Editor's note: This Southwestern tale of courage and determination centers on a member of the squirrel family. Formally known as a marmot, the main character is referred to as a whistle pig because of its shrill alarm whistle.
Long, long ago in Castle Rock, Colorado, where the mountains bulge and the air is clean, lived a little whistle pig named William.
Every morning, dressed only in his long johns, William jumped from his bunk, grinned at himself in the mirror and whistled the tune,
"HAPPY TRAILS TO YOUUUUU, KEEP SMILING UNTIL THEN."
In fact, William whistled all day long.
With great detail, this cowboy outfitted himself for the day: a pair of green suspenders to hold up his pants, a knotted bandana to keep his neck warm and dry, and leather chaps fastened tightly around his legs.
The "jingle jangle" of the silver spurs always tickled his heart, when he pulled his boots up close to his knees.
Early every day William grabbed a bunch of carrots and raced to the barn. "Mornin,' Pinto Bean," he would say. "How are ya' doin'?"
William brushed this critter till he shone like a polished apple.
He took great pride in grooming his horse. Someday soon this would be a wrangler's mount.
When William slung the saddle blanket across Pinto's back, his heart beat like an Indian tom-tom.
With the gear all in place, it was time to hit the trails.
William practiced his riding and roping with great determination. He wanted more than anything else, to be a real live wrangler.
The day came when William arrived at Pinto Bean's stall, and he was not whistling. There was a serious look on his face. "Pinto," he announced, "today is the day of the Castle Rock Roundup -- the biggest of the whole year."
Pinto Bean perked his ears forward.
"And Pinto," whispered William, "WE'RE going, too!"
Sure enough, when the Castle Rock Wranglers rode out of town that morning, there were William and Pinto Bean, right at the end of the line; that is, until the trail boss turned around in his saddle and saw them.
"You trailin' us son?" he called gruffly. "Git on home. This ain't no whistle pig picnic. It's real wrangler work!"
With a lump in his throat that felt like a pine cone, William could hold the tears back no longer. A great big, salty drop rolled over the end of his nose, all the way down to the tip of his rawhide boot.
Just then, something caused the hairs all 0ver the little whistle pig to stand on end. His nose twitched. He scanned the horizon, and he smelled it. So did Pinto Bean!
"Vamoose (va-moose')," shouted William.
Their noses led them straight to the edge of Coyote (ki-o' te) Canyon. Pinto Bean slid to a stop. His ears flattened, his nostrils flared, and his hooves pawed the ground.
"What is it Pinto?" asked William.
There was something wrong, terribly wrong!
William first spotted them in the chaparral (chap-ar-ral').
Coyotes under the pinons. Coyotes behind the sagebrush. Coyotes hiding everywhere, hundreds of them. The ravenous scoundrels drooled as they eyed their next meal.
"OH! NO!" shouted William. "An ambush!"
Throwing back his head, he tried desperately to whistle. But nothing came out, not even one little gasp of air.
Closer and closer the coyote gang crept, sneaking through rabbit bush and around huge boulders.
Frozen to the ground, William trembled. Pinto Bean scrambled behind William and shook. Then the biggest, meanest coyote turned and headed straight for William and Pinto Bean.
Reaching way down to the bottom of his lungs, William sounded the loudest and most piercing whistle of his life.
His bandana flapped wildly as the air exploded from his throat. Pinto Bean jumped ten feet.
The coyotes "HOWWWWWLED" and "HOWWWWWLED" and ran away.
The trail boss kicked his horse into a dead run up to the top of the canyon. "What's goin' on up here?" he yelled at William.
Still whistling, William could only point.
The sight of the retreating coyotes and the shrill sounds coming from the whistle pig provided the cowboy with all the clues he needed.
"Lemme shake your hand, partner!" he boomed. "Only one kind of "hombre" (ohm'bray) could've saved us from them coyotes ... ," he paused as William's last whistle echoed through the walls of the canyon. "And that's a real live wrangler!"
Excerpted from the book THE LEGEND OF THE WHISTLE PIG WRANGLER. Text Copyright c 1995 by Kate Allen. Illustrations Copyright c 1995 by Jim Harris. Reprinted by permission of The Kumquat Press. All rights reserved.