Scatterin’ the Drive

by Curtis Fort

Fall Works at the Luera

The fifth of September we pulled into the Luera Ranch. This outfit was around seventy sections. Most of it was cedar, piñon, and rough country, with the Luera Mountain set on the west side at 9,500 feet. It was forty-five miles to Magdalena and no phone. We unloaded by sundown, with Lee York’s help. The next morning the horses came in for their grain, and I got started resetting their shoes. I had a couple of weeks before I needed to go to the Slash to help with the fall works there. The rains had been great that summer and in all that country the grass was headed out, tanks were full and cattle were fat.

I was anxious to ride the mounts left there for me! The horses were an average string. Out of six head, a couple of them were top mounts; a couple of them were tough outside circle mounts; one was a young sorrel with all the potential in the world; and finally, a real knot head 4-year old they sent up from the Slash. I caught one each morning and made a big circle. One day prowling south of the camp, I came across a good set of wire pens at a watering called Antelope Tank. I found a bull shut up in those pens. The wind had blown the gate shut and he was nearly starved for water. Anyone knows to wire a gate open so some critter won’t get shut up. I figure he’d been there five or six days, as he was very thin and glassy eyed. I let him out and he was dry! I was afraid he’d drink too much, so I flipped a loop on him and pulled him away from the water. I let him drink a few more times until he wanted to start grazing. So I left him there with lush grass and unsaddled a tired mount at sundown! I trotted back to that tank couple days later and thankfully, that bull was a little better, so I eased him toward the house and dropped him at another tank. A couple of days got him to the house where he had all he needed! It took three months for him to get back to normal and regain his weight. Those couple of weeks was sure enjoyable . . . riding those new mounts, and learning that range. At least I had a feel of how the ranch was laid out, as I figured I’d have to scatter the drives when we worked that range. I even came across some Indian sign in several places, especially at the Luera Springs. The twentieth of September, I took my bed and mounts to the Slash outfit. Their headquarters was at Beaverhead. The west third of the Slash lay in the Gila wilderness and we gathered that range first . . . a thousand yearlings. Over in the wilderness part there was a spring fed tank, called Gillette Tank, named for a famous Texas Ranger, John Gillette.

By October tenth we were finished at the Slash and moved the crew to the Luera. Jack George was one of the day-help hands. Jack was fifty and had made a lot of horse tracks in that range, and was fun to be around. One day Jack and I were making a long trot around the outside. I’d dropped the rest on the drive and was going to have him work down the next canyon. He was a good hand so I couldn’t figure why he always had his horn knot drawn down on his saddle horn, even when his rope was coiled up and hanging by the rope string. I had to ask him why? He said that going through all that brush at high speed, pursuing the wild bovine, it would break your rope string and you’d loose a rope. When I dropped him off down Buck Canyon, I thought that I’d buy a new rope before I kept it tied on all the time. The shipping pens were on the northeast corner of the Luera, at the best well on the outfit. After we got rid of the yearlings we started gathering the cows and calves. Our good neighbor Marvin Ake, and his right-hand man Johnny Hand, neighbored with me and were good help! So we had a good crew, but the owner had us scheduled to gather and ship the Luera in seven days. It should have been seventeen days with that crew, and we would have been close! So, we were short a lot of cattle. On the first of November, Paul Yancey from the Crutchfield camp on the Slash, brought his mounts and stayed with me to help gather all that we were short. Paul was a good hand, another man “to ride the river with.” We left early every day at a high trot and covered a lot of miles. We were a long time working through all that range, picking up those cows with big calves that we didn’t get in the works! As most of those cattle were ‘trotty’, Paul and I might not get but a few pair each day out of those big pastures, and it took a lot of time driving them to the holding trap. For two weeks that’s all we did . . . gathering those pairs, and drifting them toward the shipping pens. There we finally weaned the calves, and “pregged” the cows the end of November.

The man that was at the Luera before me was feeding a beef at the house. Ray White who ran the Slash, was my boss, and had told me to split that beef with Paul when I decided to butcher him. That was the way it should be. Ray told me that Lee Coker at Eagle Guest Ranch at Datil, NM, would cut and wrap the beef for me. When I first looked at the job, I asked if they furnished beef, they said, “Of course,” as any cow outfit should do. So when I arrived, there was enough in a freezer at the Luera to get us by for a month or so, along with feeding the crew! One day, it was 2:00 p.m. when Paul and I had put in a lot of miles and trotted to the house, where we unsaddled and fed our mounts. As we wolfed down some lunch, I told Paul that it was too late to make another circle; there were lots of dark clouds rolling in from the west, and three hours till dark. So, I suggested we hang that beef. It sounded good to Paul, so I told him my plan! We spent an hour airing up the tires on an old stock trailer and patching up some broken boards on it. We didn’t use a trailer to work the Luera, because it was so rough. We would high-trot from the house when gathering or prowling. There was this old stock trailer out by the barn, and I figured we could load the beef real “easy.” Then we could pull the trailer out under that big piñon tree, shoot him and pull up the beef with the pickup. We’d let all the guts fall in the trailer, and then haul it off so the bears and coyotes wouldn’t be around the house. Plus, it was plenty cold and we’d let the beef hang couple days or so, and then we’d haul it to Mr. Coker to cut and wrap.

We tried to be easy loading that beef, but he had a little “ear” on him and got stirred up pronto! Paul was packing a six-shooter, and I had already told him he needed to shoot the beef when the time came! As we drove over the cattle guard to be under that big limb on the piñon tree, snow was falling pretty thick. We stepped up on the tongue of the trailer, Paul had his pistol out, the beef whirled to face us and “BAM,” just as Paul shot, the beef jerked his head and the bullet just creased him. He hit the side of the trailer and broke some boards. Paul and I rushed to the pickup, as we both had 30-30s. We were in a big brushy pasture, and we knew we might lose him. Plus, we didn’t know how hard he was hit. There was no time to talk as that beef busted through the side of that trailer and headed for the timber. We both grabbed our rifles out of each side of the pickup and cut loose, just like “The Rifleman!” I don’t think a bullet went around him! He went down at the edge of the timber, and we drug him back to the tree over all those rocks. I delivered the remains to Lee Coker a few days later. I think his stories grew over the years about how that wild bunch at the Luera shot their beef!