This semester I worked on one of those kinds of stories that consumes your thoughts and changes your life. It was the kind of story that reminds you of why, despite the low pay and compensation, you choose to become a story teller. It was special. The story just came out in ORANGE Magazine, and I feel like I need to commit to paper the feelings that are behind the feature.
One day in October, I hit a low point. I had just received a 45 on an accounting exam and the stress levels were high when it came to anything work related. I grabbed my camera, and headed to a riverfront near my apartment that I had been meaning to explore. I needed photos for my “sense of place” photo assignment, anyways. So, I’m walking around this gorgeous riverfront when all of the sudden a man on a horse appears out of nowhere. He asks me what I’m taking a pictures for, and if I want to take his. He gives me his card, which read “Sam Olivo, the Sixth Street Cowboy.”
When I first told my friends about this encounter, I believe I told them that I had just had a huge “cosmic / universal aligning” kind of moment. I also believe that they all asked me if I was on drugs or something. It just seemed too strange that the moment I felt my worst, the universe would send me something so inspiring.
I found Sam on Facebook, and read all about his story– the accident, how he lost everything, how he found himself. The lack of press about him shocked me. Why had no one talked about his story? Here was this traditional Native American living the modern-day cowboy life with an amazing background. I reached out to Sam and, thankfully, he was on board to talk to me about his life. We made plans to meet and he told me he was going to give me the full story.
Initially, before our first meeting, my sister made the comment that I should ride with him. One strange tid bit about me is that for all of my life I have been terrified of riding horses. You could not have paid me to ride one. I told my sister there was no way I was getting on a horse. I planned to just run to keep up and walk along with Sam. When I got there, however, Sam had something else in mind. The horses were already saddled. Sam looked at me and said “I guess we can flip a coin to decide who’s riding which horse.” I stared at him with a blank face and insisted I was ready to run to keep up and explained to him my fear of riding.
It was weird, he just sort of gave me this smile and said “trust me. Get on the horse, and we’ll just ride for the energy.” I don’t know what it was about him, or his horses, but I decided to trust him. I got up onto Mula, and he got onto Tex, and we rode down the road to chat. It only took me about five minutes to feel at ease.
The rest of the evening is a blur. I ended up riding with him all of the way to his band’s gig. In that 45 minute time span, we seemed to talk about everything. He told me about his accident, about getting back in touch with his Native American roots. We talked about Austin, the changing landscape, how he felt about modern day life. We talked about the time he was arrested on horseback, how he became the Sixth Street Cowboy. We talked about his friends and family on the reservation, about persecution of minorities, even about current events like Ferguson. He told me about finding a way to express himself through music, his band, and about staying positive.
As we crossed the intersection of I-35 and Riverside, he turned to me and said: “You want a story? I’ll tell you the story of a lifetime.” He was right.
Sam lives the kind of life that you see and you just know that what he is doing matters and has a purpose. There are so many components to his story that I couldn’t include but are so important– like his first cross country trip to California or the venue he is building in his backyard. He is truly an amazing man. He got me (someone who tends to hide behind a camera and observe) onto a horse, and convinced me to ride with him through Austin’s busiest streets. He reminded me about the importance of doing good and helping others– the importance of staying humble. His spirit and positivity is contagious.