The first time I saw the little pinto mustang colt, I knew he was going to be mine. Dad and I had ridden two days to get to Nine Mile Mesa. We were looking for four mares that hadn't come in from the range with the roundup. Dad figured they may have strayed off and joined up with the band of wild horses that roamed this area. From a high bluff we located the herd in a grassy meadow. Dad looked them over with his binoculars, but didn't see the mares. He gave me the glasses, and I no more had gotten them focused when a colt showed up like a bright light. He was the most beautiful little pinto I had ever seen. The main part of his body was white as the clouds, and the red patches were the color of a desert sunset. I was sure he had descended from the pony of a great Indian chief.
I told Dad, "I've got to have that colt."
He looked him over and said, "He's a dandy one, all right. We'll let him grow for a few months and then come back and see if you can catch him."
I dreamed about the pinto. I imagined racing across the open range on him, leaping over sagebrush and darting around huge boulders. We would become great friends. I even named him: Cherokee.
It was almost a year later before we went back to the mesa. As soon as we located the mustangs, Dad let me take the binoculars. I spotted the pinto right away. He was standing by his mother and was almost as big as she was. He was even more beautiful than before.
Dad said I should try for him at daylight. He spent all evening coaching me about what I should do.
I was a teenager now and was pretty good with a rope. I was sure I could catch him.
We came upon the herd just before daylight. A breeze was blowing from our backs, and they didn't catch our scent. We stayed in a grove of cedars until we were within a hundred yards of them.
Dad let me use his horse, Banjo, who was very well trained at roping. When Dad saw I was ready, he yelled "Go!" and, making all the noise we could, we charged. The confused mustangs ran around in every direction. Banjo quickly recognized that I was after the pinto and he stuck to him like a magnet. The little fellow dashed around, looking for his mother. Before he knew what was happening, I rode up alongside and practically dropped the noose over his head.
Banjo took over. It was his duty to keep facing the pinto, quickly turning and backing to keep the rope tight.
The herd had disappeared. Dad stayed at a distance to watch and help if needed.
Cherokee was like a fish on a line. He leaped into the air, twisted and turned, and dashed around in circles. Banjo had his work cut out for him, and it was all I could do to stay on. It was more than half an hour before Cherokee gave up and decided to stand still. Dad came over, and we dismounted and began to work our way cautiously up the rope. Cherokee wasn't about to let us touch him, and it was some time before Dad was able to get his arm around the pinto's neck and hold him while I slipped a halter over his head and buckled it.
We picked up the pack horse and headed out.
It was hard to believe that Cherokee was actually mine. I kept looking back at him to remind me how beautiful he was.
At noon we stopped at a meadow by a stream for lunch. Cherokee wouldn't eat or drink.
When we mounted up to leave, Cherokee began to struggle to get free. I wondered why he was acting like this, and then I saw his mother standing about a hundred yards away. She followed us the rest of the day. And when we made camp, she stood watch all night.
I didn't sleep well. I could hear Cherokee pacing back and forth and straining on his rope. I hadn't counted on this.
Cherokee's mother followed us all the next day, and when we started down from the mesa, it was obvious she was not going to turn back.
I COULDN'T go on. When I stopped, Dad turned around and came back. Without a word, he got off his horse and walked up the rope with me to Cherokee. The mustang struggled some, but Dad put a strong arm around his neck and held him while I unbuckled the halter and slipped it off.
At first he began to run in a circle until he realized that he was no longer tethered on a rope; then he made a beeline for his mother. We watched them until they disappeared around a bluff.
It was a long ride home with an empty halter hanging from my saddle.
I knew that I would never be racing over the range on Cherokee. But then I visualized him running wild and free with his mother and the other mustangs, leaping over sagebrush and darting around huge boulders. That picture brought its own kind of joy.