Scatterin’ the Drive

Spring Wagon Bell Ranch 1972. 

As we drifted through May, besides our normal days on horseback, we were all shoeing our mounts and getting witch knots and cockle burs out of their manes and tails.

Since the Bells had acquired the Waggoner country and camps we practically had a full crew with the headquarters and the camp men. When we started the works, the camp men would throw their string of Bell mounts back into the remuda and their beds on the hood wagon. But that spring there was a new puncher for the branding works . . .a good friend of mine from college days at Hobbs and then Las Cruces. His name is Joe Cadle. We were both majoring in Range Science when we met, so had lots of classes and coffee time together. Since our school days at NMSU, he had also done a tour in Viet Nam in the Army Rangers. Joe was back at school to work on his Masters, but at this point he craved some cow works. I recently went by Joe’s home out of Stephenville Texas. With his PhD in Animal Science, Joe has taught at Tarleton University for many years. We had a good powwow in his saddle barn. It was a cold afternoon, he fired up the wood stove and we visited about the days I’m writing about. The horse jewelry on the wall, the smell of leather and wood smoke and the fine saddles brought back lots of good memories.

So, in May of 1972, Leo roped out a string for Joe . . . Cannonball, Hoot Gibson, Rim Rock, Pumpkin, and others. We were all anxious about another spring works. Some days were hot and dusty, but working with Leo and a good crew was one of the best times of my life. Big country, beef, biscuits, and gravy . . . what more would you want? So after shoeing up our mounts and branding the registered calves around headquarters for a few days, we pulled out to work the Bell range. Leo roped out everyone’s mounts and as soon as we saddled and hobbled our horses we got our beds from the bunkhouse and threw them on the wagon, along with our war sacks. Most cowboys savvy the war sack, but it refers to a canvas sack, not near as big as Santa’s. It contains a little extra clothing, but mostly things he might need . . . extra set of reins, maybe another rope, hole puncher, leather strings and every thing necessary to repair his rigging. When riding range horses and roping big runaway cattle, wrecks happen and things get torn up. So when you’re out with the wagon, the boss isn’t going to stop the works because some horse threw you, then pawed the bridle off and tore it all to heck with a bridle rein wrapped round his hind leg. You get the picture.

So everyone mounted up . . . some twisted the left stirrup and pulled the left rein tight. Then we hit a high trot. Hours later the drive came in to the roundup grounds. The rope corral was set up with the remuda in it and smoke curled up from a good fire with coffee pot and cups on the ground. The roundup wasn’t a big one, so Leo told everyone to get a cup after they saddled and hobbled a fresh horse. The wagon cook, Joe Salas, was a good guy. He looked old from all the wrinkles . . . always puffin’ a Prince Albert smoke and had a twinkle in his eye. Joe Cadle told me that he had a hard time eating breakfast first thing in the morning, so he would just get coffee. Cadle said that when everyone was headed to the rope corral after breakfast and he was pitchin’ his cup in the wash tub, Joe would hand him a biscuit and bacon wrapped in foil. That biscuit sure tasted good a couple of hours later!

While Joe Cadle and I were having that powwow, he remembered working a roundup at the Perra or Zorra camp and Don Hofman cut out a wild dry his way. He said that he spurred Rim Rock in to turn the cow to the cuts, and Wham! . . . he went down. It happened fast, and his leg was still under Hoot. He was trying to keep his head pulled up as he feared he might hang to him if he got up. Joe said that quick as a flash two Bell punchers were there and holding that mount on the ground. Another got a hold of Joe and pulled him out from under that pony when they let him up. That’s what it’s like working with top punchers. That was as good a crew as you’d want to be with. As we worked through the Bell range the next several weeks, we saw a lot of country and burning hair; then after supper, a horseshoe game by the wagon or a poker game on a bed tarp. But when the sun went to bed, we did too! A month or so later, around July first, the wagon pulled into headquarters. The dries and all the cuts were thrown into the West Bronc Pasture, and the remuda into the big horse pasture. Then we had a few days off for the Fourth. After that, while a couple men knocked the rough edges off those broncs at the bronc pens, the rest were prowling for unbranded calves. Sometimes they would send a couple of us to help Frank pull a deep well like the West Bronc Mill. Otherwise we were a horseback.

One morning in August before sunrise I knew it was Joe’s turn to wrangle. He was trying not to make too much noise in the bunk house as he got up an hour before every one. There was a screened-in rock porch at the bunkhouse and the door never completely shut. Usually it didn’t matter, but this morning a large bull snake found a nice place to lay along the top of the door on a warm summer night. Now, Joe’s pretty forked and can set a pitching horse with the best of ‘em. But needless to say, the old green bunkhouse screen door needed lots of repair after Joe pushed it open with his spurs a jinglin’ and Mr. Bull Snake down around his shoulders!

August is hot, and hopefully full of big wild thunderstorms . . . which we had. A couple of days after Joe tore up the door we were in the cookhouse, just sitting down to breakfast that Lana Turner had prepared, sipping our coffee. Bert was bringing the remuda across La Cinta creek at a good clip. It was always a front row seat at the cookhouse as the man wrangling would bring the saddle horses across the creek and into the corral 20 yards away! Leo roped out the mounts and in short order some were sent to prowl in the Tulosa Pasture, and three of us were sent to fix any problems we found in the Big Flat Pasture. We all came in for dinner at headquarters, then called for fresh horses. We loaded a gooseneck, and Gary Morton and Junior Williams, from Casa Colorado Camp met us in the Beef Pasture. It was a township, big and open. Leo took half of the men with him and sent the rest with me to the west side. Starting that morning there were big thunder heads showing up in the northwest. By the time the drive was scattered that afternoon there was also lightning and thunder. We were going to pen several hundred yearling heifers and twenty or more bulls and spray ‘em for flies. A big draw cuts down through the middle of the Beef Pasture, from north to south. I had dropped the men with me across the west side. Joe was riding a young horse and wanted to go on past me to put more miles on that stump head. I came out on a high point on the west side of that draw waiting for Joe to come out above me. By now lightning was flashing. But you can’t quit the drive so, you stay hooked. The cowboy I was waiting for on the south showed up a couple hundred yards south of me. Then he took off, whippin’ and spurrin’, to a little overhang across the draw. He stepped off and got under that rock. I sat there, thinking that you should never quit the drive . . . you ride for the brand! But as more thunder and lightning hit all around, I just knew I couldn’t stay. In a few seconds I was across that draw, stepped off and was right with that fella. I looked up toward that point where I’d been, and Bam! . . . A lightning bolt so bright and so loud slammed into the ground right where I’d been sitting for fifteen minutes. Dust and rocks shot straight up! I still thank God for telling me to move off that point.