A First-Class Texas Cowboy

Just when the world's feeling old and you're feeling jaded, you get to go to a Ranch Dance at the Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas. Whoohee!

CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver reports in her latest column for CBS.com. An archive of The Braver Line is available. Rita Braver's email address is rbc@cbsnews.com.

The moon is shining. A breeze is blowing. The Texas Playboys are banging out those old Ranch Dance Tunes. Senior citizens and young whippersnappers are dancing the Two Step and the Cotton Eyed Joe. Who could ask for anything more?

What brought me down to Lubbock was a story on Frankie McWhorter, one of the great old-style Texas fiddlers. He also happens to be a first class Texas cowboy, foreman of the Cooper Ranch.

How do you know that he's a great cowboy? If you ask him, he says he's not. He tells you that, at age 68, even though he's famous for his bronco busting and cattle herding skills, he's "becoming a cowboy." That, say folks who know their cowboy stuff, is how you can tell a real pro.

Frankie is special, not only because of his prodigious talents, but also because he's a mentor to both young musicians and young cowboys. Clay Cooper, whose grandfather Abraham first hired Frankie, says Frankie has taught him lots of useful stuff. You don't herd a cow behind somebody's horse on a cattle drive. When one cowboy gets off his horse to open a gate, another has to stay close by 'til he gets the gate closed so's his horse won't run off. But mostly it's Frankie's character that Clay likes, the fact that he is so dedicated to both his job and his fiddling.

Amber Smithson and Amanda Shires, both 17, have studied classical music. But Frankie is their idol, even though he never took a formal music lesson in his life. They say they like Frankie cause "he's humble; he doesn't try to be something he's not." They study his technique and try to put the heart that Frankie is so famous for into their music.

As for Frankie, well, he won't brag about his music any more than he will about his cowboy skills. But his fortitude is famous to those who know Texas Ranch music.

When Frankie first started playing he used to ride his horse seven miles, then catch a bus for an 86-mile ride to Amarillo, and do the same thing in reverse to get back home.

He does say, "I'm happy. I wouldn't trade places with anybody. Nobody. I wouldn't trade places with Bill Clinton," (and then he pauses for a sly little laugh) "as much fun as he seems to have!"

And when you hear Frankie play on a Saturday night in Lubbock, when you watch him and the other members of the Texas Playboys Band, and when you watch those old folks and young ones dancing in the moonlight, well, you wouldn't trade places with anybody either.