Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Landscape, Language, Teaching, Wildness, Beauty, Imagination

When Your Dad’s a Cowboy


With Dad, Cascabel Land & Cattle Company, AZ, 1978

With Dad, Cascabel Land & Cattle Company, AZ, 1978

This is my all-time favorite photo of my dad and me, taken in 1978 on the ranch in southeastern Arizona, where I was raised. We were in the corrals working cattle. I’d turned over the milk bucket to sit. Our Wink eyes are side-by-side. My mom describes the first time she met all of the Winks, “Somebody told a joke, everybody started laughing, and suddenly, nobody in the room had any eyes!” Every year the annual school picture involved the photographer telling me to open my eyes when I smiled. Every year I responded, “I can’t. I’m a Wink.” I’m sure Mom took this photo. During these years, I was usually pushing cows and calves down the shoot and giving injections, since I was too small to do much else. This photo means we’d ridden the day before to bring in the cattle. Cascabel Land and Cattle Company lay along the San Pedro River Valley in southeastern Arizona. We ranched there from 1976-1985. Riding and reading filled my days.

San Pedro River Valley

San Pedro River Valley, Cascabel, AZ

Riding on the ranch with my dad, through the rugged terrain of the Sonoran desert, was my heaven. As I think back, so much of what I’ve learned in life, I learned riding with Dad. Listen. Pay attention. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Hard work and hard laughter go together. If your horse goes down, kick your feet out of the stirrups, in case you need to jump off. What you do matters and others are counting on you.  Take care of others. Leave the gates as you find them. Be kind. 

The following piece, “When Your Dad’s a Cowboy” was originally published in Range Magazine, 2005. When Mom and I published our book, Teaching Passionately: What’s Love Got To Do With It? (Pearson, 2005), the dedication read: “To Dean Wink, from the two women who love you most.”

In honor of my dad, my husband, my brother, and all the fabulous fathers out there, I share with you. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you oodles! Dawn

When Your Dad’s a Cowboy

By Dawn Wink

Range Magazine, Summer 2005

My dad flew off the big three-year-old gelding buckskin and landed on the rock-hard ground with a thud. He and I stared at each other for a moment, him flat on his side in front of the crowding alley and me in the doorway of the old barn on his South Dakota ranch.

“Are you all right, Dad?” Blood poured from a chunk of skin ripped off his nose.

“Well, I think I might have broke a nail,” he said and held his wrist aloft. It was in the shape of a well-formed S.

Dad's hand

Dad’s hand

Dean Wink has a long history of breaking bones, then waiting too long to go to the hospital. Whether it was the time he broke his sternum, had the bones in his thumb splintered into shards when his horse went down in a bog and crushed it against the saddle horn, or the most recent shattering of his right hand when a cow kicked it against a pipe holding her in the branding chute, he waited a week or two before going in. Just enough time to give the broken bones time to heal and be re-broken and set. Even he agreed that we needed to head to the emergency room this time.

The closest hospital was 80 miles away.

“You got good tires on this truck?” Dad asked as we flew over the prairie into town, making good time. “I don’t have time for a broken wrist,” he said over and over during the trip, his arm now packed in ice. 

When your dad’s a cowboy you learn to smile, nod, and put the pedal to the metal.

For as long as I can remember I have been trotting at the heels of my dad’s well-worn cowboy boots, bouncing beside him in a dusty pickup, or riding along with him as we moved cows. Whether the ranches were in Wyoming, Arizona, or South Dakota, I’ve often been at my happiest helping him with ranch work.

Last December I spent a week on my parents’ cattle ranch to write and gather information and images for my current novel, Meadowlark. I found myself chuckling when I realized that once again I was trotting along at his heels as we walked out to doctor a filly with a torn leg. I was doing the same thing at age 36, that I’d done at six. And I was still loving it.

That day, Dad and I were going to ride in the breaks, where the flat prairie pours down into rugged cedar- and juniper-dotted ravines leading to the Cheyenne River. It had been six months since Lucky (now renamed Bucky) had last been ridden, but he came in from the pasture and took the saddle well. Dad did expect him to crow hop a bit, so he mounted right there in the corral. As soon as Dad climbed into the saddle, Lucky started bucking. He bucked and lunged and spun. Several jumps later, Dad got off to the side. With the next buck, he was down on the ground.

Several weeks later, he wryly told me he was reading a book on horse training and had discovered what we’d done wrong: “We skipped chapters one through 10!”

After the horse wreck, 2005.

After the horse wreck, 2005.

By the time we made it to town, Dad could no longer move his legs. An hour later he was in excruciating pain with any movement in his torso, despite a pain threshold that mere mortals can only dream of. Before becoming a rancher 30 years ago, Dad played defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles. He eats pain like others eat Wheaties. He has ridden over cliffs on crazy horses nobody else will ride, been caught between a gate and the corral fence and worked over while a 2,000 pound Brangus bull rammed against against it all the way up and then back down again; and been rolled over by a horse more times than I can count. After all of which he bounced back up with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Never once have I seen him do anything more than a brief wince—so I knew this was serious. 

When your dad’s a cowboy, you think he’s invincible.

Seeing Dad in such pain led me to the previously undiscovered wonders of straight tequila and cigarettes. At one point after a long day of painful tests for him, he was getting an MRI and for the umpteenth time that day I thought I was going to pass out. I lay down on the cool tile floor right there in the office, cheek to the tile, bum in the air.

The doctor saw me and said, “Um, ma’am? Would you mind waiting somewhere else, please?” No problem. I crawled out of the office and into the arms of José Cuervo and the Marlboro Man.

When your dad’s a cowboy, I recommend them for fainting spells in the hospital.

A separated pelvic bone, shattered wrist, internal bleeding—and, one week later, Dad was released from the hospital. His first day home, the yearling fillies got out of the corral. Dad was out there shuffling long with his rolling walker, trying to bring them back in.

Is it any wonder my heroes have always been cowboys?

Dad with mares and foals, Wink Cattle Co., SD, 2013. Photo by Joan Wink

Dad with mares and foals, Wink Cattle Co., SD, 2013. Photo by Joan Wink


Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores language, landscape, wildness, beauty, and imagination.

52 thoughts on “When Your Dad’s a Cowboy

  1. Pingback: Wink Ranch 2022—Photo Journal | Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

  2. Wow! Your dad is an absolute legend! I heard the stories before but reading about them again really blows my mind. Especially after a piddly little cracked (not even broken) pelvis myself! Man that hurts! I’ll say it again – your dad is a legend! Xxxxxxx

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  5. Loved reading this Dawn! Tequila and cigarettes made me laugh out loud! There are those times!!

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  7. Dean was my coach at Yankton College. Great coach; great role model and a person I have great admiration for to this day. On my bucket list to have lunch with Dean hopefully one day soon. God bless coach Wink.

    • Dan, thanks so much for taking the time to connect. I shared what you wrote with Dad. I loved reading what you wrote. Made this daughter very proud. Thanks so much for taking the time. Dawn

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  10. I came across this story when I was Googling Arizona Cattle Ranches. I have met your mother and your father. I was at one time married to Don Sensky and lived at the ranch near Benson. I loved reading your story and thank you for sharing.

    • Dear Barbara,
      How wonderful to hear from you. And you lived in Cascabel–I am grateful to know that we share memories of this very special place. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and connect.

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  12. Lindy, that is one of my all-time favorite photos, as well. I am so grateful to share with you! Love.

  13. Dawn this is just incredibly beautiful. Your Dad is a lucky man to have such a daughter and you are a lucky woman to have such a Dad. I loved reading this piece and will read it over and over again.

    • BTW – just had to copy your picture of the San Pedro River Valley into my iPhoto album for AZ. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful AZ is. It also never ceases to amaze me how so many people think that all of AZ is hot, dry desert.

  14. Wonderful tribute to your dad, Dawn. Tough ol’ cowboy indeed.

  15. Dear Dawn,
    Just happened to go back to your blog after I left my last “comment.” I am so sorry to hear about your Dad’s accident. You are all in my thoughts and prayers. I pray that God will hold him gently in His arms while he recovers. And I think it is time for the cowboy to retire. This one was too serious! Give him a hug from me. No, on second thought, don’t. Not with all those broken ribs. Just tell him that I’m thinking of him…..and all of you.

    Love to all of your family,
    Rhoda Hulse Thomas

    • Dear Rhoda,
      I shared this with Dad. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers. Mom is sure that all of the prayers and good wishes are helping Dad to heal. Our oldest son, Wyatt, is now on the ranch to help with all things physical, including hanging out with Bop Bop and watching TV and laughing – the very best medicine.
      Thank you and thank you again!

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  17. I have been wanting to read this since I first got on your blog, not all that long ago. I love your true stories and the humor! I’m smiling and laughing with you. I love the catheter part! I swear sometimes I think you must be part of my Polish family?? I can just picture it all so clearly.
    The biggest hugs to you and your family-

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  20. Hi there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so
    I came to check it out. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m bookmarking
    and will be tweeting this to my followers! Exceptional blog and wonderful design.

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  22. Dawn, Joan, Dean,
    I can’t tell you hou much I enjoyed reading, When Your Dad Is A Cowboy! What a marvelous tribute to the spirit of life. I’ve only known Dean and Joan in the spirit. They revealed themselves to me forty-two years ago. When someone shows you who they are, believe them! I’m glad they were placed in my path on that leg of my journey. I never knew it would be for a lifetime. Enjoy the journey!

    Your friend,

  23. Loved reading this the second time around…your dad has gotten you through some tough times. Glad you’re sharing the happy ones together now!

  24. Oh Winkie, This brings tears to my eyes! Such love for a wonderful father to you and Bo, his caring (and riding) w/baby Jean in those days we went to the ranch for ‘R&R’ following Dennis’s stroke and just days and loved father’s I have loved that have passed. I remember you at that age so well…..and I love those Wink eyes. Great advice from your dad. I am so grateful to have you and your wonderful parents in my life still! And what a thrill to meet and spend time w/Bo at your wedding. Glad you have Noe’ to be a good father figure to your kids. They will appreciate him more and more as the years go by…..it is a certainty! More later. Love you, ‘Nancy Yates’ (It’s fun to use this name w/you) 🙂 Sent from my iPad

  25. I loved your cowboy story, Dawn. What a great way to honor your Dad on Father’s Day. You have two remarkable parents!

  26. I loved this. A very funny and touching tribute to your dad. You are both very lucky.

  27. Love it! I too had a cowboy daddy. From the old stock, he hated fences, sheep, and the only cows he liked were those he could herd on horseback. Detested farming. Said if God wanted the sod plowed under, he’s have made it that way. He used to sing the old cowboy lament, “Oh bury me not on the long priarie” with his own added words, “for some dry farmer to plant corn over me.”

    • Hi Eunice,
      You DID have a cowboy daddy! I’ve heard all of those sentiments expressed. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing your own story. A blessing.

  28. Dawn, what a great tribute to your father! Thank you for sharing.

  29. I feel like I actually met your dad!

  30. Love this!!!!! (And you!)

    • Oh, Susan, I am so glad! That means so much to me. Thank you so much for taking the time to share to share this. You make my heart smile and smile. Love you, too!

  31. Wonderful story. And a proud father too I’m very sure.

  32. Thank you for sharing! Your Mom and Dad are the best!

  33. Happy Father’s Day, Mr. Wink! Dawn’s lovely piece is a wonderful tribute to you. As is her everyday charming self. All her friends and admirers thank you for being such a great dad.

  34. I love these stories Dawn! The Winks have happy eyes indeed, and it’s no wonder we all love cowboys 🙂 thank you for sharing, your posts always make me smile…

  35. Thank you honey! It ‘s beautiful– great memories– I have been blessed!

    Sent from my iPad

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