Scatterin’ the Drive

by Curtis Fort

Coon And Culbertson II
Staley & McCrory Ranches

At the peak of their operations Coon and Culbertson sold between three and four hundred young bulls to one outfit in Mexico, in addition to all the other bulls and heifers they sold. They were shipped from the Romero, a main railroad shipping point on the Culbertson holdings, to the Polomas Cattle Co. in Mexico. The Palomas ranch in Mexico extended from Juarez west to Douglas, Arizona, all on the Mexican side of the border . . . a big outfit! It was owned by three men:  Billy Green, Ben Williams, and Alfonso Morales. Billy Green was the son of Col. Green, who was the copper king and owner of the huge Canenea Ranch in Mexico. This is where the Bells, under Albert K.’s direction shipped several thousand cows during the thirty’s drought. For several years the Palomas outfit bought that amount of replacement bulls from Coon and Culbertson. I can’t imagine the wet saddle blankets every day on an outfit like that. You are looking at a lot of mother cows and using lots of saddle horses to work and prowl a range that big. Wouldn’t you like to go there now with your bed and saddle and say, “Cut me a string of horses, just feed me all the beef and beans I can eat, whatever you pay will be just right, and if I want a raise, I’ll just eat more?” I had some good visits on the phone with W.O. III [Bill], who has done extensive research on Coon and Culbertson, especially their involvement with the crossing of Brahman and Hereford breeds. It seems, from visiting with Bill, that Coon and Culbertson were so well known in the Hereford world, that there were communications between them and Robert Kleberg of the King Ranch, which resulted around 1930, in the King Ranch shipping some Brahman bulls to Coon and Culbertson. They really began to work on the cross of Hereford and Brahman cattle to develop a cross that would work in the southern states. As we’ve come to find out, they work in a lot of ranges. It was a successful venture and credit is given to W.O. I and II for calling them Brafords. By the late thirties Uncle Dick was having health problems and their partnership was liquidated on good terms because of their great respect for each other. From that successful partnership W.O. acquired property in eastern New Mexico. All four of his sons fought in the Second World War, and the last of those properties was still held by “W.O. Culbertson and Son,” which was the Park Springs, and the outfit Myles and I pulled out for that day in May, 1979.

Myles and I put our mounts into the horse trap at the first camp and there was Dick Sheppard’s chuck wagon, with fly stretched. We threw our beds off to the side. No telling how many spring or fall works Dick had cooked for them. I met him a few years before in 1971 when he cooked at the Bells for a couple months at the cookhouse. He had the real deal, a horse drawn chuck wagon. Many an outfit in the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico ranges would hire him to cook for their works. That’s still the way to work a range most economically, and it’s good on men and horses! Cowboys like working with a wagon. You have the remuda, bed, chuck and everything needed to work all the country on an outfit, without all those rattling trailers, expensive pickups and gasoline. The hardest part is finding a wagon cook, especially one that knows how to cook, handle the wagon team and all. I’d never been around a team of horses or mules as that was all phased out about the time I left home. My dad and W.O., Jr. would be very close in age and I wish they could have met. They were raised with teams, wagons, and everything they did was on horseback. So I learned how to harness a team and how it comes off when you unhitch the team. Dick showed me how he liked the harness hung on the wagon tongue. I know his daughters, Jean Cates and Sue Cunningham, who have continued the tradition by participating in and winning many a chuck wagon cooking contest. I talked with them recently about how Dick got started with the wagon cooking.   They said he was building dirt tanks with a team for the Matadors at their Alamocitos division in the Texas Panhandle in the 1940s, and when the wagon cook had to be gone, they would ask Dick to fill in. Over the years he got into the cooking, and the Matadors sold the Alamocitos range to the Fultons to become the Quien Sabe outfit in the 1950s. Dick purchased his wagon from the old Bravo division of the XIT and rigged it up into a chuck wagon. He hired out to outfits like Culbertson’s for their spring or fall works. Dick did that for the next twenty years or so, then passed away in 1984. Jean and Sue still have his wagon in the barn. When I was at the Bells, Leo Turner, the Wagon Boss had a son-in-law, A.R. Green, that worked for the Quien Sabe. I met him when they were visiting Leo and Lana. He was a nice fella and you could tell he had a lot of cow in his blood. David Whatley told me A.R. lived at the Toro Peak Camp, and David’s father worked for the Quien Sabe fourteen years.

The next ten days were as good a branding works as I have been on. Everyone wanted to be there as they were punchers, and were proud to be with the wagon. One night after a good day of gathering and branding works, a big wild lightning and thunder storm came up around one in the morning, and rained big. The wind was blowing that rain around, so there was no sleeping. We kicked some kindling on the coals of the fire protected by the fly and Myles fanned it with his sombrero. Pretty quickly we had hot coffee and Bull Durham “a-fogging”. Dick put us to cleaning the “Mountain Oysters” from the works the day before. He was grumbling about using them for breakfast but said Joe wanted to use them. So, there were some rank horses ridden and maverick bulls caught while the rain fell, as well as oysters cleaned, and more coffee made. Finally it was getting light and the wrangler went to jingle the horses. We had eggs and mountain oysters! David scattered the drive in the Bishop Pasture, and the drive came together at a big set of wire pens, on the south end. The pens were in a big, low place, and the big corral was mostly water from the night’s rain. So we put the calves in the smaller corral. As the irons heated, fresh smokes were rolled, leggings hung on the fence and the draggers were tying their ropes while waiting for the irons to heat. When the irons were right, Joe nodded his head, the ropes flew and they were coming to the fire. There was a big five or six weight calf in the pens that needed a brand. It was a late calf from last fall.  Myles told the man roping to just neck him! So wearing a big grin, the roper did! As Myles went down the rope he fell into him like he was going to eat him, and was twisting that critter’s head even though he had Myles raised up in the air. Myles stayed hooked just like a cur dog, and even though he was quite occupied I saw he was grinning, as me, Joe and David fell into that calf. Another man was hanging on his tail trying to slow him down! Most involved lost half their shirts, and their” makings”, were covered with dirt and manure, and their sombreros had a new crease. But we bedded him down. Everybody was grinning, even Jack and W. O. Working that Culbertson range was fun. The country was in good shape, as were the cattle, and it was a fun crew . . . plus we had a wagon. What more do you want? I’ve worked with several outfits, and the Culbertson’s do it right, they’re real cow folks and don’t mind if you have a loop built and your horn knot tied on when you’re penning a herd. We worked through 120 sections of range, moving the wagon to each new camp. Joe or David scattered a good drive each day, and luckily I came in on the drive in the same place they dropped me. I made new friends, and “shore” enjoyed working that Culbertson Range! n