reality. Five o'clock already? I thought to myself as I rolled over and turned off the offending
object. Out of all the changes since our family moved out to grandpa's ranch a month ago, the
alarm clock was the most necessary and the least liked. I had never been used to getting up so
early back in Dallas, two hundred and fifty miles away, when all I had to do before eight was my
private prayer time. I was, however, enjoying the feeling of productivity and the fruits of all my
hard work was starting to show.
I lay staring at the ceiling for a minute longer then kicked off my blankets and jumped out of
bed. No time for dawdling if I hoped to be dressed and have my prayer/Bible time done by 5:45.
An hour later I hurried outside to the hay barn to load up the tractor trailer for the horses.
The cows don't get hay, they graze off the land. I opened one of the big doors a crack and
slipped inside. Once my eyes adjusted to the dim twilight inside I saw Grandpa forking hay into
the bed of the trailer. Beat me to it again! I thought.
"Morning Gramps!" I called out.
"Mornin' Sam," he replied, nodding his head in my direction. "Kinda early fer you to be out on
yer birthday, I half expected you to sleep in."
"Well Gramps," I said, trying to match his drawl, "You was a-sayin' last night that at fifteen I
oughta be growin' up like a man, so I a-figured that I had better be up at the crack of light to do
"Now don't go and get too big for yer britches sonny, 'cause ifin you thought it was the crack
of dawn just now ye'd be mistaken. Sun comes up around five thirty during the fall, that was
nigh on to half an hour ago."
I racked my brain for a reply, and finding none set to work loading the trailer.
When we had finished I was heading to the double doors of the old red barn when Grandpa
stopped me and gestured towards the tractor.
"I figure you can drive 'er today if you want, but of course if you don't want to..." he said with
"Thanks Gramps!" I whooped and vaulted into the seat. Not that I hadn’t ever driven a
tractor before, but never THE tractor. Like everything else about Grandpa's farm, this tractor
was an old school machine. It had been in the family for two or three generations and was
probably one of the first ones ever made. Well, maybe not that old, but it was an opportunity not
to be passed up.
As Grandpa swung the double doors open I read the greasy name written behind the
steering wheel. John Deere, 1939 model B. It may not have been the strongest or newest
tractor in the world, but the feeling of driving a historic vehicle was even better than driving
something like that.
I turned the key and the engine roared to life. Grandpa had taken good care of that old thing.
I pulled out of the barn and Gramps jumped on the trailer with the agility of a cat. The tractor
wasn't the only old thing on the farm that worked like new.
It took a few minutes to drive down to the stable where we found Dad was already at work,
filling the water troughs and the like. I stopped the tractor and hopped off.
"Morning Dad!" I called as I pitched a forkful of hay into the feeding trough.
"Morning Samuel," Dad called back without turning his head. "It's rather early for you to be
out on your birthday. I half expected you to sleep in."
I grinned at Grandpa and threw another forkful into the trough. Like father like son, I wonder
how much like them I am. Dad was Gramps’s youngest son like Gramps’s was his dad's
youngest. I am the oldest boy of our family. I wonder if that makes me less like them? Anyway
there's work to do, can't just stand here thinking. I went to brush down the horse I used. Gramps
had named her Arizona, the state he got her from. She had a beautiful white coat with large
brown spots on it. I had grown to be very fond of her and often brought a carrot to her in the
"Hi girl. Sorry, no carrot today," I said, stroking her mane. "Since it's my birthday, I brought
you an apple instead, so you can celebrate." I pulled the fruit from my pocket and held it out to
her. She gently took it from my hand and removed all traces of its existence with a few loud
chomps, then nickered gently as if to say 'thanks'.
We finished the feedings and then drove back to the barn, parked the tractor, and went
inside for breakfast. The aroma of bacon and eggs hit me as I walked through the door. I
grinned, that was one more thing I liked about the country, hearty meals. Gramps, Dad, and I
took our place at the table next to my three little brothers. Joel and Matthew (they're twins, six
years younger than me, and as much alike as two peas in a pod), and Timothy (2, we usually
called him Tim). My two younger sisters, Sarah(11) and Lydia(6) were also sitting patiently at the
table. Grandma, Mom, and 13 year old Rachel bustled about the kitchen. Mom brought a jug of
milk and set it down while Grandma placed the steaming hot eggs on the table once they all
found their seats, Grandpa blessed the food.
"LORD, we thank you for your many blessings to us. Thank you for this food we are about to
partake of. Please bless it to us for strength and nourishment. And we thank you for the fifteen
years of Sam's life, may it please you to give him many more. Amen!"
"Amen!" we all repeated, and then fell to stuffing ourselves with as much bacon, eggs,
biscuits, and fresh milk as we could fit into us. It was a great breakfast.
Just as I was finishing the last scraps of cheesy eggs, Dad nodded to Mom and they both
got up from the table. A moment later they came back with several packages, wrapped in brown
"Happy birthday, Samuel!" Mom said as she replaced my plate with a rectangular package.
Dad set the others on the table beside it.
"Thanks!" I said, my mouth still partially full of biscuit. A little tag on it said From: Mom and
Dad. I tore away the paper and slowly pulled out the package inside.
"Wow! Thanks! This is just like the bowie knife I was dying for at Cabella's!"
"It is almost exactly the same, except this one is custom made," Dad explained. "It has your
name engraved on the blade."
"Wow, Thank you!" I said, carefully opening the oakwood showcase it came in and lifting out
the foot long knife. I ran my finger along from the perfectly smooth chestnut handle to the very
tip of the steel blade (not on the cutting end, of course, as the brand new knife was almost razor
sharp). Sure enough, my name was on it, Samuel David Wile.
"Is that part real gold?" Sarah asked, pointing to the hilt.
"No, I don't think so," Dad said as he examined it. "Gold is a soft metal and wouldn't last long
on a knife that is meant to be used. I believe it's polished brass, but it sure looks like gold."
"Here, open this one," Rachel said, handing me a gift bag. I pulled out the tissue paper and
lifted out the nicest leather knife sheath I had ever seen.
"Thanks Rachel!" I exclaimed. I then slipped the bowie knife into it and popped the snaps
together over the hilt. "It's a perfect fit!"
"Oh good, I was worried it wouldn't be!" she said grinning at my pleasure.
"I like how my initials are on it." I said as I threaded the loop onto my belt.
"Thanks! It was my idea," she said with a wide smile. "I'm glad you like it."
"Matthew also got something for you," Mom said, handing me another package.
The rest of the gifts were from the younger kids, mostly little stuff they had made, found, or
bought with Mom's help.
Two year old Timothy slipped away from the table with one of the gift bags and returned a
moment later and put it on my lap. Curious, I pulled out the tissue paper.
"Hoppy bifday!" he yelled in excitement. Out of the torn tissue paper fell a miniature
flashlight, which I had happened to give him for his last birthday.
"Thanks buddy!" I said, pulling the wriggling kid into a hug. Matthew and Joel began to laugh
as soon as they saw what it was he had so gleefully given me. I glared at them and they quickly
"Well," Dad said, rising from the table, "I hate to bust the party but we've got a lot of cows to
move today. Let’s get the horses saddled and get a move on."
Gramps and I also rose, and I slipped the little light into my pocket. Joel sprang to his feet
"Can I go too Dad?"
"Me too?" joined Matthew
"Me doo!" shouted Tim, jumping up and down.
"No, you’re all still to little," I said with a grin.
"Hold on sonny, don't get too big for yer britches just 'cause it's yer birthday, yer father's right
there and he can answer for himself."
I looked down at my feet sheepishly. It hurt my pride to be corrected in front of the young
ones but I knew that I did do a lot of things that Gramps would call 'too big for my britches' and
every once in awhile he, but mostly Dad, had to bring me down to fit them with a hickory switch
in the wood shed.
"Mmm, I think you can come with us to the stable to saddle the horses, but then you need
to scamper on back and feed the chickens and help your mama in the garden," I heard Dad say.
"Woo hoo!" the boys yelled in unison and ran to our room. I followed.
"Boys! Don't be so loud in the house!" Grandma called after them. "Or I'll have to give you a
licking." Both boys were instantly silent.
"Gamma give you lickin'!" Tim shouted in glee.
“She spanks a lot harder than Mom does,” Joel whispered to Matthew.
I chuckled and began to rig out in my standard day's working gear. I already had on my
cowboy boots. Why they don't call them rancher's boots I can't say, as that is pretty much who
uses them today, but I guess a rancher is a cowboy, only not on the open prairie. I tied my bright
red hanky around my neck and put my cowboy hat on my head. These weren’t for looks at all.
The hats wide brim keeps the sun off in clear weather, and the rain off in wet. The hanky
generally goes over the mouth to keep out the dust the cows churn up.
Our ranch is one of the biggest ones that’s left in these parts. The land has been in the
family for generations and each generation buys new property to add to it. So when I say big, I
mean big, like fifty thousand acres. If you want an idea of the size of that, count to fifty
thousand, then go look at one acre of land. In all the years that he has lived here, I don't think
that Gramps has been to all the land on our ranch. Yet it doesn't even make it onto the list of the
top ten largest ranches. I think the largest one here in Texas has nearly a million acres on it. If
you want an idea of how big that is, think of our ranch and multiply that by twenty. Yea, that’s
huge. On our property there are several other herds of cattle, other than the one we work with.
They are run by our cousins' families or people Gramps hired to live here and work for him.
As we walked along, Gramps leaned over to me and whispered, "Your grandma and I
haven't forgotten about your birthday. Your gift is in the stable." He winked and put a finger to
his lips. What could it be? I thought.
When we got to the stable I was nearly dying of curiosity. I went to Arizona and lifted down
her saddle from its place.
"Hold on a minute," Gramps called to me as I was lifting the heavy leather saddle onto her
back. At that moment three ranch hands came in. One was my Uncle Bill, a sworn bachelor.
"Morning, Dad, morning Jason." Uncle Bill said in his booming voice. He was a big, burly
man, with a great red mustache that shook when he laughed. He was a sort of odd ball in his
family, since none of the rest had red hair, a build as large as his, or a laugh like his. It was a
laugh that was fit to make thunder jealous yet it made you feel good to hear it. As usual he
pretended not to notice me. He took two large strides to the younger boys and scooped them up
in a bearhug, a standard procedure when they saw each other. The boys slipped loose from the
embrace and he let loose a terrific roar that sent them scampering for cover. He then broke into
his booming laugh, holding his sides and shaking all over. If a new horse had been in the stable
it probably would have spooked, but the ones we had here were used to Bill and his ways.
"Hi, Uncle Bill," I said stepping from Arizona's stall and offering my hand. I remembered that
was a bad idea a moment to late, as he had already crushed all the bones in my hand with his
grip, or at least it felt that way.
"My most hardy congratulations on surviving the city till your fifteenth year!" he was saying
as I tried to salvage a few scraps of my hand. "Yes, I know you have been here for three weeks
but that doesn't count, just kinda a breaking in time."
Jake, one of the ranch hands, leaned over from the other stall and stage whispered, "That
means Happy Birthday." I winked and grinned.
Uncle Bill released my hand and went to saddle his own horse, which had a build that
seemed to match its owner's.
Gramps went over to Dick, who was generally called the Lone Ranger, and whispered
something in his ear. The man nodded and left the stable. A moment later he returned carrying a
brand new saddle with a lasso hanging from it. He nodded to Jake and the two walked over to
Jake cleared his throat, "We bachelors thought that as you were getting your own horse
today she might need her own saddle."
"My own horse?" I repeated incredulous, half turning round to look at Gramps. He motioned
"You've been taking good care of her. She's yours now."
I stood in stunned silence, just looking at the beautiful horse that was now mine.
"Are you just gonna stand there all day with your mouth wide enough to catch flies, or are
you gonna saddle her up and come along?" Uncle Bill asked with a wink at Grandpa.
"Oh...no, no, I'll saddle her!" I stammered. Dick handed me the new saddle with a grin and I
hurried to put it on her back.
"Your mine now, ol' girl." I whispered in her ear and she snorted in response. I tightened the
cinch of the light saddle around her belly and adjusted the stirrups.
"Enough dawdling! We need to get going!" Gramps called as he led his horse, Kansas, out of
the stables. We all followed and headed down the path and over a hill or two to the cow pens.
It took half an hour to get the herd ready to move out, but we finally did it and soon were
driving them along to the grazing area Gramps had chosen for the day.
A month after my birthday Uncle Bill and I sat next to our horses on a little shrub covered hill
above the cows, who were grazing in the gully. Bill had a newspaper he had picked up that
morning and was reading it while I was stripping the bark off a promising walking stick. That new
bowie knife seemed like a part of me now. I was constantly using it, but I also kept it polished
and sharp so it would stay nice. The air was a bit chill, but not overly so, and a gentle breeze
blew over the hillside, rippling the long grass. It was a good life.
Bill lowered the newspaper and turned to me, "Did ya hear about the mountain lion in these
parts? They offered a real good reward for whoever can kill 'im, as he has been killin' more than
his share of cows around here."
"Is that so? How much?" I asked.
"Five grand," Uncle Bill said matter of factly.
"Five thousand dollars! That's a whole heap of money!" I exclaimed, incredulous.
"Yep, but that's not the only thing. This here article says that it has been attacking cows in
our area. Could hit our ranch."
I kicked at a fresh gopher mound and imagined what I could do with five thousand dollars.
"Sam, come here," Dad called from the other end of the cow pen. I tied Arizona's reigns to
the fencepost and hurried over.
"What's the trouble, Dad?" I asked, seeing the concern on his face. He brushed his straight
brown hair off his forehead and gestured with his thumb to a cow that was laying on its side.
Five or six others lay scattered about. I leaned over it and saw to my horror that it had been
killed and partially eaten by some wild animal. The flies were finishing it off.
"What do you think killed them?" I asked, trying to hide my disgust.
"Probably that mountain lion that has a price on its head. He's been known to steal full
grown cows from right out of the pens. Nothing else could have done in this bull."
"What do we do?" I said, scratching my head.
"Well," Dad said after a moment's thought. "First we bury these things, no use attracting
wolves or coyotes as well. Then after the regular day's cattle grazing we have the ranch hands
stay to help us ambush the critter. You ride back along to the house and tell your ma to have
"Yes sir!" I said, and sprinted back to Arizona. Tonight I might actually see, if not shoot, the
infamous mountain lion! I thought as my pony swept along towards the house.
"Mrs. Wile, I have to say that you do make the best mashed potatoes and cornbread I have
ever tasted!" declared Dick as he scraped the last bit off his plate.
"Why thank you," Mom replied with a smile. "But I can't take full credit for it. Jason's Mother
and Rachel did much of the work."
"Well, I will still say it is the best!" Dick said with a wink at Grandma.
"I was hooked on the steak! That was the best grill job of the century, Dad!" Uncle Bill said
to Grandpa as he wiped his mustache with a napkin. He needed it too, with A1 sauce all through
it. I winked at Rachel and nodded towards him. She giggled.
"Gentlemen, much as I would like to sit here and chat, we are here to try and get that old
mountain lion that has been the plague of this area. Not to mention a few thousand dollars if we
are successful," Dad announced with a meaningful look at Jake, who we all knew could use the
money in a moment. He grinned.
"I assume you all have your guns?" Dad asked and looked around the table. All nine men
nodded. My heart sank. How could I help with this ambush if I had no gun? My old double
barreled shotgun didn't count, of course. It was a nice shotgun, I had gotten it last Christmas
and had gone quail and rabbit hunting with Dad and Gramps, but tiny lead pellets don't kill huge
"We'll be taking Sam with us, so that makes twelve of us," I heard Dad saying. I looked up
"But I don't have a..." I began to object.
"I picked up some slugs for your shotgun. Those will do if the big cat gets close, but I'll still
put you in the position of least danger." Dad said. "Anyway, we will post four men at each of the
three cattle pens. I have the other ranch houses on alert tonight so if the mountain lion is in this
area then we'll get him tonight."
"If you hear a shot, rally to that point," Gramps added. "Several others have tried to get this
guy and he always makes his escape, so we'll have to outsmart him."
Uncle Bill stood up, "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!"
Each of us was equipped with a firearm, most had rifles, two had a couple revolvers, and I
was the only one with a shotgun. Everyone also had a large flashlight. As we were leaving the
house Timothy toddled up to me in his race-car pajamas. His blond hair was spiking up in
random places and he had the little flashlight in his one hand and a popgun in the other.
"I go too, Sam?" he asked me hopefully.
"Not tonight, Tim," I kneeled down to be at his eye level. "We're gonna go get a big bad lion
with our guns, boom boom!"
"Boom! Boom!" He said with a giggle. Then he dropped his flashlight and ran back to his
room, working his popgun furiously. "Boom! Boom!" I heard him yelling in his little voice.
Uncle Bill chuckled, then turned to me, "Let's go, the others are already outside."
I nodded, picked the little flashlight up off the floor and dropped it in my pocket. "Let's Go!"
All of us made our way to the barn to saddle our horses.
As I tightened the girth on Arizona's saddle I asked Gramps, "Why do we have to bring our
horses, couldn't we just walk to the pens?"
"We could," Gramps replied, "but then if we did spot that pesky big cat we couldn't chase
him very well on foot. This way if we do spot him and he tries to escape, we just follow till we get
"Oh, OK," I said as I swung into the saddle. This was going to be an exciting night! We set
off on horseback and within five minutes had arrived at the three pens, which were about fifty
yards apart. All of us dismounted and assembled around Dad, who addressed us in hushed
"Alright, I want one of us at the corner of each pen. Dick, Sam, Thomas, I want you three
with me on the far left pen. Jake, Marty, and Alex, you go with Gramps at the center. Bill, I want
you to take John, Josh, and Adam on the right. Everyone, take your horses with you and tie
them together outside the pens. If we do have a visit, we want to be able to follow rapidly if the
lion tries to escape. Be careful with your shots so we don't hit the cows, horses, or each other.
Take your positions."
We all crept off through the dark and took up our watch. I tied the four horses to a sapling
about fifty feet away from the fence, being careful not to tie them too tight, so we could make a
fast attack. I then crouched by the corner post. Quietly opening the breach of my gun, I inserted
a pair of slugs, and quietly clicked the barrel closed. Then I waited. And waited. The cold night
air bit through my thin jacket and chilled me to the bone. Still I sat without movement, my eyes
scanning the surrounding darkness. I wasn't sure, but I thought, by the look of the sky, that an
hour had passed.
I suddenly realized that my gun might be on safety just at the moment I needed it. I quickly
flipped it, but was just as unsure. I couldn't turn on my flashlight, as it's brightness might scare
off the mountain lion. I then remembered the little flashlight Tim had dropped. I shifted slightly
and pulled it out of my pocket. Never though this little thing would come in handy. The cheap
light was so dim that it wouldn't have scared a fly. I flipped it on and checked the safety. It was
on red, ready to fire. I switched it back to safe, but now that I knew what way was what I could
easily get it ready.
I was about to turn off the light when something caught my eye. It seemed as if two dim,
yellow flashlights were shining back at me. I suddenly realized what they were. Eyes, cat eyes,
big cat eyes! They were moving quickly towards the horses, instead of at the cows. They
ducked low for a moment, and I knew it was about to spring. For an instant I was paralyzed with
fear, I couldn't move! Then I realized with a start that that big ol' cat was about to get my horse,
I flipped my bright flashlight on and raised and fired both barrels of my shotgun at once. I
had forgotten how hard two twelve gauge slugs going off at the same moment kicked. The blast
knocked me flat on my back and nearly split my eardrums. I was back on my feet in a moment,
however, and saw to my horror that the cougar had Arizona by the flank. I figured I must have
missed and the cat had sprung upon the horses. Mountain lions can jump nearly twenty feet.
The other horses broke free from their loose halters and scattered.
Without thinking, I dropped the empty shotgun and drew my bowie knife, already at a dead
run towards the fray. Arizona was kicking wildly and the cat was struggling to bring her down so
he could finish the kill. This is a bold one! I remember vaguely thinking as I covered the distance
at the top of my speed. I reached the spot just as Arizona went down under the big cat.
Without a moment's hesitation I jumped on the beast, thrusting my knife down into it's side.
If I had had time to think I probably would not have taken such bold and foolish action, but my
adrenaline was up and I wasn't thinking. The lion screamed and rolled over to attack me,
swiping a huge claw across my face. I though my head split open as warm blood ran down into
my eyes. I swung blindly upward with my knife, which I had managed to hang on to. The tip
struck true again and the cat screamed again. The huge claws lacerated my flesh and
excruciating pain shot through my whole body.
Suddenly I heard a loud whinny and a thud and the lion roared in furry and agony. I could
see nothing with the blood running down in my eyes and I shielded my head with my arms.
Then I heard a shriek of pain from Arizona. I wiped the blood from my eyes in time to see the
lion and the faithful horse coming down virtually on top of me. The teeth of the lion in the horse's
neck. I screamed in pain as the two bodies landed in a struggling mass on top of me. I thought
both me and my horse were going to be dead.
BANG! click, BANG! click, BANG! The lion stopped thrashing on top of me. The next
moment strong hands dragged me out from under the carcass of the lion and Dad pulled me
into his arms. His smoking revolver lay on the ground next to the fight.
"Thank God you’re alive!" He exclaimed over and over. Thomas and Dick were working to
remove the lion's jaws from Arizona's neck. The poor horse neighed in agony.
"No wonder this one is so bold!" Thomas said pointing to the lion. "I'm sure that it's got
rabies. See how it was foaming at the mouth!" The others came hurrying up at this moment.
Dad called to Bill, "Bill! Get me your horse! I have to bring Sam back to the house, we need
to get him to the closest hospital immediately, that lion had rabies!"
"What about Arizona!?" I asked in a frightened voice.
"I'm sorry," Dad said, looking back at the animal. "There's no hope for her. Best thing to do is
to put her out of her misery." Dad nodded to Dick, and Dick nodded gravely in return. Bill ran up
and handed Dad the reigns of his horse. Excruciating pain shot through my left arm as Dad
mounted and pulled me up behind him. We took off at a gallop towards the house. Tears stung
my eyes as I thought of the fate of my faithful horse.
NO! I dropped my head on Dad's shoulder and sobbed until I thought my heart would break.
Three days later I lay on a bed in a hospital room, looking blankly at the opposite wall. When
we had got to the house Dad had called 911 and they sent a helicopter right away. They had
treated me partially on the trip to the Dallas hospital, where they had done a whole bunch of
stuff to me. At least that's what Dad said, as I had been put to sleep with some medicine. Once
at the hospital, they had bandaged up all my gashes and set some broken bones too. They had
kept me at the hospital just to be safe, and I would be able to go home to finish recovery at the
end of the week. I wouldn't be out and about for a while, however, until the bones set and
healed. I had hardly slept at all, and all I could think about was the events of Wednesday night. I
felt angry and sad over the death of Arizona, and I just couldn't rest comfortably.
The door opened and Gramps stuck his head in, "How’s the hero feeling?"
"Gramps! how did you get here?!" I exclaimed in delighted surprise.
"Well, I rode on a cool new invention called a car, ever heard of it?" He replied sarcastically.
He then walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I got something for you," he said, pulling an envelope from his pocket. I opened it and
gasped. Inside was a check for five thousand dollars!
"That was the prize for killing that big cat. All of us lion hunters voted that you should get it,
for your services," he explained.
My smile vanished and tears filled my eyes, "I would rather that Arizona had lived.”
"I know, I know. She was a good horse," he said laying a hand on my shoulder. After a
moment of silence he spoke again, "But I will say, I see many things to be grateful for, even in
the death of your horse. You can praise God that he spared your life, using Arizona to do it. If
she hadn't attacked that old cat when you went down, you would have died You can be thankful
that you broke its left leg with your slugs, otherwise it would have been able to tear you apart in
"I actually hit it?" I asked, "I thought I missed."
"You did hit it, and I think it saved your life. Another thing you can be grateful for is that your
Dad was right there to finish that cat as you were about to be crushed. Your knife would have
killed it eventually. But anyway, you can be grateful that no one else was hurt. There are so
many things to be grateful for. You see, what I have learned is that if something bad happens,
instead of being depressed or angry at God for the bad thing, be grateful to Him for the good."
He laid his hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes.
"Thanks, Grandpa, I see what you mean. I'll try to do that."
"Good boy. That doesn't mean there isn't proper grieving time. But if you keep your eyes on
Jesus, things here won't be so bad, and you won't be crushed by them. You just think about
that," Gramps said, getting up and moving towards the door. "Doc said not to talk to you too
long, but I'll be back later."
"Alright, see you later Grandpa," I said laying back down. The door closed and I shut my
eyes, but not to sleep, yet.
"LORD," I prayed, "help me to focus on you and be grateful even when things are hard, like
now. I pray that I would not be angry at you for the bad things that happened, but to be thankful
to you for the good. In Jesus name, Amen."
And with that I drifted off into a sound sleep.