by Curtis Fort
Orndorff Ranch, Fall 1979
It was good to have a camp at the Question Mark all those months. On one of our trips to help neighbors, we helped Jim Patterson who ran the Orndorff outfit twenty miles north of Bingham, NM. There was a little post office at Bingham, and Mrs. Wrye was the “post lady”. She and her husband had a ranch a few miles north on the road to the Orndorff. The Orndorff was a sand and cedar range, a long way from anywhere. Socorro was thirty miles to the west, and Carrizozo, thirty miles to the east. It had a neat headquarters with some cottonwood trees, houses, corrals, that all seemed an oasis in that big range.
I started doing some day work for Jim. I remember one day Jim’s wife Mariann had a great lunch fixed for us. I’ve loved pinto beans as long as I can remember, and she had some that were a little different. She said they were beans some friends had given them from an Anasazi ruin in the Four Corners area, and they had raised them in their garden there at the ranch. As I found out later, these were Anasazi beans, much a cousin to our pinto beans. They are great, and from studying my books on New Mexico’s history, it seems the beans were already here before the Spaniards. I used to think the Spaniards brought them, but it seems the Native Americans already had them. The Spaniards may have brought the chiles, but the corn, beans, and squash were already here on this continent. Jim asked me to keep day working, and I agreed. I helped them a few more times and Jim offered me a job. I liked that range and Jim and his family, so I hired on in September of 1979.
It would be a week or so before I could move there, and I was still driving out each day. One morning when I pulled in Jim had our horses saddled, a rifle in a scabbard for me, and he was wearing his hog leg. We loaded our mounts in a trailer and drove to H. Pender’s, the neighbor to the south, and he loaded his horse in the trailer. We headed for Nogal, a little village in the mountains east of Carrizozo. As we unloaded, my amigo Larry Dean pulled in with his mount, and was wearing his pistol. The city policeman of Carrizozo had been shot and killed in Nogal canyon the day before, and the “law” figured the killer was still in the area. The officer that was killed was Tom Bedford. I had attended high school with him at Tatum in 1966 and 67, as his folks bought the Dennis Peveler ranch north of Tatum, which is now part of the Diamond Half outfit. The “law” had called Jim, H. and Larry to bring mounts and help look for the fugitive. We showed up at Nogal in the edge of the Mountains, unloaded our mounts and were informed of the area they wanted us to ride. In today’s world they would have sent in a lot of special “law”, loaded down in special equipment, and bullet-proof vests. None of us were excited about being there, but we felt we were serving as a citizen. Larry and I made a circle to the north, and Jim and H. to the south. The “law” had given us those bright orange vests to wear, and as soon as we were out of sight in that brush, Larry and I each threw our vest away. This guy we were looking for was a bad “egg” and I told my amigo Larry, that I figured the first one that rides up on him in this brush is going to get shot. I’m sure I made him feel better by saying, “I hope it’s you, instead of me, but I’ll shore get him.” Luckily, we didn’t ride up on that outlaw as he would have killed somebody! He made it through those hills (about 50 miles) to Corona, NM, over the next week, and was caught there.
I got moved to the Orndorff Ranch by mid-September, and we did get busy. I still love that ole ranch. We had good neighbors (the McKinley, Bursom, and Monte Prieto ranches), and it still is a big range. At night, even from a high point you might see a light or two from a ranch ten to twenty miles away. Will Orndorff owned the outfit, and had run mother cows for years. Jim Patterson was the manager, wagon boss, wind miller, and chore boy. Will decided to change and winter two to three thousand yearlings, so Jim needed help. We did keep some mother-cows to stock the Long Ranch, which Will had leased, and it joined the Orndorff on the west. It was going to be a lot of horseback work. They also hired my amigos Sammy Roper and Gary and Rhea Loveland, whom I worked with at Vermejo, as well as a couple hombres to feed and do chores. Jim and family lived in another nice home at headquarters. I liked working for Jim. He was like working for Bill John at Vermejo, Leo at the Bells or Larry Dean . . . all good bosses and fun to work for. Jim is all cowboy, loves the life, and likes to laugh. If something needed to be roped. he was all for it and would probably beat you to it. We started receiving cattle, and they were crossbred four- to five-weight cattle. We branded, gave shots to all, and prowled through them every day to watch for sick ones. Once we located them in the big pastures that were plenty brushy, we wanted them to come to the cake wagon. There was a big set of pens several miles to the southeast of headquarters called East Well, where three big pastures joined and had a couple of traps for the sick ones. We received and processed the bulk of those cattle there. On the west side of the outfit were the Wilson Pens, where we received and branded a lot of cattle. The ones we processed at these pens, had a good open trap to get them on cake before we drifted them all to the Wilson and Indian Pastures for the winter. These cattle were branded
The ranch had a good summer and grew a lot of grass on that outfit, so it was as good as you wanted going into the fall and winter. Every morning we caught fresh mounts and Jim scattered us in lots of directions . . . or we all headed to one place to unload more cattle and process them. Thankfully those yearlings came in over several weeks, a steady stream from late September to Christmas Eve so we could process and get a few loads lined out before another bunch came in. On horseback, we would throw them to the cake wagon that one of the hombres would be driving, and it didn’t take long for the cattle to like that feed. We’d pick up any sick ones and keep them in the pens to doctor.
A lot of those fall evenings we’d unsaddle just before dark, and the Patterson kids, their folks, and the cowboys would have a baseball game in the sandy lane in front of headquarters. Jamie, and Leah were the girls, ten to twelve years old. Loren was their brother and was all of seven. Loren was and still is all cowpuncher. While I was at the Orndorff, Mariann home-schooled her children so Loren got to make a lot of circles with us. One day in November, we unloaded our mounts at the Long Ranch just at daylight. Jim sent “H”, Sammy and Gary around the south end. Jim, Loren and I started around the north side. Jim hit a lope with Loren and I following. Loren was riding a Welch pony named Diamond, and was spurring hard to keep him at a lope. There were some badger holes and Diamond turned a complete flip with Loren! I thought sure it had killed him as he was all of seven! When the dust cleared he had Diamond by the reins. He wiped the dirt out of his eyes, pulled his hat down (that had a new crease), stepped on and said “Let’s go!” He is all cowboy. That’s why he’s been a hero of mine ever since. We were a few days working all those cows and calves at the Long Ranch. We threw the calves we weaned and the cuts in a well fenced trap. We let them set a week or so, while we were receiving cattle at the home ranch, then went back and trailed them ten miles to the Orndorff. Another good bunch of men to work with . . . men who rode for the outfit!