When Gary Morton came to the outfit in the summer of 69, he would be the first to tell you he was a little green and didn’t savvy the cowboy life. He hired on as he felt the longing to be a puncher. George Ellis, the manager, said to cut him a string same as any one else and two or three of those three year olds that Fred and Curtis have been mashing on for a month. Fred and I had just brought eight or ten broncs to headquarters that we had started at the bronc pens and put ten saddles on each. These colts took all our time so it was nice to have someone else to ride them. I had two other broncs. One was a flashy sorrel that did turn out over the years to be a top mount and I wanted to do all I could with him before I had to go back to school that fall. I named him Trigger after Roy’s top mount. There was another I dreaded riding and you had to watch him all the time. I would have liked to have gotten rid of him, but it would not be the cowboy way to give him to a good guy like Gary. A couple years later Gary craved that kind of horse, but at this point I’d just do the best I could with him. I named him Dagger. Fred had one he named Huerfano, which means orphan. This pony was named after the big mesa in the middle of the Bells just east of Bell Mountain. He wasn’t bad to buck or hard to handle, but he’d sure kick you if he had a chance. Fred gave Gary that bronc, and one named Comanche, and I gave him a couple that weren’t bad at all, just needed lots of miles on them.
I think Gary wouldn’t mind me telling this story about Comanche. Later that summer after he hired on we were prowling, gathering bulls and working on horseback. While gathering bulls in August in the upper Seco, Gary and I had picked up 3 or 4 bulls over by Red tank. Both of us were riding colts and his was Comanche. We had just got those bulls through the Seco trap gate, had pulled up and got off to roll a smoke. Our arms were aching from all that plow reining those broncs while driving those bulls. While we struck a match and lit our “Velvet” smokes, Gary said he was sure dry and wondered if it would be okay to jig up to that mill in the Seco trap a few hundred yards away. I said it was okay with me, as I had better stay here by the gate because Leo would be showing up with a “toro” or two and I’d have the gate open and help him. Gary started riding off and ol’ Comanche didn’t want to leave my bronc. So Gary leaned him toward the windmill, jobbed him with his spur and Comanche fell apart. Gary had lots of daylight under him and quickly parted company with that bronc. He was riding an old saddle that belonged to his Granddad. Comanche kicked a foot through the stirrup, jerking the saddle under his belly. Besides jerking that stirrup leather out he proceeded to finish off that saddle. I pulled Dagger’s head around and loped around Comanche. I did my best to haze him toward the Seco gate. Leo was easing some bulls toward the gate and came at a high lope with a hole punched in his rope. As Comanche came by him, Leo throat-latched him hard and really got that bronc’s attention! He led Comanche to Gary, who was embarrassed, but also determined to not let that happen again. Leo stepped off and between his knowledge and the extra leather strings I had wrapped around my stirrup leathers, we patched enough of Gary’s kak to make it back to headquarters. While we were fixing his saddle, I remember Leo telling Gary not to worry about it…this happens to all punchers. He encouraged Gary to make a top mount out of Comanche. A fella appreciates that kind of advice and that was why we all looked up to Leo. Gary was a better hand everyday because he loved the life and wanted to make a hand. A horse might buck him off but next time he would manage to stay aboard. He was fun to be around and liked to laugh, and just enjoyed all of being a cowpuncher. I’m sure Gary would be the first to say that he was lucky to work with Leo, and that learning from him was a good start in the cowboy life. He stayed with it, and when I was back at the Bells after college, he and his wife Suzi were at the La Cinta Camp, just a quarter mile or so from Casa Colorado, the main northern camp and an old working headquarters when W. T. Waggoner had that range.
Gary and I put out a lot of horse tracks together and he was a top hand, becoming the Wagon Boss at the Bells a few years later. It takes a real Puncher and a man that a crew respects to hold that position. Back then on the Bells, every month or so Gary and Suzi would drive twenty miles from their camp to see us and visit, then the next month we’d go to their camp. We’ve been friends ever since, sharing our love of art and our heroes Charlie Russell and Will James. At that time, any cow outfit big or little, west of the Missouri, had Charlie Russell’s and Will James’s works hanging on their walls and their books on their shelves. It was a good winter of 1972 and ’73. We rode good horses, helped at all the camps calving heifers, working with Leo and a good crew. We had a good spring wagon works without any one man or horse getting crippled or worse. One day that summer we hauled twenty miles north up to Casa Colorado. Along with Jr. Williams and Gary we made a drive on a pasture and threw the roundup in a corner to work them. As always with range stock, there was some silly cow that wanted to leave the roundup. She came out by me blowing snot. I was riding ol’ Sleepy, a big chunky bay. So I whacked it on her and Leo heeled her and went to the end. She was a better cow after we got through with her and decided it was safer to stay in the herd. The next morning Jim jingled the horses and Leo was roping out everyone’s mount. Jim hated to tell me but said that the lightning storm last had night killed Sleepy. Sleepy was a big outfit mount who never spent the night in a stall with a trough full of hay.
About that same time I went up to Cimarron for a weekend as I had heard what a great range it was, with lots of big ranches. I met some good folks, loved those mountains and asked around about the W. S. outfit. I went to their Vermejo headquarters and met with Bill John Wooley, the cowboy boss, and he offered me a cow punching job. Driving the 40 miles from Raton to headquarters and back, I saw several bunches of elk with some big bulls. I pulled to the side of the road to enjoy an exceptional sunset over the Sangre de Cristo Range. That bull elk whistling down a side canyon pretty much did it. I did some tall thinking on the way back to the Bells. It was an outfit I loved. The people; the best string of horses a cowboy ever had (Porticito, Tomcat, Paddles, Blue John, Eagle Eye, and others) and the country. I didn’t want to be a “homegaurd” as Will James called it. This is a cowboy who never sees how they punch cows in other ranges, and only knows one way to do things. A puncher needs to learn new country, ride different horses and see how they work cattle over the hill. I always wanted to be the best hand I could, no matter where I punched cows. The Bells was a huge influence on my life, a real cowboy deal. The traditions, etiquette and all the cowboy friends I made there will always mean so much! So I told the Bells I was changing ranges, and gave them two week’s notice. I salute George and Mattie Ellis, Don and Abbey Hoffman, Leo and Lana Turner, Joe Salas and all. I wouldn’t take anything for the friends I made or the knowledge I gained from the Bells and I thank God for allowing me to ride such a great range.