Scatterin’ the Drive 2-11

Curtis Fort is a cowboy/artist who was born and raised on a ranch in Lea County, New Mexico. After graduating from NMSU, he laid down many a horse-track as a working cowboy. As a full-time sculptor, he has portrayed his love of ranch life through his bronze sculpture and is often called a “Story-Teller In Bronze.” Curtis has had a long association with the New Mexico Stockman magazine as well as the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. We are looking forward to “Scatterin’ The Drive” with him each month when he shares with us, his stories, and those of his cow-puncher amigos, who take pride in “riding for the brand.” This is the first story, hopefully of many, about punching cows in the Southwest . . . mostly in New Mexico. I’m thankful that I was on horseback to see some of the wonderful cow country God made. Down the road, I’ll have some of my amigos share one or two of their tales with us. When I went to the Bell Ranch along the Canadian River, George Ellis was the Manager. When “The Bells” was a thousand sections (up to 1947), he was Assistant Manager under Albert K. Mitchell. George and his wife, Martha, whom we all called “Mattie”, loved “The Bells”. It was their life. That ranch, over the years, has had some great Wagon Bosses . . . one of them was Leo Turner. I was fortunate to have been there when he “scattered the drives.” This first story pays tribute to Leo. He’d worked for lots of big outfits and when I got to “The Bells” he was now the boss. But you wouldn’t know it as he had a firm, but kind way of “shootin’ powder.” He was always willing to take the roughest trail or stand the longest guard. I arrived in May of 1969 and Leo roped out nine head for my string. There were 120 saddle horses in the remuda . . . lots of sorrels, a few bays, blacks and duns. It took awhile to learn my own string. The last year I worked there I helped Leo rope out the mounts. The Bell Ranch took pride in raising their mounts, as a good outfit should. There were several bands of mares and some outside studs for new blood. They bred for stamina, looks, good bone and cow savvy. The colts were weaned, slightly halter-broken, and turned out until they were cut as twos. They were gathered again at threes to do their part in operating “The Bells”. Horses played a large part in the operation of that ranch as they were wrangled and caught every day, no matter what the season. In the spring when you bring in those winter horses, you’d better pull your hat down when you step aboard. Leo Turner was a horseman. He loved good horses and I’m sure that’s one reason he liked the Bell Ranch. His legs had a slight bow from lots of years in the saddle. I loved to listen to his Diamond-A stories about the years he was working at Victorio Land & Cattle. Leo made lots of horse tracks at the Gray Ranch and Armendaris. Leo’s Grandson, Sam McDonald, who used to visit “The Bells” when he was just a kid, is a puncher at the Gray Ranch today. I always liked the names of the horses and some sure enough reflected some traits of their “personality”. Some names I remember are Tom Cat, Lightning, Fooler, Rim Rock, Rio, Portecito, Sox, Huerfano, Snuffy Smith, Dagwood, Denver, Lukey, Pickles, and one horse named Rocket . . . who showed me why he was given that name. These horses weren’t hauled around in trailers, they were ridden. As they say, “Wet saddle blankets make good horses.” It was fun to work for Leo. He made you feel like you were part of the team instead of someone they could do without. When he was scattering a drive, he’d look over at you and say, “Do me a favor and drop off over here and throw everything toward that butte yonder.” When we were prowlin’ a pasture, he’d pull up on a hill and roll a smoke and say, “Burt, if you and Missoula don’t mind, why don’t ya’ll prowl all that below the Huerfano and east of the creek. Curtis, you and Gary work around Bell Mountain and, by the way, at them big boulders off the north end, there’s a great Indian camp. You better look that over.” Just about every day, Leo and George would have a “powwow” out under the wagon shed. George knew that range. He had a plan and he’d ask Leo and his crew to carry it out in their way. Then George would go to the office and leave Leo and his crew alone to get it done. After one of these “powwows” Leo might meet us up at the long saddle rack, get his rope to rope-out horses, and say, “Well, they must like our work, they keep wanting more of it.” I remember once we were trotting along to the back side and a young cowboy, belly-ached about the low pay. Leo looked over at him and said, “If you want a raise, just eat more.” The Bell Ranch, as a real cow outfit, fed all the beef, gravy and biscuits (big as your fist) we could handle. Leo’s wife, Lana, did the cooking at the headquarters cook house and besides the standard steak and gravy, there were pies and cobblers that would win any county fair. Leo rode for the brand! As a cowboy should, you stayed with it until the mission was accomplished, no matter what the weather or the time. If you were in town at the 4th of July Rodeo, and someone said something bad about the outfit, there’d be a fight. In those days, cowboys were proud of the ranch they rode for. As Leo said, those ol’ outfits were the end of an era. Managers in those days were used to getting all the cowboys (and good ones) that they needed. Some of those really bad horses that should have gone to town, were kept as part of the remuda. Cowboys were hurt pretty regularly and sometimes were killed, but they considered it part of being a cowpuncher. Leo used to say, “When they hand you that check each month, you can reach out with a steady hand and look ‘em in the eye.” Leo knew that there’s no better tool on a