After the Civil War, as many families were moving across the Great Plains to a better life "Out West," every young boy and many a young girl wanted to be a "Cowboy." That's when great herds of cattle were being driven across the country to feed the growing American nation, both east and west.
Grand Junction and Mesa County were no different than the rest of the nation. It was the code of the West that made our pioneer ancestors what they were in our neck of the woods; they followed what they called the "Cowboy Code of Ethics":
"You don't shoot a man in the back; you look him in the eye, face to face and call him out; you don't disrespect a woman; and you don't take someone else's stuff, be it their horse, cow, food or good name.
"You ride hard, draw from the hip, shoot straight and always pony up, win or lose."
This brings us to one of the photos of a young boy in his cowboy outfit taken about 1900, here in Mesa County. The photo came from the Charter/Hughes family album from Fruita, which now is housed at the Loyd Files Room at the Museum of Western Colorado.
A first look at the photo you might think this young boy is smoking a cigar, but enlarging the photo the reader will find it's a piece of gum in his mouth. He has on his cowboy gear, his rope, bandana, hat, gloves, knife and rifle; he is just missing his boots and horse.
Fast forward about 30 years and thanks to movies, books, dime novels, television and honest-to-goodness real cowboys still around to show us the ropes, a smart thinking business franchise came into being. Photographers bought Shetland ponies by the herds. Together with tons of vests, chaps, six guns, bandanas and cowboy hats, these ambitious photographers rode the range by the thousands into all states to take pictures of a mother's little "buckaroo."
Every child in the neighborhood was the best salesman for the business as they would run home and beg their mother to have their photo taken on the back of a pony. This became as common as the neighborhood ice cream truck and the milkman.
These men who rode into our towns and cities, with their Shetland ponies, did their work well and just like the cowboy, Shane, rode back from whence they came, leaving behind lots of little smiling buckaroos.
Ask any baby boomer if they have a photo of themselves on the back of one of these Shetland ponies and you will see the hands raise. These photos are in albums or hanging on walls, showing grandpa or grandma as a child, smiling on their pony and dreaming of riding the range with their six guns, chaps, bandana and hat.
What a happy day when the pony man came to town. Looking at those photos brings a smile to the aging boomers, back when Red Ryder and Little Beaver were all the rage.
For all of us buckaroos, and yes I have a picture of myself on a pony, that was an important day when for just a few moments we became cowboys with Hoppy, Gene, Roy and Dale, Coop, the Lone Ranger, his side kick, Tonto, and the Duke. We were living the code of the West from the back of a horse.
While the franchise was gone by the 1960s, those smiling children's faces, whose photos are now placed behind glass frames hanging on the wall of our homes, are a lot older and a lot kinder because a cowboy just can't do anything wrong by following the code of the West.
Life just couldn't get any better than that day you sat straight up in the saddle, looked the other guy in the eye, viewing the world from the back of your horse, tipping back your hat, smiling at your sidekick, and saying "yup."
So to the unknown young cowpoke from Fruita back in 1900, we hope life was very good to you, that the sunsets you rode into were always wonderful, and all your trails were happy.
God bless all you buckaroos out there.
Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom. Email Garry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCES AND PHOTOS: Rob Elliot; Wanda Allen; Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Room; Michael Menard; David Bailey; Bill Buvinger; Grand Junction News; Daily Sentinel files; Snap Photo.
P.S. Nov. 13, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Mom, I miss you and Pop very much. Your little Buckaroo, Garry.