I first became interested in this story when I saw photos of Cody Crockett, Sydney Wallace, and Sloan Everett and read about their heroic attempt to save the cattle from a wildfire at the Franklin Ranch. It just seemed like something Larry McMurtry would write about in a novel set in the nineteenth century, not something that would happen in real life in the twenty-first century. I couldn’t stop thinking about the three of them.
So I called the families, I sent them emails, and I asked if they wanted to tell me about the day when this wildfire slammed into their lives. And all of them were willing to talk.
I’ve been working at Texas Monthly for more than thirty years, and I can’t remember ever doing an interview of any sort with a genuine cowboy. I’m a classic urban Texan. The last time I was on a horse was for my daughter’s Indian Princess Trail Ride, when she was five years old. So going out to the Panhandle to be with ranch families and cowboy families and to watch what they do—it was equivalent to an explorer going into the jungles of the Amazon.
I felt honored that these families would let me into their world and patiently describe to me the difference between heifers and steers and mama cows, and not laugh out loud when I pronounced chaps “chaps” instead of “shaps.” I was riveted when they called the second meal of the day “dinner” and the third meal of the day “supper”—the kind of tradition that perseveres despite the onset of modern technology.
It’s easy to buy into the myth that the cowboy life is gone. But in fact, it’s thriving in the Panhandle. There are so many kids whose lives are devoted to becoming a cowboy.
Texas has become such an urban and suburban state. But no matter how interesting people are in our cities, there’s nothing like a Panhandle cowboy. They are real and unyielding, and as the story points out, they are honorable. The question I had going into this piece was “Why would these three young people run toward the fire to save those cattle?” And the answer to that question is what this story is about: the love of, and devotion to, the cowboy way.