The Cowboy, Charles Smith
When I wrote to the Groesbeck Journal regarding the Limestone County Historical Commission’s interest in early cowboys, I overlooked the one I know best, my brother, Charles.
I mentioned the Blacknalls. They worked for Franklin Jackson, He was the largest rancher in the area in more ways than one. He was a big man and, as I recall, rode a part Percheron horse that was strong enough to carry his weight. My dad even had a special seat installed in the Limestone Theatre so he could enjoy the movies in comfort. But, do not let his size fool you. I watched him scale a fence as fast as any man could when a bad cow got after him in the auction arena. He required good cowboys to do the work on his ranches and the Blacknalls were the best.
Tommy Hester lived on Stanley McBay’s place and did work for him and others in the area, but his real talent was in training good working horses.
This is where Charles comes in. As a young teenager, he bought his first horse, a pretty palomino. He was pretty but, he was not a cowhorse, so he did not last long even though Charles was partial to palominos. The horse I remember best was a big bay that he broke himself. I watched as he familiarized him with the blanket rubbing it over the horse’s entire body. Then, he would sit it on the horses back many times before placing the saddle on the blanket. When he was ready to mount the big horse for the first time, he wanted no one else around, so I cannot recount that part of the story.
The only time I observed an occurrence when that horse “acted up” was a day we were penning cattle thru some brush and they disturbed a nest of bumblebees. One stung the horse right between his eyes and he reared straight up and fell over backwards. Charles was able to swing out and step to the side as the horse fell flat on his back. After both cleared their heads, Charles remounted and finished the penning. That is the cowboy way.
After finishing high school, Charles tried college, but it really was not for him until Texas Christian University initiated its first Ranch Management Course. Charles signed up, became the top student and after graduating, landed a job on Flat Top Ranch at Walnut Springs. Charles Pettit, the owner who helped found and finance the new program, had requested that he get the top student from that first class. Charles and his wife, Shirley, missed their hometown, After a year at Flat Top, they returned to Groesbeck. He worked with the Soil Conservation Service, operated the film projectors at the Limestone Theatre and, finally, began a bulldozer business that produced enough income to return him to the life he loved. He began gathering working bred Quarter Horse brood mares and acquired his first stallion. By the late 1960’s, he was in the Quarter horse business supplying horses to working cowboys, rodeo competitors and anyone who wanted a horse that had “cow” in him, the term applied to a horse that was naturally turned toward cow work.
He has ranched and helped others oversee their ranching operations while continuing to raise the best horses he could for working cowboys.
Charles is laid up now with Parkinson’s, but he is still a rancher, a horseman and, yes, a cowboy.