Keeping the West Western

Veteran cowboy Jim Brooks reflects on his days riding out the rough-string.


In the early 1960s, when Jim Brooks was looking for a cowboying job, the going wage was $150 a month and found. A rancher gave a guy an extra dollar a day for riding the rough-string. If you were young and needing a job, a cowboss would take advantage of that.

An unemployed Brooks drove into Newcastle, Wyoming, and hung around town for three days, eating bread and baloney. Smitty Smith, of the Keeline Ranch, heard Brooks was in town, looked him up and said, 'I have a job for you. Come on out."

Smith had a bunch of spoiled horses for Brooks to throw his saddle on. Two horses in the bunch, Bay Bud and Blue Jay, had quite the reputations. But that didn't scare Brooks, a veteran cowboy used to getting on the toughest horses his bosses had to offer.

"They always gave me the worst horses," Brooks said. "But I always said the worst horse in the cavvy was my best horse."

Today, Brooks' days of breaking renegade colts are well behind him. But he's still doing his part to keep western traditions alive. The city of Norco, California, has hired Brooks to teach area kids about roping, riding and the cowboy lifestyle. He's also a cowboy poet, musician and western performer.

"Bay Bud bucked me off in the cactus way out on the prairie." Brooks said. "My McCarty (mecate) rope pulled out of my belt, and I was afoot and not looking forward to walking back to camp in my high-heeled Blucher boots. But with no choice, I started out. When I topped the rise ahead, Bay Bud was standing there in the flat. He saw me, looked around at a bunch of horses up on a hill, his gaze shifting between them and me, and I just kept walking toward him. He waited for me. I guess Bay Bud took a liking to me. He never bucked with me again."

Blue Jay, however, never softened. But Brooks found a way to get along with the gray gelding, and rode him until he left for the winter. The following spring, when Brooks returned to the Keeline, Blue Jay had been sold to rodeo stock contractor Harry Knight. Brooks heard Marty Wood won the bronc riding on Blue Jay at the Casper (Wyoming) rodeo.

Brooks believes life's a series of destinies. Yet horses and people can influence their futures. In 2005, long after the last horse in Brooks' rough-string was gentled, his reputation's cast much like a bronze sculpture: pure and lasting.

For the complete story, see the February 2006 issue of Western Horseman.