Scatterin’ the Drive

by Curtis Fort

Winter at the Luera

Taul and I put out lots of tracks that November trying to finish up the fall works. Because I was using lots of horse flesh, I had my horse, Chigger, sent over from my folk’s place. He was Appaloosa bred and wouldn’t win any reining contest, but he was stout and tough. By December 1st we had to take a day and reset some horse shoes on our horses as we had stomped a lot of rocks the last few weeks. We had over one hundred pairs and some dries in a holding pasture on the north end, where the shipping pens were located. Joe and Ray came from the Slash for a couple of days and we weaned and shipped the calves and dries, then drifted the cows back to the Mountain Pasture. I also neighbored some with Marvin and Tootie Ake and Johnny Hand, who were on the east and north. Mike and Sue Harriet’s outfit joined us on the north and west. We had a well called the Share Well, which we both used, as it was located right on the fence. The Farr Cattle Company was on the west of us. Dave and Karen Farr were good folks, as were all my neighbors.

Another man that would drop by every three months or so and spend the night, was Quentin Hulse. It was kind of like having Ben Lilly and Buffalo Bill camp with you. He and his Mom, Mattie, lived in Canyon Creek, way south and west of the Luera. According to my amigo, Grem Lee, Canyon Creek drains all that range from Elk Mountain to Snow Lake. Quentin was a legend in that country and was in his early fifties when I got to know him. He was a mountain man, lion and bear hunter, and knew the Gila wilderness and surrounding country like most folks know their back yard. Quentin was a good guy. One morning, when the bacon was frying and we were having coffee, I quizzed him about that wild Gila range that he knew so well. I am a big J. Frank Dobie fan and have many of his books, including Ben Lilly. He was a famous lion and especially bear hunter in the Gila, and I sensed that he was one of Quentin’s heroes. He told me he saw Mr. Lilly in Silver City when he was a kid!

The owner, who had previously scheduled the fall works in a week that needed three, came by looking at his ranches in late December. He was probably in his forties, but was not a cowpuncher, and didn’t know a lot about a cow outfit. He told how he would like to send some South Texas calves to Luera next month in January. I told him that he was the patron, but due to the cold weather, I’d have to put them in the horse pasture in order to ride through them every day. I really tried to discourage him, and after another cup of coffee, he agreed that it was too early in the year and the weather was too hard on them. We also discussed rebuilding the corrals and building a set of working pens there at the Luera. He said that sounded good, “Let’s do it!” So I tore down the old rotten pens, including the loading chute, leaving just enough to handle the saddle horses. Luckily I left one big corral, just in case. One cold night (10 degrees) in mid-January, my dog started barking way past bed time, and in pulled two pot loads of “O’kies.” We had to back those trucks up to a bank of dirt and jump those calves out in the horse pasture. The well at the Luera headquarters was hundreds of feet deep, with a big pump Jack on it that pumped a stream about as big as your little finger. So now, besides the horses, bulls and house needs, we needed to keep 200 calves watered. I was also chopping ice and keeping liquid feed out for all the stock. That was the first and only time I had dealt with the liquid feed. We had lots of grass so it kept the cattle in good shape. With those rocky roads, it took two days to get feed out everywhere. When it was really cold, which was most of the time, the ice in all the tanks needed to be chopped. I would also ride through those calves in the horse pasture every day. If we had a sick one, I’d ease it to the house to be doctored. I had hired on to work, but I couldn’t spread my self thin enough.

In order to take good care of the cattle, I needed some help. I wrote the owner in Houston, where it was sunny, and asked him if I could hire someone. I told him I knew just the fella, my amigo Charlie Duran, whom I had worked with at the Vermejo outfit. I finally heard from him around first of February and got the OK. So, I wrote Charlie. He wrote back that he’d enjoy new range, would roll his bed, oil his kak, clean his pistols, and 30-30, and head my way. There was a good trailer house at the Luera and Charlie made camp in it. It was sure good to have him to work with. You could count on him in any situation, and he was always fun to be around. We had plenty to do, feeding, chopping ice, pipelines, firewood, prowling those yearlings, keeping our mounts shod, along with all the other chores on a ranch in the winter. Paul Yancey had left the camp on the Slash, and my old college friend Joe Wallace and his wife Suzy took that camp. So we got to work together again. It had been a few years since we worked together on the Armendaris outfit.

The Luera was a long way from anywhere. It was fifty miles or more to the store in Magdalena, but I enjoyed being a long way out. I had several good friends come and stay a day or three, and they’d work with Charlie and me. Leon Ham helped us prowl, stretch out and brand some yearling bulls the owner had shipped in. My amigo from the Bells, Paul Pharies, spent a few days of his spring break from New Mexico State riding with me. He brought me a new breast collar made by Yarbrough Saddlery, which I have used ever since. Paul was with us one time when we were prowling the Mountain Pasture and we picked up two pairs we’d missed in the fall. We managed to get them to a gate and through it, except for one cow that pulled out. I whacked it on her on a rocky hillside, riding Chigger. I threw the slack and when she hit the end of it, going downhill, Chigger swallowed his head and in two jumps I was way in the air. It seemed kind of like slow motion and I was trying to see a place to land that wasn’t boulders. I was young and made out of cow manure, dirt, and rawhide, as most cowboys are, but Chigger really stacked me up in those boulders. By the time I managed to get to my feet, Paul and Charlie had that cow stretched out, with Chigger still tied to her. I straightened up my saddle, and we lead her through the gate. Dan Crowley and his wife Terry came for a visit, along with their baby girl Carli and their three-year-old daughter Cara. Cara was born in Hawaii at the Parker Ranch, where Dan started all the colts for a year. When they drove up, Cara hit the ground running for the horse corral . . . quite a gal. Tye Terrell and Gene Price spent a night, and then Charlie Price came by to help us gather for a few days. We had fun and range branded some calves. My brother Royce and his wife Sally came and spent a night. Neighbors, Marvin and Tootie Ake, would also come by for a visit. It was great when anyone would come by, as we were so far out.

The house at the Luera was the best I’d ever had, a well built house with pine paneling and a big fireplace in living room . . . a good camp. As we began to get into the late winter and early spring, Charlie and I went to the Slash to drive fifteen hundred or more yearlings to the wilderness,  which was quite a ways on the west side.  Thank goodness it was the first of April when Joe Wallace came to Luera from the Slash and helped Charlie and I drift those calves to the south end to the B.L.M. Pasture. We had managed, with Charlie’s help, to keep those calves doctored and all were doing well. It was a good feeling to count them through the gate into their summer pasture. n