Deep in the Rocky Mountains, straddling the Wyoming-Montana border, lies a remote and rustic ranch where my favorite childhood memories were made. The ranch was owned by two brothers who were friends of my father’s. I don’t know how many thousands of acres it covered, but it had to be big because an entire mountain range was named after them.
Their spread was home to one of the last wild mustang herds. It was the kind of place National Geographic would write about . . . and did! The kind of place where almost everything roamed free, including a city-slicker like me.
Visiting the ranch meant giving up all the usual amenities, but that’s what I loved most about it. When it came to food, clothing, shelter and safety, about all we could count on were our clothes. Everything else at the ranch was a crap shoot — especially if we drank the water!
Whenever my sister and I went anywhere on the ranch, the question we always asked ourselves was, “Where are the dogs?” Among the motley crew were two Blue Heelers we were sure would kill us if they caught us alone.
Amazingly enough, we were never bitten by the dogs. My mom, however, was bitten by “Leslie” the javelina — a wild pig-like creature with tusks. She was the rancher’s favorite pet and took naps on his lap or slept on top of the fireplace mantle.
My sister was bitten in her sleep by another one of their pets — the bat that lived in the attic. As for me, I was bitten, too . . . when I fell in love with one of the juvenile delinquents doing forced labor on the ranch. Had he been on the lam, I would have lassoed my own lamb and gone with him!
The last time I went to the ranch, I was 13. That was the summer Hank was there. The rancher wasn’t thrilled to have him as a guest, but he reluctantly offered his hospitality as a favor to a relative.
We only knew three things about Hank. One, he was from Hawaii. Two, he was severely lacking in social skills. And three, he seemed to get a big kick out of sneaking up on us girls — particularly when we were on our way to the ranch house for breakfast.
Neither me nor my sister wanted anything to do with him, so we always looked both ways and covered the distance at a sprint, hoping to outsmart him. Most of the time we made it, especially if we stayed together. But one morning, my sister slept in.
Not wanting to be bullied, I was determined to make the run all by myself. Standing in our bunkhouse doorway, I scanned my surroundings. Seeing no sign of him, I made my move.
I almost reached the ranch house when out of nowhere he intercepted my trajectory. He didn’t hit me, or try to kiss me. He just pushed me up against the side of the house and refused to let me go!
The rancher heard the commotion and came to my rescue. He yelled at Hank, but since it wasn’t his kid, I don’t think it had much impact.
Maybe Hank had some sort of crush on me, because he snuck up on me a lot that summer, always trying to get me alone. One time, when I saw him heading my way, I made a dash for the house. I didn’t think he’d follow me in there, but he did.
Hank didn’t care who was watching as he chased me into the living room and up onto the back of the sofa, pinning me against the wall. He was a lot bigger than me so there wasn’t much I could do besides holler for help.
Now, I will admit in my youth I did tend to be attracted to bad boys, but I felt nothing for this one. In my estimation, Hank belonged behind bars. His fascination with me was getting so ridiculous that I was relieved when we left the ranch – and that reprobate – for the sanity of the city.
A few months later, the rancher called to tell us Hank was dead. He’d been shot. He’d gone too far this time and it cost him his life.
I don’t know where Hank is buried, or if there was even a funeral, but I will never forget him. My favorite memories of the ranch deep in the Rockies are those of Hank just being Hank . . . a wild black Hawaiian sheep that refused to butt out!
Note: That’s Hank in the photo above, taken the summer he tormented me.