The sun was just starting to think about peeking over the horizon when Zeke left the main house and headed for the tack room in the headquarters stable of his family’s ranch, the Triple E. It was a familiar sight to the young man, whose full first name was actually Ezekiel, with a middle name of Eton and a last name of Erickson. For it was a morning routine that he had observed for the past seven years.
Skinny, his buckskin American quarter horse with a black mane and tail, started blowing raspberries at Zeke before he started down the steps of the back porch, and as he drew nearer to the corral, the louder they became. This was also part of the morning routine.
Skinny also had to crow hop three or four times before he would settle down enough for Zeke to put his headstall in place. One would be hard-pressed to tell which one was having the most fun.
Just to be clear, Skinny was not skinny. Oh, he had certainly started out that way. For Skinny was a rather scrawny-looking foal at the time of his birth, but he grew up quite nicely to be a full fifteen hands high at the withers and weighing in at around 850 pounds.
Skinny was born on the ranch, and Zeke even helped with the delivery eight and a half years before. It seemed to be love at first sight for both of them. For Zeke would make a special effort to go see Skinny as much as he could, and Skinny would always kick up his heels and start running around with wild abandon whenever he saw Zeke approaching.
When it came time to start his training, Skinny would prove to be fairly hard to work with unless Zeke was there watching his progress. Since Zeke had proven to be an excellent rider, the trainer allowed him to be the first to put a saddle upon Skinny and ride him around the pen. When Skinny acted like this was about as natural a thing as there is, it was concluded that Skinny would indeed be Zeke’s horse.
Speaking of natural things, Skinny did not require much training when it came to roping and cutting cattle. For he seemed to just know by instinct that he needed to keep the rope tight after Zeke had thrown a loop around the neck or hind legs of a calf, as well as stay in front of the cattle Zeke was wanting to cut from the herd to keep them from rejoining the mix.
Oh, and there is more to their story that needs to be told. For aside from being the best all-around ranch horse everyone Zeke knew I had ever heard of, Skinny was always willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to insure that Zeke made it back to house safe and sound.
The last time that became obvious happened a little over a week before. For Skinny had spun out the way just before a charging Hereford bull (taking great exception to being removed from the breeding pasture before he was ready to leave) could bowl them both over.
Of course, Heckle and Jeckle had some say in the matter. For as soon as Skinny had ducked the bull’s initial charge, Heckle and Jeckle started drawing the bull’s attention away from Zeke and Skinny by nipping at the bull, which was something that his beloved Border Collies were very good at, along with everything else that could be expected of top cattle dogs.
Yes, they made quite a team, and with Zeke now sitting tall in his Tooter Cannon saddle, they made their way down to a back pasture, which was much larger than forty acres. In fact, it was actually around 440 acres, and sitting next to it was 200 acres of alfalfa, which made up the rest of this section of his family’s ranch.
With it being around 192,000 acres, the Triple E was a huge—even by even Texas standards, and in comparison to other homesteads in the northwestern corner of Arkansas, its size was downright unfathomable. For just one section of land (which is 640 acres (if you are keeping score at home) was considered to be quite a spread around there.
The Erickson’s holdings had shrunk considerably since the original land grant, however. For it had started out at close to 576,000 acres that went into what would become the states of Oklahoma to the west, Kansas to the northwest and Missouri to the north.
Much of the original land grant was flat out stolen by the United States government after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. For it did not recognize what Charles the Fifth had granted in 1550 as being a legitimate deed, but the Erickson family was able to secure title to 192,000 acres in the northwestern part of Arkansas. What is now the Oklahoma state border served as the western boundary of the ranch for the most part, and the eastern boundary ran between a mile and two miles west of where U.S. 71 was built. What is now the Missouri state border also served as the northern boundary of the Triple E, and the southern boundary ran straight across around ten miles north of where Fort Smith, Arkansas now is.
After Arkansas seceded from the Union in 1861, the Triple E was almost lost again. For the Erickson family was well known for harboring runaway slaves and even going as far as to purchase their freedom when they could, and the Confederate governor of Arkansas feared that they would align themselves with the Yankees.
So, the governor sent troops to occupy the Triple E, and they were repelled with a great amount of enthusiasm. The story was that the first shot was fired by Edward Enoch Erickson (Zeke’s great-great-grandfather) after one of the Confederate soldiers called him a blue-belly, and just before he pulled the trigger, Edward had yelled back that anyone who could not tell the difference between a blue Union uniform and a red union suit was too stupid to remove him from his land—let alone win a war.
For the record, the Triple E was declared neutral, but this did not mean that the Ericksons remained uninvolved in the war. For the ranch served as a sanctuary of sorts for soldiers on both sides, and by the end of the hostilities, well over a thousand men had been nursed back to health after being wounded in one or more of the dozens of skirmishes that had taken place in the area, with more than half of them arriving at the Triple E still wearing what was left of their blue uniforms.
Before the war was officially over, one more attempt was made by Confederate forces to fully secure the resources of the Triple E for their cause, but this one ended without a shot being fired. For when the colonel in charge of the unit saw that well over half of the men aiming rifles back at his position were recovering Confederate soldiers, he tipped his hat and gave the order for his men to withdraw.
Now, it was said by some that having five cannons (procured by the Ericksons after they were left behind as the Confederates beat a hasty retreat from a stinging defeat up the road a bit, near Pea Ridge) also trained upon the Confederate colonel’s position certainly did not hurt, but Edward had frowned upon such talk. For he believed that a man’s honor should never be questioned unless he gave a good reason to, and since the Confederate colonel had shown the good sense to recognize that the conquest of the Triple E was not a battle that should be fought, the matter should be left at that.
Well, at least that was the official version. For every time Zeke’s great-grandfather, Earnest Elisha Erickson, would tell the story, he would give him a big wink after the part about the cannons came up.
Earnest was the source of most of the history of the ranch for Zeke, and the way he said it worked back then was that all of the Confederate soldiers were free to go whenever they were healed up enough to leave. So were the Union soldiers, but most of them decided that they it would be to their advantage to stay put until the war was at least officially over. For they were still deep in enemy territory—regardless of who claimed to be in control at a given time, and guarding against horse and cattle thieves was certainly better than getting hung for being a Yankee spy or a Union deserter.
None of that seemed to matter to the carpetbaggers, who had been appointed by the federal government to oversee the reintroduction of the state of Arkansas into the Union after the war was officially over. For they saw it as their sworn duty to make the Confederate states pay as much as possible for all it had cost to put them back in their place, with the possibility of them reaping some very tidy rewards for their own efforts afterward notwithstanding, of course. Therefore, places like the Triple E looked ripe for their picking—regardless of what part they may have played in the war.
As it so happened, it was the Ericksons who were able to reap a little of what they had sown. For the confiscation of the Triple E for the purpose of collecting war reparations was halted by the efforts of four congressmen and three senators in Washington, D.C., who were also the very grateful fathers of Union soldiers, who had been brought to the ranch and nursed back to good health after being left for dead on a battlefield by their respective units.
The battle waged in the halls of Congress was not an easy one to win. For with the Triple E being one of the largest producers of cattle and horses in the country at the time, along with rapidly growing timber, hay and grain business interests, it represented enough spoils to line many a northern pocket. Thankfully, there were enough men with a true sense of honor serving at the time to secure the victory.
Over the years, the Triple E came to also include several dairy, pork and poultry operations, which were located where nothing but trees had stood before without the Ericksons being guilty of raping the land. For they recognized the need for proper land management, and they were careful to not cut too much to begin with and allow most of the harvested woodland areas to revert back to its natural state before any more cutting was done.
Oh, and if it is not obvious by now, it had become a matter of tradition to give each male in the Erickson line two other names that started with an E, with one of them being from the Bible. This had been evidently started by Earl Eleazar Erickson, who was the recipient of the original land grant, and the object of some mystery. For no record of just how he came to receive such a huge gift from the Holy Roman Emperor at the time was ever found.
Adding all the more to the mystery was that it was as if Earl Eleazar Erickson had never existed before he received that land grant. For no record of just who he was (nor where he had come from) seemed to exist, and much digging for clues had been undertaken over the years.
All of that (and a lot more) was going through Zeke’s mind as he inspected the fence around the alfalfa field. He sighed deeply at the sight of the grass being almost ready for the first cutting of the season. For he loved being behind the steering wheel of a tractor almost as much as did spending time in the saddle with Skinny, and the smell of a freshly-mown hay field was rivaled only by honeysuckle and mountain heather as being the sweetest smells there can be to him.
Zeke was not expected to do any work on the day of his departure, but it was a big part of his nature to want to do all he could to help when he saw something needing to be fixed. So, when he came across where some large tree limbs had broken off of an old black oak and were now lying across the top steel cable of the fence, Zeke dismounted to take a closer look.
Most of the fences on the Triple E utilized steel cable instead of barbwire. For barbwire can be quite harmful to horses, and steel cable holds up a lot better against such things as broken tree limbs.
Zeke still could not stand to see the broken limbs lying across the fence, and he was sorely tempted to go get a chain saw to cut them into firewood. However, a look in Skinny’s eye reminded him that it would probably be at least four years before they could go out on another ride together. So, he was content to just drag the broken limbs off of the fence and pile them in the adjacent pasture.
Zeke took his companions on the long way back, which required crossing several small streams and a couple of full-fledged creeks. None of them minded a bit.
Zeke did not really have a favorite part of the ranch, with him loving the whole of it equally. The main house was located in the northern third, which was not nearly as mountainous as the southern two-thirds, but there were still plenty of ups and downs to the northern third to give a horse and rider a good work out.
Click [here] for a free fancy PDF of the entire book.