Scatterin’ the Drive

by Curtis Fort

Working Range Bulls

During the summer a few months before, the bosses had informed us we had a problem with Vibrio, a venereal disease in cattle. So during the fall works we had put all the cows through the chute and had given them a shot. Now it was February and time to start on the bulls. Because the medicine was given according to weight, we started by gathering about 50 bulls at a time, penning them at the big corrals at headquarters, then cutting them off one at a time on the scales to get their weight. Anyone that’s worked with range bulls, no matter what the breed, knows it stirs them up to get them alone, and often they get “on the hook.” We gave them this treatment every day for three days. Once in the chute, the vet ran a tube up their noses and into their stomachs, so with everything else we had to do it was going to be several weeks processing those bulls. On top of that it was double cold and snowed regularly. By the fourth week of February we lacked one more bunch of fifty bulls. As we got them to the corrals there was one that kept trying to get away. He jumped over the corral fence, tearing it up, and headed for parts unknown! So we put the last set of bulls through the squeezer for their first dose. The next morning as we saddled up, Bill told Ron and me to go get that bull that jumped out of the corral and do whatever it took to gather him.

We figured he was close, as once he got away from all the activity he’d slow down and miss his amigos. So we split up and went to cutting sign. It was very cold and I rode up on a high point to see if I could sight Ron, and there he was standing up in his stirrups waving that sombrero at me. I rode up to him as he lit a fresh rolled smoke of Prince Albert and was studying tracks in the snow. He said he thought that bull was bushed up on the creek down below us. Pretty soon we jumped him and he headed west, away from civilization. By the time we caught up with him he was going up the road at a trot with his mind on the “far away.” He was a muley, but when you tried to hold him up, he’d make a run at you. We were getting close to the end of that pasture. If he went through that fence, the next fence was way north on the Colorado line and he’d be in a pasture that was all timber and canyons. So I pulled up, stepped off, reset my saddle and tightened up . . . Ron did the same. I told him that if he’d ever thrown a great heel loop, this was the time, as I was going to catch him before he went through that fence. I wanted to throat latch him, so I roped him with a small loop so he would choke. Plus, I knew he’d come up the rope to hit me. As I hoped, Ron picked up his hocks and went the other way. We faced each other with that bull between us andstretched him until he choked and fell over. He hit the ground and I was there pronto to sideline him with those big nylon piggin’ strings. About the time Mr. Bull choked and fell over, up drove my amigo Tye Terrill, with Gene Price and Con Englehorn. All worked for a real estate firm hired by Penzoil to do maps and a depreciation schedule on the Vermejo. Tye and I had become amigos while we were both in school attending NMSU. We have covered lots of country together . . . he’s a man “to ride the river with.” That Winter and following Spring, he spent several weeks at Vermejo working on the maps, etc. It was fun to have him up for supper while he’d stay at Casa Minor, one of the mansions at headquarters.

We had that bull sidelined, so I asked Tye and his amigos to go back to head-quarters and tell them to bring a trailer. Soon, here came Charlie, with that goose-neck and a big dun horse in his mount, named Winchester. We backed that trailer right up to the bull and we all got tied to him. I had Tye take off those side-line ropes and up he came, blowing snot. But we all hit the end of it at the same time, and slammed his head, with a bang, into the front of that trailer. He wasn’t so bravo after a good choking! We put him through the chute, gave him a dose and sent him out to the water lot with the others. The next morning we saddled up and started on those bulls. By then they had rigged up a hydraulic chute because these ol’ toros were big! As we were putting them down the chute towards the squeezer, one reared up on top of the chute, which made him look twice his size . . . plus, he was blowing snot and had a look of hate in his eye! When he hit the squeezer he was plenty mad. They clamped him down, ran that tube in his nose, and when he came out he put the vet, Ron and I into the back of the pickup. He was a mad hombre. Another bull hit the squeezer with a big bang, but when he was secure and the vet was working on him, I had a weird feeling . . . did that bull find the water lot on the Vermejo Creek? So I took a few steps to see where he went! I looked down an alley, and saw the whole deal.

Curtis Drake was the head of maintenance at Vermejo. If we had a problem with plumbing, sewer, electrical or anything else, we just called maintenance. On this particular day there were several men in his crew working on an electrical pole in the middle of that set of corrals and he had walked down an alley to watch them work. I guess Mr. Drake hadn’t latched the gate to the alley when he went through it and that bull had found it. He ran right up to Mr. Drake who was leaning back against that shed,looking up at the two men working on a transformer. He was hard of hearing so didn’t know this bull was standing 15 feet away with his head up, his hind legs spread and his neck bowed. When I saw what was going on, I hollered at Ronny to come on. I used to run pretty fast and I took off running, hoping I could get there to get the bull’s attention before Mr. Drake made a move. Ron saw the whole deal, and wasn’t far behind me. Mr. Drake sensed something as the men working on the pole saw the bull. He looked to his left, saw the bull and realized the danger. He decided in an instant to get out of the bull’s sight by ducking under the shed. He didn’t know how buzzed-up this bull was. I was nearly there when Mr. Drake moved, and that’s all the bull needed. In two seconds he was under that shed and hit Mr. Drake so hard it blew out the whole back of the shed. When I got there, two seconds later, the bull was on his knees, putting his full weight into Mr. Drake. I slapped the bull on the hips and he whirled and came at me. I pulled out down that alley and he was in my back pocket. But I knew his mind was on me now, so I was on the top rail of that alley in a split second. The bull went on and found the water lot and the other bulls. Mr. Drake was critical and the cowboys kept him alive by mouth to mouth resuscitation, while the ambulance took an hour to get there. That was good time for those forty miles of dirt road. Unfortunately, Mr. Drake passed away on the way to town. Three days later I was one of his pall bearers. We buried him on a little mesa north of the corrals and cookhouse, in the ranch cemetery. I don’t know how to tell this sad story, but I feel Mr. Drake deserves a huge salute. I wish I had visited with him more, but really never had a chance. I just want to honor him as a Vermejo soldier. He was a hard worker and loyal to the ranch. He “rode for the brand,”and was proud to be a part of the Maxwell Grant-Vermejo legacy. n