Scatterin’ the Drive

by Curtis Fort

Coon & Culbertson One

That same spring while headquartered at the Question Mark, I always enjoyed working with Larry Dean. He took good care of that outfi . . . calving heifers, wind milling, pipe-lining or doing any other ranch chore. We always had fun and knew that Carl Lane was having trouble sleeping, worrying what we were up to! That winter in February or early March, we loaded our Question Mark caballos and went to Ancho to help Tony Gable work some yearlings. I believe they were the light end of the calves they received a few months before in the fall, and we branded them the way you should, heeling them and going to the fire. Several neighbors were there helping. It had snowed the night before and the ground around camp was wet and slick. After a good lunch that Tony’s wife, Fran, had fixed, we were all loading our mounts. Larry told me to stay mounted, as he knew there might be a runaway. Sure enough, as one outfit was loading their mounts, one jerked loose and went flying by us. I had my rope down, tied on and a loop built! I let sail a lucky loop, throat latched him as he came by, then threw the slack to him. He hit the end of it on that slick ground, jerked straight over backwards and luckily didn’t break the saddle tree. As I rode to him, that horse was certainly startled and had his head up, wondering what hit him. Larry was grinning as we loaded Ribbon and his favorite mount Sandy, a top bred Nine Ranch horse.

Around March, my friend AB Brannock, in Raleigh, North Carolina, invited me to do a show of my sculpture at the Country Club there. I called my friend RW Hampton, who is a great singer and writer of cowboy songs, and invited him to go. AB is a great friend, collector, and promoter of my work. Tracy Mimms, who worked at the Nines, then came to work at the Question Mark, decided to go, too! We didn’t have our bedrolls, but our big hats were at a slant as we three punchers strutted in the airport at Albuquerque for our flight back East. We wore our high top boots, with two and one-half inch under-slung riding heels, that made a good sound on those polished floors. Little did my sidekicks know I was plenty scared because I had never flown. Changing planes at DFW in Dallas, then Atlanta, and on arriving in Raleigh, we realized there weren’t many cowpunchers flying that day. Tony (AB) and his wife, June, a real southern lady, made us very welcome in their wonderful home the next three days, while the show went on at the club. Their son Josh became a close friend and came out west and stayed with me on ranches. He has some cow in his blood now! Every day at the show we met great people, and RW was the big hit with his singing. After the last day, the lady AB had hired to promote and do the show invited us to her home to meet some of her friends, then out on the town for big dining! Her friends were all well dressed, refined, and were polite folks, but all they knew about the West was the movies. I did a few rope tricks for them, and as far as they knew, RW and Tracy were direct descendants of Pecos Bill, Bill Cody and Jim Bridger. Tracy and I liked to have a smoke and we rolled our own Bull Durham. So that we wouldn’t burn holes in our good shirts, we’d bought several packs of Pall Malls in the airport. One nice lady there was a doctor’s wife, who heard me ask Tracy for a smoke as he was carrying the “ready-rolls”. She quickly reached in her purse (the size of a pannier), and pulled out a pack of filter cigarettes, and offered me one. I acted real surprised and said, “What’s that on the end of it?” She told me that was a filter. I replied that I’d never seen one, and that we found these Pall Mall’s already rolled up in a machine at the airport. So we tried one with a filter and exclaimed how smooth they were!  She was so excited, she dug out several more packs, handed them to us and said, “Take these home and show your friends!”  Tracy and I gladly took them, and told her we couldn’t wait to do that! From Raleigh, Tracy and I flew to Lafayette, Louisiana to visit my friend Bob Hargett, whom I had become friends with at Vermejo while guiding him Elk hunting. RW flew straight home as he had obligations there. Needless to say, we enjoyed great southern hospitality, but were glad to step off that plane in good ol’ New Mexico.

Not long after that trip, I helped work those yearlings at Park Springs, and then in mid-May, Myles Culbertson sent a smoke signal that said to bring my bed, saddle and all to Park Springs, the 20th of May, and we’d head for another spring branding works. So I loaded up and when I pulled into the Chupainas Camp where Myles, Georgia, and daughters Meredith and Avery lived, he had his rig loaded. After loading six horses, we arrived late that day at the Culbertson Ranches in eastern New Mexico. One, the Staley is where Joe and Vivian Culbertson live. Adjoining that is the McCrory, where Joe’s Sister Cathy and her husband David Whatley live. These ranches, and the Park Springs, were under the WO Culbertson and Sons, Inc. ownership in 1979. A couple of years later these were divided among the family. The McCrory is good sand, shinnery range, and the Staley has some rim rock and tight country. That whole range was in good shape from winter moisture and spring rains. Myles and I had a good visit as we always do on the 200 hundred mile trip from Park Springs , through Santa Rosa, Tucumcari, Logan, and turning east at the bottom of David Hill in the Tequesquite outfit. We went twenty more miles to the Staley. When we arrived Joe was waiting on us as he had a chore to do that he didn’t want to do. A black horse in their remuda named Nick, after Nick LeCompte, had been retired there and was getting feeble. It was a hard chore for Joe as that had been one of their top horses, and that’s why he’d been living the good life at the headquarters since they’d retired him. The puncher he was named for was a top hand and broke Nick for the Culbertson remuda. So Myles and I helped with the chore, easing Nick’s pain.

The Culbertson history in the cow business is a good one, and from things I remember Myles telling me when on this trip, and at the Park Springs, it is quite interesting. I’ve talked a lot on the phone lately with Myles and Joe so that I had it straight about their history. Their Great Granddad had moved to the Texas Panhandle around the turn of the century. While in his prime, he was killed by a barn loft when it fell on him by being jerked down by some mules he had tied up. His son WO Culbertson Sr., who was Myles’ and Joe’s Granddad, went to work as a kid to help his Mom make a living. I’m sure he craved the cowboy life, was made for it and had cow savvy in his blood. While WO, Sr. was making a hand, another man named RS Coon was making a fortune in the oil business and acquired real estate and commercial properties around and in Dalhart, Texas. Somehow Mr. Coon was aware of WO’s abilities as a cowman and range manager, and in 1915, approached him on working together. Mr. Coon, or Uncle Dick as he is still referred to by the family, liked ranching and had a strong feeling there would be a demand for better beef cattle such as the Hereford breed. He had the capital, and WO the cow savvy. They started what became a hugely successful partnership. It seems to be in the Culbertson blood . . . working and managing cattle . . . as I’ve observed it in all the family that I’ve been privileged to work and scatter on a drive with!

Coon and Culbertson was formed in 1915, and over the next two decades branded more registered Hereford calves than anyone . . . around three thousand a year, and had several times that many commercial cattle. They were well recognized for their Hereford cattle. Their range was huge, with some owned, but lots of leased land in the Panhandle of Texas, from Dalhart to the New Mexico line. It’s an interesting story so we’ll keep riding the Culbertson range next month!                         n