iron - an alloy prized for the mouthpiece of bridle bits. Sweet iron - tempered and
sweetened by the heat of the horse's mouth. Sweet iron- people shaped by the hard and the
sweet of the American West. In this innovative work, Linda Hussa blends oral history,
storytelling, and poetry to evoke the complexity of one westerner's life.Henry Elijah (Lige)
Langston, a buckaroo and rawhide braider, was born in 1908 on a homestead in the isolated
outback of the Great Basin. Lige worked on ranches in northeastern California and
northwestern Nevada, a region known as the Sagebrush Corner. His life was made iron by the
cold-blooded desert horses he broke and rode. His life was shaped sweet by the women who
tried to change him.
At the heart of the book, Lige's own
words, direct, earthy, reveal the character of the man. Around this core Hussa tells her
own story as an outsider who found a home in the Great Basin and weaves the testimony of
others who shared a lifetime friendship with Lige. The resulting tapestry of voices
reflects the fine braiding from Lige's hands: "Black over sorrel, grey over black,
sorrel over grey, over black again."
Lige Langston: Sweet Iron
is Volume 4 in the Literature of the American West series, published by University of
Oklahoma Press. The following is excerpted from pages 81-83:
In 1926 Mom heard that Neill West, owner of
the TH Ranch three miles southeast of Sparks, was hiring wranglers. She asked me if I
would be interested in inquiring about the job. I was.
West supplied horses for the divorcée dude
ranch trade as well for his summer camps at both Lake Tahoe and Lake Donner. I jumped at a
chance to ditch my delivery bike and go back to work on a ranch with horses. That was
where I met Bud Blundell and Paul Fite. West had just bought sixty head of good saddle
horses to supply his dude business. Short, Shaska West, and Paul were shoeing the cavvy
when I hired on. That first year I worked in the shop or ran errands, whatever there was
to do. I didn't have too much to do with the horses. I just ran the forge. Shaska and Paul
did all the fittin' of the shoes.
One day old West told me, If you'll stay
here and hay for me this summer, I'll give you a vacation on pay. I didn't care what I was
doin', as long as I had a job, so I told him that was fine. I drove a team of mules on a
rake. Gin and Red, two sorrel mules. Boy, they was goers, I tell you.
But when I finished the hayin' West sent me
up to the girls' camp on the west shore of Lake Tahoe to pick up a horse that had been
giving 'em trouble. He was a big bay horse with a white face that run around on his jaws
and he was a son-of-a-gun to shy. I guess he'd probably whirled out from under some of the
girls so West sent me up there on another horse to trade and rode the back horse back. He
was a pretty bugger too, but he's see something goin' down the road and you'd be headed
back the other way pretty darned quick.
They was havin' a rodeo at Lake Tahoe when
I come by. A regular rodeo, a big one. West furnished all the horses, so of course Bud and
Paul were there. That Paul was a ripper. He's ride broncos and look back over his shoulder
at the crowd, all around over the fence, smilin', never look at his horse at all, and ride
that bugger to a frazzle.
Bud had his little gray horse, Danny,
entered in the stake racer. There was probably eight horses in that race. Quite a bunch of
'em lined up, I know, I think every horse in he race could have outrun Danny, but boy'
when he got to that stake, he'd just drag Bud's leg on the stake gettin' around it. He was
about halfway back before the others got stopped. Won it both days plumb easy.
Anyway, after the rodeo was over Bud and I
had to take the horses down the road a mile or so and put 'em in a pasture. Bud grabbed an
old pinto horse out of the bunch, jumped on him bareback, and rode along with us, no
bridle or nothin'. When we got out to the highway most of the horses had started down the
road and we was comin' along behind. This big limousine, as long as a barn, comes up the
highway and stops to let the horses go by. There was four ladies in the thing. Had the top
folded back, class outfit. That darned Paul seen 'em and just made a beeline for that big
car. He run that pinto horse right into the side of the car and when he horse slid to a
stop Paul flew right over his head and right into the ladies' laps. The horse trotted
along with the bunch and Paul stayed right there in the car. A'course, he was a
good-lookin' guy and had a good line, too. I guess those ladies got quite a kick out of
Linda Hussa is a poet,
writer, and rancher living in Cedarville, California. She is a former Bay Area resident,
and is the author of Where The Wind Lives, Ride the Silence, and Diary of a
Cow Camp Cook. Sweet Iron can be purchased at Goodenough Books in
Livermore, CA, or ordered through the publisher, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.
© 1999 Linda Hussa. The
above story and cover shot are the property of the Author and may not be duplicated or
redistributed in any way without permission.