Cowboys, Hitch-Hikers & the ’80s


By Tami Blake, copyright September 2015

Note: the photo has nothing to do with this story, except that it was taken of my dad in the era of which I write. A group of Japanese businessmen was touring the ranch.

Now, for the story:

My dad has always had a soft spot for hitch-hikers. I can remember him picking up a handful of them throughout my growing-up years — and usually getting in trouble from Mom for it! This one time sticks out in my mind, though.

I was pretty little, probably not even in school yet. Would’ve been the mid-1980s. At that time the ranch (then owned by the Grierson family) was leasing grass south of Miles City. On this particular day the cowboy crew had finished up cow work in Miles City and was headed home to Hysham in the pickup and trailer. I don’t remember who all the cowboys were packed into the 4-door Ford that day, but I’m pretty sure Joe and Shorty were in the backseat. I was in the front, in the middle, right next to Dad.

We were cruising down the interstate outside of Miles City when Dad spotted a hitch-hiker and skidded the pickup and trailer to a stop well past the guy. While the hitch-hiker caught up to our rig and loaded his trappings, the cowboys had time to muse over the situation. What if the hitch-hiker was crazy? Dangerous?

Cowboys are in the business of getting the bluff on cows and horses, and these cowboys decided their only line of defense was to get the bluff on the hitch-hiker.

The poor guy was the fourth squeezed into the backseat. As we pulled back on the interstate, he underwent an intense interrogation barked out from under long mustaches and low hat brims. Where was he from? Why was he hitch-hiking? What were his intentions?

I remember him to be a fairly young man, though in truth I think I was too scared to turn around in the seat to get a good look at him. The hitch-hiker grudgingly answered a few questions, though the cowboy crew couldn’t quite crack him.

Not to be defeated, one by one they displayed the only weapons cowboys in these parts carry: their knives. They started comparing the various fixed-blade knives they all were packing in sheaths on their sides — being sure to ask the hitch-hiker his opinion on different styles and degrees of sharpness. They passed knives back and forth, between the front seat and the back. They lovingly polished the blades on the leather of their chinks.

He finally had enough of their merciless teasing (or perhaps was scared out of his mind), and the hitch-hiker announced he would be disembarking at the next exit… in the middle of nowhere.

“Are you sure?” Dad asked him several times, offering to take him further.

But the hitch-hiker was sure. We left him on the side of the road somewhere between Miles City and Forsyth. Cowboys keep score, and this one was a win for them.

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