By Alton Porter
Third Of An HCCourier Series
Rick Hargrove knew from the very beginning that he wanted to be a cowboy. So, he started practicing to become one at the tender age of three years old.
Then, starting in the mid-1980s as an adult making a living at cowboying, he practiced the vocation until his official retirement in 2002.
Although he might be officially retired from working cattle for others, Hargrove, 65, still ranches for himself and participates in team roping events.
He carries on his ranching practice on about 100 acres of land he owns at his homestead in the Grapeland School Independent District in Houston County and another 130 acres he leases off FM 2022.
Hargrove has 25 head of cattle and 15 horses of the Bingo Hickory Quarter Horse bloodline on the FM 2022 property.
"I came up on a farm," Hargrove said, noting that his family has been engaged in agriculture for many years. "We gardened and we farmed and we had cattle and horses," he explained.
"I've always been one," he said about being a cowboy. "I've enjoyed it."
He added, "I had my first horse when I was three years old. When I was five, I had a horse that threw me, and I spent 36 days and nights in Texas Children's Hospital for a broken arm.
Hargrove said his dad got rid of that horse, and the incident didn't deter him from wanting to become a cowboy. His dad got him another horse.
As a young fellow, he said he participated in calf roping and goat roping events, and graduated up to bull riding when he got a little older. "I rode bulls up until I graduated from high school," added Hargrove.
While in high school, he said he also worked on "a ranch – (Spanish Bit Plantation) -- down in Rosharon, Texas," where the owner "was one of the pioneers of the Brangus breed" of cattle, and who made his own Brangus cattle out of Brahma and Angus cows.
"The owner," Hargrove said, "had 30,000 acres down on the salt grass right on the water, and in the wintertime, he'd buy 3,000 cross-bred cows and we'd turn them out down there and put those Brangus bulls on them. And he'd bring them in during the spring. We'd gather everything, sell all the bred cows."
After high school graduation, Hargrove said, "I immediately joined the Navy. The Vietnam War was going on, and I spent four years in the Navy.
Hargrove said he worked as a welder for a few years. Then, came home. "I've always had horses, and calf roped and team roped," and he went to work for Skinner Brown in Crockett, who owned a lot of land and cattle.
After working several years for Brown, Hargrove said he teamed up with a good cowboy named Carroll Langham formerly of Latexo, who now lives in Grapeland, and they worked together 12-15 years.
Hargrove said "I got to winning so much in my team roping, I thought I could make a living doing it. So, I quit working cattle, and my son-in-law Billy Davenport took my place with Carroll. I tried to make a living team roping two or three years there, and I went broke.
"So, I got a job as a land man. I was leasing rentals around here for a while, and I still team roped. And I won a good bit. I always rode this Bingo Hickory horse that I had. And when he got too old, I found another one and I bought him. Then, I started raising them. I've been all over the country buying mares. And I breed those Bingo Hickory horses. That's what I do now. I'm still doing it. It's not much money in it, but it's enjoyable."
He continued, "I raise those horses and try to team rope a little bit. And I've been all over the country. Some of the guys who are big time now in NFR (National Finals Rodeo put on each year by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), I roped for them when they were little kids. I came up with them, and I like to think I helped them get where they are."
When he was working as a cowboy to make a living at the trade, Hargrove said he did "everything a cowboy can do. I had dogs. I had all the equipment a (veterinarian) has. I did everything."
Some of those things included, catching wild cattle, penning cows, worming and vaccinating them, and pulling calves to help cows deliver them. "Anything a vet can do, all these cowboys have done," he said. "They're basically a cowboy and a vet."
Asked what he enjoyed most about cowboying, Hargrove said, "the penning part. Working the cattle with the horses, having the dogs bay them up, driving them to the pen. I enjoyed my dogs. That part was kind of enjoyable because you could see what your horse was made of. You shut the gate, let the cows by and hold the calves.
"After you get them to the pen, that's when the work starts. Then, you have to sort the cows off the calves, and you name it."
After the cows are sorted from the cows, treatments can be administered to the cows.
Asked what kept him going as a cowboy, Hargrove said, "It wasn't the money. It's just something that some people are born with. They just love it. You're in a different pasture nearly every day. All these cowboys work daywork. You see different things every day. Nothing's ever the same.
"Somebody might call you and say, 'I've had 20 people out here trying to catch this bull, and we can't catch him. We've had every cowboy in the county.' If they ever did that, if they call this guy I worked with – Carroll Langham – we never did come back without the bull or the cow or whatever it was. If nobody else could get him, we'd go get him."
Asked what he considers his biggest accomplishment as a cowboy, Hargrove said he was "pretty well known for having some of the best trained dogs. A lot of these younger cowboys now tell me 'your dogs were better than everybody else's.' I say, 'no, they weren't, I had the same dogs that everybody else had, mine just minded me.' My dogs would do exactly what I told them. I could call one dog out or all of them out. My dogs had a handle on them. That's kind of a cowboy expression meaning they would mind me to the word."
Asked if there was something he didn't like about cowboying, Hargrove said, "I enjoyed it all," adding, after pausing for a moment, "except the pay." He said, he and his co-worker charged more than other cowboys for the work they did, but they got it done fast and efficiently. We did our work and we got it done. A lot of days, we'd work a set of cows on four or five ranches. Maybe some of those younger hands could work only one set, while we worked four or five sets.
He said he did most of his cowboying in Houston County, but worked in Anderson and Leon counties as well. He added, he and his co-worker also had a customer down in South Texas near Beaumont.
Hargrove said he also participated in rodeos. "Two years in a row, I won the team roping event at the annual Myrtis Dightman rodeo in Crockett," he said, adding, one year, his team roping partner was Joel Lovell, and the other year, his partner was Lovell's son Coby Lovell, who currently goes to the NFR and is probably ranked in the top five in the event throughout the world. He said he did his participation in bull-riding when he was much younger, and he received several injuries from that participation.
He said Langham is the one cowboy he did most of his cowboying with, but he worked with others as well, including Billy Crowson, Ronnie Goolsby, Butch Arnold, Brandon Richburg and Caleb Rhone.
According to Hargrove, Klein Ranch was one of his biggest customers, adding most of his jobs were one-day deals, but he worked a week in the fall and a week in spring at Klein Ranch. Although most of the jobs were one-day assignments, he said he stayed busy, working six and seven days a week.
He said his days often got started at 7:30 or 8 a.m., and the work lasted until everything was all done, sometimes as late as midnight. He said there was no such thing as getting rained out. Instead they "got rained on," he added.
Asked what influenced him to become a cowboy, Hargrove said, "I just always wanted to be one. That's all I really ever wanted to do. I tried other ways of making a living. I didn't enjoy them. You know, you're here only one time on this earth. You might as well enjoy what you do.
"And, I was raised on a farm. I guess the first horse I rode was my granddaddy's plow horse. I was sitting up there on him as he was plowing. I guess I was two or three years old at that time. And my daddy bought me a little old horse" shortly after that from John Perkins of the former K Wolens department store in Crockett. Hargrove said that's the horse that he fell from, breaking his arm.
Hargrove said, "It's great to be able to do what you enjoy doing if you can make a living at it. Most cowboys are not real ambitious people. They enjoy what they do, and they know they're not going to get rich doing it. But that's just what they like to do."
What keeps him busy now, he said, is "I've got a few cows – about 25 head – and raising horses." He added, he also has about 20 white-tail deer and 30 axis deer on his property. He said he keeps deer so that his grandchildren have something to hunt, adding, "and they're very good to eat, especially the axis."