Scatterin’ the Drive

by Curtis Fort

1980 Working the Orndorff

We helped our neighbors, as they did us. Dewey Brown and Rusty McCorkle, sure enough good hands, were on the old Bursom Ranch to the South. The Monte Prieto (meaning black hills) joined us on the East, and was run by a good man who became a good friend, Duncan Majors. He loved the ranch life, was tall, thin, soft spoken, and had friendly grey eyes with a spark. Duncan was a man of his word, a man to ride the river with! He could get a big grin when a snuffy cow put someone over the fence, or a true expression of concern for someone having tough luck. I believe one of his favorite things was a cup of coffee, a good smoke and visiting by the fire! That fall of 1979 Jim split the crew so that we all got to help the Monte Prieto.

When I say all the Orndorff crew, it includes Loren Patterson. His Mom did such a good job of home schooling, he spent a lot of time with us on horseback. Other outfits that helped, who were cowboys and fun to work with, were John and Morgan Maxwell; Ernest Copeland; my amigo Larry Dean from the Question Mark Outfit; and Bob Carter, who ran the old Harvey outfit owned by Charley and Betty Martin. That ol’ Monte Prieto Ranch is 100 sections of grass and lots of cedar hills and rim rocks. It’s a long way from anywhere.  It was always fun to neighbor with them as they did it western. If something ran off they roped it and brought it back and Duncan’s wife, Gail, always had a cowboy meal that we all looked forward to. There were several old Indian ruins on the Orndorff outfit, and pottery pieces scattered all through that range.  There is quite a history there . . . I always felt another presence when I rode by one of those ruins.

Another winter morning we roped out our mounts  and got them saddled. It was overcast and cold. Jim sent Sam and I to prowl the Forrest Pasture, and then to go in the neighbors’, up the Chupadera Wash. He took a stick and drew a little map in the dirt in front of the saddle house to show us how that range lay, and where to locate the Chupadera Springs and a ruin near it. If any of our yearlings were in that range they’d be watering at those springs. We hauled our mounts to the gate into the Forrest Pasture, and let Ramon take the rig back. We looked for cattle and came together around 1:00 p.m., and went through a wire gate into the Rainwater Range. We split up, prowling north cutting for sign, and we came back together at those springs. No cattle tracks just deer watering there, so we hobbled our mounts and looked around. There were lots of pottery pieces and cobs of burnt corn sticking out of the sides of that ruin. We had to earn our wages so we mounted up, and rode west, as Jim had told us to watch for a little hill sticking up and a big hole in it! We rode west and found a deep hole in the ground up on a little mesa, man-made from the rock and dirt dug out of that hole. The story is that in the depression era, a guy with some money believed from old documents and legends, that there was a Spanish mine there. So he hired people needing work, and dug a deep shaft. We found that shaft. When we put some rocks in an old can and dropped it, it went a long ways. By the noise, it also rolled down a side shaft. Neither one of us craved going down into that hole, so we mounted up and prowled a lot of country back to the Orndorff outfit’s north boundary. We found another little wire horseback gate that let us into the big Middle Pasture north of headquarters, then had a long “jig” back to headquarters. We rode in just as Jim and Loren were unsaddling, and we had fun telling Jim how deep that hole was. We all wondered if they found anything in that mine. It felt good to be tired from a long day on horseback and seeing new range . . . another good day on a cattle outfit. As the winter was changing to spring, we were still on horseback and the cattle had wintered well. We had put in a lot of miles on our horses, earning our wages and taking care of all those cattle. We were beginning in April and May to start gathering and shipping those cattle to their new homes, be it grass in Colorado or wheat pasture in the Plains.

AB Brannock, who read a little story on me in the November, 1975 issue of The Smithsonian Magazine, had tracked me down in 1976 to order a sculpture. I was at the Luera Outfit out of Magdelena at the time. He came out west to meet me in 1977, when I was at the Dickinson Ranches at Tatum. In 1978, AB brought his wife June, son Josh and daughter Jade, to visit. Thanks to my friends at Robert O. Anderson’s I took the Brannocks riding in those Hondo Valley hills. Jade is now an accomplished rider, who truly loves horses. The next year (September,1979), I was in Colorado to attend The Lasaters’ annual Beef Master Sale, so Mr. Brannock and his son Josh asked me to meet them at the Denver Airport. We flew to Montana and spent several days touring that great state. We spent a lot of time at Charlie Russell’s camp in Great Falls, and the wonderful Russell collection at Helena. That was one of the best trips I’ve ever had, thanks to AB’s generosity. The Brannocks have become close friends and in 1998, Carol and I had the privilege of attending Jade’s wedding in North Carolina.

About the time we were finishing shipping those yearlings, AB, or as he likes to be called, Tony, and his son Josh came to see me at the Orndorff. Josh wanted to stay and learn about cowpunchin’. We had lots of back prowling to do, as we were short a few in all that brush. Sammy had gone to another outfit, so we had a mounts for Josh. He spent most of the summer with us, had a lot of savvy, and made a hand. We had been riding steady for a couple of weeks, when Josh and I made a circle in that southeast pasture, as we knew by the tracks at the waterings that there were a few left. We jumped them and with some tall riding, managed to get them to those east pens. There were five or six of them, and a couple of them were plenty wild. Just as we were easing them to the corral gate, one of them blew snot and came out by me. I hollered at Josh to do his best, because it was really hot and I wanted to catch that outlaw quickly. He hit some brush pronto, but I lucked out and bedded him down on the first loop. He was big and I got to him before he could get up, then sidelined him. I mounted and hit a lope. When I got close, there sat Josh on the top of the gate post, rolling a smoke, with the cattle in the corral and gate shut. I was afraid he might have had trouble, so I said, “Did you get them all?”  He blew a smoke ring kind of like Clint, and said “Well, yes. Isn’t that what I was supposed to do?” We had a good laugh while we cooled off at the water trough.

One day, riding into the headquarters, we came across a big rattlesnake. I stepped off and with one shot took care of him. Josh thought that was “western” and was pretty impressed with my shooting. I was surprised that I hit it on the first shot, but didn’t let on, and gave that pistol a little spin as I put it in the holster. I put my heel on what was left of the snake’s head, cut it off and handed the whole thing to Josh, who didn’t flinch at all when I said, “We’ll put his hide on the cantle of your saddle.”  He said, “I thought you ate them.” I lied and said, “Sometimes.” He said “Let’s eat this one!” I rolled it in lots of corn meal and fried it in a deep fryer. I was stalling, so I cooked it a long time. We ate it with ketchup, and Tabasco. Josh was plenty proud as he washed the last bite down with cowboy coffee, rolled a smoke and said, “I feel pretty punchy.” Another good day on the Rancho!