cowboy, according to Larry McMurtry is someone who moves cattle as a profession, like those he immortalized in Lonesome Dove. Hollywood may have made the cowboy phenomenon into something more than the reality of moving cows. We’ve come to believe cowboys are heroes, that they are larger than life. The fenceless era of moving cattle from one state to another is over, but there are still those who work cattle from the back of a horse. Whether they fit Hollywood’s role or not, they are cowboys and part of a culture of land and animal lovers. Bob Hathaway was a real cowboy. This was made clear to me on his death. I didn’t know him…hadn’t actually heard of him until the day of his funeral when it was suggested that I might want to see the cultural event of his post funeral procession making its way down the main street of town. The difference between my small town life and my city life is reflected in the seriousness with which I took this suggestion. In Seattle there is a constant barrage of cultural events; some of them genuine, some of them another overheated effort to make meaning. Here in Montana there are never ten events competing for my attention and the suggestion of something “not to be missed” is an invitation into community. So I did drive to Harlo and parked my car up on the hill where I could look down onto the rodeo grounds where the funeral was being held. I wasn’t the only one who watched. Others showed respect by not going to the funeral of someone they didn’t know, but were prepared to show respect for this cowboy’s role in the traditions and culture of their community as he rode one last time through town.
After a bagpipe farewell, the procession began and we moved to Central Avenue.
The first rider crested the hill between the very modest Times Clarion building and the abandoned Graves Hotel. Both of these buildings are signs of a diminishing way of life, but contradicted by the gathering community’s celebration of a contemporary cowboy. The flag bearer was followed by two beautiful Clydesdales pulling the wagon with Bob Hathaway’s flag draped coffin and a riderless horse; not a metaphor but the horse that will not feel the weight of its owner again.
Arville Lammers’ stagecoach followed with the family and Hathaway’s beloved dog, Julie.
Finally, fifty riders paid respect to a horseman they knew, perhaps worked along side, but at the very least shared his love of horses and the accompanying life style. My throat choked closed restricting speech, but there was nothing to be said. Everyone there understood this deep show of love. Was it for Bob Hathaway? Yes of course, there were those who loved him, but also and maybe even more there was a palpable love of what he stood for.
Can I say this from my position outside? Perhaps I am guessing, but the word respect doesn’t escape my thinking. Later, someone relayed a story told by the Lutheran minister who officiated at the service. Apparently Hathaway was not a big church go-er and when prodded by the minister, he responded that he would rather be on his horse in the mountains thinking about god, that in church thinking about his horse. It seems Hathaway lived with respect for his surroundings, his animals and his work. He was still a working ranch hand at 72. It was suggested that maybe this cowboy was larger in death than in life. I think perhaps we all are. It is the time when our place in the larger story is sealed. When we become part of the whole. I cannot imagine for a minute that Bob Hathaway’s tribute was not earned by him and was not larger than him at the same time.
photo credit: Rufus Kimrey