Sweet 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 divorce 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 too 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 horseback. 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 him.