A cowboy’s perspective on death and dying

It’s out of print now, but here and there you can still find a stray copy of Jim Burnett’s book "High Lonesome — Tales of Bisbee and Southern Arizona."

Burnett’s a beaten-up old cowboy from Sulpher Springs Valley in Southern Arizona who late in life found himself writing a column for the "Bisbee Observer" newspaper. Most of the time, such "remember when" newspaper columns don’t amount to much. The writers too often don’t know much, have not thought much and, worst of all, can’t write much.

Burnett is one of the exceptions. I picked up the book because I have become drawn to the history of West Texas, Southern New Mexico and Southern Arizona from the 1860s to 1940s or so. Not sure why, but it may partly be due to the fact my great-grandfather worked as a miner in Tombstone and Bisbee before the family eventually settled in Phoenix and Bullhead City. But my weird interests aside, anyone will find "High Lonesome" a good read. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:

"I grew up during that time when horses were still in common use. Everyone knew the automobile was here to stay, but all rural people still had and used horses , not as pets nor as play-things, but as transportation and horse power. Other things I may forget but the horses I grew up with will be with me ’til the day I die. I can see them, every damn one of them, as clearly as when we were together over fifty years ago."

Burnett then proceeds to delightfully describe all of the horses he knew as a kid and a cowboy. He finishes the chapter this way:

"Dad would never tolerate any mistreatment of a horse … The horses were always fed and cared for before we ate. As horses grew older they were used less until, at last they were turned out in one of the big pastures to spend their last years. To the day he died, my Old Dad never sent a horse to the butcher. The old horses would get thin in the winter, but come summer and green feed, they would fatten up. But the summer always came when they didn’t slick off right, and it was clear they wouldn’t make it through the winter. Then, along in November, somebody would take a thirty-thirty and shoot them. It was a sad chore to perform, but far better than letting the old horse starve in late winter, and I hope somebody will do as much for me when I come to my last winter. Of course, I understand why they can’t. Somehow we haven’t yet reached the place where we can be as kind to our old People as we were to our old Horses, and it’s too damned bad we haven’t."

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