Scatterin’ the Drive 12/10

This month, I thought we would change horses and drift South from Vermejo . . . off the “rim” to the Pablo Montoya Grant . . . “The Bells.” I worked there every summer while going to school at NMSU. While at Cruces, I day-worked and saw lots of desert range . . . Corralitos, Armendaris, and others … but it was always great to load my bed and saddle to head for the spring wagon at “The Bells.” Over the years, several friends made the works with me . . . Marvin & Ernest Gard, Joe Cadle, David Bilbrey . . . to name a few. We got there around the 25th of May, put our beds and war sacks in the bunkhouse, and our saddles on the long rack at the barn. The next morning 120 saddle horses splashed across La Cinta Creek into the corral. Leo would rope out eight to ten horses per man and we’d spend the next two or three days shoeing our mounts, loading the wagon and enjoying the great meals at the cookhouse which were prepared by Lana, Leo’s wife.

When the horses were shod and the “witch knots” were out of their tails, we’d work out of headquarters. There were several smaller pastures in the breaks around headquarters . . . the South Flat, Creek, Lane and others. In these pastures were the registered herds. We’d hold-up a herd outside, so they’d pair-up, then the roper would ease into ‘em and look at the cows’ horn-brands. He’d roll a “Hoolihan,” then drag a calf over to the flankers. A tattoo was put in the calf’s ear to reflect its breeding. Then he was vaccinated and branded with the “Bell” brand.

I’ve mentioned in previous stories, a horse named Rocket, who was in my string the first year I was there. The first time I rode Rocket, I knew as I saddled him, that something was up because of the way the full-time punchers glanced at each other. He was no problem to saddle. I led him out, tightened the cinch, pulled his head around and twisted the oxbow. I eased my foot in and stepped aboard. I couldn’t feel a hump so I made a circle in the big corral and waited. Everyone followed Leo out the gate and down the lane. He went a couple hundred yards and hit a lope. That’s when Rocket swelled up. I reached up and stuck him in both shoulders and got the same reaction as throwing a can of gas on a campfire . . . Wham! In two jumps, I went over his head, and all the way to the end of those eight-foot reins! Besides being embarrassed, I had the air knocked out of me. I stepped aboard and we hit a lope. I never had any more problems with him, but I think that’s the last time I stung one in the shoulders! A couple of miles later as we dropped off a rim in to the Sabinosa Pasture, Dan Crowley trotted up beside me. With a slight grin, he said, “Don’t let that bother you, ol’ Rocket has done us all that way.” He sure made me feel better. To this day, Dan is still one my “heroes.” He’s worked for big outfits from Arizona to Canada and broke horses for the Parker outfit in Hawaii. Dan and his wife, Terry, now have a herd of their own in northern Arizona.

The wagon works on “The Bells,” spring and fall, were done right! An army truck was remodeled with an entire kitchen . . . water tanks, racks for “T” poles, fly and four-wheel drive. Other than that, “The Bells” was still about rope corrals and everything “western,” the way it’s been since Goodnight and Loving headed for Ft. Sumner. As a kid, I’d heard my dad and others mention “out with the wagon.” It makes sense to take the cowboys, wagon, horses, grub and beds and then work the whole outfit . . . all “a-horseback,” no pickups and trailers. We made camp in the Zorro Pasture. At daylight, horses were roped-out and Leo would scatter a drive.  Then the roundup would come in and be held outside the corrals. Horses were changed, the herd worked, dry cows and any shippers were cut out and thrown in the holding trap. “The Bells” let every puncher cut the herd and drag in-turn . . . not just the boss.

To be asked to cut the herd was a big deal. As a kid, we held “the cut” off from all the action, but at “The Bells” you worked the herd, so you really started to pay more attention. Then we’d pen the herd, jig over to the rope corral and hobble our mounts.  It was time for some good grub at the wagon! Then coffee, a smoke and it was back to the corrals to brand. We’d spray ‘em, hold ‘em to pair-up and drift ‘em back to the range that they came from. Then we’d change horses and Leo would send three men back to pick up the day herd from our last camp. The day herd consisted of the “dry’s” and “bad-eyes” that were cut from each roundup. As we worked the ranch, the day herd grew and we finally threw them into the West Bronc Pasture to be shipped.

A horse wrangler stayed with the remuda all day, grazing them and driving them to water, then penning them in rope corrals two or three times per day so fresh horses could be caught. Before supper he’d pen them and Leo would rope out night horses for two punchers. These two cowboys would drive the remuda to the trap, then hobble their horses in the corral. The next morning they got up extra early and penned the remuda when everyone was pulling on their boots. We’d eat breakfast, and the Boss would rope-out horses as each puncher called a name. “Give me Tiger, Timberline, Apache, Rim Rock,” etc.  As soon as three or four had gotten their mounts saddled, the cowboys that had wrangled that morning would unsaddle and catch fresh horses, also. There was always a horse or two saddled at “The Bells” . . . 24-7.

The year that Marvin and David went with me, David was quizzing me about what to do, etc. I told him not to worry, just to keep his eye on Leo and when he moves, move right behind him. David was raised as a cowboy so he savvied ranch horses and cattle. He was just nervous about his first trip to a big outfit. We’d been out ten or twelve days and were camped at the Seco corrals. That Seco Pasture was great, eighty sections . . . and the eastern third of it was a big rim with canyons. The Seco Creek went down the middle of it and fed into the La Cinta in the lower half. We’d camp three or four days at the Seco, then move south to Cow Pass corrals and work the lower half.

Leo roped out mounts and hit a high-trot to the northwest corner. It was real cloudy and threatening rain. We made the drive and threw the roundup together at the corrals. As we cut the “dry’s,” it began a steady shower. We penned ‘em and hobbled our mounts near the rope-corral.  Under the fly we had hot coffee, fried spuds, beef-steak, and biscuits. It sure hit the spot!

The rain was real steady, so some punchers rolled out a bed and started a poker game. Leo and I were sitting off to one side and he leaned over and whispered, “Let’s you and I get the horses. The cow works are over for today.” The horse wrangler was involved in the poker game along with David and a few others. We eased out to where our horses were humped up in the rain, slipped the hobbles, and hit a high trot towards the remuda. They were barely visible, a half-mile away in a steady rain. When we were about half-way there, our mounts jumped forward as something from behind us was closing in fast. We were pulling on their heads as the “booger” flew by. Well, it was David riding Sleepy . . . with that yellow slicker sticking straight out behind him from their speed!  As they passed us in a blur, David was yelling, “Whoa, Sleepy, Whoa!” I guess he’d looked up from his poker game, saw the Boss going to work, and mounted like a Pony Express man in the rain. The faster Sleepy went, the more that slicker popped!  I can’t describe how fast one-hundred horses can pull out when they see a “spook” coming at them. It reminded me of that scary tale I read as a kid . . . “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It was a horse race for miles, but we got that herd turned and penned them in the rope corral . . . with David and Sleepy in the middle. That night after supper, the rain quit. We had a good fire to stand by as we drank coffee, had a smoke and dried out. By the firelight we could see David, with his pocket knife out, trimming the bottom half off of that slicker.

For Good Reading:
Dakota Cowboy
by Ike Blasingam

Bob Sharp’s Cattle Country
by Robert L. Sharp