Joshua rancher says goodbye to Handsome Hank

JOSHUA -- Handsome Hank was old and arthritic.

He had quit eating. He was mostly horns, skin and bone.

So Monday evening, as the sun went down, Heather Reams led the hobbling 21-year-old Texas longhorn to a spot on her family's Johnson County ranch where Hank would stand for hours and gaze with bovine indifference at the rolling rural landscape.

"Hank liked lookin'," said Buck Reams, Heather's husband.

Nearby, a backhoe was clawing at the earth.

Digging a grave.

Wrapped within Hank's obituary is a love story. This one began 17 years ago when Heather Reams and her first husband divorced and she was left to raise their two little girls, Sierra and Cheyenne.

As a settlement, Reams' ex-husband gave her a young steer and a trailer.

"He told me, 'If you want child support, you can earn it yourself.'"

True to his name, Hank was good-looking. The steer weighed 1,800 pounds. His majestic horns flared and turned skyward, like the raised arms of a football referee signaling a touchdown.

His owner had bills to pay. So when Reams wasn't bartending at Billy Bob's, she spent her time showing off her steer outside Fincher's White Front Western Wear in Fort Worth's Stockyards. He became a popular tourist attraction. Folks paid to sit tall in the saddle atop the accommodating beast and have their photo taken.

"He always looked in the camera," Reams said. "He was a rock star and he knew it."

Hank's celebrity and workload grew.

He appeared at Six Flags Over Texas. The steer rode in an elevator to the 12th floor of the posh Fort Worth Club for a Stock Show function. Reams took him to Arizona and California for fairs and music events. In Omaha, Neb., Warren Buffett and three other business executives rode longhorns -- Hank among them -- down a street to attend a Berkshire Hathaway stockholders meeting.

Tanya Tucker rode him. So did Charlie Daniels. Larry Mahan. Ed Bass.

The steer was pictured several times in the Star-Telegram.

With Hank as the showpiece, Reams started an animal entertainment business. She added other longhorns -- Lucky, Luke and Gus. She expanded the enterprise, offering pony rides.

But one remained her favorite. Reams, who now trains longhorns, wrote in an e-mail to friends, "Hank made me what I am today, a self-starter, hardworking cowgirl."

Reams retired the steer three years ago.

"He deserved it," she said. "He worked a long, long time."

The soft voice of reason told her that putting Hank down was the right thing -- the humane thing -- to do. So late Monday a hole was dug. A veterinarian was summoned to Buckhorn Ranch. Not until after Reams whispered goodbye and drove off and saw Hank turn his head and look back at her did the full weight of loss suddenly overwhelm her.

Tuesday morning the sun was shining.

Beyond the front yard a mound of dirt marks the fresh grave.

In time the Reamses will place a fitting marker.

"A sandstone rock," Heather Reams said.

A simple epitaph:

"Handsome Hank

Fort Worth's Most Famous Longhorn."