by: Lee Pitts

The cattleman sitting in one of the padded seats at the Arkansas auction was ragged out in some fancy doodads. He looked like a walking-talking Shepler's mail order catalog with his 100 percent pressed cotton shirt and boots so fine you could see the wrinkles in his socks. Mr. B was the kind of fellow very much appreciated at auction markets: a man with enough money that everybody in the place called him "Mister."

The day of my visit a special replacement cow sale was taking place and the cows came into the auction ring one at a time. (This is one of the big differences with the way cattle are sold in the South versus the West).

Mr. B bid with the confidence of an order buyer spending other people's money. When the first cow came into the ring Mr. B bid with a barely noticeable nod of his head but, much to everyone's surprise, a newcomer to the auction had the audacity to bid against Mr. B. No one had ever seen the stranger at the auction before. "He must be from Texas," Mr. B mumbled. With a much louder voice he announced to his small crowd of admirers, "No foreigner from Texas is going to come to Arkansas and buy all the cows away from me!"      

Much to the pleasure of the auctioneer, and the consignors, every cow became a bidding battle between Mr. B and the sun weathered stranger. Mr. B would bid and the foreigner would raise it. But Mr. B simply would not let the stranger buy a cow. The bidding was so fast and furious that the auctioneer could barely keep up. It was like a game of checkers on steroids with each man taking his rapid turn.

I'd seen this game played many times before at auctions all over the country but usually it was played by order buyers who would team up to not let a newcomer buy any cattle. It was a way of freezing out any new competition in the future and, surprisingly, the tactic usually worked.

Between keeping track of his purchases and bidding, Mr. B barely had time to look in the ring at the quality of the merchandise he was buying. Mr. B glared deadly daggers at the stranger every time he'd bid and in the process of freezing out the outsider Mr. B bought an interesting assortment of cows. There were cows in his pen so poor even their shadows had holes in them. Others were burnt till they looked like a brand book. Mr. B bought an assortment of brush snakes, buttermilk cows, horned jackrabbits and mealy nosed, twisty horned crossbreds in every description and every stage of pregnancy. If the stranger showed even the slightest interest in an animal Mr. B bought the beast away from him.

Mr. B said to no one in particular, “This guy must own half of Texas by the way he'd bidding. I bet he's got a hundred oil wells on his property too.”

The only time the price dropped and Mr. B could take a break from his bidding was when the stranger went to the crumb castle to fetch a snack. Well into the evening the last cow was sold. Mr. B was trying to keep a lid on his can of cuss words as he tallied his purchases. In the final analysis he had bought a few more cattle than he'd intended. Five loads more in fact! But at least he had not let the well-to-do stranger buy any cattle. He'd bet they'd never see him around these parts ever again.

As he was leaving, Mr. B. saw the stranger get in his pickup, a small Toyota with wooden racks and many miles on it. "Where you from stranger?" Mr. B asked. "You from Texas?"     

"No, I'm from right here in Conway. I have a little half acre out behind the house and just needed something to mow the grass. You sure could have saved yourself a lot of money today," laughed the stranger. "I only needed one cow."

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