Scatterin’ the Drive 3/11

New Recruits at the Bell Ranch.

When the Bell Ranch wagon pulled-in after the spring branding of 1969, George Ellis called me into the office and asked me to stay for the summer. He told me I could help Fred at the bronc pens as there were twelve or fifteen 3-year olds to start in a few days. So, I staked a claim at the bunk house . . . then we were off a day or two for the 4th of July.

The Bell Ranch took pride in raising their saddle horses. After the fall cow works, all the weaned colts were halter-broken at the bronc pens. The bronc pens were made with cross-ties for posts and 2 X 8 feet lumber, 7 feet high . . . the round pens were made the same. They were several miles from headquarters. A few days were spent halter-breaking the colts. Then the horse colts would be thrown into the herd of young geldings in the Seco Pasture. After the 4th, we’d prowl the Seco for sign of those young horses. When we found them, it would be a horse-race to get them held-up, and drive them to the bronc pens. We’d cut-off the 3-year olds. Besides the Bell brand on the left shoulder, the colts all had three numbers on the left hip. The first number was the year they were born, the others referred to their sires and dams. After gathering the 3-year olds, we we would throw the rest back into the Seco, where they developed good feet and bone in that big, rough range.

We put the 3-year olds in a trap in the afternoon. The next morning we penned them and put them down the chute with the walk on both sides. We put a big grass-rope halter on each, with a twenty to thirty foot stake rope. Then we’d take turns “leadin” them to a stake rock. When they quit jerking and trying to escape, Fred would drop the end of the stake rope to me, and I would tie a “bolin knot” in the ring that was wired to that stake rock. Those rocks were hand-picked a long time ago, and no telling how many broncs had been staked to them. If they were too heavy, they’d break their necks, too light, and they’d drag them out of the country. By the next day, these colts have a new respect for a halter and know not to get their leg over the rope!

The next morning, Fred and I, on good mounts, would lead or pull each one to water . . . then to the bronc pens. In the round pen, we’d tie up a hind leg, trim their tails, hobble them, slip on a hackamore, then saddle them. Then Fred would pull his head around, twist that left ox-bow, ease his foot in, and step aboard. If they would just make some circles, get used to a man being on them, that was good for the first saddle. I mentioned being hobbled . . . the Bells broke their horses to be hobbled. They never tied them to a fence. After 100 years, that has saved several miles of bridle reins. The Bells didn’t issue apples for those broncs or didn’t believe in running them around the corral for two weeks with a buggy whip. Wet saddle blankets make good horses.

We got the first six through a saddle and the next thing was breaking them to the rope corral. We’d put them in a narrow, long corral, tie a big rope across the middle of the corral about chest high to those colts. We would start throwing loops at them, teaching them to turn to us and lead-out. Horses that can be roped out and will lead to you, handle much easier than most. Anyway, being snakey and wild . . . they’d break by you to escape, and hit that rope and turn a flip. Soon they had respect for anything at that height, and you could hold them up with a twine string.

The second day we were staking out the rest of the green horses. One was a big bay bronc. I handed the stake-rope to Fred, who was mounted in the round-pen. Then, I’d threw the big gate open. Fred liked to let those broncs see that open country, give them slack, then set back and really give them a jerk. When he did that on the bay, it broke that stake rope. That horse ran off and it was a horse race to circle him back toward the pens . . . but no hope of penning him. We held him up in a corner, Fred leaned over to scoop up the stake-rope, the bronc “buggered” and pulled out. I shipped Sleepy down the hind-leg, had my rope tied and threw a big loop at him. He was traveling fast and it pulled down around his ears. I gave it a jerk, thinking I could get another loop, but he stuck a front leg through it. Needless to say it was a hard jerk, left my hat in mid-air, jerked my saddle forward. Sleepy swallowed his head, bawling and bucking. In two jumps, I went over his head. I was seeing stars, as I really hit hard. I remember that bronc getting up from being jerked-down, and watching old Sleepy bucking by. When Sleepy hit the end of it again, it bedded that bronc . . . I fell on his head, got hold of the halter and pulled his head up. Fred ran up on his mount, threw me a rope to tie in the halter. Fred’s eyes were big and he was laughing hard. He said, “Man, that sure were Western.” I’m glad he enjoyed it. We got him staked-out. He got the name Huerfano. He had some bad habits . . . kick at you . . . and the next few years, several cowboys left spur tracks across their saddles.

All that time we were working those colts I would think of Yaqui Tatom. I heard a lot about of him as he was a legend at the Bells. He started hundreds of broncs at these same pens when it was the big outfit. I worked with his son, Tommy during the branding in 1968. He is a good fellow and good hand. Every man I ever met who worked with Yaqui always had high praise for him as a puncher, horseman and boss. I asked Tommy how he got that name. His given name was Bill, but when he was a kid, Yaqui’s Mom would read Wild West stories to him. When she read about those wild Indians in Mexico called Yaquis, he would run around hollering “Yaqui, Yaqui” and it stuck. Yaqui passed away last year. He now rides the big range, probably a sorrel horse, and I’m sure he wears the Bell Iron. He was in hundreds of Harvey Caplin’s photos taken at the Bells in the late 40s.

As we dropped off the ridge south of Headquarters, driving those broncs, George Ellis pulled up in his car. I rode over to him and he said, “I hired a new man named Gary Morton. Cut him a couple of those young horses.” We drove those broncs across the La Cinta Creek, where they watered. Then we eased them into the horse pasture and left them with the remuda. Whoever had to wrangle the next morning, would have their hands full making those broncs part of the “gather.” As you know, those older horses are never too receptive to the newcomers. The next morning the boss roped out Gary some mounts, including two broncs . . . Comanche for me and Huerfano for Fred. Huerfano is a big mesa east of Bell Mountain and means “orphan” in Spanish. Gary will tell you today that when he hired on, he was plenty green and had lots of hard knocks. But I’ll tell you that he had it in his blood . . . he made a hand. We became good friends and made lots of horse tracks together at the Bells. Gary had it in his blood so well that he was Wagon Boss by 1976.

The rest of that summer we gathered bulls, prowled and put miles on those broncs. We were on horseback every day. Junior Sandoval was fun to work with. He’d been on the fencing crew but got cross-ways with the fence Foreman, so he came over to the cowboy crew. Leo cut him a string, since I still had two broncs, he asked me to let him have Sleepy, since as you’ve read in previous stories, he was “gentle” most of the time.

One hot afternoon, we loaded our mounts to prowl the Perra Pasture. Junior backed Sleepy out, tightened the cinch and lead him to a rock so he could mount. Junior was short, had his big chaps on and swung a leg over. Leo was telling him where to meet us at a certain dirt-tank. Junior nodded and jobbed Sleepy. Sleepy was in a bad mood and completely fell apart. Junior had his reins too long and Sleepy launched him high. He came back down like a pair of saddle bags over Sleepy’s neck. Sleepy was still turning the crank, and in two more jumps, Junior really needed wings. As he came down, it seemed in slow motion . . . some of those red sandstone rocks broke his fall . . . I never laughed so hard. From then on, when Junior called for Sleepy, he led him at least 200 yards before he mounted.

Suggested reading: Real Cowboys and the Old West Harvey Caplin Photos. To order call: Abbie Caplin, 928/205-9119 or email her at: