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Celebrating the Cowboy Way

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Today marks the last column for Baxter Black’s “On the Edge of Common Sense.” Black turns 77 in January, and we learned last week from his wife, Cindy Lou, he’s been battling some serious health problems and will be hanging up his word processor to ride into the retirement sunset

In the early 1990s, I lived in a one-room studio apartment in Fort Smith, Arkansas. All along one side were floor-to-ceiling windows. The wood floor would have been ideal for a basketball court if it weren’t for the very low ceilings. Of course, that didn’t stop me from doing dribbling drills from time to time.

During the time I was living there, my week’s routine included two radio delights.

One delight was listening to the Friday morning report from baseball broadcasting legend Red Barber, who called games in New York from 1939-1966, first with the Brooklyn Dodgers and then with the Yankees. Barber would chat with NPR host Bob Edwards about sports and a variety of other things.

The second weekly delight was the report on NPR’s “Morning Edition” from a cowboy poet and large animal veterinarian named Baxter Black. You never knew what Baxter would present from week to week. Sometimes, it would be a genuine cowboy poem. Sometimes it would be a hilarious tale of his ranching life. Other times it would be commentary of some human foible. No matter the topic, I was always entertained, and appreciated this glimpse into a life I wasn’t close to at that time in my life.

Flash forward to 2010, when I joined the Las Cruces Bulletin. To my delight, one of the Bulletin’s regular features was the weekly Baxter Black column. I enjoyed him then for the same reasons I had 15-20 years earlier.

Quickly I learned Black had a big following in Las Cruces.

Part of that was geographical. Black grew up in Las Cruces, and his father was dean of New Mexico State University’s agriculture college. The younger Black studied at NMSU before finishing his schooling at Colorado State.

Part of that was topical. Living in a Western state, with a lot of working farmers and ranchers, New Mexicans could relate to Black’s stories.

Many of his fans, however, had never sat in a saddle or even pulled on a pair of cowboy boots. They just enjoyed his wit and the way he could weave a tale.

When I’m out and about or attending a community event, people often come up to me specifically to say how much they enjoyed Baxter Black.

That said, Black had his critics as well. Some people asked me why we ran his column. Others said he was out of touch, or out of date, or downright backwards in his thinking. In fact, I fully expect to hear negative comment about two words in his final column today. His fans, though, outnumbered the naysayers about 10 to 1.

For me, Baxter’s cowboy poetry was always a treat, and a welcome diversion to life’s frustrations and complications.  Regardless of his topics, I almost always learned something. Yes, there were times I didn’t quite find the intended humor, but there were other times I found his writings almost existential.

He’s lived for many years in Arizona, fittingly, on a street called Red Chile Road.

His last two columns in the Bulletin, to me, show some of the many sides of Baxter Black.

His Christmas Eve column was a hopeful mashup of wonder, faith, science and miracles.

Today’s column, about horse matters, celebrates that most beautiful of animals, and how much good they can do for us humans.

Here’s a great quote from his column:

“There is just some country where horseback is the only way to get the job done. Places where the four-wheeler is a poor second, not to mention a noisy, track-leaving unnatural conveyance.  Besides, it’s hard to throw a rope from.”

We thank you, Baxter, for your long years of veterinary service, your multi-media entertainment and helping to preserve, in both words and deed, the cowboy way.