short of horses, we each had seven or eight in our strings, but then, hell, ever'body liked to look at new horses.

Anyway, we bunched 'em in a little field there by camp and rode through sizin' 'em up. They were mostly older mares and colts, and there were a very few threes and fours and a few more older horses. There was one small, well put together brown horse whose age was really hard to tell that looked pretty fair, but I really wasn't interested in any of 'em enough to do any serious talkin'.

Joplin was though. It was his first summer with the wagon crew, although he had worked around the headquarters a year or two, and he had a little money and was wantin' a horse of his own pretty bad. The brown I spoke of really took his eye and nothin' would do but we get 'em corralled for a closer look. The feller who was foreman for the Lemp outfit put a price of twenty five dollars on the brown and after a lotta fat chewin' and kiddin' with Joplin, came down to twenty, and Jop bought himself a horse.

One of the other Lemp hands rode up beside me and says, "When Joplin rides that horse the first time or two you'll see some fun. I broke that sonofabitch just eight years ago this last spring and he can turn double hand springs quicker'n a cat."

I says, "Christ, ya oughta tell Jop, he's just a kid and that horse might kill 'im."

The feller laughs and says, "Kill a Joplin? Hell, I've knowed that breed a long time, and you can't kill any of 'em with anything less than a thirty-thirty. He'll be all right."

We spend the rest of the day kiddin' around. One of the Lemp hands had a friend over at the Walker camp by Bennett Mountain and had rode over there to visit, so a bunch of the Double P riders came back with him to look at the horses and, all in all, it was a pretty sociable time.

I first figgered Joplin would be in a helluva sweat to try out the little brown, but he didn't show much strain, and I then guessed he'd just as soon wait 'til there wasn't so much of an audience. The Walker fellers stayed well into the evening and there was a lot of laughin' and joshin' and we all had a good time. The next mornin' the Lemp crew broke their camp, and we helped 'em get the horses headed out down to the Boise Valley.

As soon as they was outta sight, nothin' would do but we get Jop's horse back in the corral and try 'im out a little. Jop wasn't the best of riders although there was far worse around, and he wasn't scared of nothin'. The brown stayed real cool through it all and in fact seemed to just kinda overlook ever'thing. Jop messed around with him some in the corral, saddlin' and unsaddlin' and never did really get the ol' brown's attention. He finally got on 'im and got a few jumps outta him, but nothin' real mean and, needless to say, Jop is feelin' pretty good about his horse.

It just happens to be a Saturday and long towards evenin' three or four of us decides to ride over to Corral as there was to be a dance at the old cowboy dance hall and it would be a good chance for Jop to give the brown a little airin' out.

Ever'thing is goin' along smooth, and we're all kiddin' Jop about what the ol' brown can do (I'd told 'im about the hand springs) when, for no reason at all, the ol' horse took at Jop and is buckin' 'bout as wicked as he can. Jop looks like he's gonna stay with him, when all the sudden, sure enough, he turns a hand spring. He just goes over frontwards, and it's a good thing Jop was a little loose as he kinda falls to one side and the horse misses him as he goes over. The ol' brown rolls around some gettin' up, and in the melee, while he's still down, I see him kick with one hind foot, real wicked.

Well the other guys take after the brown, and I jump down to see if Jop is all right. He is, although he's a little dazed actin', but I don't think too much about it. Jop gets back aboard with the brown now actin' kinda bored about it all, and we don't have no more mishaps.

We get to Corral and do some drinkin' at Arnold's saloon and take in the dance. Jop is kinda quiet, but holds up his end on the drinkin' at least, and we head back to camp about midnight. Again the brown is just actin' kinda bored with ever'thing and plum broke.

Finally, gettin' ready for bed, I notice Jop seems to be havin' trouble gettin' one sock off and, figgerin' Arnold's whiskey had finally got to 'im, offer a little help. The lamp is pretty dim, but I see the sock don't look the right color and, damned if it ain't stuck to his foot with dried blood. We all get to lookin' then and, rollin' Jop over on his stomach on his bunk, we find a cut at the base of his skull shaped like the brown's hind foot. It's look's deep, but has quit bleedin' so we leave it alone. The blood has run down Jop's back and leg and into his boot and stuck his sock on when it clotted up.

Well Jop's head aches some for a day or two, but outside of that he don't have any bad effects. He rides the brown his regular turn for the next month or two and, ever so often, the sonofabitch will take one of them spells and do his hand springs. Jop knows what to look for by now and gets loose quick and is never hurt much again. I worry quite a bit about it and finally talk Jop into takin' the horse to Soldier and seein' if he couldn't work out a trade with Goldie Barrett.

Ol' Goldie is a different kinda horse trader and one of the most successful I ever knew. He runs the restaurant in Soldier for years and trades horses on the side. He's got a big corral on the edge of town that's always got ten or fifteen head of horses in it. He gets some of the local kids to bring in a wagon load of hay ever' now and then and see to the feed and water.

When a feller wants to trade, he just rides up to the restaurant and Goldie comes out the front door in his apron an' all and sizes the feller's horse up. I've watched him many a time, and he don't say much, but usually if he thinks the horse is fairly sound he'll say, "Go down to the corral and pick ya out one and bring 'im back." This is the catch. Goldie comes out again and sizes this horse up and he'll say, "Hell, that's about the best horse I had in the corral." Goldie will walk around and look some more and finally say, "I just gotta have ten dollars boot for this horse." He'd seldom git the ten, but usually a five or seven and a half would come his way, and the feller'd go away feelin' like he'd pulled a helluva deal.

Well, Jop winds up with a six-year-old black geldin' that ain't been spoilt overly bad and is sound and, though it cost 'im seven fifty in boot, the black turns out to be a real good horse with less than the usual amount of re-breakin'.

I guess ever'body's happy cause not long after that I'm headin' to Soldier myself and run into Doc Higgs in his buggy with a nice lookin' pair of brown geldings and lookin' closer I see that the off horse is Jop's ol' brown.

We stop to visit a little, and I ask where he mighta come by such a good lookin' team. Doc answers that he'd owned the one for a couple of years and a mate to him had just died lately, and he'd been forced to work out a quick deal with Goldie for the little JL horse. He goes on to say that he never had a much nicer buggy horse as he breaks in much easier than most old saddle horses and is never nervous 'bout nothin'. I can see that ol' Juggy (Jop had named him Brown Jug) has got his usual bored look on.

Ol' Doc drives that little brown team for years. I remember one day seein' 'em tied to a hitchin' rack in Fairfield when a steam tractor comes down Main Street pullin' a separator. Now I don't need to tell you that this is about the noisiest, scariest thing to a horse that was ever invented and there is buggy teams and saddle horses goin' plum crazy all around. Not ol' Juggy though. He stands there at the hitchin' rack and never turns a hair. His teammate is doin' some nervousin' around, but with ol' Jug's bein' so quiet, they don't even tighten their halter rope knots.

I've often thought about ol' Jug since then, and I figger that he just hated ever'thing about humans so bad that he could put himself in sort of a trance to where he'd just ignore 'em and what was happenin' to 'im. Once in a while when he was younger, the trance would wear a little thin and that would bring out the buck and the hand spring.

As far as I ever heard, he was plum reliable in harness. I don't know if it's cause he never come out of his trances or just couldn't figger out how to turn a hand spring hitched to a buggy.

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