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Story ID:7800
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:In Memory
Location:Broken Tree Ranch Montana USA
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Smart Ass' Magic (Sam)
by Kathe Campbell

Hurrying through the hall to answer the storm door, there she stood, a skinny-legged kid looking more like a drowned rat. She seemed tall for her eleven years, rain-sopped blondish curls dripping into her eyes and down the most beautiful velvety, tanned complexion.

"Hi, Mrs. C.," she chirped. "You probably don't know me, but I'm Char, I live over on Moose Creek. Do you think I could ride your donkeys sometime?"

My husband, Ken, and I decided that for a few dollars each week she might help me with training and some earthy chores. So tickled at the suggestion, she jumped in that very afternoon to muck stalls in-between stealing moments to hug and donkey-talk a herd of inquisitive Rocky Mountain canaries.

Riding and training young donkeys was mere fun and games for Char. She was a natural, bouncing off one and onto another with her little be-nice saddle, never fearing a temper tantrum or well-placed kick. Ken and I were overjoyed with her unstoppable courage and talent. Daily workouts had two-year-old Sam trotting over obstacles, water, the bridge, hurdling vaults, pulling logs, pole bending, and barrel racing, most not part of God's original plan.

They went on to win the Montana State Donkey and Mule Junior Championship--their ages, 12 and 3. Happy tears flowed as the judges presented them with an engraved championship belt buckle, a horsehair bridle, and cash. It would mark the beginning of glory days only dreamed of. Outfitting Sam in his fancy halter over the years, we were reminded often of the skinny little kid turning into a lovely young woman, within and without.

Living in a wonderful world surrounded by beauty, adventure, and pursuits, Ken and I pursued the world of mammoth longears with enthusiasm and grit. Makeovers meant show time with baths, hoof cutting and blacking, styling manes and bangs, fashioning bell tails, and slathering on conditioners to make coats dance and shine. Their fancy horse trailer took them to donkey and mule shows and gymkhanas throughout Montana and neighboring states, even a few indoor play days to break up long winters. At the nationals, Sam and company stood at show and performed in twenty-two events that weekend, their stories well told by the glut of ribbons hanging in Ken's den.

Sam was the cut-up in our gang, wagging his tongue up and down begging a carrot or a good laugh, but he went for broke in the ring. When not winning awards and engaging in high jinks, he pleased the Lord on many a Palm Sunday and Christmas nativity over the years. But chucking best manners and hard work, we craved the casual rides and overnighters into our own mountains with gold pans and fishing poles. And maybe a little donkey carting in full harness and hames up and down our Lime Kiln.

In his ten-year-old prime, Sam was awarded the ultimate honor--the National Donkey and Mule Hall of Fame along with three others off our ranch. We and our longears had hustled hard to achieve this highest recognition of achievement which included standing at shows, execution in select performance classes, and of course, communal obligations.

Sam was bred and born here. He knew every blade of grass on these pristine acres, defending us from bears and big cats right down to a nasty little weasel. Roucous brays had been heard across counties, bringing down the grandstands all over Big Sky country until folks hastily queried, "So what are you guys going to do with them now that they're retired?"
"Why eat 'em, of course," Ken always retorted with a wink.

Today, twenty-eight years later, Sam's mother and I languish alone and mournful this week before Christmas on Broken Tree, 2011. He left this world without any idea of death, for the peaceful winds of heaven had simply blown between Sam's gigantic ears.

Much has been written in magazines and news articles about our donkey family--the parents, and now the offspring, having lived long, healthy lives, and now at rest in the south pasture. At 32, the matriarch still comes to the deck for her evening carrots, scoffs down grass hay, then wanders out to sleep near her family in spite of an occasional snow, for even in death . . . .

Families That Bray Together--Stay Together.