Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Kid Kirby

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Kid Kirby

Article excerpt

His name was Reeves Kirby and he was eighteen that summer. He was small of stature and unlikely to grow bigger. Moreover, he had a mild temperament, blond hair, bland blue eyes, and a downy upper lip-truly an unlikely candidate for the fast-draw artist the public later made him out to be.

He came up to the ranch at Almy to help his dad, Tull Kirby. Reeves meant to go back to Tooele in the fall and marry his high school sweetheart, Mary Beth McAllister. She was the pharmacist's daughter. Reeves planned to go to pharmacy school over in Pocatello. He for sure wasn't going to be a rancher.

His dad's ranch at Almy was down the Bear River five miles from Evanston, Wyoming. Tooele was in Utah. The distance between the two towns was about eighty-five miles. Culturally, it could have been a thousand. Reeves didn't figure on stumbling into a gunfight that summer with the notorious killer, gambler, and bawdy-house proprietor Thomas Galt. Reeves didn't own a revolver; he didn't know how to load one. All he knew was that you had to pull the trigger.

The ranch at Almy was called the Elkhorn. Long ago somebody had nailed an elk antler to the barn. There were cattle to tend at the Elkhorn, also fields of alfalfa to irrigate and harvest. For maybe a week after he arrived, Reeves found the work tolerable. But when a rancher from upriver showed up wanting to hire him to some break some horses, he was ready to listen.

This fellow's name was Homer Blanchard and he had a contract to provide twenty-five well-broken horses to the US Cavalry stationed at Fort Duchesne by the middle of September. He had some prime mustangs, and he needed someone who was extra good at breaking horses to take them. "I need them mustangs broke pronto," he said, "and I need 'em broke right, and your granddad says you can do it."

He had just been out to visit Reeves's grandfather, Riel Kirby, who raised horses at the Narrows of the Bear River. "A horse has pitched your granddad onto a fence and he's too stove up to take on my project," Homer said, looking Reeves over as if he were inspecting him for blemishes. "He says his Ute helper ain't up to the task, but he says you can handle it. Says you are extra good at breaking horses. Says you are a genius at it."

Reeves scuffed the toe of his shoe in the dirt. It had been a while since he'd tried his hand at sweet-talking a bronco into letting him on its back without a lot of fire and fustian-ever since his grandfather had sold his ranch at Tooele. "I could give it a try, I guess, if my folks will let me," he said.

"Let me fix it up with your dad and mom," Homer said. "You come stay in the bunkhouse for a week and I'll pay you triple. You gentle a couple of broncs and I'll have my buckeroos finish them off. And no hard feelings if it don't work."

Tull was okay with this proposition, having found out that a neighboring rancher had some big sons willing to work for a lot less than Reeves would be making with Homer. Predictably, his mother, Eula, said an emphatic no, and it took several days for Reeves to overcome her objections by persuading her that, rather than allowing Homer's cowboys to corrupt his morals, he would impress them by his resolute adherence to Mormon standards, thereby opening their hearts to becoming members of the Church. Moreover, he solemnly promised to ride home on Saturday evening in plenty of time to get a good night's sleep and prepare for driving to sacrament meeting with his folks.

Reeves did as he had promised at the end of the first week, telling his mother with considerable pride that Homer was satisfied with his work and wanted to hire him for gentling the entire herd of twenty-five horses. Reeves hoped she'd let him accept. It seemed like breaking horses was a gift Heavenly Father had given him and he ought to exercise it, especially since the pay was so generous and he'd have enough money to go forward with his plans to ask Mary Beth to marry him and to apply for pharmacy school at Idaho State University in Pocatello. …

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