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CATTLE TODAY

IT'S THE PITTS -- THE WALKING OF THE COWS

by: Lee Pitts

People in agriculture are always being urged by our government, who want a cheap food policy, to develop other sources of income on our farms and ranches. They insist the way to save small town America is through tourism. But not every urbanite is going to want to spend their vacation touring this country's tallest grain elevators or visiting collections of rusted old farm implements. But I think I have come up with something that rubberneckers and sightseers will flock to our small towns to see.

You've no doubt heard of Pamplona's running of the bulls? Ever since Ernest Hemingway brought the event to the world's attention millions of tourists have flocked to Pamplona to try and kill themselves for no apparent reason or cause. Believe it or not, the running of the bulls is a religious festival, which in retrospect seems fitting because the idiots who run with the bulls surely must say a lot of prayers.

Pamplona is the historic capital of Basque country and every July the residents celebrate the San Fermin Festival by partying nonstop for over a week. The running of the bulls actually began in 1852 when the drovers who brought the bulls to the Plaza de Toros through the narrow streets of Pamplona for that night's bullfight started running with them. Then some crazy tourists thought it looked like fun to be gored and run over by bulls and so they joined the chase. And the rest is medical history.

Since 1924, 13 people have been killed running with the bulls, including the last person to bite the dust in 1995. Naturally, he was an American. This year during the running of the bulls at least 13 people were hospitalized and seven of those were seriously gored. Three had to undergo operations. Doesn't this sound like fun? Whenever the Pamplona veterans get together to talk through wired jaws they speak in reverence of two years in particular: 1947 and 1980. In those years one bull killed two people each. My wife insists that in the past we have had offspring of those two bulls as our ranch herd sires.

There are few rules in running with the bulls. You're not supposed to be drunk or impaired, but who else would do such a thing? You are not allowed to hurt or harass the bulls either, which is funny considering that in less than 12 hours the bulls will be killed with a sword to the heart. Needless to say, the event has drawn the ire of PETA who, one week before, stages their annual Running Of The Nudes in which homely animal rightists run with nothing on but a red scarf. I am told the scene is far more hideous than anything that happens during the bull run. Spectators hide their eyes in horror, unable to look at the grotesque scene being played out before them.

Now here's what I've been thinking. My initial idea was that prior to the NFR in Las Vegas the rodeo stock for that night's performance would be run down the Vegas strip to the Thomas and Mack Arena. But I gave up on that idea because the rodeo animals are far too valuable and I don't think the bus people would leave their slot machines to run with the bulls and risk losing the nickels and quarters in their buckets. Besides, Vegas doesn't need the money and small town America does.

We don't have bullfight arenas but we do have auction markets and I thought that instead of trucking our culls to auction, once a year ranchers could drive them down Main Street to their local auction yard. Because no rancher wants to get hit by a bullock in the buttocks we'd make a few changes. Instead of running with the bulls we'd walk with the cows. That way there'd be far fewer fatalities. And less shrink!

Hemingway got famous for his portrayal of the running of the bulls and I have high hopes that my walking with the cows idea will leave me with a similar legacy. If you do borrow my idea I only ask for three things: That I be the first Grand Marshall and that either I get to ride in a safe car or the cows must be gimpy, old and polled.

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