Hard-Headed

How one cowboy overcame long odds to hold on to a way of life.
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How one cowboy overcame long odds to hold on to a way of life.

It’s springtime in Texas. Branding time. Clint Brown is dragging calves at his ranch headquarters outside of Albany, Texas. His mother is there to witness it. His wife, Dee Dee, watches nervously. 

Before building his own personal herd up to around 800 cows scattered on leased ground across the Lone Star State, Brown managed the historic Nail Ranch outside of Albany. He’s been on dozens of winning ranch rodeo teams. For him, dragging a few calves to the fire is akin to the rest of the American population driving to work. It’s second nature.

But just 10 months earlier, his family didn’t know if he’d ever again ride a horse, walk, talk, or even live.

The Fort Griffin Fandangle is an Albany tradition. For 75 years, the community has hosted the kind of event you’d only see in Texas. It’s a living history play set on a grassy, one-acre amphitheater using more than 250 citizen/actors to reenact the Texas Frontier story. 

As a longtime resident of Albany, Brown was actively involved as a volunteer. In 2014, he was tabbed as one of the flag bearers in the flag parade—a role he’d held previously. The parade calls for riders, carrying flags, to ride at full tilt from opposite sides of the theater in single file lines, crossing behind each oncoming rider.

During dress rehearsal, the timing was off. Brown and another rider collided and Brown’s horse went down. Clint rode him down and as the horse scrambled to regain his footing he fell again. Brown’s head hit a 20-foot square limestone rock and he was immediately knocked unconscious.

He was life-flighted to Abilene where doctors discovered three different skull fractures, severe brain trauma, multiple rib fractures, a broken collarbone, left shoulder damage, and a collapsed lung. 

“First, they said we’d be lucky to get him through the night,” Dee Dee says. “It was touch and go for several days. He was in a coma and an induced coma for 32 days. He started developing pneumonia. He was critical all of those days, but there were four times they came and told us, ‘You need to get all of the family back.’”

As soon as news reached the Working Ranch Cowboys Foundation offices, they jumped into action to assist the Browns. 

“I never left the hospital, but that doesn’t mean that life stops,” says Dee Dee. “The bills keep coming in. I got a check from the WRCF and it helped me to pay the bills. That was one thing I didn’t have to worry about.”

When it became clear that Brown would live, the nurses and doctors began preparing Clint and Dee Dee for a new reality. They warned that Clint’s sight was damaged, that he may never speak properly again, walking might be out of the question, and his cognitive abilities were compromised. 

But with a spirit unique to cowboys, Clint fought through the adversity. Little by little he conquered all the obstacles set before him. 

“When they let me out of the hospital, they said, ‘You will never be back horseback again,’” Clint remembers. “I said, ‘I want to ask you a question, have people who have had as severe an injury as me gone back to driving?’ She said, ‘Oh yes, you’ll be able to drive.’ I said, ‘I’ve been riding a horse longer than most people have been driving. I’ll be back horseback again.’”

Some eight months after the accident, working around the ranch, he spotted a crippled bull. He knew it was time. He asked a friend to top off his good, broke horse Hickory and help him on. “He felt just like he always did,” Brown said. And he trotted off to gather the bull. 

Two months later, he was in his branding pen, tied hard and fast, dragging calves to the fire just as he always had as the hearts of the onlookers soared. 

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Editor’s note: American Cowboy magazine has partnered with the WRCF to raise awareness of the WRCF’s mission. If you would like to help them support working cowboys in times of crisis, become a member today by visiting wrca.wildapricot.org/Donate.