Do you have a memorable family story that your mother or father likes to tell? Is there some truth to the “walked uphill both ways in ten feet of snow” tale? Tracking down the source of a story and doing some research to put yourself in the time and place can yield surprising results. In this new addition to my series, “The Adventures of Cowboy Bob” I give a fictionalized account of a story I heard many times growing up.
The Adventures of Cowboy Bob: That Blasted Burro
The small gray burro eyed the two small boys determinedly. Every day they climbed on his back and tried to get him to move. He wanted to stay close by the oats and hay in his comfortable corral and had no desire to set off down the snowy road. The boys’ kicks and smacks with their little crops didn’t phase him one bit. He just dug in his hooves and stayed put. It wasn’t until the dog came biting at his heels that he rared up and bucked the boys off. They squealed and yelled but their dad made them climb back on and then the little burro knew he had lost the battle and off he’d saunter along the road.
Bob didn’t like the burro. He knew it would stubbornly refuse to move every morning and he hated getting bucked off. But he also knew he needed the ride to school.
The Shults family had moved to Kim, Colorado several months ago. Bob starting first grade and C.H. going into second. All the students attended the same one room schoolhouse in Plum Valley. The teacher, his dad’s cousin, treated him well and Bob hadn’t got into much trouble since he’d used his new knife to whittle on his desk. Staying after school taught him that lesson.
Just when he had learned to read he came down with a bad case of rheumatic fever. When the doc told his parents he needed rest for several weeks he hadn’t minded missing school. His bout with illness had left him achy and exhausted, but his mom’s good nursing had got him back on his feet. Now he was happy to be back to school, if only he didn’t have to get on that mean old burro.
Ordinarily Bob and C.H., his older brother by two years, walked the few miles to school enjoying the wide open spaces of the high plains of Colorado. but given Bob’s recent illness and the unusually icy and snowy winter, his dad had purchased the little burro for the boys’ transportation.
“You first,” C.H. told Bob. “Just get on up there, I”ll be right behind.”
Bob grabbed onto the burro’s short mane and hauled himself up and over. C.H. did the same and they started digging in their heels. Nothing happened. They pulled out their little crops and half-heartedly smacked the stubborn animal. He still didn’t move.
Finally in desperation they yelled, “Daddy, he won’t move again! We’re gonna be late to school.”
Les had been watching the plight of his two young boys with amusement. He motioned to the dog, “get’im boy” and the dog was off yipping and biting at the burro’s legs. All of a sudden the burro raised up and the two boys slid off onto the hard snow-packed ground.
Mad as all get-out at having been bucked off again, Bob and C.H. climbed back on and this time the burro took off down the road, just like usual. He’d shown them who was boss.
Writing the Story
I had two accounts to draw on for this story, my dad’s and my grandpa’s. I researched rheumatic fever and discovered that generally rest was considered the best treatment for a child, along with regular shots of penicillin. Dad never mentioned shots, so I didn’t include them in the story.
Using Google Earth I tried to get a sense of the distance the boys would have had to go to school, but not knowing the location of the farm or the school, it could have been from 1 – 10 miles. My grandfather’s account said one mile, but that could have been an underestimation, especially looking at the map, so I took a guess and described it as “a few miles.”
Account of Charles Leslie Shults
When C.H. and Bob were in the 1st and 2nd grade, they had about a mile to go to school. The snow and ice was pretty bad so I got them a burrow to ride. He didn’t much want to leave the corral, he liked that feed there. They’d kick him and whip him and he’d just hump up then I’d call the dog then they’d pile off of there. I had a terrible time making them get back on. Pretty soon the burrow would take a notion to go and they’d go onto the school at Plum Valley. My cousin was teaching there. They thought Bob and C.H. was pretty good students.
Account of Bobby Gene Shults
I started school there (Kim, Colorado). Had a new knife and whittled on desk had to stay after school. Had rheumatic fever. At this time my brother and I rode a burro to school. He was pretty ornery. Seems like he had to buck us off every day then he’d let us ride him.
Writing these stories of my dad’s childhood for my grandchildren has been an enlightening experience. Visualizing the place and thinking about what it would have been like to live then has brought his stories to life.
I never knew my dad’s mother. She died young from a rheumatic heart, complications from her own bout with rheumatic fever. I would love to have her version of all of these stories, but the best I can do is connect my own mother’s heart with hers. Somehow writing has brought me closer to her, the grandmother I’ve missed all of my life. There truly is power in the written word, especially about family.
Have family stories of your own? Take some time to write them down. Your children and grandchildren will love them.
Best of luck in your family history writing!
More in the “Adventures of Cowboy Bob” series