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Prince and Dolly

 By Vern Zielke

When I was a boy, growing up on the prairies of southwestern Kansas, I had only one serious ambition. I wanted to be a cowboy. I wanted to sing like a cowboy, dress like a cowboy, ride like a cowboy, rope like a cowboy, and talk like a cowboy. I got an early start on the singing by listening to the many cowboy singers on the radio and I could soon imitate them quite accurately.

I acquired some articles of cowboy dress as time went on, notably a pair of boots, which I earned by giving the chicken house a weekly cleaning for a period of time. This I did to get the boots, knowing all along that a real cowboy would not be cleaning a chicken house because he would not have chickens on the place. I also acquired a beautiful gold shirt and a cowboy hat, which I would wear to the rodeo or other occasions which called for western wear.

I spent a lot of time with my lariat, roping fence posts and calves, and even tried my hand at bulldogging. Cowboy talk was modeled for me every time I went to the cattle sale in town and also by my favorite cowboy, uncle Hank, whose vocabulary included some Low-German expressions which I thought were especially useful when dealing with an obstinate steer.

But how was I going to ride like a cowboy without a horse. I did occasionally ride someone else's horse, but what I wanted was a horse of my own. My parents had not owned horses since the last team had been sold, when mechanized farming had become the norm. They often spoke nostalgically about the horses they had owned and my dad sometimes expressed a desire to again have a horse on the place.

So it happened that we went to see Joe Fletcher, a rancher who was a well-known horse trader. Joe had a ranch southwest of Meade where he ran cattle and horses, and it was great fun for a boy to go and see Joe's spread. Joe had a reputation and people warned each other to be careful because he had been known to pull a fast one or two in some of his horse deals.

We went, nevertheless, and came away the proud owners of not one, but two fine looking horses. Joe, living up to his reputation, persuaded my dad that the pair was a team, and that it would be a shame to break them up. Their names were Prince and Dolly. I do not recall if they came with names attached or if we gave them the names.

The names were appropriate. Prince was a big horse and immediately gave us the impression that he considered himself royalty. He had a way of letting us know that he would prefer not to work. He became the prince of the pasture, and was mostly left to enjoy a leisurely existence. If you did want him, he was hard to catch, and sometimes the only way to bring him in was to chase after him with the pickup. He seemed to enjoy this and would give us quite a run for our money, till finally he would agree to go into the corral.

I did not ride Prince. The only person who would ride him was my cousin Herb. He did not buck but he was frisky and Herb considered it a challenge to ride him. Since Prince and Dolly were a team, my dad would sometimes harness them to the plough and prepare the garden plot with them, and they proved to be well trained. He enjoyed this because it took him back to the days when all of the farm work was done with horses

The love of my life was Dolly. She was gentle and seemed to enjoy my company. I loved to get the currycomb and comb her mane and her black coat till they shone. Since I was usually alone, I talked to her and it seemed like she understood.  I very seldom rode her with a saddle. I would put a bridle on her, put her next to the corral fence and jump on her back, and we would sally forth. We would ride all over the farm, along the country roads, and often bring in the cows from the pasture. She was quite willing to go for a gallop at full tilt and it was an exhilarating experience for a small boy who would imagine that he was chasing bad guys or controlling a stampeding herd.

 Sometimes Herb and I would plan a special expedition and then we would put the saddle on her. One of these adventures took us to Meade when the Carnival was in town. It must have been Rodeo time and the whole county was in a festive mood. We rode into town and tied up the horses in a vacant lot and set out to enjoy the carnival rides and the food. After consuming several hotdogs we rode the tilt-a -whirl. Somehow the two were not compatible and I remember clearly the long ride back to the farm. Dolly faithfully took her sick passenger home, and he suffered with each step she took.

Another foray took us into the cattle country southeast of Meade. We spent a pleasant day exploring, and even picked up a few interesting artifacts at a site where a family had homesteaded many years before. It was great fun to follow the streams and canyons, and imagine that we were the cowboys who cared for the herds in this remote part of the county. After spending all day in the saddle we returned tired but pleased with our steeds and with ourselves.

In 1945 my parents made the decision to go to Washington to spend the winter months with my Uncle Pete. The purpose of the trip was to investigate the possibility of moving permanently to Washington. With this in mind, we had a farm sale and sold some of the farm equipment and other items. Included in the sale were Prince and Dolly. When we did return to Kansas I was saddened by the fact that they were not there to greet me. No other horse was acquired to replace them and as time went on my interests and ambitions changed. I will always remember Dolly. She was a true and loyal companion, and she made some of my dreams come true.


(copyright Vern Zielke)

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