by Curtis Fort
A Cowboy’s Hat
While camped at Bosque Farms, I would drift down to Carrizozo and help Larry at the Question Mark or at the Long Ranch, northwest of Bingham, where Larry had some mother cows. One time Larry called and said Duncan Majors had sent word for Tye and I to come help brand at the Monte Prieto. He said they were going to gather the southwest pasture, called the Gaines. Larry said Carl Lane was coming also, and would bring us some Question Mark horses. We were to bring our saddles and meet at the Monte Prieto headquarters before light in a few days. It was spring of ‘82, and was a cool morning as we all met at the headquarters, hauled the mounts to the west side of the outfit down Grumble Canyon, then went south a ways to the gate. We unloaded, mounted up behind Duncan and struck a high trot to the east side at the foot of Brushy Mountain. He scattered the drive from there. It was good to be on a drive again, as you got to keep your head up, weave back and forth, especially in the brush, or sand hills. The main thing to watch for is the man on both sides of you and try to stay even, then top out on a rise and sit there a minute, so they can see where you are. Never get in front of the drive, as I learned years before on the Diamond and Half outfit in a 50-section pasture. Carl Lane has always been kind to remind me about that for the last 40 plus years! There was lots of cedar brush in that pasture, but no big canyons. A few big draws, and the drive came together the way it should. As we penned the cattle, there was one cow and a couple big calves that sold out, but the neighbors were good “punchers” and already had their horn knots pulled down tight with a loop built. That cow come out by Larry, who was on his top mount, Sandy, and he fit a loop on her as she came busting out. Wendell Wells and Bob Carter had those two big calves caught quickly. When Larry dragged that big cow in, someone hocked her and went to the end of it. As they took the ropes off, John Maxwell, with a grin, put a little dirt in her eye so she’d remember not to do that again! The corrals were pretty neat, made with cedar post, picket style.The posts were all sawed off even and there was a bright red pipe on top. All the gates were pipe with overhead braces, also painted red. They were good corrals, were built right . . . all designed by Duncan. He oversaw the building of several sets of good corrals like these while running the Monte Prieto. Then we stripped the calves off, and soon the irons were heating in a cedar fire. Duncan poured everyone a cup of coffee, while several rolled a smoke.
Almost everyone knew each other, as all were neighbors, but there were a couple hombres, decked out in cowboy garb some of us had never met. Duncan, in his soft spoken manner, introduced us to Malcolm Baldrige, owner of the Monte Prieto and his sidekick, John Block. Mr. Baldrige was Secretary of Commerce under President Reagan, and Mr. Block, Secretary of Agriculture. These weren’t just two-day work hands, and as the day progressed, we found them to be good fellas, quite down to earth. There was no doubt how much Malcolm loved the West, and this ranch, but he had the ways and looks of a man of long, hot, dusty days, and an appreciation of a cool drink of good water. Mr. Block wanted to flank, give it a shot, etc., as he’d never made a circle with a southwestern cow crew. When the branding was over and we’d held the herd outside to pair up and drift off, the coffee was still on the coals. We were waiting for dinner to heat in those Dutch ovens, and having more coffee. I thought it was interesting that while we were sitting and visiting, Carl asked Mr. Block about his thoughts on Agriculture’s future! He said that President Reagan believed it was going to get tough, and it did . . . land values declined, along with cattle prices, then interest rates went high. But in the next breath he said, that the strong would survive, and it would help the country in the long run! It was a memorable day working with good folks, and all of us were impressed and honored to be with these representatives of a President who was a real American patriot, and a leader whose main concern was this nation’s defense and safety. Mr. Baldrige did love horses, and ropes. He drug a few calves that day, but just a few. He knew the tradition . . . you don’t drag your own calves, you let the neighbors rope. You’ll get to drag when you neighbor with them. I think Duncan had helped ease him into those traditions, and ways of the West. You could sense the high regard Mac and Duncan had for each other. We all enjoyed meeting and working cattle with these hombres from Washington. Malcolm ran a big company that he owned, and the branch of commerce for the U.S. Government. But his heart was at peace when he was at the Monte Prieto, smelling cedar and burning hair, and being on horseback in that New Mexico Range. It was a special day I’ll always remember working with a good bunch of punchers . . . “way out West in New Mexico”, where the coyote’s howl, and the wind blows free!
A few years later in 1987, we were in Chama, New Mexico, entertaining good friends from Dallas, Chuck and Jean Nielson, and R.Y. Henslee. We spent the night at the Branding Iron Motel, and I got up and went to get us coffee and a paper. On the front page of the paper, was the story of Mac Baldridge being killed in a roping accident at Walnut Creek, California. It seems that Duncan was asked to be an honorary pallbearer. He and his wife Gail attended the service in Washington, and burial in Connecticut, on July 31, 1987. I will always remember an interesting story Duncan told about his hat on that trip. I first heard it when we camped and hunted in the North Pasture on the Monte Prieto that fall, courtesy of Duncan and Gail. My friends from Hoka Hey Foundry, Wade and Richard Cowan, were invited, also. I would always invite Duncan and Gail out to our camp for supper one night. I called Gail while writing this to help me with the details, and to make sure I told it the way it happened. Duncan and Gail were impressed with the efficiency and planning they encountered in Washington, D.C. They knew Malcolm Baldridge and President Reagan were good friends, and could tell that word was sent down by the White House for this to be handled top notch. When they arrived, they were escorted to an apartment for their lodging and told to be out front promptly at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, and to set their luggage outside the apartment. Gail said the meals and apartment were top of the line. Duncan was informed that no hats were allowed in the National Cathedral, and to just leave it on top of the luggage. According to Gail, the next morning, as Duncan set his best hat on the luggage, he commented that he’d probably never see my sombrero again. One reason that hat meant so much, was because it was a custom hat from the prestigious Man’s Hat Shop in Albuquerque. No telling how many cowmen and cowpunchers have purchased a hat there since it was opened in 1946 by Carl Dunlap, when he returned from serving his country in World War II. It is still operated by my friend, Carl’s son, Stewart Dunlap, with the same quality and service began by his Father. Their cars arrived promptly on time and they were carried to the huge National Cathedral and escorted to their seats. After the service, they were promptly escorted to Andrews Air Force Base, where they boarded Air Force II, Vice President Bush’s plane, to fly to Connecticut for the burial. When they boarded the private plane, there on Duncan’s seat was his hat, without a blemish, perched on the crown the way a hat should be set. Even though it was a sad time, Gail said that Duncan immediately had a nice glint in his eye and a smile on his face, because he found his best hat waiting for him. Duncan was a man to ride the river with!