The little girl had never seen a rodeo, but she loved animals in a greenhorn, eastern sort of way, so the family headed for town.
So far, the West had been magnificent -- broad vistas, glorious mountains and critters galore: moose, buffalo, elk, even a few bears.
The rodeo drew a big crowd. Dad was enjoying the calf-roping when he noticed that his 10-year-old had turned her back to the arena and folded her arms resolutely, her face as tight as the rope around a lassoed calf's neck.
He saw the trouble immediately and tried to explain. ''See, Jess? When they're all done, the calf gets up and runs away. He's fine.''
The little girl was unmoved.
Next came bronco busting. ''Daddy, what's that strap they put around the horse?'' Daddy didn't know but he noticed it was the first thing they removed after the rider was thrown off, usually in bone-crushing style. Daddy thought there was a lot of cruelty to humans going on.
They left early.
On the way out, Dad spotted a Stetsoned, denimed, booted old wrangler, and walked over, daughter in tow. It's time she learned that this is how you get to the truth of things, he thought. Go to the people who really know, and ask.
He asked about the flank strap they had seen on the broncos.
The cowboy explained that it was just a tight belt that ''tickled'' the horse. A tickled horse is a bucking horse, and that's what you want in a bronco.
The little girl wasn't buying it, so they cowboy leaned in closer.
He apparently thought he was helping when he said with warm sincerity, ''What you have to remember is, for most of these broncos, this is the last stop before the glue factory.''
Glue factory. The words hung in the air like a toxic cloud.
The little girl turned away. Her father tried for a graceful exit, but the cowboy had more truth to tell. ''If they don't buck, you know, next week they're in dog food.''
The little girl fought back her tears, a job made harder by her big brother, who quickly decided that ''dog food'' and ''glue factory'' were the funniest words he had ever heard.
A full moon lighted the mountains softy as they drove back to the national park where they were staying. Dad reflected on the night's events. The trouble with asking people for the truth, he thought, is that there's always the danger that they'll give it to you.
Dick George writes from Baldwin.