It promises to be a crisp and sunny day when the early morning mist lifts off the spring green hills. The live oak trees show their new leaves sheltering all manner of wildlife including the chirping of birds greeting the new morning. It is the annual roundup at the Andersen ranch in Sunol, California. Russell Andersen is our cousin, and late March and early April are roundup times in Sunol. The Rasmussen/Andersen roots grow deep here in this valley, since grandfather Peter Rasmussen arrived from Denmark in the mid-19th century. Sunol is a tiny hamlet nestled below the hills, and besides a few ranches, includes a small elementary school, a Little Brown Church, a couple of coffee shops, and a railroad station for the railroad which runs the few miles between Sunol and Fremont.
The bustle has been here since before dawn, as this is a job which needs to be finished before the day’s end. Cowboys and vaqueros from Mexico, with their colorful outfits and silver tack are rounding up the cows and their calves which are to be branded with the RA brand, the steers to have their horns clipped as well. The cows are left in the pasture and the calves are pushed, pulled and otherwise coaxed into the branding pen. There is a cacophany of shouts and goodnatured ribbing as a calf gets loose, and is wrestled to the ground. The branding irons are heat red-hot to put the RA brand on each calf. Boys are hanging on the fence as two of our grandsons once did, dreaming as many country boys do of becoming a cowboy. The cows are nervously calling and stomping their hooves, and the calves are bellowing in answer at the indignity of separation from their mothers. As each one is branded and/or clipped, it is pushed out find its mother. Amazingly, they find one another in the confusion, and rush off into the pasture. The roundup is truly an American institution, since the settling of the West.
In the house at the top of the hill, women are preparing food for upwards of 25 men and boys. Whole families have come to help, and there is a large barbeque of beef, huge bowls of salad, pots of beans, casseroles, and good crustly bread to soak up the juices. Libations flow freely, and as the first empty pots are cleared away, pies and cakes arrive to accompany steaming mugs of coffee. It has been a long , hard and dirty day, and as the first crew finishes, they call out goodnaturedly to those remaining. Finally, after the feast, the horses are gathered to load onto their trailers for the ride home. This ritual will be repeated the following week until all the valley has finished the branding. Neighbors helping neighbors, much as country people have always done. The life of a cattleman is not prosperous, since the land is too valuable, and a more lucrative living could be enjoyed by selling to the developers. But to these people, this is the only life they could live.