“There are only two kinds of men in this world: Honest men and dishonest men. …Any man who says the world owes him a living is dishonest. The same God that made you and me made this earth. And He planned it so that it would yield every single thing that the people on it need. But He was careful to plan it so that it would only yield up its wealth in exchange for the labor of man. Any man who tries to share in that wealth without contributing the work of his brain or his hands is dishonest.” — Ralph Moody
Ralph Moody, born in 1898, made a vow while working as a cow poke. Somehow, some day, he promised himself, he was going to save up $50,000 so that he would have money to live on while he wrote a book. He began writing, “Little Britches: Father and I were Ranchers” on his 50th birthday.
It stands as an American historic gem very much worth reading. The first time I read the book, I was hooked. I wanted to know more about this man’s life.
In 1906 he was 8 years old when his father began suffering from tuberculosis. Working in a wool mill in New Hampshire was becoming impossible, so the family headed west to Colorado, where family had settled.
The opening words read, “I never really knew Father very well till we moved to the ranch on the Fort Logan-Morrison Road, not far from Denver.” Farming provides the very best venue for good parenting, and Moody was ahead of his time in realizing what a gift that provided to him and his younger siblings.
My own father had started life with many of the same hardships that Ralph Moody experienced, and I enjoyed sharing “Little Britches” with my dad, reading some of the most interesting passages to him. To this day, when I meet someone of the oldest generation with connections to farming and ranching, I share Ralph Moody’s books.
Too busy to read, let alone consider writing, I find myself wishing today’s oldest farmers could find the time to share their stories. When Moody tells of herding cattle to pasture atop a horse named Fanny, the reader is right there with him. Scared to death taking the cows out in to the road, trying to keep them out of the neighbor’s alfalfa, he uses a broom handle fashioned in to a sort of whip. He fell from the horse many times before realizing Fanny had more intelligence in herding than he did.
“Fanny knew all the tricks there were about making cows do what she wanted them to do, and my biggest job was guessing which way she was going to turn, and when. I found out the farther I leaned over her neck, the faster she would go, and maybe I ran her fast lots of times when I didn’t need to.”
When Moody’s sister Grace brought lunch to him, which was “everything stew” in a lard pail, she begged to get on Fanny to herd the cattle while her brother ate. He feared his sister would surely die, but Grace insisted. The big brother told her to hold on tight with her legs, and to watch the ears of the horse. She would point her ears the direction she was about to turn, and it helped to anticipate her quick maneuvers. Grace didn’t listen, and ended up flipped upside down, between Fanny’s front legs while the horse was in a full run, and somehow managed to hold on for dear life.
Scared and shaking, laughing and crying at the same time, the big brother insisted Grace get right back on or fear would prevent her from ever trying again. This time she listened. When she got back on, with her brother’s help, she pulled the reins so tight that Fanny walked slowly backward and in a circle.
“Father always said the worst things you expected never happened to you.” Breathing a sigh of relief that his little sister was still alive as he handed the lard pail back to her, he told her to head for home. When the two were far enough apart for safety in her remark, his little sister yelled, “I can ride better than you can any old day. I can ride her backwards and you can’t!” “I was afraid Grace might have ruined Fanny, but she didn’t,” Moody writes.