Billie Timmons was fourteen when he met Charles Goodnight—over a wagonload of manure that had been jammed on a gatepost—and he went to work on the Goodnight Cross J Ranch shortly thereafter. The spirit of helpfulness that led Mr. Goodnight to strip off his coat and lift the wagon free for a lad in need sets the tone of this book, in which the author unwinds a spool of recollections of range-riding in Texas and North Dakota over an eighteen-year period.
When Billie Timmons went to work for Mr. Goodnight in 1892, Texas was undergoing a rapid transition from open range to fences. But around Texas campfires he heard tales about the northern range, told by cowboys who had ridden there and who had seen the northern lights, the tall free grass, swollen streams, and stampeding cattle. A longing to see that exciting country took hold of young Timmons.
His chance came when four buffaloes from the Goodnight ranch needed a nursemaid for their freight car trip to Yellowstone Park. Once in the northern country, Timmons stayed, casting his lot with the cowmen of North Dakota. He became the protégé of an extraordinary man, William Ray; he was foreman, friend, and confidant of banker-rancher Wilse Richards, a member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame. But even during his days in North Dakota he never lost touch with Charles Goodnight, a lifelong friend, and his portrayal of Goodnight provides much insight into the character of the man whose name belongs to the West.
In this book you experience the terror of being lost in the dead-white expanse of a North Dakota snowstorm; the gaiety of cowboy dances, for which there were never enough women available; the excitement of a near-riot in a Hebron, North Dakota, saloon, where cowboys from the 75 Ranch drank up or poured out all the liquor, then smashed all the glasses and bottles—one day before the state became bone-dry; and the loneliness of work on the range, where a flickering lantern on the side of a chuck wagon on a stormy night meant home for many a cowboy. Running like a bright thread through the narrative is Billie Timmons's love of horses, from whom he learned the wisdom that some horses and some men are to be handled with great care and others are not to be handled at all. His chapter on Buck, his best-loved horse, is memorable.
In North Dakota, as in Texas, fences brought the end of the big herds and the end of cowboying for a man who enjoyed it to the hilt.