Scatterin’ the Drive

Calving Heifers on the Bells, 1972. 

It was time to start calving those heifers we had gathered out of the Zorro Pasture. Every morning we would load our mounts and haul down to the Windmill Pasture, scatter out and prowl through those heavy heifers. We would make sure our count was right, and if we found one having trouble we would catch her and pull the calf.

We made sure the calf was breathing good and then get away from them so mama would claim it. Sometimes the heifer would bounce up and be gone so it took some tall riding and finesse to get her back to smell and claim that calf. It was always a good feeling to sneak back and look over the hill to see her licking him off. When he gets up and goes to sucking, he’s got it made. Every few days as we rode through them we would pick up those that had week-old calves and ease them through the gate into the Zorro. Just going through the gate they would get confused and we would have to hold them up till they were sure which was their calf. Then we would ease away from them. They knew that pasture and waters and they were now full fledged Bell ranch mother cows.

Gary Morton was at the La Cinta Camp and Junior Williams was at the Casa Colorado. They also were calving out 150 heifers. Leo, Don and I were at Headquarters along with Jim and Bert in the bunkhouse. Another married puncher living in the little apartment at the commissary was Dick Massey. He has been a good friend ever since and he made a good hand. He and Gary were old friends. Gary insisted we had to go see a movie one night in Tucumcari, so we did. Still one of my favorite movies, Culpepper Cattle Company was pretty authentic. Soon, we had made some of those wrist cuffs and those that had them went to wearing their pistols. We bought $4 Big Ben pocket watches and carried them in our vest pocket with a little chain and a bullet for a watch fob. Some added stampede strings in their hats and some grew handle bar moustaches. One of the main characters in that movie was named Missoula. It fit Dick, so he’s been Missoula ever since. Just like that movie, we were proud of the outfit we rode for.

One cold morning in March Leo roped our mounts as usual. We loaded in the gooseneck and went to the calving pastures. We unloaded and Leo said to prowl those heifers as usual, and when we got through, to hit a lope to that trail in the Sabinosa and up to the West Bronc Pasture. He was headed there now to try and find those Jersey bulls we were short. At that point the Bells had been breeding their yearling heifers to Jersey bulls to help the heifers calve with fewer problems. Leo pulled out and we trotted to the Windmill Pasture, and split up to prowl those heifers. On my circle, I rode up on a silly heifer that had a calf and she was dizzy. She started to run and her calf went through the fence into the Sabinosa. I loped around and tried to hold her up. She wouldn’t hold, so I bedded her down! Sounds a bit rough to those who have never worked with range stock, but that’s the way you do it. Sometimes a sack of cake and a pickup does well, but with a real cowboy outfit there’s a reason you pack that rope. Missoula and Jim loped up and saw what was going on. I asked Jim if he would try and hold that heifer, whatever it took. I told Jim that Missoula and I would go catch that calf and bring it back. So we went through the gate and caught it. As we were slowly leading the calf back, I told Missoula I would trot ahead to check Jim’s situation. I looked over the rise and scanned the tobosa flat. At first I saw a red saddle blanket, next a hat, next a wild heifer going up that flat with Jim in his saddle tied to her. Grazing close by was his mount named Touchy. Touchy was a snake from the time Fred Romero and I started some colts at the Bronc Pens. Fred named him. Seems that ol’ heifer sold out and Jim, as he should have, roped her but caught her deep. It broke his latigo and flank billet, so he was sitting in the middle of his saddle, reared back, with both feet in the stirrups. That heifer was pulling him across that tobosa flat. I stepped off, opened the gate and Missoula spurred Johnny Bronco and went to her. He roped her and I picked up her hocks. We got Jim loose from her, got her back with her calf, then let ‘em go. Now we had some tall repair work to do. I had some stout leather strings in my saddle pockets and we got his rig patched up while there was lots of laughing about the wreck. We were hurrying as we knew Leo was waiting on us in the West Bronc Pasture.

So we struck a long trot across the Sabinosa to the trail up the rim to West Bronc. When we got on top we rode to a high point, reset our kaks and rolled smokes trying to get a glimpse of Leo. It was a cold day but the sun was shining and that’s how we caught his signal. He had shown us this handy deal of packing a little mirror in your leggings pocket. When you see someone rimmed out trying to find you in a big country, you can get their attention pronto. Leo was down on the La Cinta Creek where the salt cedar is thick, so we hit a lope. When they worked those bred heifers last fall they dropped all those Jersey bulls in the West Bronc. A few days before, we had made a drag on ‘em and threw them where they could be fed-up good before turning them out with another set of heifers in a couple months. We were short three or four and I didn’t know how those dairy bulls crave a fight. The only dairy stock I’d been around was my dad’s milch cow. Leo had figured they would be bushed up and on the hook . . . as always he was right.

He had a little fire built out of the wind by a big boulder, so we stepped off and had a pow-wow. His first question was, “How’s the heifers, any problems?” We said, “No problems . . . we found them all and there were several new calves.” He said he had found those bulls over at the salt lick and went to easing them toward the bronc pens, but they “no savvy” easy. One whirled around and came on the hook, then they all outlawed. They were right over there in that salt cedar. He said, “If we can get a loop on them we will choke on ‘em or do whatever it takes. Then we’ll lead ‘em over to the road, sideline them and jerk them in a trailer.” We all knew we had to get ‘em out of that brush to catch ‘em. I told Leo that if someone was willing to go in a-foot and come to the edge of the thicket when they charged him, we’d smear a loop on ‘em when they busted into the open. I knew Missoula craved action and sure enough, he said he’d do it. So we followed Leo to edge of brush and Missoula hobbled Johnny Bronco back a-ways. Jim, Leo and I tightened up and drew our horn knots down tight. Missoula hung his leggings on a bush but kept on his hooks, as a true puncher. If one of those toros got him he’d at least go wearing his spurs. He took a last puff on his Prince Albert and waded into that brush. It was real quiet for a while . . . just the noise from him pushing through those limbs. Then lots of limbs started breaking as a bull took after him. Right where I sat on Tom Cat, Missoula busted out of that brush with Mr. Jersey bull blowing snot on his wranglers and reaching for him with his front hoofs. I ripped a loop on him and went the other way, we stretched him out by the road and left him there sidelined, with dirt in his eyes. Missoula did the same on the other two with Jim and Leo catching the second they came out. I always liked Missoula a lot and after that day I was sure he had a bucket of guts and would do “to ride the river with.” Another good day on the Bells. n