Scatterin’ the Drive

by Curtis Fort

Torres Vega

WThe next morning we saddled up and rolled a smoke. The temperature was in the teens, and Bill was grinning as he shot the powder, or to say . . . he was giving us directions. He said that he and Tom would hit a trot down the river to drift to the Horse Ranch pasture those bred cows we dropped in the Vigil Vega last fall. Bill told Ronny and I to jump our mounts into the bobtail truck because he had talked to Jim Taylor on the two-way radio and he and Charlie needed to work some cattle. We headed west up Rock Creek to Castle Rock, then south ten miles to Brimmer Camp. We backed up to a hump of dirt to jump our mounts out. Jim Taylor and Charlie Duran were already mounted and when Ronny’s bronc jumped out he broke in two and jerked the reins out of Ronny’s hands. He bucked up against the horse corral, which caused him to throw his head up. In one jump he was headed for other parts. Jim was mounted on a big dun named Navajo. He throat-latched that bronc with a pretty loop, threw the slack to him and when he hit the end of the rope, it jerked Ronny’s mount straight over backwards and he banged his head on the ground. It was good medicine for that bronc. So when he got up he wasn’t near the scorpion he was the minute before . . . and that was his name. As Ronny reset his saddle he was grinning, and as he stepped aboard Scorpion I’m sure he was glad Jim ironed him out. Scorpion seemed to have a better than normal attitude and seemed happy to hit a trot to the top of a high ridge, where Jim pulled up and scattered us on a drive in Bobcat Canyon.

We threw 100 or so cows together at the drift fence and as we loose-herded them, Jim and Charlie worked the herd cutting out the weaker cows. We threw the rest on fresh range down the canyon below the drift fence that divided the canyons. The cuts we drifted toward the Rim Rock Trap, and took our time. After we had gone a good ways, Jim asked Charlie if he and Ronny didn’t mind heading on to camp and get some dinner going as it was already nearly noon. They said “Bueno, and we’ll have some coffee boiling and steaks a sizzling when you’ll get there.” It was cold, but we eased those cows along while visiting and pretty soon we turned a corner in the canyon where there was the gate to the Rim Rock Trap. Jim trotted around and opened the gate and I eased them through. Then we dropped them at a windmill pumping warm water. There was a salt and mineral block in a log trough that some artist with an axe had made years before. A rock bluff was on the north side of the mill that faced the south. With the sun hitting there, it was a good place for cattle to get some extra feed and get stronger.

Jim and I hit a trot for camp and after a couple of miles we turned a corner and could see the camp, smoke curling out the top from the Home Comfort cook stove. It made the last mile or so that much better, knowing that there was some good chuck being prepared. We could almost smell the coffee. As we trotted into the Brimmer camp, we unsaddled under a shed that had a big pole hay trough. Scorpion and Timber were enjoying the hay and we put our riggings on the top rail under the shed, out of the falling snow. Then we turned our mounts in with theirs. It was a treat to step into the camp house. There were several pegs and a set of deer horns to hang our hats, coats and chaps on. As we sat down at the table, Ronny poured us a cup of cowboy coffee. We rolled a Prince Albert smoke while Charlie was adding a little more canned milk to the gravy. About then Charlie said, “Let’s eat!” Steak, biscuits and gravy . . . I still remember that meal and how it hit the spot. We had more coffee, but snow was still falling and the outfit wasn’t paying us to visit. So we saddled up, loaded our mounts and headed for headquarters. Ronny’s mount showed a lot more sense than he ever had as we jumped them in that bob-tail truck. By time we got to headquarters and unloaded, it was still lightly snowing. Ron and I flipped a coin and I headed to wrangle the horse pasture while Ron made a circle in a trap to check on some late calves we had just weaned. Tom and Bill had prowled another canyon on their way back and we all got to the horse corrals at same time. After I corralled the horses, we all caught the next day’s mounts gave them hay under the shed, along with our tired mounts. We headed for our camps a little ways from the horse corrals. It was a long, cold day. But thank you Lord, it was a good day, working cattle on a big mountain range, with good men, steak and gravy and good horses.

The next morning, we saddled up, and Bill told me to go to Torres Vega and get those bulls that we were short. He knew it wouldn’t be easy and figured they might need a little choking to set their minds in the right way of thinking. So I hit a trot, went up the Vermejo to Torres Vega and glanced over towards the old camp where Gold Creek runs into the Vermejo Creek. There was this big melted spot with the rest of the country still covered in snow. There was no more camp. I guess that fire we built a couple days before lit all that old manure and burned that old camp down, even though every thing had a foot of snow on it. We sure didn’t mean to do that. (Funny thing was . . . three months later, around late April, Ronny and I had spent a long day on horseback. We were pulling our saddles off some tired mounts when the manager drove up and walked in the horse corral. Now, he had a problem with stuttering, and always liked to be the first one to make the big circle through the high country when the roads were finally opening up. He said, “I m-m-m- made the loop, and I w-w-w- went into Torres Vega. And by d-d-d-dang, lightning must have hit that old c-c-c- camp and b-b-b-burned it to the ground.” Ronny and I both acted quite surprised and we both commented that it was too bad that had happened.) I got to the north end (the Colorado line), went through a gate and made a circle cutting for tracks. I turned back and picked those two bulls up. Back and forth, back and forth . . . as only you that have herded bulls by yourself can relate. As I got ‘em down to the gate, they wouldn’t go through and turned up the creek. They weren’t wild, but just being bulls, had decided they were not going through the gate. I got tired of this and roped one as he passed a tree, then rode around it fast, snubbed him up and tied him to that tree. I used to unravel old nylon ropes and make four-plat piggin’ strings, and they were big and stout. I always carried two of them, but when I left that morning I had a thought that I might need couple more. I would use one around the horns, another through that one and around the tree. I did the other bull the same and left them there. I hit the long trot home. It was the last light of day when I stepped off Friday at the saddle house, rubbed his back, gave him a good bait of grain and walked up to my lodge. A hot bath, elk steak and gravy and eight hours sleep makes you well. Next morning, as we were saddling our mounts and waiting for Bill John to shoot some powder, he bummed a smoke off Ronny. As he dragged a match across his leggin’s he asked how I made out yesterday. I told Bill what I did and he said that we’d let ‘em soak a day and they’d have a better attitude. The next day Ronny and I jigged back and lead those bulls to the Elk Trap corrals. Tom took the bobtail to get them early the next day while the roads were frozen. We came in the backside of the horse pasture, just before dark and penned the winter mounts for tomorrow’s circle.