This article was written by Terry Sanders, former president of the English Shepherd Club, in 1957. The full article in True West magazine ran for 4 pages and includes a number of stories about his experience with working English Shepherds in Texas.
“I’m a cowdog man. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good horse. I’ll drive hundreds of miles to a calf-roping or a cow-cutting contest and enjoy every minute of it. But when it comes to getting cattle in the pen, any old plug horse will do as long as I have a pair of good cowdogs.
Reckon I’m a cowdog man by inheritance. My grandfather, Bruce Coates, and my uncles, Ray and Little Bruce, ran longhorns in the Trinity River bottom south of Kerens, Texas, for years. They had learned early in the game that the best cowhorse in the world can’t keep up with a wild cow in the postoak timber. That is, no if the rider wants to stay on his mount.
Cowdogs were essential to my grandfather and my uncles. They kept “find dogs” to locate and trail wild cattle, “drive dogs” to herd them, and “ketch dogs” to catch and throw the rough ones.
Little Bruce tells of the time old Jackfire, hound-shepherd cross, jumped a renegade steer on a hillside near the Cottonwood Thicket. The steer, a fat, brown longhorn about ten years old, headed for the bottom with Jackfire and a couple of half-grown pups close behind.
For four hours, Bruce and Ray skirted the edge of the bottom, hoping the dogs would bring the steer out so they could rope him. At noon they went back to the house and released a fresh pair of dogs. When the new dogs joined the chase, Ray blew on his cowhorn, calling off Jackfire and the pups.
All afternoon the struggle went on, with the steer trying to lose the dogs in the tangle of mud, poison oak and tallow weed. Finally, just before dark, the dogs brought him out on Bird Prairie where one of the boys got a rope on him.
Bruce had a pit bulldog that he used as a “ketch dog.” Bruce and Ray were trying to up-grade their cattle with good bulls about that time, and they had a Durham bull that was bad about breaking into cornfields.
One day this bull jumped a field near the house. Bruce whistled for Brownie and walked out to the edge of the field. He pointed the bull out to the dog, and Brownie took off. The bull bolted just as the dog got to him, so Brownie didn’t have a chance to grab his nose. He jumped the bull and fastened onto the root of his tail.
The old bull lit out down the corn middle with the dog swinging out behind him like a flag. As Bruce tells it, “Brownie’s hold starting slipping, and he slid down that tail an inch at a time — and that old bull bawled twice for every inch he slid! That bull got plumb educated right then and there. After that, ten cowboys couldn’t have put back in that field again.”
I always loved to hear the tales
about “find dogs” and “ketch dogs”, but the yarns that appealed to me most were the ones about the English shepherds that they kept to drive cattle. They had four or five of these wonderful shepherds most of the time; shaggy black-and-tan or black-and-white dogs, with broad, short heads and more brains than most men.
When the boys moved a herd cross-country, they always took along two or three of the shepherds. If a steer broke away from the bunch, the cowboys just kept riding. One or more of the dogs would heel the steer before he got far. Usually, heeling was all that was necessary to bring him back into the heard; but if he kept going, the dogs stayed with him, nipping his hind legs every step he took. That gets to be mighty discouraging to a steer after a spell, and he soon decides that the safest place to be is right back in the middle of the herd.
One spring, a flash flook caught a sizable bunch of the Coates’ cattle in the river bottom. Instead of heading for the hills, they climbed up on the first knoll they came to, and stood there bawling while the water got deeper and deeper.
Little Bruce hauled a rowboat to the edge of the water in a wagon. He put three English Shepherds in it and rowed around until he located the cattle. Then he threw the dogs into the water and started for shore. The dogs swam from cow to cow, nipping tails, hips, backs, anything they could get hold of. One old cow started after the boat, and soon the whole bunch was swimming for safety. The dogs stayed behind them untiil every one was ashore.
Finally the open range was fenced and plowed, planted in cotton and corn. When people quit raising cattle they no longer needed cowdogs; so, by the time I came along, the great English shepherds were only a memory in my territory.
Then, nearly twenty years ago, the country began to change again. The land was too worn out from row-cropping to make much cotton or corn, and the price of cattle began to edge upward. Men in overalls became a rarity on the street; instead one saw cowboys in blue jeans and big hats. We were living in cow-country once more.
Like just about everybody else in the area, I bought a little bunch of cattle. That’s when the trouble started! Seemed like it didn’t make a bit of difference how gentle a cow was; when I turned her into the pasture, she got real independent. After a few days in the blackjack and postoak thickets, the gentlest cow decided that she could dodge a rider indefinitely – and she generally could.
Figuring that faster horses was the answer, I got quarter horses. They helped a lot when we had cattle in the open, but weren’t worth a damn at getting cows out of the woods.
At this point, I would have given my eye-teeth for a pair of English shepherds like granddad had told me about, but I didn’t know where to find them. The American Kennel Club didn’t register any such breeds. None of the dog magazines mentioned them.
Then, one lucky day, I spotted an advertisement in a farm magazine. Tom Stodghill of Quinlan, Texas, was advertising “Genuine, old-fashioned, black-and-tan English shepherds.” I had a letter in the mail before dark, and it wasn’t many days until the expressman set a dog crate on my back steps. I opened the crate door, and out ambled a gawky three month old black-and-tan pup. I didn’t know it at the time, but that lanky pup was to become my “brag dog”.
I named him Pepper Joe. When he was five months old I took him to the pasture for the first time. Carrol Thompson and I were going to catch a couple of horses and ride over the place, and I thought it would be a good time to introduce Joe to some livestock.
As soon as we located the horses, we saw that something was wrong. They were milling around in a corner of the pasture; when they saw us, they headed for the woods. One of my best colts was limping badly. She had been in the wire, and the smell of blood had excited the others.
I wanted to catch the colt, for it was worm seaon; but couldn’t get close to her. We followed the horses into the woods on foot, trailing as best we could by the occasional hoofprint or splash of blood on the leaves.
Within a few minutes we noticed that Joe had his nose to the ground, trailing the colt. He stuck to the trail for forty-five minutes before we caught up with the horses and got them into a corner. Without Joe, it would have taken us hours.
Soon after that I sold my cattle, so Joe didn’t have a chance to work until he was a year old. Joe Baxter and his dad had a bunch of cattle in a pasture near Baszette, and I went out one morning with Baxter to pen them. We were both riding green-broke colts, and we carried Joe and a six month old pup called Yap.
The corral was in the worst possible place – on top of a hill, with no fence or wing leading up to it. Baxter told me he had one blue roan cow that had been in this pasture two years. They had never been able to pen her in this corral.
We left the dogs in the pickup and rode until we found the cattle — about thirty-five head. The blue cow was with them. We moved the bunch along slow and got them up to the corral without much trouble. Getting them into the pen was a different story! That cussed blue cow broke away every time we tried to force her through the gate, as the colts just couldn’t handle fast enough to put her in.
After about two hours hard work, we had all the cows except eight in the pen. It looked as though we’d have to get older horses to put those in, so Baxter finally agreed to let me try my untrained dogs.
We opened the end-gate and let them out. I pointed to a cow and yelled, and Joe and the pup built to her. They carried her around the corral and the gate as though they had done it a thousand times. The minute they got to the gate, they stopped and picked out another cow. They made nine trips around that corral, and put in eight cows — all in about ten minutes. The blue cow went in just like the rest.
That was about four years ago. The old blue cow didn’t go into the corral again until about two months ago, when Joe Bob Ivey, my partner, carried Heeler, our young stud, and Fannie, one of our brood females, out to Baxter’s pasture and penned her again.
It didn’t take long for news of my dogs to get around. Pretty soon, any of my friends who had wild cattle to pen wanted to use them. Just about any old bunch-quitter that will ignore a man on a horse will head for the middle of the herd after he has been heeled a time or two; so the dogs built quite a reputation. I took Joe out, sometimes by himself, sometimes with another dog, and he always penned the cattle without any trouble.
That is, he didn’t have any trouble until the Brahma bull got into the Bain pasture.
Bob Bain was riding fence one morning when he noticed that a big black Brahma bull had jumped into his pasture. The Bains raise whiteface cattle, so Bob figured he’d better get the bull out of there. He eased up toward the bull and waved his rope. The bull stood there and pawed. Bob moved in a little closer and the bull charged.
The colt whirled , but he didn’t quite make it. The bull caught him square in the side, and set him over about six feet. He lit running and got safely away.
That afternoon, Bob and I went back to the pasture with four dogs: Joe, a heeling little female named Coon, and the two best seven month pups I ever owned, Black Gal and Patsy. Ellis Rhynes had been using the pups every day. They were lean as hounds and in top shape. Coon had been sick, so we knew she wouldn’t be able to work long. Joe had been lying around the yard in town, and was fat and soft.
When we reached the pasture, we found that two more Brahma bulls had joined the first one. We set the dogs on the newcomers, and they put them out of the pasture in a hurry. Bob and I started congratulating each other; it looked like the job was about over.
We rode up as close the black bull as we dared, and told the dogs to take him. They went at his hind legs, the way they were bred to do, and the old bull launched a kick that sent Black Gal flying through the air. That big black devil stood in one spot and kicked every few seconds, whether there was a dog heeling him or not. It didn’t take much of that business to teach the dogs to stay away from the back end of that bull, and figure out new tactics.
Coon and the pups started working on the bull’s sides, and Joe started cutting his nose. He’d work in a tight little figure-eight, and every time he got to the middle of the figure, he cut the bull’s nose. The bull nearly got him with a horn a dozen times, but Joe was so agile he always managed to escape.
The dogs worked steadily for about fifteen minutes, pulled off for a short rest in the creek, and went back at the bull. They kept it up forty-five minutes this time, and the bull hadn’t moved ten yards. The pups were still in fair shape, but Coon was completely played out and Joe was slowing up more and more. I was afraid one of the dogs would get killed if they kept at it, so I called them off.
Bob had a twelve-gauge shotgun with him. He loaded it with birdshot, aimed at the bull and let fly from a distance of about fifteen yards. The bull grunted and moved a step as the shot him him, but he didn’t run. Bob shot seven more times and still the bull didn’t move. We gave up.
Early the next morning, we went to the pasture on a wild hog hunt. We didn’t intend to bother the bull, but when the old cuss saw the dogs he moved fast. He headed for the back fence at a high trot and jumped it with plenty to spare. The last we saw of him, he was still going.
That’s the only bull I’ve ever seen that a dog couldn’t move. Most of them just can’t stand to have a dog heel them.
A couple of years ago we bought a Santa Gertrudis bull. He was fairly gentle to handle, but was bad about jumping out of the pasture. Ellis was handling, and — as Patsy and Black Gal had died — I had given him one of Joe’s pups out of Coon. Ellis named her Cooney-Jo. She had been a pretty pup, but a bad attack of worms had stunted her. She was thin as a rail and didn’t weigh over twenty pounds.
The Santa Gertrudis bull jumped out that day, and I told Ellis I’d go get the horses, so we could put him back in the pasture. Ellie lit a cigarette and said without cracking a smile, “Jus’ sit still. My cowdog’ll put that bull back in.”
Well, it seemed silly to send that scrawny little pup after the bull, but I kept my mouth shut and sat down to watch. Man, it was a pretty sight! Cooney-Jo slipped in behind the bull and nipped his heel. She dropped to the ground when he jerked his foot forward; and when he kicked, his hoof went right over her head. She heeled him a second time. He gave up and jumped back into our pasture.
Another of Joe’s pups is owned by Jack Dove, of Kent, Washington. She goes for the milk cows each morning and evening. It’s a mile to the back side of Jack’s pasture, and she has been making the trip alone since she was just a few months old.
Jim Bob and I have sold Joe’s pups into just about every cattle state in the nation. All of them carried a money back guarantee and not one has ever been returned as unsatisfactory, although we have had to replace a few pups by other sires.
But it’s not just because Joe is an outstanding sire of cowdogs that I think so highly of him. There are other sires that are probably as good — Tom Stodghill’s Bozo and Bodhard; Ernest Hestands’ Solomon, to name three. Those dogs are top sires in any company.
There are better working dogs than Joe, too. Bob Bain has a pup named Amigo that is a more vicious heeler; he has been replacing two cowboys since he was nine months old. Our own jumion stud, Heeler, works cattle as quietly and efficiently as a border collie works sheep; he’s going to be a better worker than Joe.
No, the thing that rates Joe ace-high with me is his savvy. he always seems to know instinctively to do the right thing at the right time. Like the first time we took him wild hog hunting.
The river bottom near Rural Shade is full of wild hogs that are descended from domestic breeds. Most of the time they stay in the bottom and live on acorns and roots, but in the late summer they sometimes raid the cornfields on the edge of the bottom.
The summer Joe was two years old, the wild hogs were particularly destructive. Their cornfield raiding got so bad that Bob, Ellis, and I decided to catch us some hogs. Ellis had a pair of hounds, Happy and Blue, that were experienced hogdogs. I took Joe along just to see what he would do.
We were walking through bloodweeds neck deep, when the hounds jumped a drove of hogs. Joe had been following us — probably wondering where the cows were — but when Happy opened up, Joe went right to him.
A couple of minutes later we heard a hog-dog fight that was a whang-dilly! When we got through the weeks, the scrap was all over. The hounds were standing by, baying, and Joe was sitting on the ground with his teeth fastened in the ear of a young boar. He had never caught anything before. I don’t know how he knew he was supposed to catch the hog — he just knew. That’s the kind of dog he is.
Joe is a battle-scared old veteran now. His muzzle is getting gray, and it tugs at your heart a little to see him growing old. He isn’t as active as he used to be and one front leg is getting a little stiff. I write this from an air base in Labrador, but my wife, who loves Joe even more than I do, feeds and spoils him. Sometimes, Jim Bob Ivey or Sidney Westbrook work him a bit to keep him limbered up. He’s slowed down, sure, but he still has that keen instinct for doing the right thing at the right time.
On October 14, 1953, my two small boys, Bruce and Kent, were playing in the pasture. Joe was lying nearby, watching them. A horse wandered near. He had been mean dispositioned as a stallion, but had seemed gentle since he had been gelded, so my wife didn’t drive him away.
The horse looked at the boys a second or two, then backed his ears and charged. My wife ran to head him off, but she was too far away to reach him in time. Joe took off at the same instant and, lame leg and all, turned that horse just before he reached the boys.
I’ve raised and trained many a cowdog since the day I saw Pepper Joe for the first time. I intend to raise plenty more. But there’ll always be a special place in my heart for one. Pepper Joe will always be my Brag Dog.”
Originally published in True West magazine, March/April 1957