Obama Fires Cattle Guards in Colorado?

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Viral story claims that President Obama, upon learning there are over 100,000 cattle guards in Colorado, ordered half of them to be fired immediately.

Description: Email joke / Hoax
Circulating since: Feb. 2010 (Obama version)
Status: False (see details below)


Example #1:
Email contributed by Delaney T., March 29, 2010:

FW: Cattle Guards

Administration Follies (IDIOT'S)

AND THESE PEOPLE ARE RUNNING THE COUNTRY??

For those who have never traveled to the great West, cattle guards are horizontal steel rails placed at fence openings on highways to prevent cattle from crossing. For some reason the bovines will not step on the guards, probably because they fear getting their feet caught between the rails. We need to make that clear in order for everyone to appreciate the following story.

President Obama received a report that there were over 100,000 cattle guards in Colorado. Because Colorado ranchers protested his proposed changes in grazing policies; he ordered Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to fire half of the guards immediately.

Before Salazar could respond, and presumably straighten him out, California's congresswoman Nancy Pelosi intervened with a request that before any were fired they be given six months of retraining.


Example #2:
Email contributed by Patrick F., April 3, 2010:

Subject: Cattleguards

(Don't know if this is true, but it makes for an interesting story.) With these lunkheads leading this country, anything is possible. Regardless, ENJOY

CATTLE GUARDS

For those of you who have never traveled to the West or Southwest, cattle guards are horizontal steel rails placed at fence openings, in dug-out places in the roads adjacent to highways (sometimes across highways), to prevent cattle from crossing. For some reason the cattle will not step on the guards, probably because they fear getting their feet caught between the rails.

A few months ago, President Obama received a report that there were over 100,000 cattle guards in Colorado. Because Colorado ranchers had protested his proposed changes in grazing policies, he ordered the Secretary of the Interior to fire half of the guards immediately.

Before the Interior Secretary could respond and presumably straighten him out, Vice-President, Joe Biden intervened with a request that before any guards were fired, they be given six months of retraining.

And we PAY these people???



Analysis: This is an old joke originally told by westerners at the expense of clueless "greenhorn" tourists (i.e., easterners) visiting cattle country for the first time. Here are two well-worn variants quoted in Winfred Blevins' Dictionary of the American West (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2001):

  1. According to the Pinedale, Wyoming Roundup, a local resident "told a story at the library [one] night about some friends of hers who thought that cattle guards are actually people. 'Well, you have sheepherders, don't you?' they asked. 'You must have cattle guards.'"
  1. A good Western joke about tourists is the tale of one who asked, "What color uniforms do the cattle guards wear?"

Clinton and the cattle guards

The current version, which makes the deadpan claim that Barack Obama ordered the firing of half of Colorado's "cattle guards" upon mistaking them for government employees, actually dates from the mid-1990s, when an almost identical text was circulated as a "true story" about President Bill Clinton:

IGNORANCE... True Story

Cattle Guards

For those who have never traveled to the great West, cattle guards are horizontal steel rails placed at fence openings on Hi-ways to prevent cattle from crossing. For some reason the bovines will not step on the guards, probably because they fear getting their feet caught between the rails. I need to make that clear in order for everyone to appreciate the following TRUE story.

President Clinton received a report that there were over 100,000 cattle guards in Colorado. Because Colorado ranchers protested his proposed changes in grazing policies, he ordered Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt to fire half of the guards immediately. Before Babbitt could respond, and presumably straighten him out, Colorado's congresswoman Pat Schroeder intervened with a request that before any were fired they be given six months of retraining!!

And they get paid to do this!!!!!!

Clinton's successor, George W. Bush, so loved the "What color uniforms do they wear?" variant of the joke that he occasionally inserted it into his own speeches to affect a homespun air. This example is quoted in the Washington Post, March 14, 2005:

President Bush is telling another audience that the Social Security system is in great distress, and there will be ghastly consequences if our leaders don't act, and act now.

But first, a little joke:

About a guy trying to get to Livingston, Mont. "To get to Livingston, you've got to go down the highway," Bush says during a recent "town meeting" in Great Falls, Mont. "And you go through the cattle guard. And you turn left. And go through another cattle guard."

Bush chuckles, races through his setup, then hurtles into his punch line.

"And a fellow comes back and says, 'Hey, what color uniforms do those cattle guards have on?'"

Bush the greenhorn

Ironically, President Bush's personal familiarity with the jape probably dates from his run for the House of Representatives in 1978, when he himself was made the butt of it. The following report is from the Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1978 (keep in mind that although Bush spent his childhood in Texas, he moved east to attend college in Yale and Harvard before returning home to run for office):

State Sen. Hance, a graduate of Texas Tech and the University of Texas law school, slyly hits at Bush's background (and gets lots of laughs) by telling farmers this story in his best down-home style:

A stranger asks a farmer for directions to town and is told to turn right at the cattle guard (a grating placed in the road to prevent cattle from crossing). The stranger returns in a few minutes, asking what color uniform the "cattle guard" has on.

"I got the poor fella straightened out on cattle guards," the farmer says. "As he was leaving, I couldn't make out whether his license plates were from Massachusetts (site of Harvard) or Connecticut (Yale)."

P.S. Bush lost that race.



Sources and further reading:

Dictionary of the American West
By Winfred Blevins (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2001)

Encyclopedia of the Great Plains
By David J. Wishart (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2004)

Predictions Risky in House Races
Los Angeles Times, 5 November 1978

Ah, Yes, the West
Ellensburg Daily Record, 16 March 1995

Don't Stop Him Even If You've Heard This One
Washington Post, 14 March 2005

Fake News Gets White House OK
Washington Post, 15 March 2005

Never Let the Facts Interfere with a Good Smear
Salt Lake Tribune, 2 August 2009


Last updated: 11/06/11