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At sundown the fourth day they were at the corral, a maze of circles and chutes and gates. The wild horses hesitated at the entrance, sure that the next step would be the wrong one. But the whistles and the yips of the men were on every side. The horses filed, bewildered, into the enclosures and the gate rattled shut. Slowly the trapped animals began to walk in random circles. Colts nickered for their mothers and fought their way, heads high, through the squeeze of bodies and the tangle of legs around them. A gelding peevishly bit the withers of a passing yearling. A stallion eyed another, twisted himself and bitterly threw a challenging but now senseless kick.
Though the roundup itself was over, the work of the men was not. On the morning of the fifth day, Bud Riddle, mounted, moved into the corral with a swinging rope and, after three passes, lassoed the Percheron stallion. But the stallion pulled Riddle down from his saddle, and the rancher's high-heeled boots skipped in puffs of dust across the corral before the stallion calmed down. Perched high on the corral fence, a narrow-eyed man whose first name, Orval, was tooled in relief on his caramel leather belt, watched, amused. He was a buyer from out of town and he wanted the whole lot of 225. But Riddle had already advertised an auction sale in the Boise Idaho Statesman and would not discuss the private offer.
Snorting, kicking and weighing
For two more days the wranglers sorted the horses, driving them three at a time into a confining chute, where paper numbers were glued to their rumps. Then, one by one, they were herded onto a scale as big as a stall. "One thousand fifty," said Bud Riddle. "Sorrel. Saddle horse. Gelding. Flying H brand. Let him out." The sorrel snorted, kicked back his hind legs and bolted for the adjoining paddock. The pinto taking his place blew angrily through his nostrils, pawed and pounded the scale's flooring as his weight was recorded.
At the auction on Sunday there were 20 buyers who were ready, failing market or not, to bid. Orval took 45 and shipped them off to Utah to be converted into saddle horses and rodeo broncos. Two men from Kansas City bought 28, a man from Oregon 25 for ranch work. The Riddles retained 75 mares and colts to work the ranch's cattle, burning on the Flying H brand. Only 12 had the bad fortune to be sold for slaughter.
On Monday morning the men who had worked the herd went back to the main business of tending the cattle. And Mrs. Earl Riddle, the mother of Ed and Bud and the matriarchal boss of the ranch, spoke the mind of everyone who had known these horses and seen them taken from the range. "I hated for this to happen," she said. "The horses were wild and we seldom caught a glimpse of them. But we always knew they were out there. The times change and now the ranch is changing."
So, for that matter, is the old West.