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Published on Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Third Bull Run

By Elizabeth Esterholdt


Settle down, now, chillun, an' I'll tell ya a story 'bout a time I went campin' up in the Wallowa Mountains. Well sir, I had jest bought a brand new tent fer my nephew, Leroy, an' I figgered that I better try it out that night. I always slept out under the stars as a general rule when I was campin', but seein' how I had just bought this thing, an' that it looked an awful lot like we would git ourselves a rain storm that night, I figgered that one night in a tent wouldn't hurt.

I rode all that day, climbin' up inta those mountains, an' jest a couple hours 'fore dark, I found what I figgered to be the perfect place to set up camp. It was right by the trail, but it had a view that looked out over a long valley. A little trickle of water ran down the rock nearby, an' all the trees stood around makin' a little circle jest big enough fer a tent an' a campfire.

I unsaddled an' hobbled my horse, Smokey it was that time, an' started messin' with that fool tent. Dad-gum if it wasn't a sight harder to put together than it looked! I finally got it put together and staked out, an' it did look kinda purty, gleamin' white under them dark green trees with black clouds buildin' over the mountain ridge above me.


I started gatherin' wood an' made a campfire, then dipped some water from the trickle an' set it to boil fer coffee. While I was gittin' wood, I had noticed some ground-squirrel mounds, so while my coffee boiled, I snared me a couple of them rodents. There wasn't enough meat on 'em hardly, fer more'n one or two good bites, but they was better than cold jerky.

Time I finished them and brought in some more wood it was startin' to spit some, so I stacked the wood in the tent an' banked my fire. That tent would come in handy fer somethin' after all, even if I hadda lay sorta cockeyed an' mighty still to fit the whole length of me inside an' still close the door.

The rain was comin' down purty good now, a fine, heavy mist that soaks through ya in no time, an' in no time I was fast asleep listenin' to it patterin' on the canvas.

Musta been about midnight when I woke up mighty sudden like. I knew I had heard somethin' but I couldn't figger out what it coulda been. I lay there stone still, strainin' my ears to try an' hear whatever it was again. Purty soon I heard it away off to my right. Fer a moment I thought it was thunder, it was so deep and low, but that wasn't right. It was too quiet fer thunder. After the second noise, this time off to the left, I realized what was goin' on. Out there somewhere in the dark and rain was two big bulls, an' they was talkin' to each other, bellerin' out challenges across the mountain.

I lay there in that puny tent, listenin' fer the next twenty minutes. By the time those twenty minutes was up, what I had suspicioned was proven so. Them two beef bulls was gittin' closer. Mr. Right was comin' on the fastest, he was gittin' louder each time he bellered. Mr. Left was still farther away, but comin' on steady. What was startin' to worry me the most was Mr. Right an' the way he was tearin' up the undergrowth as he came. Even if those two duelin' "Don Juans" didn't meet up right outside my tent, just one of 'em would be big enough to do quite a bit of damage.

I decided not to git up an' move my tent fer a couple of reasons. The first was that I was tired an' it was still rainin' an' if I was to go out in this, me an' my wood fer my mornin' would git all wet. The other reason, an' maybe the more reasonable one, was that I really didn't know where that bull was, an' where he would be. If I was to move, I might have just as big, if not a bigger chance, of bein' in his way. So I hunkered down and hoped fer the best.

Finally, as the rumpus came closer, I started doin' what I shoulda probably been doin' all along. Prayin'. Now, me and God were on sort of a come an' go relationship, but ever' time I had asked Him fer somethin' important in the recent past, He had always held up His side of the bargain. I started remindin' Him of this, an' promisin' that if He would jest keep me out from under the hooves of these territory-hungry beeves, I would be sure to be in the first church I come to come Sunday to thank Him proper.

It didn't take long fer Mr. Right to close up the distance between me an' him. I heard my horse snort somewhere out in that misty darkness, an' I added to my prayers that he wouldn't take it in mind to try an' bolt. I could hear that bull not more'n a hunnered yards away from my tent, wiping out the underbrush with his big head, pawin' an' snortin'. I got a real good picture of just how big an' how close he really was when a small sapling broke off an' slithered down the side of my tent. Let me tell you, my prayers suddenly got a lot more fervent.

Well, I guess the Good Lord really was watchin' out fer me that night, 'cause it wasn't long 'fore Mr. Left let off another challenge, an' Mr. Right packed up an' headed on up the hill. They met somewhere on that slope above me, an' I could hear brush poppin' an' rocks slidin' fer a long time afterwards, broken up now an' then by a throaty beller. I swear that at least once, I also heard the dull crack when they butted their two big bone-heads together.

I slept in fits an' starts while they rampaged outside, an' at last I must have fallen asleep, 'cause when I woke again, it was mornin' an' all was quiet outside. I was real careful stickin' my head outside the tent, but when I looked around, it was as quiet an' peaceful as a Sunday meetin' house, an' a sight prettier, too, if'n ya ask me.

That valley that I camped over was veiled in a soft silver mist that eddied around the trees growin' up the sides of it. The east side of the valley was still cast in purply-blue shadows while the north an' south sides was gleamin' in a golden-green light. I could see that my little trickle of water grew to a tiny brook as it reached the valley floor, an' it flashed silver in the mornin' sun. The sky was a washed-out whitey-blue with tiny pink an' flaming golden streaks.

Birds was startin' to tune their pipes here an' there, sorta hushed-like like they was shy of breakin' the mornin' spell. Ol' Smokey snorted over his breakfast off to the right.

The ground was still damp from the rain last night an' the dew of the mornin', an' even it looked dusky red an' beautified in that special mornin' light. I left my tent with an armful of wood an' dug out the embers of my fire. There weren't many left, thanks to the rain, so I whittled off some kindlin' and soon had a small blaze goin' to help fight off the cool, crisp mountain-mornin' air.

It was easy to imagine, in that holy hush of dawn, that I had dreamed those two fightin' bulls. I soon learned this was not so when I discovered the saplin' that had slid off my tent. It was about two inches thick at the base, an' had been snapped cleanly off. Goin' to the creek later fer water, I found the tracks of them two bulls plainly set in the mud. I have to admit that I shivered when I measured them with my hand. The toes were as long as my whole hand, an' the track was almost wider than my palm. From the depth of them tracks, I figgered they had to be goin' on a ton an' a half a piece.

Right then an' there I decided that I didn't need to wait until Sunday to start thankin' the Boss up-stairs. I dropped my hat an' thanked him right seriously kneelin' there in the mud to dip water fer my coffee.

'Course, I was in church that Sunday, jest like I promised. Leroy was tickled pink with his new tent, an' my brother had a good laugh over my story. We didn't tell my sister-in-law. I was mighty careful of where I picked to spend the night after that, an' I haven't camped alongside a trail, no matter how unused it looks, since. I aim to go back an' look fer that spot sometime or another 'fore I git too old, but I don't figger I'll set up camp there, not in a tent, anyways.



Elizabeth Esterholdt is a country girl studying to be an elementary teacher. She loves the old west and draws her inspiration from her life on her father's ranch.


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