My friend, Jack Kingsbery of Crystal City, Texas has demonstrated yet another talent to a list that was already impressive. This cattleman, engineer, designer of cattle chutes and gun-safes and feeders and saddle racks, brush cowboy par excellence, competition roper and all-round good guy has become a man of letters. He has written a book and a good one.
Back in November, I received an invitation from Jack to a book signing to be held in a San Antonio hotel, December 7. I knew Jack was a story-teller, a raconteur, but I never dreamed he would write those stories down. Very few good story-tellers do. But Jack did.
I went to the signing, and there he put pen to paper and autographed my copy of “Cowboy Wrecks and Rattlesnakes -- Tales of a Texas Brush Country Rancher.” We also had a good time visiting with Jack and his wife Evelyn and their oldest son, Bob, who I had the honor of employing as a writer for my company back in the 1970's when he graduated from Texas A&M. He was one of the good ones and ended up as an account executive and a vice president in my organization before moving on to head up Snell Power Fencing Systems several years later.
I had first met Jack Kingsbery when we were both charter members of the new Beefmaster Breeders Universal in 1961, and to know Jack is to like and respect him as a man. His book is made up of 31 little stories of his adventures and misadventures while growing up and while running cattle in the fierce brush country of South Texas.
If you read the book, you will know Jack and what makes him tick. He is that rare individual who has the talent to be both a cowman and a cowboy, something many aspire to but can't seem to do successfully. Most cowmen, though they may know cattle and are able to profitably operate a ranch, tend to steer clear of doing the actual work of a brush popping cowhand. Roping wild cattle in the thick brush of the brazado isn't their cup of tea. Jack is just the opposite. He ranches, I believe, in order to have a legitimate excuse to chase wild cattle in the brush, and he has been singularly successful at it.
Good cowboys like Jack, the kind born 100 years too late to go up the trail, don't tend to be good businessmen. They'd rather be chasing a wild, mossback steer through the Catclaw and Mesquite than managing an operation and keeping records. They'd rather fork a horse in 100-degree temperatures than ride around in an air-conditioned pickup.
Jack is a brush popper of the first order. He loves it. He'd rather be aboard a good cow horse in the pasture handling half-wild cattle than any place else in the world, and he says so in his book. Yet he has the singular ability to run a ranch and a manufacturing business, even to raise horses profitably, if you can imagine that, while doing what he loves to do best.
This is a book that any rancher or would-be rancher or any cowboy will enjoy. He tells his stories with a wry underlying humor that is common to most cowboys but in words and phrases that let the reader smell the horse sweat and saddle leather.
There are stories of his growing up with his two brothers on a ranch in Coleman County during the depression, when ranch kids took on responsibilities early. And apparently, what one Kingsbery kid didn't think of to get into mischief, the other two did, all the while learning to break horses, doctor screw worms and rope wild cattle before they reached their teens.
He tells of the time when the boys pleaded with their father for weeks to buy them a bicycle. He finally relented, and shortly thereafter, Jack, riding a green-broke horse offered to give his brother, who was riding the bicycle, a tow from the gate. The bicycle, following the horse so closely, spooked the animal and he ran away. The rope was tied hard and fast to the saddle horn and to the handlebars of the bicycle, and after a chase of a mile or so, the horse turned sharply through an open gate. The trailing bicycle didn't make the turn.
Jack's brother jumped clear, but the bicycle smashed into the gate post, totally destroying it. Nothing was ever said by their father, but the bicycle was never replaced.
He mentions in passing his service in the Eighth Air Force in England during World War II, and his career as a member of the Texas A&M Rodeo team as he earned an education after the war. But most of the book is made up of stories about working wild cattle in the brush and the wrecks that resulted, because that's what Jack enjoys the most.
One tale involved doctoring screw worms in a baby calf. Half wild Brahman-cross cows are very protective of their calves and it is worth a cowboy's life to try to doctor a baby in the brush without someone to haze off the mother. This particular story involved a cow that Jack had penned to doctor her calf the year before. She was not as fierce as most of them, though she put on a great show, bellering and dancing around making threatening moves at him as he doctored her young one's navel.
When her next calf came up with screw worms, Jack knew the cow would make threatening noises and dance around, but wouldn't really come after him. When he found the calf, it was right near the road, and he roped it. He got off his horse to doctor it, just as a some strangers in a car came down the highway. He noticed that they stopped to watch the procedure.
The cow danced around and bellered, made fainting charges at him, at times coming so close he could feel her breath on his neck. Knowing she wouldn't attack him, he calmly went about doctoring the baby. When he had finished and was remounting his horse he heard one of the observers say, “That has to be the bravest man I ever saw.” Jack got a big laugh out of that.
Nearly all of us who have ranched or worked on ranches in the Texas brush country have some stories to tell, but even to one who has done it, many of Jack's accounts will raise the hair on the back of your neck. It is truly amazing that he survived to his present state of maturity.
Like most cowboys, Jack is a lover of good horses, and he has owned and worked off of many. The tales involving these animals have a poignancy about them that lets the reader see inside the special relationship that exists between a good cowboy and a good cow horse. He devotes an entire chapter for instance to Bobo, the best horse he ever owned and one to Mitzi, the best cowdog that maybe ever lived that lets you know the love and respect he felt for these two animals.
As I said, to read “Cowboy Wrecks and Rattlesnakes” is to know Jack Kingsbery, and to know him is to like and respect him. He's a rare individual, one of the good ones, and there are far too few of them left. I highly recommend this book to people who know and love ranching or who love good horses and dogs -- or even to those who simply like a good story.
The book was published by Kingsbery Communications, a company owned by his son, Bob, and anyone wanting a copy can write for one there. The address is PO Box 12247, Mill Creek, Washington 98082. The price is $17.95 per copy, plus $2 for postage.