ALICE COBB STORIES Howard Burdine Tail of Old Red

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography
Series 11: Farming

ALICE COBB STORIES “Howard Burdine Tail of Old Red”

TAGS: Alice Cobb Stories Howard Burdine Tail of Old Red; Howard Burdine; Pine Mountain Settlement School; cows; stories; Harlan County, KY; traders; junk man; guns; butchering;

Howard Burdine was one of the early farm managers at Pine Mountain Settlement School. He was a graduate of the Settlement School as were many of his seven siblings.

Following his graduation from Pine Mountain in 1925, Howard attended Berea (KY) College and completed an agricultural degree in 1935. He was then recruited by Director Glyn Morris to work as a farm manager at the School. Burdine accepted Morris’ offer, which was urgent following the injury of the previous farmer, Oscar Kneller, in a dynamite explosion at the campus. Howard proved to be a good choice. He could certainly tell a good tale. There were many to be told when living on a farm.


Old Red was the name of a cow. She was very strange and would take crazy spells. One night during the spring a thunderstorm rose up and all the family sitting by the fire during the thunderstorm — and all of a sudden Old Red run her head through the window and tore out the frame. She would take spells like that lots of times and so the old man rose up and swore a few oaths and said, “By cranky we’ll have fresh beef tomorrow.”

So next day they got out to butcher her. The old woman went over by the corn crib that was built up high off the ground and she was right at the foot of the steps running from the crib down to the ground, fixing up the fire. She had two big tubs ready to begin washin’ and the old man was over by the grindstone with a knife to bleed Old Red.

Jesse had a 32-20 rifle with a 25-20 shell in it. Henry had the old cow with a rope tied around her horns and he stood off to one side while Jesse was to shoot.

Jesse raised the rifle and took aim. He drew an imaginary line from her left horn to her right eye and from her right horn to her left eye and right where these lines crossed he aimed. He fired the bullet. Being much too small for the ball of the gun [it] went low. It didn’t go where he aimed. Instead of going through her head it went through her nose.

So the old cow didn’t move for about a few seconds and the boys was dumbfounded because she didn’t fall. All of a sudden she lowered her head, raised her tail, let out a bellow and charged Jesse, who had the gun in his hand. Jesse fell sideways and the old cow passed by. By the time she wheeled and turned he had clambered up the ladder in the barn.

While Henry had tumbled over the hog pen. The old woman ran up the steps into the corn crib just before Old Red came by and swept the steps away.

The old man grinding the corn didn’t hear the racket. He was rather deaf. Suddenly he glanced around in time to jump behind the grindstone just as Old Red dashed by on the other side where he would have been standing. While she wheeled, he climbed up the cherry tree that grew about ten or fifteen [feet] from where the grindstone was sitting.

Little Lizzie in the kitchen washing dishes came to the door just as Old Red, who was tearing around in the front, ran up the front steps. Old Red seeing another person, dashed through the door. Lizzie jumped into a wardrobe and Old Red dashed on through the house and out the open kitchen door at the back, sliding on the floor and nearly falling several times. So all the family stayed treed.

About that time an old trader came along. He was a great talker and liked to be sociable. He came driving a spring wagon and a four-year-old team of mules.

His load was piled high with junk, tin pans, washboards and old clothes, so he came by and called to the old man in the cherry tree. (He called the old man “Sugar Plum” because he called everyone else “Sugar Plum”). He says: “Well, how are you “Sugar Plum”? What you doing up in that cherry tree?”

The old man says, “I’m picking cherries,”

And he says, “Well it’s early for cherries ain’t it?”

The old man says, “Well I’m up here to see what the prospects is.”

“Got anything you want to trade, Sugar Plum?”

The old man thought a minute and he says, “Well, I don’t know. What’ll you give me for that old cow?”

The junk dealer scratched his head and said, “I dunno. What’ll you take for ‘er?”

He says, “Well,” he says, “I’ll tell you what you do. I hain’t got time to get down. I’m awful busy up here. Just pitch me off a couple of washboards and washtubs and a tin pan or two, and rive her along with you.”

So the trader pitched off the hardware and got down and walked over toward the old cow.

So the old cow was peacefully browsing around in the little grass in the backyard. Suddenly she raised her head and looked at him and he had a kind of forewarning and stopped. She looked up at him with a wicked look.

About that time she lowered her head, raised her tail and charged him. He jumped sideways and she went on by him. She turned and charged again so he made two jumps on top of the wagon and the old cow at his heels. When he hit the top she hit the wheel with her horns and he went on over the other side.

His mules got scared when the cow hit the hind wheels and started out with a jerk. Her horns were caught in the wheel and she was jerked over. The old man up in the tree, he immediately came down the tree and picked up his knife and slit her throat.

And so the junk man was rather dumbfounded and said: “How will I ever get her home?” The old man said, “Oh, just load up your junk. We’ll keep the cow now.”

So they had fresh beef.