was born in 1942. His 90 year old mother says that she can never remember a time
when he wanted to be anything other than a cowboy. "He and his younger sister
would play by the hour pretending that they had a big ranch where he was in charge
of the cattle and she was the ranch nurse or cook. We got him his first horse
when he was six and he has been riding ever since."
first book that Hedges can remember his father reading to him was Will James'
Loan Cowboy."He loved that book and studied it like a preacher would a Bible"
says his sister Carolle Craig.
Mackey grew up listing
to tales of how, during the depression, his father and another man had bought
train carloads of mustangs,breaking the younger ones before selling them to local
ranchers and farmers. He listened to his father tell of the terrible winters in
the Laramie, Wyoming valley where ropes were tied from the cook house to the bunk
house so men would not become lost during the ground blizzards that were so common
in that area. From others he heard tales of chasing wild horses on the Nevada
deserts and, he dreamed of the day when he too could spend his summers in the
mountains working out of some isolated cow camp.
the time that Mackey went into the Marine Corps at the age of seventeen his family
had lived in Nevada, Washington, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and finally Nebraska.
It was while living in Nebraska at the age of 14 that he got his first real riding
job. One of his friend's dads owned a feedlot and he hired some of the local boys
to ride pens on the weekends. When school let out for the summer Hedges was hired
on full time. That job led to a colt-breaking job south of Omaha. He was still
at that job when he decided to go into the Marine Corps.
coming home from overseas and being discharged, he headed straight for the mountains
to fulfill his lifelong dream. He packed in the Sierras, wintered in isolated
desert cow camps and went out on the wagons of several big outfits that branded
5,000 to 7,000 calves a summer.
In 1967 Mackey married
Candace Susan Kidd. After spending their first summer in the Sierras with him
working as a packer and guide and Candi working as a wrangler and camp cook, they
moved to the isolated Soldier Meadows Ranch where he started (broke) colts and
his wife worked as the ranch cook.
That was the start
of a rather hectic life for his poor wife. Over the next 40 years, they drifted
from ranch to ranch working in Nevada, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and
Wyoming. However, through all these many moves they continued to call Nevada home.
Hedges have three boys: Buck, Jed, and Sam. All three boys were home schooled
because of the isolated ranches where they lived during the time that the boys
were growing up. Mackey says that it is something of a family joke that even though
he could pump up a Coleman lamp and chop firewood, Jed was seven years old before
he learned to turn on an electric lamp.
boys are now grown and gone. Home is in Winnemucca, Nevada. Candace drives a school
bus; Mackey is employed as a buckaroo for the 100,000 plus acre Shining K. Ranch,
located fifty miles or so south of town. He spends his summers in an isolated
cow camp 20 miles from headquarters and his winters at the ranch headquarters.
Friends that come out and ride with him estimate that he consistently rides over
120 miles a week year in and year out.
about his lifestyle Mackey said, "I use to dream about having my boys with
me when I got old but the life that I grew up with is pretty well gone. I wouldn't
wish what's left of this onto them.
Low wages and
the constant battle with the environmentalist and the Bureau of Land Management
have taken a lot of the enjoyment out of being a Nevada rancher. It's a good-enough
life for a few old drifters like me but it's sure no life for a young man with
Sigman Note: Mac Hedges is proud to
tell you that other than the four years he served with the United States Marine
Corp., he has never made a dollar from anything other than working with horses.
Mac and his Family live in Winnemucca (Win-ah-muc-ah) the county seat of Humboldt
County in the U.S. state of Nevada and the site of a September 19, 1900 bank robbery
by Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population
No one has ever told Mac about retirement,
and at sixty plus years he is still ridin' and ropin' as a Buckaroo . He works
l o n g days
doing what he loves. Mac is surrounded by wonderful family,
good friends and loyal stock amid the mountains, plains and valleys that Mac calls
Tribute To My Dad
This article is re-printed from the
2006 issue of Cowboy Magazine
60 years of age, most of the men that worked with
him in his younger daysare now gone from theland
where they had ridden in their youth. A few have passed on, but most have simply
moved to town. For them, the desire to make more money or enjoy an easier life
was stronger than their love of the land and "the cowboy way."
slight limp in his walk is the only remaining sign of a battle he lost with a
horse more than ten years ago. It was a wreck that caused the doctors to tell
him that he might never ride again. He had beaten the odds. He confounded the
doctors, chicken-fed the horse, and used the recovery time to write his much-acclaimed
Western novel Last Buckaroo.
This "old man"
I'm talking about is my father, Mackey (Mac) Hedges, a Marine Corps veteran, life-long
cowboy, and, at this writing, manager of the Soldier Meadows Ranch.
have no idea why Dad liked to move so often, but, by the time I was ten, Dad had
cowboyed and we had lived on five different ranches. I know it certainly was not
my mother's desire. It seemed that, as soon as he had been on an outfit long enough
to know the country and feel comfortable with his string of horses, he would find
some excuse to drift to a different range. He called Nevada home, but he had also
worked in Utah, Idaho, California, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Arizona. He
even worked for a short time in Sonora, Mexico.
can sit around and tell "wild West" tales for hours on end, yet, I know
that he is happiest when staying in some isolated cow camp by himself or with
one of my brothers or me. During those times when we would be living out like
that, he and I would sometimes go for days with no more than a dozen words passing
between us. Neither of us ever felt uncomfortable about the silence. It just seemed
One time, Dad sent me to help one of the
ranch hands feed a small bunch of weaner calves. The man I was to help was a big
Czechoslovakian. It was early fall, and the weather was alternating between rain
and snow. A bone-chilling wind was howling out of the north, and the last thing
I wanted to do was go out in it.
I drug my feet and
stalled as long as I felt I could, finally facing up to the fact that, if I was
going to get back to the house before it was dark, I had better get the job done.
I went to the bunkhouse to get "Brownie," he told me to go feed by myself.
Then he sunk back into a deep, overstuffed chair in front of an old wood stove
and began to read a book.
Not knowing what else to
do, I drove the team and wagon to the field and began to fork the hay off, alone.
dad was shoeing a horse in the barn at the time. When he went to turn the horse
loose, he saw me down in the field working alone.
what others told me later, Dad made a beeline for the bunkhouse. Jerking the big
foreigner out of his chair by the front of his shirt, he threw him outside. I
guess he called the man every name he could think of trying to get a fight out
By the time I finished feeding and led the
team into the barn to unharness them, 30 minutes later, I found my tough, angry
father in the back, huddled over a poor, weak, half-dead calf. That hard man was
doing his best to try and nurse it back to health. He was not crying, but the
look on his face indicated that he was as concerned about the health of that calf
as he would have been had it been one of his children.
another occasion, we were trailing a couple hundred head of cows to the summer
range in the Mahogany Mountains. The crew was made up of my six-year-old brother,
Jed, a kid from the South Fork Reservation named Casey Yowell, a friend of my
dad's named Jack Southwick, and Dad and me.
all riding young horses, because, in those days, as soon as a horse was broke,
we usually sold him. My dad was on a nice-looking roan colt that he had started
the previous winter, a horse called Buzzy.
and I were riding up toward the point when Casey came loping up to tell Dad that
a bull had quit the bunch and he could not get him back into the herd. The three
of us trotted back and found the belligerent animal feeding on the hillside.
we rode up to haze him back toward the bunch, without the slightest warning, the
unsociable misfit lowered his head and ran straight at my dad's horse. Buzzy spun
to the side to get out of the bull's way, but he was not fast enough. The bull
drove his massive head under the horse's belly, draping the roan over his broad
neck. Down the hill he charged carrying horse and rider with him. It seemed like
they covered a hundred yards in less than five seconds.
bull suddenly slid to a stop, launching Dad and the horse out ahead of him. The
colt, fell, gained his feet, staggered, caught his balance, and went to bucking.
Dad had either stepped off or been thrown when the horse hit the ground. But,
as Buzzy got up, Dad jumped back into the saddle, found his McCarty reins, and
came up with the frightened animal. As soon as he got his horse under control,
Dad jerked out his pistol, loaded with birdshot, and tore, racing wide open, straight
at the bull.
The bull, not knowing what was coming
next, stood his ground and faced the oncoming rider. Dad's first shot caught him
somewhere in the face or nose. Toro spun around and started for a patch of timber
with Dad and Buzzy hot on his heels. Dad emptied the pistol into the bull's rump,
with the last shot being fired just as the bull dove into a patch of quakies.
from Buzzy's back like a calf roper making a 10-second run, Dad grabbed a rotted
limb and ran and crashed into the trees only seconds behind the bull. They disappeared
from sight, but not from sound.
Brush was popping,
the bull was bellering, and Dad was screaming and swearing like a drunken sailor.
Seconds later, the bull burst from the thicket on the opposite side and made a
wild dash for the safety of the herd.
A short time
later, Dad strolled out of the thicket, stepped up on Buzzy, patted the little
horse on the neck, and, as if nothing had happened, trotted back toward our place
up near the lead. No words were spoken.
of my dad's sons was not easy. In all of our years of growing up, he never took
any of us to a sports event or a movie. Nor did he ever take us fishing or play
a game of ball with any of us. He once told me, "God put me on Earth to be
your father, not your friend."
Dad also seemed
to feel that, if you ate at his table, you were expected to earn your keep no
matter how young you were. My two younger brothers and I grew up going to home
school, which, from Dad's point of view, meant that as soon as we were old enough
to ride, we had plenty of time to work with him. I would be willing to bet that,
by the time I started the first grade, I had fed 10,000 tons of hay, patched a
hundred miles of fence, and trailed cows the distance from Texas to Canada.
rode and worked with my dad for 18 years, until I went off to college and got
my degree. I now work as a technical writer. I don't claim to be a cowboy, but
I'm sure I've ridden more horses, trailed more cows, and doctored more calves
than most men who hold that job title today.
sure how many more riding adventures I'll have with Dad, and I wonder how many
more such adventures Dad will have, himself.
told me, "I can't imagine anything more terrible than to be lying there on
your death bed thinking back over your life and suddenly realizing that all the
high points had taken place during your two-week annual vacations." I remember
how Dad used to recite a poem to me when I was little. I later found that it was
written by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
"My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
ah, my foes, and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light!"
I was younger, I did not know what it meant. I do now.
Thanks for the memories,