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Saving the Cows

As Hurricane Harvey cast its ravages on the great Republic of Texas, you probably saw the pictures of the cowboys driving cattle to safety, herding those animals through the ever-increasing flood waters.

Like anything else done during a flood, you can be certain that there was clearly some risk involved to the actions of these fine, Texas cowboys.

Whether mounted on horseback, flying in helicopters, or seated on airboats, all of them were unselfishly giving of themselves to save the cattle.

Those pictures reminded me of another incident, many years before, where extraordinary people braved the elements to save cattle from another form of impending danger.

If I am not mistaken, the year was 1969. I was probably around nine years-old at the time.

Earlier the previous year, my parents had just moved us from a cattle farm in West Virginia to another cattle farm in Southeast Ohio.

Dad purchased the farm from his uncle. This farm was also the place where my father went to live in his teenage years. His uncle took him in, following the tragic deaths of his mother and father.

Those many years later, Dad was to buy the place from his uncle and return there to live.

My father’s career was much the same as mine; he was a shift worker in a chemical plant.

It was windy that morning, a cold, bitter, snowy January day, which is much too common for the area.

Dad had worked the night before and was sleeping.

My brothers and I had our bedrooms upstairs, in what was essentially the attic. The roof was tall enough to stand upright in the middle, but sloped down on the sides, matching the slope of the roof above us. Our beds were located on each side of those two rooms, where the ceiling height made it impossible to stand.

The right side of the staircase, which took us up to our bedrooms, was the exterior wall to my parents’ bedroom; therefore, Dad sort of slept below us.

Mom made it more than abundantly clear to us that we were expected to go up and down those stairs quietly whenever Dad was sleeping. It was also a rule that was sternly enforced.

I suppose it was about 10 o’clock that morning when we looked out the south window of our room and saw that the barn was on fire.

My two brothers and I started screaming for mom and dad and went running down the steps.

Of course we were met at the foot of the stairs by my angry mother, with another manner of fire in her eyes.

Upon realizing what we were saying, Mom wheeled around to see a startling sight.

There was a big picture window on that side of the house, with white drapes which were pulled shut.

While facing those drapes, you could see every single board in that barn lined in flaming orange.

Mom immediately rushed to wake up dad.

Sometime during this process, both of them remembered that there were approximately twelve head of beef cattle that were still locked up in the barn.

The barn was formerly used as a dairy barn, into which you could drive a tractor into the top and unload hay in the upper part of the structure. Much of our summer’s hay crop was being stored up there and it was all ablaze.

In the barn below, there was a milking area and cattle stanchions, a device which held the animal’s head when closed.

Stanchions allowed the user to lock the animal’s head in place, which kept the cow from moving forward or backward while it was being milked.

Although we weren’t milking any cows at the time, my father’s polled Herefords were down there, with the wooden sliding doors nailed shut.

After ordering all of us to stay inside, my dad and mom quickly pulled on their boots (more about that fact later) and rushed outside.

I don’t know if my parents formulated a plan of how to rescue the cows on their way out, or if they simply arrived at the idea by instinct, but each one of them went to a different side of the barn, to open those downstairs sliding doors.

Although those wooden doors were both nailed shut, they somehow ripped them loose from the boards with their bare hands, without so much as the aid of a claw hammer. Dad’s heavy door was later discovered almost thirty feet away from where it started, undoubtedly flung there by my stout and excited father.

Dad and mom both entered the barn, with a raging inferno burning just over their heads. Thousands of pounds of flaming hay bales and a fully-engulfed Allis Chalmers tractor were barely suspended above them, waiting to give way and collapse into the mess of frightened cattle and humans below.

My father and mother risked their lives to save those animals. Perhaps they also risked making us all orphans at the same time. But apparently, God was with all of us that day.

Not one cow died when the upper structure gave way and dropped into a flaming heap of rubble below. Thankfully, both of my parents also emerged from the building unharmed.

After the fire department left and things began to calm down, Dad started to remove the rubber boots from his feet. It was then Dad realized that, in his hurry to save the animals, he’d somehow forced his big feet into my mother’s tiny boots.

Dad had to use a knife to cut those little boots off his feet.

I’ve often thought about how close we came to losing both of my parents that cold, January morning. I’ve often wondered if I would have reacted the same way, if presented with the same situation.

I can’t say for sure; perhaps nobody can say how he’ll actually behave in any emergency.

However, I will say this.

Those of us who grow up around livestock don’t just value those animals for the meat or products they provide to us. They often mean much more to us than that. And it’s much the same thing with horses.

Although the value of one cow doesn’t take priority over the life of its owner; I must say, however, that a man who won’t take some risks to save his cattle ain’t really a man worth knowing.

Those who value them also value their lives.

Maybe part of being human is also being humane.

Proverbs 12:10 says, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.”

My father and mother were certainly two of the most righteous people

I’ve ever known.

And the actions of those Texas cowboys, trying to save those cattle

from the rising floodwaters, that was certainly righteous behavior as

well.

Seeing those types of things during

a crisis makes me proud to be

human, proud to be an American,

and proud to have grown up around

cattle and those who unselfishly

look to their care.

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​​​​R.G. YOHO

Author, Writer, Speaker