It starts the first morning, way before the dawning. And the only sound I might hear beside me is an ole coyote singing to his mate or an hoot owl headed for his roost. In the spring it would come early about 3:45 or 4:00 am, just me and ole Bertha.
The morning ritual of ranch cooking.
Out of the bedroll and the walk from the teepee to camp is only tricky the first morning, then you remember where all the holes and cactus are by trial and error. “Pitch in some she wood, Cookie,” as ole Art Reed might say in his radio announcer voice, and wait for Bertha to catch a hold. I always filled the coffee pot with water the evening before so all I had to wait for was the warmth and love of Bertha. Soon smoke gives way to flame and the morning is underway. The lantern is lit and we’re off and running.
It doesn’t take long suitable fire and coffee is boiling. I slide that ole pot to the side and add a little cool water to settle the grounds. I grab my favorite chair, which has a burn hole right through the middle of the seat where a wayward coal got loose, and get ready for some coffee. The life’s blood of a wagon cook is this early spring morning.
Now it don’t take long and ole Chris Morton is over and we have enough time for some snuff and coffee before the morning is really underway. Why it is only 4:20 and we’ve got at least a half hour to figure out life’s problems and sort out the day. As hands begin to stir and head my way, it’s time to make biscuits and fry a little hog meat.
Now, there is also a ritual that the cowboys have as well. The evening before, someone is designated to go keep horses and someone to jingle up the morning mounts. These two fellers set off to start their day and with luck they will be back right in time for breakfast.
By this time there is the faint sound of the night creatures bidding farewell to the pre-dawn song birds stirring and whistling their little tune.The mocking-bird and whippoorwill sure put on the show, trying to convince some little sweet thing to stop by and check them out.
And when the glow in the eastern sky begins to give the slightest hint of waking, their little tunes often make me miss my little sweetie too.
Now I have seen a lot of sights in an ole cow camp, but the color of a good sunrise always gets my attention and makes me realize that this life is more rewarding than I give it credit for at times.
The horse wranglers are back with time to spare, and at 5:45a.m. it is time to call breakfast. Biscuits are golden brown, light and fluffy with gravy, bacon and cackle berries (or eggs as y’all might know them). Last but not leas, coffee, and the morning has started off right on track.
So many times I have done this ritual, but each time there is something different to see and a new lesson to be learned. Don’t get in a hurry and burn the bread and remember to wake ole Mikee up.
The hands dump their dishes in the wreck pan and head off to the pens to rope out the morning mounts. A new day but with old rituals in play that are as old as the country we are in.
As I start to do dishes I can remember what an ole feller once told me, “Well Cookie you did your part, it’s time we did ours… we burning daylight.”
As the hands ride off and all that is left is the dust from hooves I always think there’s still another half our before the sun comes up.
I told a young feller once, this job may not pay much but the benefits sure are great.