Darryl Guilllory is a cowboy and something of a legend in his home town of Church Point, Louisiana. His cattle-rounding and horseback skills are renowned, and his pack of loyal hounds make him an easily-recognised figure across the state. This weathered, and strong cowboy, of Creole heritage, took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Creole about his life, his family and his passion for his work.
Darryl Guillory manages about 1,000 acres of land in southern Louisiana, and he is called upon by countless farmers and landowners to contain their livestock when they are unable to do so. He owns several working dogs, controlled by a series of whistled commands, and countless horses. Many of his horses have previously been abandoned and were in need of a home, which gives just a hint of the man beneath the toughened skin.
His work and appearance may make him seem almost the archetypal tough-guy, but we quickly found that he is in fact a complex man of considerable depth and warmth. It was these hidden layers that we wanted to know more about when we spoke to him, as well as wanting to understand where a black Creole man of French descent fits into the traditionally white world of wrangling.
Darryl’s mother and father were Creole, of French descent. In Darryl’s words, “Creole isn’t just a mixture of colour, it’s a mixture of everything, it’s what you do, who you are, it’s how I view Creole.”
It could be said that Darryl was always destined to become a cowboy, since that was what his father did for a living, and working with horses and cattle was very much a part of his childhood. Yet his father wanted Darryl to try to learn other skills and not automatically follow the family business, “When I was a little boy, my dad used to tell me: ‘learn everything that you can learn, because you never know when you’re going to need it.” Consequently, Darryl has worked as a barber and as a carpenter during his lifetime.
But ranching was in his blood, “When I was a kid, my dad would break wild horses and catch wild cattle for people that couldn’t handle them and I was always exposed to that and that just stayed with me the whole time.”
The reason he at least tried to become a barber is rather poignant and speaks volumes about his role within the family. “The reason why I started cutting hair is because my dad would cut our hair, but he would also drink a lot. My little brothers didn’t want to get their hair cut when he was drunk so they would let me cut their hair and that’s how I started out being a barber.” He has two brothers and eight sisters, all bar one of whom now live in other states. His one sister who remains in Louisiana is here taking care of their mother, who is now 88 years old. Darryl’s father died on his 61st birthday.
A family business
Renting out horses was something that Darryl and one of his brothers had done since high school. His occupation and his heritage have brought him considerable media attention over the years. What has always been most interesting to the press, it seems, is Darryl’s use of dogs to corral cattle and horses. Few cowboys use dogs and Darryl tells us that he is the only black person to do so in that area.
As a young boy, Darryl had watched his father controlling dogs and realised how useful that skill could be when his older cousin was making life hard for him, “One day me and my cousin were standing in the yard and he kept messing with me, so I put a bull dog on him, made the dog go after him and make him run around and round and he’d beg me to make the dog stop! That’s when I realised what I can do with a dog, I started knowing how to train them.”
Controlling his dogs was a skill that he enjoyed acquiring and one he took up quite easily and willingly. Learning from his father how to break in horses was more challenging, and, at times, distressing, “Dad would drink and he was rough, and I remember me and my brother and my dad in a wagon being pulled by the mules to go fetch some fence posts. There was this pond and he pulled them into the pond and he used a bull whip to make the mules pull the wagon in the mud and water. I told my brother, ‘Daddy’s mean’. It wasn’t until I was a man that I asked him about it. He told me he was swelling the wheels of the wagon with the water so when we’d loaded the wagon with the wood it wouldn’t break the wheels.”
This lack of communication was apparently not uncommon and it led over the years to many misunderstandings between father and son, though occasionally his father seemingly knew more than Darryl gave him credit for. “Once me and my brother would saddle dad’s horse and cross the bayou to go play with our cousin. But we’d hide the horse in the wood so my uncle wouldn’t tell my dad that we were riding his horse, but he found out in the end. Years later I asked him how he’d known we was going across the bayou with his horse and he said one day the horse’s stomach was full of mud from the bayou!”
Being a father
In view of his interesting relationship with his own father, we asked Darryl if he had any children and he said “No.” He did, however, raise two children as if they were his own.
Their mother was an alcoholic and drug addict who lived in the city with her children. Without going into the details of how he became involved, Darryl says the only way the lady was going to get help was if someone would take care of her children. So he stepped up and took care of two of them for her. Darryl told us a little more about the boy who lived with him for nine years and who showed signs of following him into his line of work.
“Trey is 23 now, I still see him. He was five years old when I took him out of the city slums. He didn’t know anything: he could hardly run, he was skinny and real small. I didn’t want to push him in any direction but I would talk to them about life and stuff like that.” But Trey was soon lured by the drama and excitement he saw when watching rodeos on TV, and started coming with Darryl to work the cattle.
It was while out with Darryl on a job that Trey got his first taste of riding a calf, “That little calf slammed him against a fence, threw him down, and he got up, took his hat off and said ’I didn’t cry, I didn’t cry!’ and everyone started clapping and cheering for him!”
Trey’s happiness was obvious and a man in the crowd took a Polaroid photograph of him for Darryl to keep. “From there on I started taking him to little rodeos,” continued Darryl. With Darryl’s encouragement, Trey started riding calves and doing tricks on his horses for the half-time shows. He ended up being a two-time state champion bull rider and a state champion bareback rider.
His affection for Trey was apparent when speaking with us, as was his sadness when recalling how Trey went back to live with his mother when he was 14. “I was getting ready to adopt him but unfortunately my lawyer played around for too long. If he had filed the papers then I would have ended up being able to adopt him.” Living with his mum means that Trey no longer rides because the costs are prohibitive. Sometimes Trey still works with Darryl, though, and Darryl is proud of the man he has become and seems satisfied with the role he played in the young man’s life, “I know that whatever I did put him in a better situation than where he would have been if I didn’t do what I did. So, no, I don’t regret it.”
Darryl Guillory – Living the dream
Few people can say that they truly love their job and that they live to work, rather than working to live. But Darryl is one of those lucky few. He has the freedom of being self-employed and a varied and interesting daily work schedule, “You never know what might happen. I can wake up in the morning and say well today I’m going to rest, but just like that it could change: somebody can call and say, ‘oh I need you to come and see a cow!’”
However tired he gets, his passion for his work means he can be flat out one minute and up and ready to go wrangling cows the next. He has enough money to buy what he needs but is generally just a very happy man who loves his work and his life. He compares himself to the Equalizer, someone who gets called upon to help by those who can’t help themselves. With his talent for working horses and dogs in tandem to get cattle to do what he wants, he is certainly always in demand.
As for what the future holds, he says daily, “Well, this is how I’ve figured it out. When I get to the point that I can’t work cattle, I’ll get myself some sheep. When the sheep get too rough I’ll get me some chickens. When the chickens get too rough I’ll get me some quail and that’s going to be it.”
As for what legacy he’ll be leaving behind when the quail finally get too much, he muses, “I would just like people to know what I did, how I lived my life, and that I enjoyed living my life. I just want people to know, life doesn’t have to be nothing fancy or complicated. Today we have all kinds of little gadgets, but we don’t talk to each other. Now, one day I walked in for Christmas at my mums and my nephews and nieces were all there, there was about five or six all in the den all playing with their cell phones. I just looked around and I said, ‘There’s no communication, none of them know nothing about each other.’”
This is what Darryl wants to tell people. That, and, “Learn to forgive, and you’ll be happy.” Meanwhile, if you’ve got a cattle-related problem and the odds are against you, call Darryl.