Scatterin’ the Drive

by Curtis Fort

Tequesquite Ranch

About the end of May I got word from my friend Wallace Cox, to come and help them brand a couple thousand calves at Tequesquite Ranch. I first knew Wallace and his wife Sandy when we all went to school at New Mexico State University. He was a few years ahead of me, and when he finished college he became the Luna County Agent at Deming. In May of 1978 Wallace was hired as assistant manager at the Tequesquite Ranch, and he and Sandy moved to headquarters. So I rolled my bed, gave my saddle a good oiling and pulled out for that good cow country north of Logan, New Mexico. The ranch has been owned by the Mitchell family since the 1890s. From working at the Bells I was aware of the legendary status of Albert K. Mitchell, and I was fortunate to meet him once. Thanks to George Ellis and the Mitchells, I was given the T. E. Mitchell Scholarship for my junior and senior years at NMSU. When I was registering for my fall classes in 1969, as I started to write a check for my tuition and books, the secretary, as she poured over paper work, smiled and said, “Wait! You have the T. E. Mitchell Scholarship!” I’ve always been grateful for that and it helped my folks, also, who had been paying tuition and books. I wrote A. K. a letter and thanked him . . . and still have his return letter. I knew that George had something to do with it but never really heard the full story until I talked with Linda Davis at a Will James get together at Santa Barbara, California in 2011.

Linda said she happened to be at the Tequesquite when George called about the possibility of giving me the scholarship. It seems the scholarship was set up to help young folks from ranches in northeastern New Mexico. She said her dad asked George a few questions, such as . . . was he good with a young horse, did he come in on the drive where he was dropped off? . . . or at least most of the time. With George’s persuasion he said, “Okay let’s do it!” The T. E. Mitchell and Sons history is quite a legacy in the cattle industry. T. E. was born in 1864 at Cripple Creek, Colorado, became a cowpuncher and was wagon boss for the Huerfano Butte Cattle Company as a young man. In the early 1880s he became manager of the Bar T Cross, located on the Tequesquite [alkali] creek in New Mexico. In the 1890s Mitchell bought the Bar T Cross and over the next sixty years the family built it to around 300 sections. T. E.’s son Albert K. is a legend himself. He was born in 1894 at Clayton, NM, and was a cowpuncher from the word “go”. He was educated at the ranch by private tutor, then attended college at Cal Poly and Cornell. He also enlisted in the army to serve his country, and when finished, returned to the Tequesquite outfit in 1919. He became manager in 1925, also managing the Bell Ranch, which was one thousand sections from 1933 to 1947. He was a founder of The American Quarter Horse Association and had a long, productive career. He passed away at the Tequesquite Ranch on May, 28 1980. AK’s daughter is Linda Davis, of the CS Outfit. Linda has plenty of cow and horse in her veins and it would take a book to tell of it.

As I turned off the highway at the bottom of David Hill and headed for headquarters, I was impressed with the condition of the range, fences and improvements … a ranch well managed for years! The cattle were big boned, well bred horned Herefords, from well respected lines of the breed. As I pulled into headquarters, established in the middle of the Tequesquite Valley in the late 1890s, I was impressed with the buildings, and all. It was just like pulling into the Forks, Sixes or any other well run cow outfit! A chore man pointed me to the bunkhouse, and I threw my bed and war bag in a corner. Then I drove a little ways over to the horse corral and Wallace showed me an empty saddle rack, where I put my kak and all my cowboy stuff. About that time Albert J., who ran the outfit, walked into the corrals and up to that neat rock saddle house. I had met him at the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Convention a few months before in Albuquerque. “Lil’ Al”, as we called him, was a nice fella, and fun to be around. He had come over from the office to welcome me. That’s rare on most outfits as he was the “big dog”, and I was another cowboy who had just unloaded most all that I owned. Over the next few years, I had many an enjoyable evening at the ranch with him and his wife Sherry, when I would come by and spend the night. The next morning we had breakfast at the cook-house, we saddled up, jumped our mounts into a couple of goose-necks and went to the Sabino Camp. It was way north of headquarters, up on top, above the head of Tequesquite Canyon. The next several days we worked several hundred yearlings in that country. As we put the last ones through the gate and loaded our mounts, Al called on the two-way in the helicopter, and asked me if I wanted to fly with him. About that time he set the chopper down by the road and Metti Gutierrez, a good hand, stopped the pickup and let me out. As Al flew us south from the high plains, the Tequesquite Canyon became a big gash below us and we saw wild burros. Soon we were at headquarters.

The next morning Wallace roped out our mounts from the remuda, all well bred. There was a cowpuncher working there from the Deming range named Steve Allen, who was just out of high school. He was a good hand and fun to work with, as he always had his rope down, and a mischievous grin! We went south to the Cerro Camp, or as they referred to it “Tony’s Camp”, as Tony had held that camp for 40 years or so. We started branding the registered herd calves. We branded five-hundred or so calves over the next ten days. There were an average of forty cows to each pasture and we held them up “outside”. They would pair up and the roper could see the horn brand on the mother cow. He would then pass that along to the bookkeeper and the guy doing the tattoos in the calves’ ear that corresponded to its breeding through that horn number. There was the Revol, Tejano, Rincon and several other smaller pastures with registered cows, calves and a bull in them. All that record keeping is what took so much time. So, if we got eighty or less calves branded each day we did good working out of headquarters. Besides the Cerro Camp, there was the Bar T Cross Camp in the southern part of the ranch, where we worked those registered calves. I remember one pasture, named the Carrizo, from the creek that flowed through it from the west side of the ranch to the Tequesquite Creek. We would usually make a big corral with some panels and a pickup and trailer. That way they would pair up and Al usually roped them. A calf got through the fence at the start but worked its way back and was just outside the fence as Al had roped the last one. He eased over to the fence a-horseback, with his loop made, trying not to scare the calf. Al could throw a good “Hoolahan”. As he stood up in the saddle and leaned forward to throw the loop, he also stuck that chestnut colored horse in the flank. The horse promptly fell apart and threw Al plumb over the fence, with Al not even touching the top wire. The calf ran through the loop as Al was too busy sailing through the air to jerk his slack. He usually tied on, but it was good that he had untied it to reach that calf, or it would have been a bad wreck. I really had fun over the next few years reminding Al of that incident!

When we finished the registered cattle, Wallace said we’d take a few days to sharpen our knives and get the branding rig all ready for the commercial herd. So a few days later we would make a drive each day on some big pastures, and brand two-hundred or so calves a day. Every body got to drag calves. It was a good and fun crew to work with. The range was in excellent shape with the Gramma grass heading out, and we threw thirty heifers in the horse pasture as the yucca blooms were thick! After fifteen-hundred calves we were through and I went south to help work the Question Mark. I’ll never forget a great works at the Tequesquite, with green grass, good horses and good men.