Ben, Buckaroo Border Collie

A friend for life.


By Mary Branscomb


Ben is a buckaroo. He wears a black and white outfit with a white “wild rag” ruff around his neck. There are a few freckles in the blaze on his face—and a white tip on his happy tail. Being a polite dog, he seldom barks. Never when he is working cattle.

      Among the many things that Ben learned early on was that vehicles are to be feared. To this day, he never gets on the road when a car is within earshot. When a motor is heard, Ben runs to the barrow pit and gets “down” until the car passes. He is amazed when many of his relatives gleefully “load up” when they are told to do so.

      In Ben’s opinion, a real buckaroo has no need for wheels. He doesn’t participate in any kind of “rosin jaw” work like fixing fence. He does not enjoy post-hole digging, irrigating, haying or tractor following. If you can’t do it horseback, Ben figures it’s not worth doing, and when he determines that the nature of the current job does not include livestock, he disappears.

      In his spare time, Ben watches the barn cats and directs their activities. When small children visit, he herds them around too.

      Ben can outdistance coyote pups in the fall. He and one or two people consider him a very good working dog; and Ben, himself, has labored all his life to teach his person what he knows about cows. For example, he knows he should always be on the opposite side of the herd from the rider. Unfortunately, if the opposite side is the gate side, people do get upset. Nevertheless, Ben complains, it is his person who is the slow learner and continues to direct him to places he is sure are wrong. Quite often, it turns out that Ben was correct after all, but few acknowledge his prowess.

      Ben gets a lot of credit, though, when he speeds to the front of a runaway bunch and fixes the “evil eye” on the leaders. Sooner or later the front-runners are intimidated by his glare. They slow and begin to turn.

      When that occurs, Ben hears “good dog,” which pleases him no end. He knows he is right, but it is gratifying if his owner and the owner’s friends can admit it, too.

      Ben is willing to go at the back of the herd with the drag riders and by rushing from side to side, nipping heels now and again, he can keep the cattle moving. He doesn’t really like to bite. He’s lost a few teeth that way, so when he’s commanded to “hit” he only puts forth a half-hearted nip. He’s best at snapping noses on curious yearlings. Some of his Aussie friends are a lot fiercer, he concedes, but they are pretty noisy, too, and Ben disapproves of barking.

      When he was half grown, Ben came to live with the people he now knows as his “pack”. He had been on a ranch with a littermate, on trial to see which one would work out. After a month or so, Ben was culled.

      As the unsuitable dog, he was unceremoniously tossed in the back of a pickup with several other border collie relatives who belonged on the “home” place. The truck stopped in a strange barnyard. The people there talked to Ben’s breeder, looked in the back of the truck and eventually the pup was set out on the ground. When the diesel drove away carrying his mother and other collies, panic set in and Ben bolted after it as fast as his puppy legs would go. His new owner had to run up the lane after Ben and make a flying tackle to stop his terrified dash.

      Later, after he had been confined at the new place for a time, Ben determined that he was the only dog. It was an awesome responsibility and he tried hard to learn his lessons. He quickly grasped “heel” or “stay back” while his person was on the ground, but it didn’t take Ben long to determine it was harder for the person to discipline from the back of a horse.

      Eventually, Ben was invited into the house. He appreciates the privilege. He has his own door and his own bed on the porch. He does not eat unless invited to do so, but he likes table scraps and will carefully chew up jello, lettuce, pancakes, pickles, apples—anything his people put down.

      Among the humans at the new place, there was one little old lady who played the piano. Ben began to appreciate music and often spent an hour or so lying close to the instrument while she played. He spent a lot of time with her because when the two of them were alone, Ben could count on a really good ear scratch or scalp rub. Once in a while, when the piano playing went on too long or he found the music unsuitable, Ben would put his head on the lady’s lap or root at her arm with his nose until she gave up the music and turned her attention to him.

      One summer day when the two of them were alone, the lady went outdoors to water some flowers. She tripped on a hose, fell on the hard ground and didn’t get up. Ben was upset.

      “This isn’t right,” he thought. “She’s never been down on my level before.” He dithered around putting his wet nose on her hands and face, suggesting that she get back where she belonged. He kept her company until he heard an engine and wheels on the gravel county road above the house. It was a car he knew, one that often brought a neighbor to visit and Ben was glad to hear it. He hurried up the lane to greet the neighbor, but she didn’t turn in, so Ben ran after the car and got in front. The driver had to slam on her brakes.

      “Bad dog!” she scolded. “Ben, you know better than to come up on the road!” But Ben wouldn’t get away, fearsome as the car was to him. The driver thought this very strange, so she followed Ben down the lane and found the little old lady on the ground. She called the ambulance and Ben became a hero. He had saved the oldest member of his pack.

     The next day Ben heard a lot of “good dog” remarks around the house and began to believe that his place at the new location might be secure.



The “little old lady” in this story is Mary Branscomb’s 100-year-old Mom. “She died the following year and probably indirectly because of this fall although she survived it and continued on her merry way for a whole year after.”


Ben’s a busy herd dog with a lot of responsibility, but his love for “the oldest member of his pack,”  

Thelma Weaver, made him a hero. (Photo © Mary Branscomb)



At 100, Thelma was Grand Marshall of the Silver State Stampede in Elko, Nevada.

(Photo © Cynthia A. Delaney)



An evening at home.

Photo © Mary Branscomb

Winter 2005 Contents

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