cowboy christmas true west

Mack Hughes was one of the last of the Hashknife Cowboys. When he hired out for the outfit in the 1920s he didn’t even own a pair of boots. He wanted a pair so bad he could taste it but all his meager wages had to go to help his family. He was spending the winter feeding the bulls up by Chevlon Canyon on the plateau between Winslow and the Mogollon Rim. Jobs were scarce as horse flies in December and he was lucky to be holding a job of any kind. In fact, he was expecting to get laid off any day now.

It was getting close to Christmas and the boys who weren’t holding down winter camp were planning on drawing their pay and going home to see their families for Christmas. On December 22nd, he was waiting for his friend Charlie to come up and relieve him so he could go home for a few days. Charlie was a top hand who also liked fancy clothes. He spent most of his wages on fancy duds and custom-made boots. He owned a pair of black ones with fancy yellow butterfly wings stitched on the shaft and Mack thought those were the neatest boots he’d ever seen. He vowed that someday he’d own a pair just like them. At the time he couldn’t even afford a pair of six-dollar Justin’s. Charlie didn’t have any family to help support so he could afford to spend his money on such indulgences.

It had snowed real hard and Mack figured Charlie would never make it to cow camp. It looked like he was going to spend Christmas alone in the line shack.

By Christmas Eve there was nearly two feet of snow on the ground with high drifts everywhere.

Late the next afternoon Charlie rode in leading a pack mule. He’d brought along a dozen fresh tortillas so they feasted that Christmas evening on frijoles and hot tortillas. After dinner Charlie reached into his pocket and handed Mack a check from the boss for a full month’s pay—half of it in advance. It looked like he still had a job.

The fact that he’d been paid in advance really meant something in those days.

Charlie had already spent his month’s wages on new clothes and Mack noticed he was wearing another pair of custom-made boots.

Early the next morning Mack had packed his gear and was preparing to ride out when Charlie told him to hold on a minute.

“I brung you a Christmas present and almost forgot to give it to you.”

He reached into a bag and pulled out the black boots with the butterflies stitched on the shaft and said with a grin, “Reckon I won’t be needing these anymore.”

Mack quickly untied the frazzled brogans he’d been wearing and tried on the new boots. They were a couple of sized too big but he’d stuff some rags in there until his feet grew bigger.

He got on his horse and rode towards town happy as a puppy with six tails and feeling like he was a real cowboy at last.

Postscript: I met Mack Hughes back in the 1970s when he was getting pretty long in tooth. He and his wife Stella were running a ranch on Eagle Creek not too far from the Arizona-New Mexico border. She was writing a column on chuckwagon cooking for Western Horseman Magazine and we were on the circuit signing our books at gatherings around the state.

She also wrote a book on her husband’s time as a Hashknife cowboy. Coincidently, that was the title of the book. She shared this story with me and I immediately added it along with some of her others to my repertoire.

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