Rod Miller: Backtracking For Lost Things in the Big Empty

Columnist Rod Miller writes, "Most horses have some realization deep within their equine hearts that God created them to work cattle and I could tell this li’l guy would make a good one."

Rod Miller

June 26, 20244 min read

Rod miller headshot scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

My ol’ man, Frank Miller – and we’ll tip our Stetsons when that name is mentioned - never went in much for fancy cowboy paraphernalia. He rode common horses using common tack and got along just fine.

His one indulgence to glitzy regalia was a pair of silver conchos, just a skosh smaller than a Copenhagen can and heavy in the hand. They were probably a gift from someone, thick, engraved sterling with a gold “M” on them.

The conchos were situated on a headstall that was used for teaching greenbroke colts the ins & outs of working cattle... mild snaffle bit, tight curb, slobber chains and all. It wasn’t like Dad doted on those conchos, but he kept a good eye on them.

I had just returned to the ID in my late twenties like a prodigal from a few years in Europe. I think the countryside in Sardinia and Malta, so visually similar to my part of Wyoming, made me a tad homesick. So I backtracked.

I remember it was one of those hot summer days when the sun seemed to be only a half mile or so away. I had about thirty head of old dry cows to move to a pasture at the base of Bradley Peak, a mere dozen or so miles.

It's a perfect job for a greenbroke colt. The old cows amble along, pretty much knowing that they are headed to good grass and water, and intent on no mischief. The country is easy and rolling, with a lot of sand in case the young horse tries to pitch a fit. He’ll tire out pronto in all that sand.

I had Dad’s headstall on I Forget His Name, and the little rascal did just fine. He fought the bit for the first mile, then settled down to pay attention to the cows. 

Most horses have some realization deep within their equine hearts that God created them to work cattle and I could tell this li’l guy would make a good one.

By early afternoon, I turned the dries through the gate and they trotted off toward the tender grass and the sweet-smelling water of Indian Creek. I watched the little herd graze as I took a leak on a sagebrush and admired my fine cowboy work.

I rode leisurely back to the house, checking my shadowed profile often to make sure that my back was straight, my hat was on just right and I looked every inch a caballero. Shadows are what cowboys have instead of mirrors.

When I got back to the barn, I was just about to give I Forget His Name a can of oats when I noticed that one of Dad’s conchos was missing from the headstall. The throatlatch was unhooked from the cheekpiece and there was emptiness where the concho should have been.

A loss like that requires backtracking and recovery, if nothing else than for family honor. 

I Forget His Name and I retraced our path to the upper pasture. My eyes were glued to our tracks in the sand, picking out horse hoofprints among the cattle tracks and looking for a glint of silver. My horse likely thought, “What the hell. We just did this.”

I won’t tell you that some sort of panic drove me, or an emotional jumble of fear and love, but I knew that I had to find that concho. I remembered the look in my father’s eyes when I told him that I was leaving Wyoming. I never wanted to see that kind of loss in his gaze again.

As the light petered out, I saw the concho next to the gatepost going into the Bradley Peak pasture. The little knucklehead had rubbed his face on the post while I closed the gate, scratching an itch, and itch and dropping the concho in the dust.

It was still warm from the sun when I picked it up. 

I rode back to the house with it snapped into my shirt pocket, next to my chapstick. I checked on its presence often, not wanting to lose it again.

Rod Miller can be reached at:

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist