Scatterin’ the Drive

Jeff Lane. 

When Bill Lane bought the Bell outfit, he loved that ranch and so did his son, Jeff. Jeff and the Bells became one. He spent the rest of his life there . . . it became his life. Jeff and I were the same age and the first time I met him his hair was long and he was right out of Chicago. We were there for the spring works and it didn’t take long to see that he was good hearted and wanted to be a cowpuncher. Jeff had no idea what a cow outfit was about, but he rapidly fell in love with the real cowboy life and ways. He wasn’t cocky because his dad was the owner, he just wanted to be a part of the outfit. I think it was early spring of 1972 when he decided to live at the bunkhouse and join the crew as a regular hand. He wanted to know how to be a puncher and saw soon enough it doesn’t happen overnight. Leo and all the crew tried to help him because he was genuine in his desire to make a hand.
I remember that spring Jeff started full time. We were riding four or five three year-olds in January. Leo had us draw straws for them as that was the way it was done. A couple months later we were at the horse corral and Leo was roping out our mounts. A bunkhouse cowboy said he was turning in his bronc, Badger. This bronc was a snake . . . not a rank bucker, but could pitch hard for a few jumps. He was also bad to run off with a fella no matter what you had hanging on his head. He was a pretty good looking horse, but was short of brains, with a good dose of mean. Jeff was standing there with his bridle and overheard the guy say he didn’t want Badger. Jeff told Leo he’d like to have him! Leo was startled as Jeff was a long way from being able to deal with a trashy horse like this, but he said, “Okay, Jeff he’s yours!” I know Leo liked Jeff and Jeff always looked up to Leo as a hero. So I figure in Leo’s way of thinking, Jeff wanted to be a puncher, so he might as well find out that it’s not all dude horses. You know, Jeff didn’t know to be afraid of this bronc and he wanted to make a hand. He always rode him when it was his turn. I remember several months latter that pony threw Jeff right over his head into the fence. It was up around the Beef Pens and Jeff’s face was bloody. His first words were to catch that so and so. Before you could blink Gary rolled a loop on ol’ Badger and led him back to Jeff. Jeff promptly pulled Badger’s head around, stepped aboard, whipped him down the hind leg with his bridle reins and kept jobbing. Gary Morton and Jeff became good friends as they put out lots of horse tracks together. I know Jeff learned a lot about cowboy etiquette and being a hand from Gary.
Gary told me of another time he and Jeff were gathering some of those mean little Jersey bulls in the Leon Pasture. These were ones that got on the hook when crowded. Gary roped one and Jeff came flying in on Badger and heeled the bull. He was trying to dally and his mount blew up and he managed to ride him. He lost both reins and his rope and Badger stampeded toward the cattle guard between the Leon and the Big Flat pastures. Gary said he was tied to that bull and couldn’t do anything but watch. He said he knew that horse was going to jump that guard, but at a dead run ol’ Jeff leaned over picked up the reins and managed to turn him to avoid a bad wreck. He loped back and picked up his rope. Then he tied it to the horn as it should be, heeled that bull and went to the end of it! As Leo and Gary both told me later, Jeff just wore Badger down into a decent mount. I always admired Jeff for that as he might not have known what he was getting into when he asked for that mount, but he also realized that he asked for him and the cowboy way was to ride him no matter what. Jeff was so convinced this was where he should be that he brought his bride Janet from college in Colorado to the Bells and they made their home at the Mule camp. Jeff and Janet spent the next thirty years there raising their family. I salute him as he loved the cowboy way and became a man to ride the river with.
This fall the wagon camped way up at the Mosquero camp to start the fall works. There were two thousand yearlings in the rough country up by Mosquero. We made lots of circles in the C.A., Juarez, 74, Trujillo, and other pastures. All these were cut with deep rugged canyons like the Mule, Bueyeros, Encinosa, and many others. It’s my favorite country that I’ve ever worked. There are deep canyons many miles long, big overhangs and caves in rim rocks with big pine trees along the top of those rims. What a treat on a winter day to prowl that country, hobble your caballo and work your way around a narrow ledge into a cave. Then build a fire and sit where many a Indian had done the same. A really neat place was Wild Jack Tank. It was on top of a rim, fenced off with the old wild cow trap gates. That whole range was cedar, piñon, pine and oak brush with plenty of rock, Barbary sheep, mule deer, and mountain lion . . . a wonderful country to ride. Those yearlings were fat and in a big rough range. We had fun, but it was a long time getting those cattle shipped.
We finally moved the wagon below the rim to the lower range and started gathering all the mother cows and weaning. It was late November, before we were in the lower Seco, but after we had worked the Perra, Zorro, Big Flat and other ranges. Toward the end of a long fall works we were camped at the Bronc Pens and working the lower part of the Seco Pasture. It was a cold, overcast morning and we followed Leo at a high trot south towards the Indian rocks. He dropped Gary and I off there to work that corner. As I started north it began to snow very hard. Everybody scattered on that drive was thinking how to gather cattle and stay even with the man on each side of you, when you’re riding straight into a snow storm. So I kept leaning to the right to hit the La Cinta creek. There was lots of salt cedar on both sides of the creek and I stayed in the thick of it and worked my way north. When I figured I might be in the area where the drive would have come together I held up, rolled a smoke, and couldn’t see 50 feet. I wasn’t about to build a fire, as you don’t do that when you’re making a drive. Finally I saw a tiny puff of smoke come up across the creek in the salt cedar, then a little more to the right another puff of cigarette smoke. Just then, three pair of cattle came out of the brush to drink out of the creek. About five of us had the same idea at the same time and we all came out of the brush to pick these cattle up like we’d been pushing them for miles. It became pretty obvious that we all had quit the drive hours before. With a grin and a puff of Prince Albert smoke, Leo told us to let those three pair go and we hit a trot to the wagon. There were fifteen inches on the ground as we closed our teepees and put our saddles under the fly. We put the two gentlest horses in the Bronc Pens and threw them a big chunk of hay stored there. We loaded up in the hoodlum pickup and headed for headquarters, which thankfully was four or five miles. A couple weeks before it would have been thirty miles to headquarters and we’d have been playing poker for two days in our teepees and mighty cold. It was a big storm. That day and the next Gary stayed at my house where we spent all that time talking about and looking at my Charley Russell and Will James books, while our boots and leggings were drying out by the ol’ butane stove. A couple mornings later Leo was roping out our mounts
. . . a great fall works, on the Bells.