Scatterin’ the Drive 1/10

Spring Works. 

In the December, 2010 issue of NM Stockman, we were branding in 1969 at “The Bells”. So, we’ll just finish that works.

It was hot, dry and dusty the first week or so of the Branding Works when we were camped at the Zorro on the north end of Conchas Lake. After supper we all kept up a horse and trotted down the lake. We had a good swim and washed off lots of Bell Ranch dust. Five or six days later, the wagon was camped at the Round Top Camp.

We had worked the Perra Pasture after the Zorro and now were branding all the calves in the Big Flat Pasture . . . the one that Bell Mountain sits in! After supper, Leo said, “Let’s go in for a bath at Headquarters.” The manager and windmill man had brought two pickups that morning and left one for us. Since there was not a cloud in the sky, no one put up a teepee or threw their bed under the wagon before we left. We were gone three or four hours and it rained a big one. On the way back to camp, we managed to get through that red mud, then found all the saddles and beds soaked. After those wet blankets, eggs and hot coffee sure tasted great the next morning. Leo scattered us in lots of directions to put in water gaps. Most of us went on horseback. The fence and windmill crews at Headquarters went to those big gaps between the Bells and Clabber Hill and other neighbors.

There was one hand, we’ll call Bob, who had hired-on for the works. He was a cowpuncher and was raised on that Canadian River Range in the Texas Panhandle. He liked to “thumb” his horses when the boss wasn’t looking, but he was a hand and came in on the drive where he was supposed to. I think he was hankering to hit the rodeo trail. After a night in wet beds and a long day of wading in creeks and putting in water gaps, we trotted in to Round Top Camp. Some made a circle and picked up the remuda. Camp looked pretty scary to the horses as there were bed tarps and blankets hanging on every mesquite. We had a big supper of fried taters and beef. While we sat around the fire, Bob said “Wells boys, I have something to say. I like this wild cow works and burning hair, but sleeping like hogs ain’t for me. I quit!” A new cowboy hired on when Bob left. He was Paul Hight, a good hand, and was raised south of Tucumcari. He still ranches there today.

We finished working the Big Flat Pasture, plus branded some colts. We moved camp the next morning to the Seco Corrals and the boss scattered us on a drive gathering that Red Tank country. The roundup came in, changed horses and had a cup of hot coffee with cold biscuits and bacon that Joe Salas, the Cook, always had ready. We worked the herd, whacked out the dry’s and bulls. As some of us took the cuts to the trap, one big “dry” decided to leave. Ole Marvin fell in after her on “Whiskey”. They turned a flip and a cloud of dust was all you could see! I knew my amigo was a goner. The dust cleared, Marvin gathered his mount and stepped a-board like nothing happened. I worked with Marvin on “The Bells” and other ranches . . . he’s a good horseman.

The third morning at Seco Camp, we hit a high trot behind Leo and he sent men up the trails to the top of the Medio Canyon and Rock Hole Range. We penned and branded at the Medio Camp on the old railroad. In past years, many Bell Ranch cattle were shipped and tons of supplies were freighted via wagons to Headquarters. In the roundup there would only be twenty to thirty pairs and some dry’s. We would drive the cuts down to Seco Camp and be done by 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. They started catching fresh horses and Leo told David, Marvin and I to go back to Round Top Camp to pick up the day herd then drive them to Seco Camp. I called for “Jeff” . . . not a great name for a horse until you know about “Mutt”, “Dagwood”, “Blondie”, “Alley Oop”, “Snuffy Smith”, “Lil Abner” and more. The cowboys that broke those horses liked the “funny papers”. I saddled “Jeff”, a big sorrel, led him ten feet, then stepped aboard. I should have led him farther. WHAM! He fell apart and I think I saw David’s hat roll under him! In two jumps, I was sailing. It ruined the crease in my hat and my hat was still on my head. I still don’t remember much about that afternoon.

The next morning, Marvin Gard and Herman Romero penned the remuda. We had breakfast, roped out and saddled fresh horses. The crew then pitched in to load the wagon with beds, teepees and rope corral. As we left to make the drive, we looked back to see the dust of the wagon and remuda head south to Cowpass Camp. Leo sent a few cowboys down the Seco Creek and west side. Most rimmed out and came down the Muertos and China Canyons. When the cattle hit the open country Leo had cowboys in the right places so those wild cows would be turned to the roundup. Cattle poured into the Gavilan and Red Springs, and then on toward the Cowpass Corrals . . . just a big wire pen with a wing leading into it.

I was on the outside of the drive and came around the back side of the Gavilan Mesa. When I caught sight of the camp, smoke was curling up from a mesquite fire and the cook’s helper and horse wrangler had just gotten the rope corral up. It was a big roundup and we were until late afternoon branding and holding them to pair-up. Then we’d drift them back north. David and I threw the remuda across La Cinta Creek and in the Bronc Trap. As I stepped off to shut the gate, David said, “These clouds may be a wild storm about midnight!” After supper, those of us that didn’t have teepees rolled our beds under the fly and wagon. At midnight the storm “roared”, with lightening that made you know God’s in control. It poured and the storm passed.

The next thing I know David was poking me and telling me it was time to go jingle the horses. When we walked down to get our hobbled mounts, I could hear a roar in the distance. As we rode up and looked down the creek it was a louder roar and the water was fast and deep. Big hunks of cottonwoods were rolling across the top of the water. We were sitting on our wranglin’ horses, wondering what to do about crossing that creek that was now a wild river. I sure didn’t want to cross. Leo walked up and said, “Don’t even think of crossing that creek. You’ll drown like rats and we’d loose two good wranglin’ horses!”

Not long after breakfast, we saw the old Dodge Power Wagon headed toward us. Most walked the hundred yards to the Seco Creek crossing . . . David and I rode. George Ellis, the Ranch Manager, was on one side of the creek, with Leo and the crew on the other. They yelled at back and forth and tried to communicate. It was no good so George headed home. We played cards, ate good and hunted arrowheads. The crew was cut off from their mounts. Not much to do without horses, but visit and play cards!

We pulled the wagon in to Headquarters June 30th. George asked me to stay for the summer and I said, “You bet!” On July 2nd, we gathered the West Bronc Pasture and worked the day herd. As we trotted into Headquarters the flag that flew near the Ranch Post Office was flying at half-mast. I asked Leo why and he told me that George did that every year on July 2nd in memory of Buster Taylor, the Wagon Boss who lost his life on that day in 1957 in China Canyon. It happened when they were back-prowlin’ for unbranded calves. The cattle that liked that canyon country were “trotty”. The cowboys made a little roundup from Rock Hole, off into China Canyon, with a couple of men in the canyon to hold them up. There were a couple of big, maverick calves in the “gather” so they built a mesquite fire, threw in a cinch ring and Buster roped one. As he pulled him toward the fire, his mount, “Black Hog,” fell apart and got the rope wrapped around Buster. It was a bad wreck and a puncher finally got the rope cut. Buster had been hurt badly. Someone rode hard to get a pick-up. They started the many miles to town with Buster and he crossed the Great Divide on the way. Every time I was in China Canyon, I thought of Buster and saluted him, as he was a “sure-nuff” cowpuncher!

For more reading . . .

Bell Ranch Glimpses
By Martha Downer Ellis;

Rope & Pan
By Martha Downer Ellis;

A Stove-Up Cowboy’s Story
By James Emmit McCauley, SMU Press