Last Buckaroo by Mackey Hedges

Last Buckaroo has been honored as a Winner of the National Cowboy Symposium Working Cowboy Award and the Mormon Letter Fiction Award

Told through the persona of narrator Tap McCoy, a renegade, drifter, loner, and well-seasoned cowboy we experience Tap's happen chance meeting with Dean McCuen, a young drugstore cowboy from back east. While Tap just wants a ride out of town, Dean believes he has found a sidekick and mentor. What follows between Tap and the tag-a-long greenhorn is a rousin', ramblin' tale of their exploits as they ride, rope, brand, and herd their way through ranches, pack stations and feedlots all over the West. It's also a tale of camaraderie and carousing as the two get thrown from their horses, tossed in jail, save lives, see deaths, fight cowboys, and light up the pages with their escapades. Mackey's unvarnished prose and salty style delight us with the life of a fading tradition. Publishers' Weekly said of Mackey, "a buckaroo himself," he spins a colorful yarn about 20th-century cowboys reminiscent of The Rounders." The novel stands on its own as a classic and unique story of an American way of life honoring the Western Lifestyle.

Most Cowboy stories are written by "western writers." Less commonly you will find cowboy stories written by a literate cowboy. Big difference." - Baxter Black, Cowboy poet and author of the novel, Hey, Cowboy, Wanna get Lucky?

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Mackey Hedges 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."

The 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.

By 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.

After 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.

The 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.

The Hedges 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.

When asked 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 a family."

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 of 7,174.

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 "Home."

A Tribute To My Dad
by Buck Hedges
This article is re-printed from the
Spring 2006 issue of Cowboy Magazine

At 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."

The 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.

I 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.

Dad 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 natural.

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.

When 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.
My 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.

From 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 of him.

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.

On 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.

We were 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.

Dad 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.

As 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.

The 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.

Now, 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.
Leaping 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.

Being one 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.

I 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.

I'm not sure how many more riding adventures I'll have with Dad, and I wonder how many more such adventures Dad will have, himself.

Dad once 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.

It went:
"My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light!"

When I was younger, I did not know what it meant. I do now.
Thanks for the memories, Dad.


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