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Vintage Vignette – Eli Fox: One tough “old man”



Bill Fowler | Guest Writer

A few weeks into my freshman year at Lehi High in 1962, Ms. Penrod, my ninth-grade teacher, called for all the class members to take a piece of paper and prepare to write an impromptu (in-class) descriptive theme. It had to be at least two pages long and be titled, completed, punctuated and signed by the time the bell rang 45 minutes later.

“Close your eyes and let the first thing that comes into your mind be the subject of your assignment,” she said.

I had been intently watching old Eli Fox trying to break a young colt in his pasture across the street from the high school. It was all I could do to take my eyes away from the “rodeo event” for even a few moments.

Ms. Penrod saw me looking out the window and scolded me for not paying attention to the writing task. 

“I have my story in mind,” I said.

“Then start writing,” came her terse reply.


“Looks like a yearling sorrel colt,” I began. “And ole man Fox has fast-walked him at the end of a lead rope in a circle for about a half hour or more,” I wrote.

“Now he has shortened the rope and is reaching out to touch the colt with his hand,” I continued. 

“But the mean-spirited little horse is having nothing to do with the calloused hand of the tough old man and has bucked and jumped backward two or three times.”

I kept thinking Eli Fox needed to be gentler, kinder, more persuasive and patient. But I had never broken a colt, so I was probably wrong. I knew the man had done this many times in his life.

I was also amazed that Eli Fox would eventually try climbing aboard that spirited young horse. I knew he was too old to handle a bucking bronco.

“Is he really going to try to saddle that colt, take some hard and fast bucking, and maybe get thrown to the ground?” I thought.

I kept looking out the window and writing down on my lined sheet of paper what was happening across the street in that weedy pasture. Ms. Penrod kept scowling at me, but my pal, Cole Evans, saw what I was doing and said, “Ole man Fox is over eighty years old. No way he can break that colt!”

“He probably has the colt sold, but the buyer won’t take him until he is rideable,” I ventured.


“Yup, I’m sure that’s it,” Cole replied. “Broken and ‘ready to ride’ makes him worth a couple hunnerd bucks. Unbroken, maybe fifty!”

I kept writing about what I was watching out the classroom window. Finally, Ms. Penrod figured out what I was doing and just smiled. The bell rang, and it was time for lunch. Everyone in the class handed in their papers and flew out the door. I didn’t.

“Can I stay and watch out your window?” I asked.

“Yes, but only for the lunch hour, and you need to hand me your work now,” Ms. Penrod stated emphatically. “I don’t think that old man can get that horse broken, though,” she smiled as though she knew Eli Fox could not “gentle down” the colt.

Maybe Ms. Penrod wanted the horse to win and the old man to give up, walk away, or get bucked off. 

I got the feeling she didn’t like Eli Fox. I could have been wrong.

It seemed like only a few moments had passed when the lunch period bell ended my mesmerizing vigil. Ms. Penrod watched periodically with me as she ate her sandwich and chips and drank her soda.

“You gotta go, Bill,” she said. “Or, if you like, I have a preparation period this hour, and I can get you excused from your type class with Mr. Smith so we can watch the old man try to break that colt.”


I was stunned. “Yes, I would love that,” I said. I couldn’t believe it. She quickly called and told Mearle Smith I was busy in her classroom for the next period.

Eli Fox finally shortened the lead rope and put his arm around the neck of the colt, slid on a bridle and eventually put a small blanket on the colt and strapped down a saddle. 

The belligerent little horse bucked until the saddle came loose and ended up underneath him as it slid down around its belly. Ms. Penrod and I were fascinated with the horse’s stamina and stunned at the strength and tenacity of the old man. 

Before the class time ended, we watched Eli Fox put the saddle back on the colt and get bucked off at least five times. But every time, he stood back up and started over.

“I hope Mr. Fox can ride him soon,” Ms. Penrod said as the bell rang, and I left the classroom for my fifth period. Then, I realized my tough English teacher was as interested in the outcome as I was. And she was also cheering for Eli. I wasn’t sure I liked English, but my mind had changed about Ms. Penrod. I liked her.

The next day, I went to school early because I wanted to walk slowly past the field behind Mr. Fox’s house to see if the colt was there and if the old man might be riding him. I told Dad I wanted to go early and why. “Eli Fox, huh?” dad laughed. “He’ll be ridin’ that colt this morning.”

I covered the six or seven blocks quickly, and there he was. Eli Fox was riding the colt. I waved at him, and he waved back. “You got im broke,” I shouted. “Yup. Course I did!” he replied loudly.

“That is one tough old man!” I said to myself.


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