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by Curtis Fort

A Pine Tree Range

When I drove that U-Haul truck up to the old log house a couple of miles out of Lindrith, it was near midnight, the 8th of September, 1984. It was my new camp. I had loaded that truck the night before and a good part of the day at Bosque Farms, and was plenty tired. So, I got my cowpuncher bedroll rolled out on the porch, and the last I remember was the owl, and then it was getting light. I had to get that truck unloaded and back to Albuquerque to save extra fees. I was sore, but had to get it done. I had been working for an hour as fast as I could, knowing there was no way I could get it done in time, when up pulled a mud covered ranch pickup. Jack Bechdol stepped out and said, “I’m here to help.” Larry Dean had summered some pairs on Jack’s range the year before, and I had helped him haul them there. Jack and his wife, Jessie, are good folks. With Jack’s help we had it unloaded in time for me to take the truck to Albuquerque, pick up my car and return way after dark. I was really tired and had picked up a burger in Cuba, so I built-up the fire and reheated the morning coffee. The next couple of days I got my stuff scattered around in the house, got my skillets and all located, then fixed a meal of steak, gravy, and fried potatoes. I slept real well that night. The next few nights, I kept sleeping on the porch, but one night I woke up with some critter standing on my feet. I had a flashlight and pistol under my pillow, so I carefully focused both of them on this cat, a black cat, with the little head and white stripe, and a smell! I very slowly pulled the tarp over my head and lay very still. When I awakened the next morning Mr. Skunk was gone and I put my bed in the house. I got my table set in the living room and started on some sculpture.

All I met were good country folks. They might not have a computer, but could trail a deer or lion across a mountain, and didn’t need a GPS to find home. The little village of Lindrith had the café, a small store, two churches, and a school that had one teacher, who taught fourteen to sixteen students, grades first through sixth. After that they rode a bus twenty miles to school at Galina, NM.

I was happy when Bill Humphries came by and asked if I’d help them gather and ship off their forest lease. Bill and I had become friends when he managed the NM State Fair, and Tye had taken me up to Bill and Carol’s ranch out of Lindrith a couple years later. Bill, Jack Bechdol, and Tony Schmitz had the Palmer place, a good size forest lease. It was rim-rock, pine tree country, with interesting rock formations and little mesas . . . nearly all had some old Anasazi ruins on top. There were lots of deer, elk and turkey, so it was a neat country to ride! Frosty mornings and cool sunshiny days prevailed while we gathered the big canyons. We worked several days gathering that Palmer Forest country. The continental divide split the lease, north to south. The canyons on the east, the Moya, Gurule, and others, flowed into the Yequa (Spanish for Mare). The west side canyons, north, south, and middle Oso ran west into the Gavilan. Cattle were gathered to the old Palmer corrals, worked and shipped out of there, and if something ran off, they didn’t mind if you caught them right there and saved a day or two of prowling. They would probably have a loop on him before you! Between my trips to Hoka Hey Foundry in Texas, I sure enjoyed helping them work cattle. I also helped Peewee and Wendy Stevenson, who were fun to help, and they have been friends ever since. The Nelsons became good friends and that next spring I was helping Larry and Ella Nelson brand a few calves at their place north of Lindrith. We got them penned, cut the calves off into smaller pen and dug a hole for a fire to heat the irons with cedar wood. Larry had three new shovels and we used them to dig a shallow hole, got the fire going and he suggested we go to the house and have coffee. So we leaned our shovels against the pipe fence. It was 100 feet to the house and when we came back, a breeze had blown our shovels into the fire and the handles were burned out. I still enjoy calling him and asking if he still heats his irons with shovel handles!

It was fun to work with Bill Humphries anywhere, as he truly loves punching cows . . . rain or shine mountains or plains . . . and is a good one to scatter on the drive. He also likes to laugh. A couple of days after Christmas, he asked me to come over to his outfit. Bill, Wendell Tixier, and I saddled-up and it was very cold. Eighteen inches of snow had fallen in the last couple of days, and we pulled out to his west side. The last few days when feeding and chopping ice, he knew he was short a few head, and figured they had gotten on the Jicarilla reservation, which joined him on the south. He had been prowling a-horse back the day before and couldn’t find where anything had gone through the fence. So we found where they had drifted down the big arroyo and went through the water gap. Bill had some pliers and we opened up that gap to get the cattle back. Our feet were wet and we were cold, and we split up to prowl for the missing stock. We were lucky and threw everything together at a tank. We had in the gather Bill’s cattle, drifted them towards that gap and got the neighbor’s stock dropped before we got there. We got them through the fence, up the arroyo, up a trail and drifted them to a feed ground where he’d put some protein blocks. Those heifers were sure hungry. It was hard to maneuver in all that snow, and was slow going. The horses and men, tired and cold, it was right at sundown. We were holding the stock there, letting our mounts blow a minute and having visions of that hot coffee we knew Carol would have waiting for us at the casa. For no reason, my mount, named Hollywood, decided to lie down! I barely kicked my feet out of the stirrups and rolled to the side. I thought Bill and Wendell were going to swallow their tongues, they were laughing so hard. I don’t think I’ve ever been that wet and cold, just part of riding for the brand.

The four years I lived at Lindrith were some of my best memories, with the nice Baptist Church I attended, nice country and I was helping folks brand and work cattle. There was also a great little Post Office, with a nice Postmistress, named Betty Post. They were good neighbors, who would help you anytime. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of salt of the earth people in my life. As an artist, I’ve been as blessed to meet some city folks who possess the same common sense and values, made of the same “dirt” as us country folks! A couple of them are Chuck and Jean Nielson from Dallas, Texas. Back in 1975, when the Western Horseman did a little story on me as a cowboy and shirt-tail artist, RY Henslee read it. At the time he was with Texas Instruments and we became friends. He introduced me to great folks in Dallas. Leon and Cecilia Whetzel, Chuck and Jean Nielson, Bill and Billie Aylesworth, and many more, all held corporate positions with Texas Instruments. They have all become close friends and supporters of my art. The Nielsons purchased some of my work and held a show in their home every year. In one of our conversations I was telling them what an interesting area, and what good folks were at Lindrith, so they came to see us the 3rd-6th of July. I took them to old ruins, we enjoyed the country and they really loved the people. That became an annual tradition, and we would meet there each year and camp at Bechdol’s north ranch. When they retired from TI in 1998, they built a lovely home at Pine Grove and restored the old log schoolhouse. They led fundraisers for a fire truck and, many more projects to help the Community. Chuck passed away in fall of 2012 and we miss him. Jean is still a strong part of the community . . . they are folks to ride the river with.