Saddle Source 

Meet real live cowboy Baxter Black.

And you thought the mechanical bull was the death of the cowboy. Just take a gander at Baxter Black. He's got the look: enormous handlebar moustache, 10-gallon hat (no feather, for pete's sake). He's got the location: on top of a horse. This cowboy knows what he's talking about.

After all, talking is one of the things he does best. Black will perform his cowboy poetry for a sold-out crowd in Memphis Monday, October 21st, at St. Mary's Buckman Performing and Fine Arts Center and a virtually sold-out Jackson, Tennessee, audience Wednesday the 23rd in promotion of his recently published collection of "essays, commentaries, and campfire verse," Horseshoes, Cowsocks & Duckfeet (Crown).

Raised on a New Mexico ranch, Black cowboyed before earning a degree in veterinary medicine. Thirteen years later, Black was employed by a pharmaceutical company and would occasionally speak to groups of vets about developments in animal medicine. He was let go after the company he worked for was sold, but the groups he spoke before kept asking for more. Today, the cowboy poet/philosopher/former large-animal veterinarian travels the nation speaking at agricultural banquets, appears sporadically as a radio commentator on NPR's Morning Edition, and writes the nationally syndicated column "On the Edge of Common Sense." Horseshoes, Cowsocks & Duckfeet is his sixth book, and he also has a wide variety of CDs and performance videos. So, no, the cowboy is not dead, just multitasking.

I talked to Black from the road, and, well, the man has a lot to say about cowboys. After a few phone messages, during which Black referred to me as "my darlin'," I was assured that the interview would be interesting, if nothing else, but I had no idea there'd be a pop quiz:

Black: How do you think a cowboy goes about treating a sick cow?

Me (after a long pause): Well, I guess he has to do it himself.

Black: But what does he use? What does he have with him?

Me: A rope?

Black: Right, and what is he riding?

Me: A horse.

Black: There you go.

Black went on to explain how range cows (the kind cowboys herd) "are like Kmart employees -- you can't just walk up to them" -- and how the first step in treating animals is "restraining the beast." Clearly, a lot of things can go wrong, thus ensuring the frequent creation of cowboy stories, Black's forte.

And what is it about the cowboy that intrigues so many people? Black says, "[It's] hard to pick one word. I'd say 'authentic.'" He knows exactly what it takes to be an authentic cowboy: "Someone who can replace a uterine prolapse in a range cow in a three-section pasture with nothing but a horse and a rope." And what it doesn't: "Years ago, we had the urban-cowboy phase, and a huge part of our country began listening to country music and wearing straw hats with feathers. We know John Travolta wasn't a cowboy." Black explains how he can tell the difference: "I play the guitar. When I see someone playing a guitar in a movie, I can tell you when someone's really playing or just faking the chords."

So the cowboy is alive and well. "They're not dying out," says Black, "although they've changed a little bit, had to become a bit more sophisticated." And as far as Black can figure, we'll always need cowboys. "I read in Newsweek last week that 96 percent of the national population eats meat. As long as people eat hamburgers, they'll need cows. As long as there are cows, they'll be cowboys." n

For ticket information for Baxter Black's Jackson appearance, call 325-6584.

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