The Language of Texas Cattle Ranching

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The man that is Busby “Buzz” Owens is what you think of when you think of the classic Texas cattle rancher.

Sadly, the image we automatically conjure up has almost become a thing of the past. Today, the person who owns land and cattle in Texas has to be part cowboy, part businessman and certainly, part gutsy venture capitalist.

Owens is all that and more.

He’s a serious man. It’s obvious after meeting him that he rarely smiles and it safe to assume, he never laughs either. He is angry, too–that’s obvious. Nature and the economy haven’t been good to Owens and his ranching interests. His land has been in his family for four generations and he fears that, he’ll be forced to sell it. He’s got one son in Dallas with whom he wants to leave his land. Owens is doing everything he can in order to make that a reality, but it hasn’t been easy.

Physically, Owens is what we Texans call “a tall drink of water”–standing well over six feet in height. He’s thin, as is his gray hair. His skin is weathered by time.  It’s as tanned and leathery as the saddle he has mounted on his trusty steed, Boniface.

This is how I first meet Buzz Owens: he’s wearing his Stetson; his well-worn Tony Llama boots and he is on his horse.

It is textbook Texana at it’s best.

He tips his hat, slowly dismounts and asks me if I want to tour his property.

I accept his offer.

To fully survey his two thousand acre ranch in South Texas (I should mention here that Owens’ acreage is actually considered rather small by Texas standards) it requires a two ton pick up, a jeep and of course, Boniface.

On the day I was there to interview him about the state of ranching in Texas, we traveled the land in his truck. It’s late August in South Texas. It is very hot and outside it feels as though the Earth is angry. These are the days when living conditions in this part of the world are beyond inhospitable.

They can be lethal.

We traverse the rugged terrain in air conditioned comfort as Buzz regales me with tales about ranching back in the day. In the late seventies when times were good, he even used a small helicopter to help round up his herd which at the time, exceeded 300-head.

He spoke to me of the transient nature of ranching in the new millennium. I watched as the 71-year-old spoke…his eyes wincing  to emphasize certain points. There seemed to be an unintentional wistfulness to his voice. It told more about him then he probably wanted to reveal.

I knew immediately that over the years, change had been plentiful and apparently, painful for this old sodbuster.

In this part of the world, drought has always been a problem.

As a result, there were fantastic land prices that came and went; there were great cattle prices that came and went.

And that meant occasions of prosperity also came and went.

Oil had been discovered in the land surrounding around Owens, but over the years, several exploration teams had tried surveying and even drilling on his, but it never yielded a drop of oil. But land and cattle prices were always good as long as oil prices were solid.

But when the oil glut hit “the patch”, he suffered. He was forced to sell off more than a thousand acres of land in parcels and most of his cattle.

He now owns 11 cows, two bulls and a lot of land that isn’t being properly tended.

The bad times also cost him two marriages.

I could feel the blistering heat pour in as Owens rolled down the window of his truck to spit. “They was women only out for my money. When it left, so did they. Hell, I’m glad they’re gone”.

We rode for a while, not saying a word. The silence punctuated his sentence.

The drive was bumpy and when the front tires of the truck went over a rocky patch, I used that as an opportunity to ask Owens about illegal immigration and it’s effect on his ability to hire and keep ranch hands.

Like most Texas ranchers, the vaqueros he had hired over the years had all been from Mexico. They were here illegally, but Buzz says there were no better horsemen or cattle punchers on the planet. Over the years, as the economy forced him to sell off his land and cattle, he could no longer afford to pay them even the meager wages he had been paying them.

“I know I was breakin’ the law and such” says Owens. “But damned if it wasn’t a system that worked. And it did for years. Everybody did it. Besides, them guys needed to work and I needed them to work my land. Having them to help made all the difference. Now, I can’t get nobody to help..not for them kind of wages. Sometimes college boys from Laredo will work for me, but that’s only during the summer”.

Now Owns says, it’s a chore to keep illegals off his land. It’s proximity to the Texas/Mexico border—only 16 miles at the closest point—means that trespassing is constant. Owens resents it.

“It wasn’t like this before. They’re pests now, that’s what they are. They don’t wanna work for nothing, especially on the ranches. They used to, but things have changed. Now, they want to find work in the city, but they gotta travel across my land to get to San Antonio and points north. They steal and take and take and don’t care thing one about it. Again, I wanna stress–it wasn’t like that before”.

He winces again and slightly purses his lips before speaking again.

“They come walking through my land and I find old campfires and in drought conditions that’s so dangerous. I speak Spanish–you have to in these parts– and I’m constantly telling them to get off my land and calling the law on ’em but they out number the lawmen and those they do catch, they send back. But they’re back over here in few weeks”.

Owens’ land is dotted with man-made stock tanks. These are (for lack of a better word) ponds on his property used for the sole purpose of watering his livestock. They’re murky and stagnant and often used as places for the animals to stand in to cool off under the hot South Texas sun.

We approach one that’s near a clump of Mesquite trees.

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As we drive up over a natural embankment and stop, we can see several men bending over the water. They’re obviously Mexican nationals–you can tell by their skin tone, the way they’re dressed and the fact that they’re on Owens’ land. They’re dipping their hands in the tank, filling them with water then drinking.

They don’t seem to be phased by the presence of the truck.

An angry Owens throws it in park and says, “Good Lord! There’s a few of ’em now!”

He opens the door, stands up halfway out of the truck and starts shouting. I open the passenger side window to listen. I speak Spanish.

In his excitement, Owens forgets and starts yelling in English, “Hey, don’t drink that water!!! It’s contaminated with cow manure and urine. Wild animals and livestock drink from that. It’ll make you sick. It could even kill you. Stop!!”

One of the men stops drinking…he looks up, his chin dripping with the squalid water, and he replies. “Soy Mexicano. No hablo Ingles y no quiero habla Ingles. No necessito hablar Ingles.

TRANSLATION: “I am a Mexican. I don’t speak English and I don’t want to speak English. I don’t have to speak English.”

Owens stood motionless; his withered left hand still gripping the top of the steering wheel for balance. I could see his knuckles whiten as he tightened his grip. I don’t know the man that Busby Owens is, but the bitter rancher I’ve come to know in the past hour, seemed to be getting angrier by the second.

Especially when the man shouted this back to him.

“Acabo de venir aquí ilegalmente de México. Estoy de aquí trabajar, mandar la espalda de dinero a mi familia en México. Yo me aprovecharé de asistencia médica libre, no paga los impuestos y tiene a muchos niños sin pagar un centavo y ellos serán en su mayor parte hijos que estarán con sus hijas. Al infierno con usted y con sus leyes estúpidas!”

TRANSLATION: “I just came here illegally from Mexico. I’m here to work, send the money back to my family in Mexico. I’ll take advantage of free health care, pay no taxes and have many children without paying a cent and they’ll be mostly sons who’ll be with your daughters. To hell with you and your stupid laws”.

Owens is silent for a minute. Then he shouts back, “Utilice ambos manos! Usted conseguira mas para beber en la manera!!

TRANSLATION:Use both hands! You’ll get more to drink that way!”

Busby “Buzz” Owens gets back in the truck and for the first time that day—probably for the first time in a long time—he cracks a smile and laughs.

18 comments

  1. What a great story! Very timely and topical in a global sense, with immigration and drought being major issues facing countries and continents in both hemispheres.

    I’d have liked Bushy Owens. Real salt of the earth.

    ~ The Actress

  2. Typical of today in America. I am pissed off too. I want my country back but damnit why cant I get the help that we give them? I wonder what would be if the we actually had piliticians pandering to US citizens instead of loudmouthed fat wallets.

  3. Oh good grief! My daughter is producing “Seussical” at the high school this year…and I just realized what I have to look forward to when I go the event (three times).

    LK: Great story. Loved the Owens character. Any relation to Buck?

  4. hmm…a raccoon for president. I’d have to think about that. I’m curious on what your platforms would be.

    Would you promote the growth of coontinuing education among today’s workers?

    Could you gain coontrol of the senate and the house?

    What are your plans to ease urban coongestion?

    Btw…if LK is VP…I smell an assassination attempt coming on. I mean I’m sure a lot of people would like LK to be in charge so they can suck up to the pres. Watch your skin is all i’m saying! 🙂

  5. While I am all for his candidacy, somehow I think the slogan: “It’s Time for a Coon in the White House” won’t go over well.

  6. I know Obama would also agree with us on that one. I wonder how that got started? The coon reference I mean…Anyone know the genus of that racial slur???

  7. From Here

    Probably refers to the Portuguese word for slave pens or barracks “baracoons”. Could also have meaning as a shortening of “raccoon”, as raccoons have a tendency to steal.

    I reds it on the interwebs, it muz be tru.

  8. Laurie. I hate to admit this but I get so entranced with these stories wanting them to be true that when I get to the magnificent punchline I’m both elated with the humor AND deflated that it’s just a tale.

  9. Arm Jerker,

    Are you saying the whole account of animal husbandry isn’t true? No way. She is SO into racoons. Plus she has pictures. (And way to much time on her hands…)

  10. you pulled my strings, for sure. dont know if this is true or not, but my dad was such a man and you did some “real” describing of Buzz Owens. the man in the photo looks like an elderly Mexican, instead of a rancher. oh well. i enjoyed the images you created and understand the problem with the immigrants.
    my dad worked as a handy man or field hand on a large ranch near corpus and there were such problems there. he actually showed me a place near a fishing pond where there had been some Mexican men killed and buried. it was a scary place. never knew if it was true or just a legend.

  11. Not to be the voice of pessimism but it’s going to get worse after Mexico’s next Presidential election. Calderon has been a complete failure and Obrador almost won last time.

    They will elect a bigger socialist who is going to be a little Chavista on our Southern Border and compared to what we’ve got now it’s going to be a refugee crisis. Mexico depends on the government getting 37% of their funding from oil revenues as they’ve steadily pursued a welfare state. Once those funds dry up it’s going to be National Lampoon’s Vacation featuring Carlos Griswald.

And now, you may opine your ass off...

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