Just outside Brenham, a sign welcomes visitors to Washington County, the Birthplace of Texas. Stephen F. Austin’s original colony lies just over the rolling green hills, and the state’s first capital, Washington-on-the-­Brazos, sits somnolent and restored a few miles away. Not all the settlers hereabouts were fit for commemoration, however. When New Yorker Frederick Law Olmsted toured Texas in the 1850s, recording his journey for posterity in A Journey through Texas, he denigrated the East Texas settlers for their laziness and laxity. They sat in their cabins, north wind whistling through holes in the walls, and bestirred themselves only when necessary — to plant corn or to make a supper of fried meat, corn bread, and bad coffee. It wasn’t until Olmsted crossed the Colorado River near Austin that he expressed any hope for the new state’s fortunes.

Clearly, Olmsted didn’t meet anyone in East Texas like Cavaness.

A Houston firefighter and an EMT, Cavaness works two 24-hour shifts — 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. — each week; one week a month, he works three shifts. On his days off, he wrestles steers at PRCA rodeos all over Texas. On the side, he shoes horses. In his spare time, he works on his well-groomed farm near Brenham, welding fences, clearing land, and building sheds. Somehow he finds time to ride with his wife and eight-year-old daughter, who’s learning to use a lasso with a cast-iron roping dummy in the barn.

What he doesn’t do much is sleep. “At the firehouse, I might not even get a chance to lie down,” he says. “Sometimes I get some sleep between four and six in the morning, or, when I get home at about eight, I’ll sleep till 11. A regular night’s sleep is about four hours. Six is really good.”

Sometimes Cavaness comes home from the fire station only to gather his farrier equipment and spend the rest of the morning at a nearby ranch, setting hot iron to horse hooves. Then he’ll take a nap and leave for a rodeo, where he’ll race his horse after a 600-pound steer, jump off, dig his heels into the ground, and wrestle the calf to the ground.

“I work tomorrow,” Cavaness said one recent Wednesday while seated at a wooden picnic table in his airy metal barn. “Friday, I’m at a rodeo in Beaumont; Saturday, I’m at one in Helotes.”

He pulls an index-card-size paper calendar from his wallet; his days at the fire station are highlighted in yellow. Next week, there are three yellow squares. He hopes to make 40 rodeos this year, but that depends not only on his work schedule but also on the PRCA’s computer, which slots steer wrestlers — a.k.a. bulldoggers — into each rodeo’s lineup. If Cavaness doesn’t get a time slot that works with his schedule, he has to trade, either with another cowboy or with another firefighter. “I spend a lot of time on the phone,” he says.

And a lot of time driving. Take his current plans, for example. It’s 160 miles from Brenham to Beaumont. From Brenham to Helotes, west of San Antonio, it’s 175 miles. And he doesn’t travel from rodeo to rodeo but from home to rodeo and back, and home to rodeo and back. He leaves when the rodeo wraps up at one a.m., and usually he’s in bed by five a.m. To make those contests next weekend, he’ll drive some 650 miles in three days. In 2002, the second year he won the circuit finals, he went to 56 rodeos and spent only one night away from home.

With that kind of schedule, Cavaness could be one harried, tense man. He’s not. He doesn’t even talk fast. His mother tells him he works too much, but he considers his jam-packed calendar completely natural. Even when he could kick back in the barn and watch the horses graze — like ­today — he does chores instead. A trailer full of fertilizer is hitched to his pickup truck, and when his visitors leave, he’ll spend the rest of the afternoon spreading it.

He’s been this busy since high school. He started bulldogging when he was 15, under the tutelage of a local businessman who wrestled steers in his spare time. Soon he was bringing home belt buckles and prize saddles, and when he was 16, he went to the high school national finals. At the same time, he played football well enough to win a scholarship to Sul Ross State University. He was president of the local Future Farmers of America chapter. He ran the Health Occupations Students of America club. “Life was as crazy then as it is now,” he recalls. “Preparing for the future, I guess.”

His future took a slight turn just before college, when another school offered him a full ride to help start a rodeo team. He accepted; he’d thought football was his route to college, but he’d rather rodeo. After he graduated, he still felt the same way, even though he’d blown out his knee in ­Bozeman, Montana, at the College National Finals Rodeo. He went on the road. “I’d always wanted to do it full-time,” he says. “It was a dream of mine.”