banjo cowboy



















banjo cowboy



















banjo cowboy



















banjo cowboy



















banjo cowboy



















banjo cowboy



















banjo cowboy



















banjo cowboy

I crawled out in the creek an' cut that mule loose, 'cause, man, she was blowin' bubbles.


Bob Swandt
(aka: Bobby Waters)
High Sierra Cowboy


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Bob Swandt story and images courtesy of
Paul Lamos unless otherwise indicated.

See USE NOTICE on Home Page.

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I was born in Lancaster, Ohio. My dad was a farmer, a poor one, same as the rest of them. He was born in 1900, he was 33 when the Depression hit. I was 3. I remember when he bought a 1928 Chevrolet with a rumble seat. That beat walkin'. When it rained, it didn't make no difference. You still rode back there and hollered, "Go faster." It was tough, I guess. There was me and my sister; she's three years younger. The first house I remember was a log cabin with a wood stove. It had a front room, kitchen, and a bedroom with some dividers in it. When they moved into town, they bought a house there and kept this thing. We'd go out there in the summertime. They had some real black ground and farmed potatoes. They had a furniture shop in town. My dad ended up workin' for Ohio State University. That's where he was workin' when he died at 58. I was long gone before that.

I started to work when I was young. Didn't have TV, had to do somethin'. Wasn't many girls around there. My dad didn't drink and didn't make moonshine like everybody else. That didn't stop me from tasting it, though. Hell, when I was 10, 11 years old, I could plow and plant, cut corn, and just about anything. I've forgotten that now, though. Back then everybody worked 'cause there wasn't nothin' else to do. You didn't run to town everyday. You wanted to learn somethin'. That's what we did. When I went to bed I couldn't wait for daylight so I could get up and go do somethin' again. I came out to California in 1962 to Shafter. I was 24 or 25, somewhere in there. I shod horses for Joe O'Brien, S. A. Kemp Stables at Shafter. They had standard bred horses. I'd had a bad back for several years, and shoein' horses was terrible on it. So that spring when they went back to Kentucky for the races, I quit an' stayed here.

When I was a kid, I was a full-fledged musician. I was as good at 10 as I was at 20. I played the banjo, the guitar, and a little of everything. Played at church. Preacher taught me to play the guitar. A guy named Reverend Clem Dennin, he started me. And my Dad sang with a gospel quartet. One of those guys played guitar, and he showed me a lot.

Then my cousin, who was nine years older, went to World War II, and he came back with a guitar player; he taught me a lot. Back in those days (I was 12, 13 years old) he started haulin' me to beer joints without my Dad an' Mom knowin' about it.

I remember old Salty. He was coughin' and hackin' one morning and buildin' a fire. I woke up ... just didn't feel right, didn't feel like I'd been in bed very long. I looked at the watch. It was twenty after one an' he's up raisin' hell. I asked him, "What are you doin', Salty?" "Gonna make some coffee." "Hell, it's only twenty after one." "Nah, it ain't, kid." He walked over there, squinted one eye, and looked at the clock. "I'll be damned," he said, "I thought it was five after four." We made coffee, an' we stayed up the rest of the night drinkin' coffee an' talkin'. He died 'bout three years ago. He was 66 or 67. He wore those goddamned boots that if you stand up in 'em when you're drunk, you just fall over backwards.
At Brown's, they had bear bars on the windows. We'd sleep there and look out the window to watch our meat. One night Salty was layin' right there with his head too close to the window. A bear come up there, stuck his head between the bars, an' got it caught. He was pullin' backwards, just a squealin', and old Salty woke up a foot and a half from his face! He'd just opened his eyes, an' here was this bear squallin' ! Boy! So he said, "I've never been so scared in all my goddamned life!"

I ran into a guy named Johnny Wilson. He was shoein' those standard bred horses, so I watched him 'bout five minutes, and I knew I didn't know anything. I got to know him and went every time I could and watched and watched. The following winter a horse stepped on his toe, and he could hardly get around. After all that time he kinda took a likin' to me and called me up. He wanted to know if I'd come help him shoe. He'd work the fire and make shoes, and I'd pull shoes, cut feet, an' nail 'em on. I did that for a few months with him and really learned a bunch. He'd make shoes for all of 'em. We'd buy the steel in eight foot lengths, measure a horse's foot, an' cut the metal and make whatever the horse wears - half round, plain plate, or whatever. The following year, Johnny quit. He told his customers to call me. So in a couple of years, I was hittin' a good lick. I was shoein' all the best stables, all the champion horses, world's champion pacer, world's champion trotter and stake horses. I had it made!

Sometimes when I'm doin' hot shoein', a person will walk right up an' pick up that shoe. They're not red hot, but you can't hold 'em. If I take a little extra long on a shoe, I'll pick both of 'em up in my hand and lay them down there. Hell, but my hand is burnt hard. A guy saw me do that one day, and he walked up, reached down there, and grabbed that shoe and ZING! Across the shop! I said, "Hot?" The smart-ass said, "No, it just don't take me long to look at a horseshoe."

Then I started racing. I asked a man to teach me and he did. Two or three days later, he started me jogging. I jogged horses all that winter, and, come March, they started training. So I learned to read a stopwatch. Luckily I hit pretty good. Come summer, he sent me to the races. We had two aged horses and two colts. Shit, I shoulda won every race, but I didn't. Experience beat me. One time I was at a fair. I had this little filly, eight years old. I was goin' on the track, and a guy ran up an' said, "You gonna win this?" "I'll try." Well, somethin' happened an' I got beat. After the second heat when I went back to the stall door with the filly, there were six or seven inches of $2 tickets stacked up in front of her stall door - to show me that the sonofabitch lost! Boy, I got so god­damned mad I started laughin'.

I got in one wreck. I was in it, but I never went down. Tommy Jefferson and I were packin'. We were crossin' one of them wet winter's creeks. The creek was five feet deep an' goin' 90 miles an hour. He was behind me, ridin', an' I was leadin' five mules. On the second mule I had my banjo, and on the third mule I had my guitar. I went across this goddamned creek, and I got up on the bank. My first mule got up on the bank, an' I had a bronco mule on the back that was still on the other side of the creek. She sat back, set the fourth mule up, and that middle mule had propane on her! Just picked her right up out of that side of the creek apullin' back. And I had my lead mules up on the bank on the other side pullin' back! I had a wrecker goin'. When they stretch out like that, the middle one up is just picked up and turned over. "Oh Jesus Christ!" Tom's ahollerin', "Cut my mule loose!" And I'm ahollerin', "Save my banjo!" We were across the creek ahollerin' at each other. I crawled out in the creek an' cut that mule loose ( the one that was upside down) 'cause, man, she was blowin' bubbles! She went down 15, 20 yards, hit some brush, an' got right side up. Man, she just stood there. Coughin'. Damn near drowned her.


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bob swandt
Brown cow camp, with its hand-hewn pine logs, is home to cow boss Doug Mullen and cowboy Bob Swandt for the sum­mer season. Completely isolated in mountain meadow, they will spend their days looking after the herd, each day taking wide circles into the forests of the rugged retreat. Swandt, an excellent hunter, keeps the pair well stocked with venison. Having no electricity, they must hang the meat high, away from the bears, to cool by night in the low temperatures of the mountain air and cover it by day in a corner of the cabin. Cowboy culinary finesse is reached when Doug stokes the near-century-old wood-burner range. His salsa picante is supreme. Bob is better known for remarks like "I wash my plate twice a season, once in May and once in October."



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inyo sierra

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Other High Sierra Cowboys

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Further Reading

Cowboys of the High Sierra by Peter Perkins - 1980





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This page was last updated on 01 September 2017