Scatterin’ the Drive

Changing Ranges: Fall of 1973. 

When I drove that moving van into the Vermejo headquarters, I was as excited as when I was twelve and found that new Amonett saddle under the Christmas tree. As that new saddle was all a young puncher craved, thirteen years later I craved new range. I had to drive right by the saddle house to the casa Bill John had said would be mine. I looked over in the horse corral and there was a cowboy with a big sombrero shoeing a horse tied up short at a big post. I stopped and decided I best meet this hombre. I opened the gate and we shook hands. His name was Ron Beers and we were friends from then on. We buried him under a Piñon tree at Cimarron Cemetery thirty-four years later. Ronny and I roped lots of Vermejo stock together. Most was in the line of duty and some . . . our horses needed the practice. The first couple of days at Vermejo I was shoeing up the six horses Bill John roped out for me . . . Badger, Friday, Jesse James, Silver, Cowboy, and Pinetop. We were two or three days shoeing up, getting acquainted and doing chores to get ready for the fall works. Vermejo had lots of camps, winter and summer. The summer camps in the Sangre De Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountain range were the Number One, La Cueva and State Line, which was on the Colorado and New Mexico border. The lower crew that operated out of Cimarron, had high country with (summer) camps named Clayton Cabins, Ring and, Ponil.

The Vermejo was the heart of the Maxwell land grant, which was originally the Miranda-Beaubien grant. Don Carlos Beaubien probably owned half-interest in the grant, although Charles Bent had acquired an interest, possibly from both Beaubien and Miranda at one time and for an unknown consideration. Narcisse Beaubien, son of Charles and Paulita Beaubien was to look after the interests of the family. He was killed, along with Charles Bent, in the Pueblo Rebellion in Taos, NM in January, 1847. Lucien Maxwell was a mountain man and had married the daughter of Carlos Beaubien. So the management and eventually ownership fell to him. The grant was 1,714,764 acres or in cowboy terms 2,600 sections. The west side was the top of theSangre de Cristo Range; the north side, the Colorado line from the Sangre De Cristo’s east to Fishers Peak, just south of Trinidad Colorado. The east side went from Fishers Peak, south to Springer, New Mexico, then west to the mountains to make the south side. Many times I have rimmed out on top of a high point on the Vermejo outfit, and gazed to the horizons trying to picture owning that range.

To add little more history, the brand

WS came to that range around 1899 when French and partners bought the Vermejo and adjoining ranges. They shipped train loads of cattle from their range in the Gila River country north of Silver City using the railroad from Socorro to Springer. In the year 1900 the ranch was acquired by William H. Bartlett from Chicago and he hired a cowman named Adams to run the outfit. They branded the A6 connected, owned 480,000 acres, had a large crew of cowpunchers and of course, ran a wagon for branding and shipping. Vermejo Park gets its name from the Vermejo Mountain Range. I was told that Vermejo (Bermejo in the Spanish/English dictionary) means vermilion, which is a reddish tint. In the late afternoon the Vermejos turn a reddish purple. Vermejo Creek starts just above the Colorado line and fifteen miles or so after it enters New Mexico. The canyon becomes about two miles wide, stays that way for a couple miles then narrows down. So in all those hundreds of square miles of canyons and timber, The Park is the perfect place for the headquarters. As you enter The Park from the east, to your right are the rock mansions that Bartlett built at the bottom of a high cliff, along with the ranch office and lodge for hunters. To the south are the school house and other houses. Most of The Park is a hay field and the farm crew cuts and bales thousands of bales of grass hay. This hay fed all the saddle horses in the winter, both at The Park and the winter cow camps. All the bulls on the north half were wintered at The Park and required lots of hay. At the west end is the “cow headquarters” with barns, corrals, cookhouse, bunkhouse, shops and several houses for the cowboys.

In the 1930s Doug and Mary (Pickford) Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille and others owned the ranch. It was referred to as the Hollywood Club. There were also other log houses and corrals north of Merrick Lake that the Hollywood bunch used when they really wanted to rough it. In the early fifties W. J. Gourley, a Ft. Worth Texas businessman acquired the Vermejo. He established two elk pastures to restock the ranch as all elk had been hunted out. One was at the bottom of Bernal Trail and the other down by the Ring Camp. He bought elk in Wyoming and put them in the elk pastures which were a couple sections in size. As the elk increased in numbers they were released out into the ranch. In 1973, Pennzoil Corporation bought the ranch. They took possession on September 10, 1973, the day I went to work at Vermejo. What a big and great cow outfit! Bill John Wooley was the cowboy boss, and a great one. We became good friends over the years. He was raised east of Springer, around Farley. As most range-raised boys, he saw no reason to exist unless it was as a cowpuncher. For more information on Bill John, please read my story in the November, 2010 New Mexico Stockman.

The camp men, Jim Taylor, who held down La Cueva camp, and LeandroMartinez, of Number One camp, had been drifting pairs into the Costilla Vega. That vega was 9,000 feet elevation, a valley laying between the Costilla and Vermejo ranges. It was fenced off, had lots of grass and Number One creek ran right through the middle of it. Bill John, Ronny, Tom and I were gathering country on the east slopes of the Costillas, throwing into the Castle Rock traps. Every few days, we’d load up and go to the high country and help bring a herd over the top into the Elk pasture. The mornings were frosty, with red and gold oak brush and the bugling elk. Working with good hands made it a good fall works. The headquarters bunch had just helped bring a group of pairs over the trail and left them at the Elk pasture. A couple of mornings later as we saddled our mounts, Bill told Tom, Ronny, and I to load up and go to the Elk Pasture and drift that herd towards Castle Rock. It had snowed a couple of inches the night before and was cold as we unloaded, tightened our cinches, and hit a trot to the back side. We always went to the backside and would turn any tight-bagged cows into the trail so they could go find their calves. As we jigged along through big pine and oak brush on that cold, frosty September morning, I looked off to the side and there was a big black bear. He was rooting around in the snow. His hair was shiny and he was fat. In two jumps I was getting my rope anchored and building a loop. I yelled at Ronny and said, “Let’s go!” He didn’t know what was up, but here he came. The only reason I got a throw at that bear was because he ran into that high net-wire fence at a dead run whilelooking back at me. It sure rolled him for a flip, which gave me a chance to catch up. As he jumped to his feet, I rolled a loop on him that would make Charlie Russell proud. I went to the end of it and hollered at Ronny to heel this critter. With all the timber it was hard to keep the rope tight, and the bear was blowing snot and pawin’ at that rope around his neck. He hooked a claw in the rope, peeled it off and left. I guess it’s a good thing he got the rope off his head, because if Ronny had heeled him and stretched, it would have been up to me to tail him over and take the ropes off. I’ve tailed over lots of cows and flanked thousands of calves, but I think it would have been hard to get a tail-hold on that bear!

If you enjoy history try these: Recollections of a Western Ranchman by French, When the Dogs Barked Treed by Elliot Barker, and Mitch by Dean Krakel.