Scatterin’ the Drive

by Curtis Fort

Strauss Ranch, 1979

International Cattle Systems had made an offer to buy the cattle and lease the Strauss outfit. This company owned Grant County Feed Yards at Ulysses Kansas, and other holdings that were all a subsidiary of De Kalb Grain. The President and negotiator for the International outfit was Dale Lasater. Tom Lasater, Dale’s father, developed the Beefmaster breed, and had their first production sale in 1949. I have been friends with Dale and his wife, Janine, since the Strauss Ranch works, and have been to their ranch in Colorado several times, where Dale and his crew still carry on producing top-of-the line Beefmaster cattle.

They started gathering the Strauss Ranch around the first of June and began to realize they were shorthanded and the cattle were pretty trotty. So that’s when Tye Terrell called Myles and I. We needed good mounts, so Myles loaded some Park Springs horses and Tye and I loaded some Question Mark cowponies, with Larry Dean’s OK. It was June and already hot in that Las Cruces range when we got there. We were mounted and trotting when it was getting pink in the east. We would make a drag on a piece of that desert and throw our gather into a big holding pasture. When we trotted into headquarters Barbara would have a great meal and plenty of ice tea. It was so hot, we’d shade up at the bunkhouse (the one Tye, Myles, Larry and I stayed in was really nice . . .  with air conditioning), then we’d catch fresh mounts around 4 p.m. and gather more country. This went on several days. It was fun, but hot, and it was a big hunk of country . . . close to 300 sections.

One of the hardest drives I was ever on was during this cow works. They had a big lava pasture with a couple of hundred heifer yearlings we needed to gather for the count in this trade. That pasture had big ridges of lava to cross, next to open country, then more lava. It would have been hard to gather milk cows out of this pasture. Because we knew it would get hot quickly, we scattered on this circle at first light, and sparks were flying off those horseshoes as we jigged across that 25-section pasture. We were scattered on that drive by good daylight, but we couldn’t stay even on the drive as the lava rock was thick. If you started some heifers, they left there like deer; and if they needed to be bent in the right direction, they made you feel like you were riding a burro. Soon you didn’t know which way they went! Myles and I and a Mexican puncher named Tecol jumped a few head, and really had to do some tall riding to throw them in a corner, which was in a big grassy flat. While we held them there in the corner trying to calm them a little, one freckle -faced heifer quit the herd. She had a figure nine in her tail, was kicking at her belly and came out by Myles, who had his rope down and tied. He’d already punched a hole in his rope, and when she came by he “fanged” her. Slobber flew when she hit the end of it! Myles was riding a big bay named J. Waggoner, and Tecol, a good vaquero and riata man, heeled her and went to the end of it. I tailed her over, put dirt in her eyes and took the ropes off . . . she decided the herd in the corner looked like a safer place. We had to take this handful up the fence and Tecol got in the lead. At that first or second ridge of lava we had to cross, things got faster and heifers went to ducking out or running straight ahead, causing us to spill the whole bunch in that rock. That’s the way the whole drive went with everybody, and no one was going to cripple good mounts for those heifers. Those heifers had never been moved around, thrown in a corner or had anything done with them

a-horseback, so they had no respect for mounted men. I think those heifers had been weaned the fall before, hauled instead of driven to that pasture and had never seen anyone until that day. So you cowboys reading this know it was a bust! Fourteen well mounted punchers would have had their hands full in flat country with those heifers. We realized the drive fell apart, our mounts were give-out, and it was 103 degrees! We followed a trail and came to a windmill that pumped into a 6 foot high steel tank. It was good water and we held up there to cool off. We poured water on our mounts, as well as us. Soon, Larry Dean and a couple others with sweat marks all over their mounts and not a lot of grins on their faces showed up. They unsaddled, watered their mounts and rolled a smoke. Everyone gave their version of the wildest or worst drive they’d ever been on, and felt this one was one of them. Over the years, Larry, Myles, Tye, and I have talked about that “drive”. You can’t make a drive on jackrabbits, or antelopes, and these heifers would make them look easy. I think they wound up building some wire lots around those tanks or windmills with trigger gates to get those heifers gathered. That’s a good example of why you prowl and handle your heifers a-horseback.

One of the last days, we’d unsaddled tired mounts and had another great noon meal that Barbara had prepared. While we ate, the bosses talked over the things needing to be done, as we were about ready to gather the holding pasture the next day and start winding up this cow deal. We were short two big Brahman bulls that got away a few days before on a drive south of headquarters. So Myles and I said we’d go south and get those bulls. Everyone looked at us in doubt, but we spoke with confidence (we hoped). So the crew was split up on several missions to get things shaped up before tomorrow. After lunch we had a good nap at the bunkhouse, then all of us caught fresh mounts. It was only 90 degrees instead of 110 or more. Myles and I loaded in a big goose-neck trailer and went south to that big Chavez Pasture. We unloaded and split up, then made a big circle looking for those bulls. We each jumped one and hazed them toward those south pens. They were dry and it wasn’t so hard to drive to those pens that had water, although they were still sniffy, and you had to give them lots of air. We had backed up that pickup and trailer into a corner of the water lot, and with a couple of old gates, made a wing. We knew it was a long shot, but if we got them in that lot and boogered them just right, we might get lucky. As they went in the lot, Myles eased down and shut the gate as I kept my mount between Myles and the toros, who were really showing signs of pulling out or running over us. On purpose, Myles had left his mount on the outside of the pen, as we had a plan. He took off and ran in front of them, and in two jumps they were blowing snot on him as he jumped in the trailer, and I was hollering and popping a slicker behind them. Myles went out the little gate in the front and got it latched just as they slammed into it, and I slammed the back gate. We got them into the front half, loaded our mounts in the back, and when we pulled into the big pens at headquarters to unload, several asked how we gathered those “toros diablos”. That night in the ranch cantina, someone would keep bringing up the subject, so finally I said, “Not a big deal. I tracked that one with the spots on his head to Willow Tank, Myles loped up, we stretched him out and sidelined him. While we were resetting our saddles and cooling our horses’ backs, I asked Myles if he got the other one. He grinned as he lit a fresh Prince Albert cigarette, told me he did, and had tied him to a tree at Apache Tank, so we could get the trailer to both places. So we loaded them, and brought them in! Wasn’t that what they sent us to do?” We never said any different, so the next few days as we branded, culled, and sorted all those cattle they referred to us as those hombres that gathered the toros . . . we liked it!