by Curtis Fort
Christmas 1979 at the Orndorff Ranch
IWe made it to the Wilson trap on the west side of Orndorff Ranch the first night, with those big, fresh-weaned calves. It was pretty touchy when we left that trap at the Long Ranch that morning, but everyone really made a hand and they were handling pretty good when we got to Wilson Trap. The next morning we made a good drag on the trap and it was a good part of the day getting them over to East Well, as we were always holding them up to keep them from getting too hot. By the time we trailed them into a holding trap and put them on water they were handling pretty good and we were proud to get there with same number we left the Long Ranch with, although a few of them could graze better from having their necks stretched. After they rested a couple days, we penned them at East Well, and sorted the heifers and steers, and gate-cut a few keeper heifers. We let them set a few days, then weighed and shipped them all, except the keepers. As we put those heifers down the alley, we’d kick dirt under them and the ones that jumped the highest and blew snot, we thought Jim should keep. Being El Patron he didn’t always follow our suggestions, but when we got them sorted, they were a nice set of future mother cows. This all worked just right to get them shipped and with the heifers in a trap, we received more yearlings there the next day. One of those warm, late fall days, when we were working cattle at the East Well, the first Schwan’s truck any of us ever had seen, came driving up. The driver was asking us directions, and someone asked him what he was hauling. He said frozen beef, fish, vegetables, and ice cream! Now that got our attention and our fearless leader, Jim, had a few dollars on him and said, “Let’s have some!” That was a treat in the middle of no-where, and Jim told him how to get to our Headquarters and several others.
We worked long days, but we were in the saddle. We all lived at Headquarters, and were dedicated to wintering those cattle in good shape, with a minimum death loss. As fall changed to winter we had all the cattle pretty well lined out and located. We still had two loads a coming in around Christmas, so that gave us a week to catch up on prowling and doctoring. Humberto and Ramon fed, put out salt, cut posts and fenced. From my days at the Corralitos Ranch, with those hombres, I knew they were quite aware of ghosts, witches and all. I would mention to Ramon (in my limited Spanish) of how there was a bruja (witch) there around headquarters, and I was just making it up. After a month or so he told me I was right. One cold December day after dinner, we caught fresh horses. Jim was down south at Bingham, and we knew what needed done, so we sent Ramon to work on some fence on a trap that held sick cattle, just west of headquarters. It was sandy and there were lots of cedar trees. Humberto went another direction to put out salt and cut some posts. Sammy, Gary and I went to prowl the Wilson Pasture for any weak cattle. It was a cold overcast day, looking like it could snow anytime, and was an hour before sundown when we loaded our mounts and headed east towards Headquarters. We needed to prowl the trap west of headquarters and pick up any thing really sick. It was a long, narrow trap, so we stopped on the west side and unloaded both mine and Sammy’s mounts. Gary took the rig to the house. I caught a glimpse of the old Power Wagon Dodge on the north fence where Ramon was working fence. I tied my mount to a cedar tree, worked my way closer to Ramon and kept the trees between us. He was working like a beaver tying in staves and working that fence. When I was pretty close I let out a low moan, like a witch, or spook would do. Ramon stopped, looked up and down the fence line and in the brush behind him. Then he went back to work, but you knew he was wondering. It took some time to ease in a little closer, as he was glancing around regularly about the time that cold fog had begun to roll in. I let out another mournful sound, and Ramon dropped the pliers, tie-wire, got in the pickup and locked the door! I worked my way back to my mount, prowled my side of that trap and when we got to headquarters, we threw the two snotty nosed calves we’d picked up into a corral, and doctored them. We unsaddled and grained our mounts along with the ones Gary had jingled. So we rolled a smoke waiting for them to finish and rope out our mounts for the next morning!
It was nearly dark when Humberto and Ramon drove up to the shop close to the saddle barn. They walked over to visit and were rolling a smoke! I was oiling a bridle and I noticed Ramon was hanging close, wanting to talk to me. He’d just rolled his smoke and I drug a match down the wall and lit it. He said in Spanish, “I saw the Bruja!” I acted really excited and asked him when and where. He told me she had appeared that afternoon while he was working on the fence. He described how he heard her and caught a glimpse of her! He said that fence was in good shape now. I noticed from then on he and Humberto closed their curtains on their trailer windows, and were always anxious to get to their camp before dark!
We received the last two loads at South Well on Christmas Eve. We sorted, and got them into a holding trap, where they had good grass, water and salt. Jim said that we had worked hard and the cattle needed to rest up. He told us we’d prowl them for sick ones and that we’d get some neighbors and drag ‘em to the fire in a few weeks. That sounded good to us as we hit a buggy trot toward the lights at Headquarters. It was cold, with no wind or clouds when we un-saddled our mounts and grained all the horses, with a special helping to the wrangling horses. The Christmas tree lights twinkled through the windows, and all the fireplaces were crackling with piñon wood. The crew all met at my camp for a Christmas toast, and we celebrated a well-deserved night’s rest after a long fall works. We all had coffee and relaxed the next morning after doing the chores. Around noon Mariann & Jim had the whole crew come to their house for a wonderful Christmas dinner. Loren and his sisters showed us what Santa had delivered . . . some special clothes, dolls, and especially a pair of spurs for Loren! The meal included a fresh pot of those Anasazi beans with some Hatch green chile, and a turkey with all the trimmings. Mariann had gone “all-out”. Around 3:00 p.m., Jim, Sam and I drove over to East Well and ran the sick ones through the chute for a shot of Christmas medicine. We were a long ways from any town, but the real feeling of Christmas was there. It was one of the best Christmas Days I can remember. The star the wise men followed was shining brightly in that winter-night sky above the Chupadero Range.
Jim figured those last cattle we received in December were doing good and needed to be branded. They were light 400 pounds or so. We invited a few neighbors and we roped and drug them to the fire at South Well. It was a good day. Larry Dean, Carl Lane, the twins Jarrod, and Justin, and Melanie came from the Question Mark. H. Penders was there from the Harliss, as well as a few other neighbors. Mariann had another great meal for us at Headquarters. My friends Carl Lane and Larry knew we were riding hard so they left a couple extra Question Mark mounts there for me to use. We were on horseback all day, every day, which is what we wanted to do. Once all those cattle were located, we prowled in that brush, finding some “chronics” to drive back to the sick pen. A couple of us would help throw in cattle to the feed wagon and get a good count. Most of them did very well on grass and a little cake. We had to keep those pipe lines going, along with the windmills, and all the other ranch chores. It was long hours in the saddle . . . which is what we were there for.