Guyana Adventures: Rupununi: Bob Barker and the Bull – By Geoff Burrowes

Guyana Adventures: Rupununi: Bob Barker and the Bull 

 – By Geoff Burrowes

My boss Louis Orella was an effortless cowboy. He was tall and slim, wore horn rimmed glasses and had an infectious laugh and a wicked sense of humour. His slim frame belied the strength that helped him wrestle longhorn cattle and perform strenuous ranch tasks. He was married to a lovely girl called Patsy, who with her sister Clare had lived next door to us in Brickdam, while at school in Georgetown. They lived seven miles away from the main ranch at Manari at an outstation of the main ranch and Louis managed both ranches from there.

One morning before dayclean Louis woke me and said “You should see this!”       

I scrambled out of my hammock and into my clothes and out into the ranch yard where a vacquero waited with three saddled horses! He was tall for a Wapsiana with features bronzed by the savannah sun, high cheekbones and a handsome face. He walked gracefully and mounted his horse effortlessly. As we trotted West away from the ranch Louis introduced the vacquero as Bob Barker who he said was the best vacquero on the savannahs; Bob chuckled and said that Louis was the best vacquero around. I had seen Louis work cattle and so I just accepted that at face value. It appeared that they had been boyhood friends! Louis said that Bob competed in the annual rodeo in Lethem and was the champion in every category. As you can imagine I felt that I was in the company of royalty and listened carefully as they joshed easily with one another.

A little way into the savannah Bob spoke seriously to me and of course I was all ears and listened carefully to what he was saying. “Have you ever heard of a rogue bull?” I said no but knew that rogue anything was not good! He said that a rogue bull had lost all fear of man and was the most dangerous creature on the savannah. It would typically find a group of domesticated cattle and kill or maim the alpha animal in the herd. He would then lead the group into hostility towards man and himself drive the ranch vacqueros away and in turn try to maim or kill them. Rogue bulls were carefully avoided by sensible cattlemen. Bob had found one such bull on his ranch and had tracked it to Manari. He had tried to lasso it and had fought it to a standstill. Then he came to his old friend for help to take it to the slaughterhouse in Lethem.

By this time the darkness had lightened and I saw a sight that has remained with me to this day!  In a clear patch of savannah there was a gaunt black leafless tree. The savannah around was grassless – churned up by a mighty conflict!  The bark was worn off the tree. Snubbed to the tree by two lassos was a bull. He wasn’t an ordinary bull but looked like the cartoomist’s impression of Fernando the bull: massive in the shoulders and chest, with almost delicate hind legs. A big brutish head with red-rimmed eyes rolling in anger. He was foaming at the mouth.

As we rode up he struggled to get at us but the plaited rawhide lassos held him against the tree. How Bob had managed to lasso him and fight him to the tree seemed inconceivable! Warning me to stand clear he and Louis roped his hind legs and dropped two more lassos around his sweeping horns. We heard an engine in the early morning air and an odd looking vehicle drew up. It was a Mini Minor pickup with the tray close to the ground which pulled into position near to the bull’s head. The bull bellowed, foam from it’s mouth flying everywhere and the vacqueros with their straining horses and taut lassos dragged the struggling bull into the tray and secured it there. Bob seriously said “If you ever run into one of these ride away as fast as you can!” Believe me if I had I would have!

I never met Bob Barker again. If I ever went to the Rupununi again I would certainly look him up. He wouldn’t remember me but I will never forget him. Rupununi is full of larger than life characters and Bob Barker and Louis Orella are two of those who I will always remember.


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