I’ve wrangled it a bit for the storytelling…
Ralph Harris and his brother, Frank, helped operate the sizable Harris Ranch in Coke County, Texas put together by their father, L.B. Harris.
L.B. Harris, a former Texas Ranger and now a cattleman, lived in a substantial brick and rock home just south of the newly formed town of Robert Lee, Texas.
One spring day afternoon, somewhere around 1900 or 1901, after a noonday lunch (they call it “dinner” out here in West Texas; “supper” is the evening meal), L.B. was snoozing when he heard a knock at his back door.
He roused himself, went through the kitchen, and swung open the screen door having to hold it firmly because of the gusting West Texas winds.
There stood a shortish lad with his short-brimmed hat in his hand and his near-worn-out chaps hanging around his hips.
“Yes?” said L.B.
“Mr. Harris, sir,” said the lad. “My name is Vic Collett, and I’m lookin’ fer a job.”
“Yes?” said L.B., noting the cow pony standing about 20 yards away.
“Well sir, I’ve just got into this part of the country and they say you’re a top cattleman. I’m lookin’ fer work.”
“You know cows, boy?”
A woman’s voice echoed from the other room. “Leasel, who is it?”
“A boy, Martha,” he hollered back over his shoulder and tugging at the bottom of his black waistcoat.
Seconds later Martha showed up at L.B.’s shoulder, in a black, ankle-high dress, her gray hair pulled up in a bun, and gazed at the young visitor.
Vic shifted uncomfortably at the base of the steps to the door, glanced down, then quickly back up to the aged couple in the doorway.
“Ma’am,” he said, and nodded.
She nodded back, moving closer to L.B.
“Cattle?…yes sir, I know more’n some, not as much as some others,” Vic responded.
“Where you from?” L.B. asked.
“Several miles over yonder,” he said, sweeping his arm vaguely in air toward the southeast.
“Got a horse?”
“Yes sir. Almost had to sell him yesterday though.”
“Needed some money for eatin’,” said Vic.
“Still got your spurs on I see.”
“Couldn’t bring myself to sell my pony or my spurs, sir,” Vic said plainly. “Both are kinda cemented to my boots.”
A strong gust of west wind blew dust across the sunny, springtime afternoon interview and Vic grasped his hat a little more tightly and he ducked his head into it a bit.
“How old are you, boy?” L.B. asked.
“Don’t rightly know, sir. But I’m guessin’ I’m about 17.”
L.B. glanced at his wife, then back at Vic.
Vic looked at the ground.
L.B. shifted in the doorway.
“Okay, Vic…you said, ‘Vic,’ right?”
“You can go and bed down overnight in that shed over there,” L.B. said, pointing at a small barn about 50 yards away.
“Tomorrow morning you are to meet with one of my two sons at daylight. They will question you and decide whether or not you can hire on. Okay?”
“Yes sir!” said Vic, unable to suppress a toothy smile. “Yes sir!”
He slapped on his hat holding onto it to keep the winds from blowing it off, eased over to his pony, gathered up the reins and started to walk over to the small barn.
“Vic?” L.B.’s wife called out. “When was it you last ate?”
“Day ‘fore yesterday, Ma’am…got some tortillas and pork from some Mexicans.”
She looked at L.B., who nodded.
“Then you come over here just after dark. I’ll have a plate full for you; you can take it back to the shed with you before you sleep.”
Vic nodded and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Harris.”
Short of the long of it, Vic Collett got hired.
So… at least according to the story I was told, that’s how Vic Collett got started at the Harris Ranch in Coke County, Texas and came to be its foreman for many, many years.
And…some 50 years or so later, he taught the great- great-, city-born grandson of the man who hired him how to ride a horse,
…and, for a few more years, to teach me much, much more.
“And that’s the way it happened, give or take a lie or two”