“As the riders went on by him he heard one call his name
If you wanna save your soul from ever ridin’ on our range
Then cowboy change your way today or with us you will ride
Tryin’ to catch the Devil’s herd across the endless skies.”
Have you ever read Dante’s “Inferno”? There are some gripping pictures that he writes of Hell. Endless torment, people reliving their evil lives over and over and all the time facing the fires of the “Inferno.” The most recorded western song of all time is “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” It is a haunting melody of someone who is walking the path toward perdition and in the night he sees a stampede and night riders chasing after the herd to stop it. One calls his name and warns him to change his way today–remember, “Today is the day of salvation.”
Stan Jones told the story that was relayed to him by an old Arizona cowboy about the Ghost Riders. If it fits, I’ll put it in here.
“In the fall of 1889 a trail boss called Sawyer was taking a herd of about a thousand head north to the railheads in Kansas. One night, he and his cowboys were looking for a place to camp when they spotted a “nester”, a homesteader–affirmatively not one of Sawyer’s crew–cutting out a few head at the back of the herd. When confronted, the man insisted that, as Sawyer’s herd passed by his little spread, some unbranded cattle from his herd had wandered over and mingled with Sawyer’s, and he was simply reclaiming his mavericks.
Sawyer was tired, dusty, and cranky, as were his crew and, more importantly, his herd. Sawyer told the importunate cowboy that he’d have to wait until morning to cut his few head out of the herd; he was ready to camp for the night, and there was a storm coming up, one of those awesome displays of lightning, thunder, wind and rain that bedevil the Texas plains sometimes. The cowhand blustered that all Sawyer was doing was trying to steal his pitiful little steers, but gave up when Sawyer flashed a gun at him.
Sawyer and his crew bedded down the cattle atop a little mesa: sweet grass on the flat and sweet water below. The cattle settled down; Sawyer put a few hands on guard duty, and the others got some sleep; they would rise to take a turn later. The storm did come, and in the midst of it, the herd stampeded: not toward the sweet drinking water below, but right toward the cliffs on the other side. In the melee, two of Sawyer’s men, and seven hundred head of cattle, were killed, dashed to death on the rocks below. When they finally got the herd turned, Sawyer asked what in the hell stampeded them steers?
And one of the cowboys, tired and dazed and broken up over the deaths of his fellow herdsmen, said that he wouldn’t swear to it, but he thought he’d seen that rustler–that was the word he used, rustler–waving a blanket and shouting at the back of the herd, still trying, deep in the night, to cut out those few scraggly mavericks he’d claimed were from his herd.
Morning wasn’t long coming, and Sawyer and his men went after the nester/rustler. They blindfolded him and his horse, tied the nester in the saddle, gave the terrified horse a hard slap on the rump, and drove nester and horse over the cliffs on the mesa, leaving them to die alongside Sawyer’s dead steers and cowhands. Sawyer rounded up his remaining three hundred head and hit the trail again.
The next season, a trail boss bedded down a herd atop that mesa one night. It was the biggest mistake of his life. That night, there was no storm rolling across the skies, yet, in the wee hours, the herd stampeded. Nearly the entire herd–and a few more cowboys–were lost. There was no explanation for this sudden deadly panic.
Word gets around. In general, thereafter, the little table with the sweet grass on top and sweet water below, now given the ominous nickname Stampede Mesa, was avoided by drovers, but there are always a few who couldn’t resist the grass and water. Each herd that bedded down there overnight stampeded and left its bones–and those of a few more cowboys–on the rocks below. Some few cowboys who weren’t swept to their deaths reported that, just when the herd broke loose, they saw a stranger on horseback, waving a blanket over his head and shouting, riding up on the back of the herd, spooking them and causing them to rush the others. Sometimes, too, they reported seeing other strangers on horseback, racing desperately around the panicked herd, trying to turn them back before they ran over the cliff.”
Reader–change your way today. I do not think you’ll ride the “endless skies” nor do I think Dante was doctrinally correct with his “Inferno.” However, the truth of the matter is that a person’s way must change. He must become a new creation. There is an endless torment for those without Christ.
“As co-operators with God himself we beg, you then, not to fail to use the grace of God. For God’s word is—‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you’. Now is the “acceptable time”, and this very day is the “day of salvation”.'”
–2 Corinthians 6:1-2 (Phillips)