Tomboy Charlie loves the ranch and the outdoors, especially now that she has a horse of her own and can ride like a true cowboy. She doesn’t understand why her mother keeps after her to help out in the house, too. But ranch life is hard, especially when there’s a drought. There isn’t enough water for the crops or cattle, and horrible dust storms sweep away the soil. If it doesn’t rain soon, her family could lose everything. Charlie must learn that on a ranch, everyone’s job is important if they are to survive—and that a good cowboy always obeys orders.
This classic story depicts Texas ranch life during the droughts of the early twentieth century, as one girl tries to find her place in the world.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Lois Lenski
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1950 Lois Lenski
All rights reserved.
The Dogie Calf
"WON'T THE GRASS EVER grow again, Papa?" asked the girl.
"Sure, sugar. Just give it time—and a little rain." The man lifted his face to the sky, which was gray and overcast.
"There's no grass for the cows to eat," said the girl.
"We have to feed them every winter," said her father.
The horse moved slowly on, its hoofs making a sharp clatter against the rocks in the hard, frozen earth, under the thin covering of snow. The girl pressed her face on the man's coat. She was riding on a cushion behind his saddle.
"It rained once when I was little," she said. "I ran out in it and got my face wet."
"Yes—I remember, hon," said the man. "That was three years ago."
"Won't it ever rain again, Papa?"
The shadow of remembered drouths hung in the man's mind, but he spoke cheerfully: "Well, every dry spell so far has ended in a rain." He paused. "It looks like more snow tonight. Snow's as good as rain. Hon, you all right? We'll lope."
They rounded the pasture at an easy bounding gait and came to a feed platform. It was built high in a mesquite tree, above the level of a cow's head. Dan Carter pulled a sack of feed off onto his saddle, then turned and spoke to the girl. "Hon, you hungry?"
"Yes, Papa, starving!" Her face, hidden under an old felt hat of her father's, brightened. She wore a boy's winter coat over a pair of overalls, rolled up at the ankle.
Her father put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a thick sandwich. The girl took it eagerly. Not until she had the last bite stuffed into her mouth did she think to ask: "You want some?"
But she knew he didn't, even before he shook his head.
Her father reached down and opened the gate, and they came into the feed trap. The cattle were clustered by the fence, waiting. They bawled with hunger. They were a mixed lot, old spotted longhorns, tall, rangy mixed-breeds, and some white-faced Herefords. Usually they were wild, ranging over a three-section pasture, ready to run at sight of a man. But now they moved slowly. They came up and sniffed like tame dogs. They followed behind the horse, as Dan Carter dribbled the feed out of the sack in a long ribbon on the snow-covered ground.
Erect in the saddle, he brought his hand up to his mouth and cupped it, calling: "Who - o - o - o! Who - o - o - ey - ey! Watch 'em run!" Then he frowned. "Soon they won't even be able to walk. Look at those downers—getting weaker all the time."
A few cows emerged from brushy thickets in the distance and came forward slowly, mooing mournfully. Others lay still, a rim of frost on whiskers and backbone. They did not move. They did not rise to the man's call.
The riders dismounted. "Let's try to booger them up," said Dan Carter.
Man and girl stamped the ground with their feet, and slapped their cold hands together to make noise. They kicked the animals in the side, trying to frighten them into rising. One by one they staggered to their feet. "There! Get busy and eat," said the man.
"Our cows are so thin, you can see through them like tissue paper," said the girl bitterly.
"Oh, it's not that bad yet, Charlotte," laughed her father.
The girl's face turned sullen. "Don't call me Charlotte," she said. "Call me Charlie Boy."
"All right, Charlie Boy."
Shivering in the cold wind, they watched the hungry animals eat. The "cow cake" was hard, solid, concentrated lumps of cottonseed, about the size of a man's thumb. Steady chewing was necessary, and yet the cattle kept in motion, always reaching out for more.
"This is not a patch on what they need," said Dan Carter, returning to the feed platform for another sack. "If a norther comes tonight, it will all be lost in the snow. Tomorrow I'll send the cowboys out with another load. The cows need all the feed they can get to stand this cold. No rain last summer and fall gave them a bad start on the winter. And a hard winter too."
"They look like scarecrows!" exclaimed Charlie. "Their long winter hair don't keep their bones from sticking out."
Her father made no answer. A gust of wind came, swooping up snow from the slope and whirling it high in the air. Clumps of prickly pear looked frostbitten, and the low, scattered mesquite trees lifeless and black. The two riders went slowly on. At the top of a rise, Dan Carter pulled up Old Sam, and they looked off to where the undulating, snow-covered pastures met the horizon.
"Our country sure is pretty!" said the girl softly.
"It sure is, sugar!" said her father.
To them, "our country" meant "our ranch." They saw their country always as they wanted it to be, glorified by their faith and hope. No matter what happened, the vast acreage of these thirty sections would always be "pretty country" to them.
"Let's go see about that fence over in the Cutoff," said Dan Carter.
The girl made no answer. There seemed to be mutual understanding between her and her father.
The rocky pastures were bleak and bare, whitened now with snow. Cows were scattered here and there, and for long stretches there were no cows at all. Sometimes a jackrabbit jumped out from behind a bush and made Old Sam swerve aside. A flock of mourning doves rose from the snow and flew away and a turkey hen was startled from its perch in a tree. There were no other signs of life—only the vastness of the sky, only the never-ending pressure of the cold wind.
But Charlie did not mind the cold or the wind. "I sure do like to fix fence," she said.
"Remember the time you got stuck in the post hole?" asked her father.
"Sure do," laughed the girl. "You put me down in there to clean the dirt out with Mama's pie-pan."
"You were a cute little old girl, not more'n five, but you were too fat when you squatted down, Charlie Boy."
"I was scared to death, Papa," the girl said. "But you told me, 'Now, hon, don't you cry. In ten minutes I can dig you out if I have to. Fall down on your knees, hold your hands up, and I'll pull you out.' And that's what you did."
"You never cried a single tear," said her father.
"I don't guess we ever told Mama, did we?"
"No sir-ree!" laughed the man. "She'd a kept you at home. And how could I get along without my pardner? Mighty lonesome riding pasture all day, with nobody to talk to but myself."
They came up to a pile of cedar posts, not far from a large wooden windmill. "We'll make a water lot here," said Dan Carter, "and use it for a feed trap."
"Cattle been eatin' the bark off our new posts," said the girl.
"Jackrabbits, more'n likely," said her father.
"Somebody's been stealin' 'em." The girl pointed to footmarks in the snow.
Her father looked. "The Duffys, maybe. They're always going where they have no business to."
"Mighty pretty posts," said Charlie. "They'd be awful easy to take."
"Be awful easy to get caught going out the gate," said her father. "No telling who they'd be liable to meet."
"Don't meet a soul in a month o' Sundays, way off out here," said the girl. "But don't fool yourself that them Duffys would go out a gate. They're the kind goes under. If we make a water lot here, that's not half enough posts. I didn't get what I wanted for Christmas at all."
Dan Carter was busy nailing sagging barbwires to the fence posts with staples. "No?" he said.
"Who wants a silly book o' poems for Christmas? Uncle Moe must think I'm a little old whinin' crybaby!" scoffed Charlie. "Here I wanted a load of cedar posts more'n anything. There's nothing like a good fence to save work and worry. If you don't have fences to stop your cattle, they'll ramble clear off down into Mexico. Or, the south wind will blow them clear up to Kansas."
Her father smiled, then he pointed. "Look at the tracks in the snow. There's rabbits, foxes, rats, mice, coons ... Now, if we didn't have anything else to do, we'd follow those tracks and catch that coon."
"Sure would be fun," said Charlie, "but we left our gun at home."
Dan Carter checked the windmill mechanism and the water-flow into the long trough.
"Dead cow over yonder," announced Charlie. "See the buzzards?"
"We'll go look," said the man.
They rode into the brushy hollow and found two cows lying dead.
"Too cold for 'em, half-starved," said Carter. "They've had their calves, these two. But where are they? What's that over there by the fence?"
"That little old calf walked up there and died." Charlie ran to look at it. "No, it's still alive. If the mother cow is dead, it's a dogie—an orphan. But where's the other one? Reckon somebody came in and took it?"
"One calf is missing," said Dan Carter. "Might have been a lobo, or a coyote. Or maybe Duffy's still eating my beef. He's been doing it ever since he squatted on that little old one-section, and turned those grass roots up to the sun. That's what I get for telling him and his boy to take all the wood they want off our place."
But Charlie was no longer thinking about the missing calf. She called her father to look at the living one, curled up in a bed of snow. Icicles hung on its chin, and its tail was frozen stiff.
"It's mine! My dogie!" she cried. "I'll take it home and raise it."
"Now, hon, you can see it's half-frozen," said her father. "It'll die sure. Not worth fussing over. Even if you can get another calf's mother to take it, it won't amount to anything. It will be an undersized runt, not worth the milk you'll pour down its throat."
"But we can't leave it here to die, Papa."
The calf's eyes opened, and its tongue licked its lip.
"Snowball! I'll call it Snowball!" cried Charlie excitedly.
Without a word, the man slung the helpless calf over the front of his saddle. "Time we're getting back," he said, "if we want to beat that norther. Thermometer's dropping fast."
"It's not suppertime, is it? The days are so short ..." Even with the cold and the wind, Charlie never wanted to go back.
"We've come twenty-five miles today," said her father. "It's five or six miles home. I'm hungry as a cow that can't find a blade of grass. I know just how it feels."
It was nearly dark when they rode into Little Pasture, which had only a hundred acres, instead of several thousand like most of the others. Here the ground was more level. Small catclaw bushes, clumps of prickly pear and small mesquite trees grew on all sides. The horse followed a freshly-made wagon track. Twin windmills loomed ahead, the only landmarks. The riders passed by a large rock corral and a lot where there was a small herd of brown and white spotted goats, the family's summer meat supply. Dan Carter opened a gate.
"Holy Smoke! It looks like Old Man Drake's here!" he cried. "I wondered whose wagon-tracks those were. Look what he's done—torn up my gate-post again. If I couldn't drive a freight wagon through a gate without busting down the gate-post, I'd go and crawl into a prairie-dog hole."
"Don't stop now, Papa," said Charlie eagerly. "Let's go see what he brought. I don't guess you ordered more cedar posts, did you?"
To the left stood the two windmills, heavy wooden structures, with pumps which pumped water into a wide, scooped-out pond, four or five feet deep in the middle. The wind was blowing up snow from the tank dump, and ruffling the surface of the water. Several black crows flew up, cawing noisily, startled by the clop-clop of the horse's hoofs.
The man and girl rounded a curve and came through a gate into the water lot. From there the house could be seen, a six-room, one-story building. It sat in the middle of the horse trap beyond, inside a wire fence. The freight wagon had stopped a short distance beyond. The cowboys, Bud Whitaker and Gus Owens, were unhitching the three teams of horses, while the dog, Ringo, barked excitedly. Mrs. Carter had come out, a small, delicate woman, wrapped in a warm shawl, and was talking to Old Man Drake. Charlie slipped off Old Sam and ran over.
"Hey, Drake, did you bring me any cedar posts?" she cried. "No? More cow cake? None at all?"
Drake the driver, a lanky man with whiskers hanging down on both sides of his face, kept on talking to her mother and did not answer. The men unloaded the semi-annual supply of food—barrels of flour and sugar, and hundred-pound sacks of meal, potatoes and red frijole beans.
"Nothin' but stuff to eat!" scoffed Charlie.
She ran back to Old Sam. Her father had lifted the dogie down, and was holding it in his arms. Ringo came up, sniffing.
"Where do you want it, sugar?" asked Carter. "Go in the barn and make a bed of hay. I'll bring your dogie in."
"Oh, no, he'll freeze in there, sure," said Charlie. "Let's take him in the kitchen."
"You know your mother doesn't allow livestock in the house," said Dan Carter. "Pile up some hay, quick, so I can put him down—he's heavy."
He put the calf down and Charlie knelt to look at it. "He's still alive," she said softly. "I've got to warm him some milk."
On her way to the house, Charlie saw that all the family were crowded about the freight wagon. The food supplies were unloaded, and the men were lifting down a large, heavy white object. When she came out again, with the warm milk in a bucket, they were standing around the object, admiring.
But Charlie hurried to the calf. He was standing on his four wobbly legs now. He was the most beautiful calf she had ever seen. His face was pure white, and his body was velvety red. He hadn't had time to get his face dirty. He was gentle too, because he was not old enough to be afraid. His eyes were big and appealing.
She must keep him alive. She must get some warm milk inside him.
It was not easy. The calf did not know how to drink. She found the green bottle with the large nipple, which had been used for calves before. But he did not want to take it, even when she held it down in the milk. When she pushed his head down into the bucket, he jerked it up and sneezed all over her.
She pushed his head down again, and put her milky fingers inside his mouth. At last he began to suck, and as he sucked, strength began to flow into his weak, shivering body.
But a norther was blowing up, and Charlie knew he would have to stay in a warm place, or he would die. Daddy would help her to carry the calf into the kitchen. She ran out to call her father, and she saw the men carrying the big white thing across the back porch into the door. Ringo went in after them.
"Hey, Bones, what they got there?" cried Charlie. "Hey, Grace, what is it?"
But her brother and sister were too excited to answer. Mama had a proud look on her face. Mama had something she wanted. Even Papa looked happy. The cowboys, Bud and Gus, were talking loudly.
"Where we gonna sleep?" demanded Gus.
"'Taint big enough for you, Gus," said Bud. "You'd spill over both ends."
"I'm a big boy," said Gus. "I never did get off the bottle."
"You never grew up, that's right," said Bud.
Old Man Drake broke in. "Hustle up, boys, I'm hongry."
Into the cowboys' room off the back porch they went, and there they deposited their load. Was it a new white iron bed for the cowboys? They had been making jokes about the way their old one sagged. Charlie peeped in at the door. The cowboys' bed, boots, clothes and other possessions were gone. The floor and walls were bare. Mama must have had it cleared out. And there in the middle of the floor stood the new possession.
It was a large white shiny porcelain enamel bathtub, standing up on four clawlike legs. Charlie stared.
"Gee-whillikens! What in the old scratch? A BATHTUB!" the girl exclaimed.
"Don't say things like that, daughter," begged Mrs. Carter. Then she smiled. "Maybe now we can begin to live like civilized people. Want to take the first bath, Benoni?" She turned to the small boy standing quietly beside her. Only his mother called him by his real name. He was seven, and so thin that everybody else called him Bones.
"Where's the water?" asked Bones.
"That will be the next thing," said Mrs. Carter. "When we get running water in the house, it will be just like living in town." She opened a side door which led into the kitchen. "The stove will heat the room up nicely, and we'll put the hot-water tank over in that corner. The cowboys will like it better out in the bunkhouse, now that we've put in a stove for them."
"When do we eat?" It was Old Man Drake speaking. He had driven fifty miles from San Angelo with the load of freight, camping out several nights along the way, doing his own skimpy cooking. Now he was ready for a good meal, cooked by a woman.
The table almost filled the narrow dining room. A hot fire blazed in the small heating stove in the corner. Mounted deer antlers and cow horns adorned the walls and linoleum covered the floor. Grace, Charlie's fourteen-year-old sister, red-faced from the heat of the kitchen range, was putting the food on the table.
"Come and get it or I'll throw it in the creek!" she called out.
Chairs were pulled up with a noisy clatter. Fried ham and red beans were passed and everybody fell to and ate. Nobody noticed Charlie's absence until suddenly there the girl stood at Old Man Drake's elbow. She still had her felt slouch hat on, and her face and clothes were dusty. She put her hands on her hips and watched the old freight driver.
Grace filled two large plates with hot biscuits at the stove.
Excerpted from Texas Tomboy by Lois Lenski. Copyright © 1950 Lois Lenski. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsExcerpt from Journey Into Childhood, an Autobiography by Lois Lenski,
CHAPTER I. The Dogie Calf,
CHAPTER II. Where's My Horse?,
CHAPTER III. Crazy as a Sheepherder,
CHAPTER IV. A Bloody Battle,
CHAPTER V. The Wild Cow,
CHAPTER VI. Tight-Shoe Day,
CHAPTER VII. Once a Cowboy,
CHAPTER VIII. A Calico Dress,
CHAPTER IX. A Five-Dollar Bill,
CHAPTER X. The Beautiful Bathing Suit,
CHAPTER XI. The Enemy,
CHAPTER XII. Old Skinflint,
CHAPTER XIII. The Promise,
A Biography of Lois Lenski,
What People are Saying About This
“[Charlotte’s] love of horses and the ranch, her escapades and her problems make good reading for the horse-loving girls of the present.” —The Horn Book Magazine
Lois Lenski was born October 14, 1893 in Springfield, Ohio. She died September 11, 1974.