By Contributing Editor, Alpine, Mark Glover
Harper – Harper, Texas is not everybody’s choice for a weekend destination. But the boss needed to deliver 6 head to Raz’s Livestock Auction and I was the man of the moment. Eight dollars an hour to drive wasn’t so bad and more importantly I was being pulled from the fence line. That’s like having Santa ask you to guide his sleigh tonight – anything to get away from the fire-breathing Bobcat with half a mile of barbed wire spinning through a cock-eyed reel at a 1000 RPM.
I’m not a cowboy but this is cowboy work – so I put on my boots and left at 6 am climbing forty mile hill with 3 tons of beef attached wondering if I should listen to Country and Western. I pushed in a CD of Iggy Pop instead.
Low clouds burned off in the distant flats but then I noticed a dark parallelogram cloud with a blurred top edge. Symbolic for sure, I thought. Something was up. Something weird.
Several hours later I rolled past the Harper Chevron in the three gas station town. Two giant buffalo, field gutted and laying belly up covered a thirty foot flat trailer. A couple of men in camo-jackets were looking up at them.
That’s about where the parking lot began. Both sides of Highway 90 tight with pick-ups of all looks and vintages with a thin opening leading to Raz’s. Welded to the gate are metal cut outs of birds and mammals and warning signs: No Bears, Cats, Wolves or Coyotes – NO CAMERAS. Like a good reporter I didn’t bring one anyway.
I stopped at the window and asked the lady where she wanted the cows.
“Cows?” she questioned.
She took a good look at me. “Take your minis down to the back shoot, darling.”
I backed in the trailer without killing anybody.
“Whatcha got there?” The chute man asked.
“Six head,” I said, wishing I had worn a cowboy hat.
“Head of what?”
“Sex?” He asked, filling out a form.
“I don’t know.”
“Jeremy get in there and see what the man’s got.”
“Bulls,” Jeremy called out.
Then I heard a shriek followed by a slam.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Black Buck – they don’t like pens.”
I looked over the top of the corral board. About twenty animals with spiraled dark horns, and elf-like faces paced in a pen. Some jumped into the wood, bounced and fell on their cousins. In the next pen stood two water buffalo with big sad eyes and short thick horns. Next door – a Zebra. I followed the rusty corral steel with my eyes -rows of pens with anxious Reindeer, Axis Deer, Impalas, Buffalo, Multan Sheep, Aoudad, and Shetland Ponies.
“Had a giraffe in here once,” the chute man said. “Couldn’t get him under the roof – had to auction him out there.” He gestured to the open pens.
He handed me the paper work and I walked past the dinosaur department where a number of live chukars, quail, pheasant, and peacocks were boxed up with number tags wired to their cage.
A man with a monkey on his back stood at the front door of the auction house.
“You wanna buy a monkey?” He asked.
“Not today, thank-you.” I smiled and walked into the small arena.
Bleachers in a semi-circle surrounded a white painted iron cage with big doors on both sides tended by burly dudes with sunglasses perched over the bill of their hats. Above was the auctioneer’s platform. The door to the right swung open and a high stepping Black Buck jumped to center stage and wacked his horns against the white metal.
“Hey, hey give me five give me five give me five,” the auctioneering bantered. He stopped and looked out over the crowd illuminated by elk horn chandeliers. Gimme hats, camo jackets and facial hair – and the men dressed like that too.
“This is a fine specimen,” the auctioneer noted. “Now who’s gonna give me five hundred dollars to start this thing off?”
A hand with five finger rose in front of me.
One of the door dudes popped the Black Buck with a stick and it jumped twenty feet.
“I got five now give me five and a half. Five now five now give me five and a half.”
Beer Breath leaned over me and said: “Them blacks can jump.”
I watched the sale conclude. The five fingered man bought the black buck for 650 dollars.
A portly man in an army jacket next to me nodded.
“That feller runs a hunting ranch down the road. Takes orders from Dallas and Houston. Comes here, buys’em and sets’em loose. They drive down and shoot’em, like they’ve done something,” he said.
Raz’s has been auctioning exotics since 1981. The story goes that the Y O Ranch, one of the first ranches in Texas to game up with exotics, lost animals after rain when the fences wouldn’t hold. Exotics got so thick around the hill country it created a market.
I walked out to the concession stand.
“Do you have any meatless burritos?” I asked.
The girl’s eyes rolled.
“You’re funny,” she said.
I rambled past a rusting 57 Chevy on jacks then through the gate and out to the truck.
I was hoping that weren’t any more parallelogram clouds in the sky.