When I was young I had a quite unusual and unlikely friend. To his owner, he was called "Little Bit." To me, his caretaker and admirer, he was "Hercules."
Hercules was a magnificent Red Brahman bull. (For us Texas hicks, Brahman is pronounced "Brimmer.") He was massive, weighing at the very least 2,000 pounds. His body was thick, lean, and powerful, with bands of solid muscle which rippled when he walked. And he always walked, never ran anywhere, nonchalant and unhurried, completely unperturbed by anything in his surroundings except a feed sack. When he saw a feed sack, he trotted.
The first time I met Hercules, I was thirteen years old. We had a modest herd, and my father got him on loan from the man who would later give me my first "real" job (meaning one that paid the exorbitant wage of $6 an hour compared to the 50 cents an hour I had been making by working a former sheriff's ranch after school and in the summers), to breed with our cows. Hercules was awe-inspiring. He was beautiful.
Perfectly blended colors of red and black and brown. Just a touch of a white blaze on his forehead. An enormous hump at the apex of the place where his neck ended and his back began.
His horns were kept completely intact due to the fact that there was never a need for us to dull the points or completely de-horn him. Hercules was a gentle giant.
Later, when I went to work for Mr. Haskell Thompson (whom everyone knew as Hack), Hercules and I had already learned to trust each other. The great red bull would see me scuttling along in my '66 Chevy step-side pickup down the dirt road that ran through the pasture where he dutifully serviced his harem, and he would make his stately, deliberate way towards me. When I left the truck, he would nuzzle my face against his own. He loved to be scratched behind the ears and patted along his front flanks. If I ignored him, he pouted. Then he'd lower his head and nudge me with the flat of his snout - gently for him, but still enough to push me around like a rag doll.
The only danger he posed was accidentally stepping on my foot when trying to get to a feed trough into which I had just emptied a 50-pound sack of sweet corn feed. This happened several times, and each time I'd haul off and whack him in the nose as hard as I could with my fist. That fazed him so much that he would snort and move a grand total of two feet down the trough and continue to eat.
Ol' Herc would even allow me to sit on his back, although he would follow no commands nor requests to do anything he didn't have an inclination to do.
We looked forward to seeing each other.
One day when I was 18, I arrived to feed the animals and discovered Hercules in a shoving match with a new bull which I had never seen before. The bull was white with gray dapples, just a bit larger than Hercules, but as I would learn in the next few weeks, he was 20 times meaner and more aggressive.
I asked Hack what was going on with the new bull, and he said he had just bought him for $50,000 and was hoping to get some high-quality calves out of him. He said the new bull had sold four years previous for $185,000. I asked him why he didn't just put him in another pasture to keep the two bulls from fighting, seeing as he owned four more large pieces of land where he kept other herds which I also tended. Hack said he'd think about moving the new bull if they continued to fight.
After three weeks, the constant fighting had worn both bulls down. Hercules was showing considerable weight loss and was visibly exhausted. I mentioned it to Hack, and he said that they would quit fighting sooner or later.
Then came a day when I was there to feed the herd and it was pouring rain so torrentially that it was hard to see more than 25 yards. As I made my way to the feed troughs, I noticed that Hercules and the new prized bull were fighting again, pushing each other around like horned sumo wrestlers atop a concrete slab laid over an abandoned oil well head. I cursed Hack again for introducing this new bull, and had just poured the first sack of feed into a watery trough when I heard a hideous bellowing behind me.
I turned to look, fearing the worst, expecting Hercules to be badly hurt. But then I saw it was the new bull that was down. As I made my way to the slab, the bull was trying to rise, and kept slipping down again, puzzling me as to what might have happened.
When I got there, the bull finally stood, but I could tell something wasn't right. After half a minute of studying, I suddenly realized in horror what it was. One of the bull's back legs had been broken, about a foot above his hoof. And it was a compound fracture, the bone sticking through the skin, and he was actually standing on the jagged stub of bone.