Scatterin’ the Drive


In May of ‘71 it was good to be back to those red rim rocks, cedar trees, good horses and all that made the Bells a real cow outfit. By now it was home. Leo roped out a good string for me, including some of my favorites like Tom-cat, Eagle-eye, and several others . . . including a good night-horse. The night horse was just for wrangling horses when it was your turn.


Over the next several days we shod our mounts, gathered and branded the registered calves, and then the cowboys, remuda, and wagon pulled out. There were some new punchers, who were there to make the spring works. All were young but craved cowpunchin’, made good hands and became good friends . . . the kind to “ride the river with”. Jim Peebles was from the Ruidoso Range and Paul Pharies from Texas. Paul made the Bells his home for the next 30 years. Lil’Bill Nunnally from Ft. Sumner, who was 14 years old, always came in on the drive where he should, and when something ran off, his horn knot was pulled down and he had a loop on ‘em pronto!

We worked all the range the next few weeks with no bad wrecks. After we were off a day or so for the Fourth, we gathered the three-year-old geldings. Bert and I spent all of July and a lot of sweat putting ten saddles on each of those broncs. The summer went by too soon and it was time to drift back to the desert range and New Mexico State. I needed eight or ten hours of credit to finish, and was lucky to get all my classes scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday so I could cowboy the rest of the time.

Through my friends, the Davises, I got a riding job at the Jornada Ranch. They had the lease on it and Clyde Yarbrough was the manager. Wes Adams was the cowboy boss, and all cowpuncher. I talked to Joyce Jones, who along with Dogie, ranch at Watrous. She was raised on the Jornada and her Grandad, Mr. Christmas, had the lease from 1928 until the early 50s. It was acquired by the USDA in 1912, from the Tourney family. The USDA furnished and paid the help and the person who had the lease let them keep records through the use of ear tags, etc. There was a good set of crossbred cows with some “ear” on them. There were close to three hundred sections of big pastures.

The ranch lay between the Doña Ana Mountains and the San Andreas Range, all in the Jornada basin. That area is full of great history . . . conquistadors, Apaches, Civil War, range wars, outlaws and more.

The first morning there I went in the office, met Clyde Yarbrough the manager and Wes Adams the cowboy boss, and we had coffee while looking at a big map of the outfit. Then I unloaded my outfit at the horse corrals and Wes roped out a bald faced bay for me. It was not hard to saddle him but he was fat and fresh . . . not a kid horse. He had a slight hump so I led him outside as the horse pen was too small to mount him. Don’t get me wrong . . . I’d rather mount a potential ‘problem’ in a good corral, but wanted Wes to at least think I was pretty forked. I snugged my cinch, turned him around, twisted that left ox-bow and stepped aboard. He hit two hard jumps, reared up, kinda hung in the air and then fell over backwards. I had a two-year-old colt do that to me when I was 15 and skinned me up good. When I was a button,I always had a colt or two I would ride for someone. One, I remember, was a good looking colt but too gentle as he was a pet. On a Sunday after church and a great meal my mom had made, we drifted down to the corrals. I saddled him, led him into a crowding pen and stepped on. The last thing I remember was looking down to hit the off stirrup and ‘bang’ the lights went out. My Dad said he fell over backwards in one quick motion. That bronc had his butt to the two by eight railroad-tie fence. I woke up in the hospital with ‘em taking stitches in my head. I missed several days of school and every day I would hobble down to the horse corrals and plan my revenge. I did get him broke and going good but from then on I was quick to step off and hang in that left stirrup, when one would stand on his hind legs.

Several years later at the Jornada that helped save my bacon . . . the cantle and swells took most of the hit. I came back up with him but to this day still have a hitch in my hip. While I was saddling up I was observing Wes. He had a red handle-bar moustache, a quirt hanging on his wrist, and the outline of a hog-leg in his chap pocket, you could tell he craved that cowboy stuff so I figured we’d get along! He rolled a Prince Albert smoke before he mounted, and his mount was not for kids. We became good friends and we put out lots of horse tracks together, not just at the Jornada.

That Fall my job was to go horse back with Wes. I learned a lot from him. He was from that South Texas brush country, where one of my heroes, J. Frank Dobie was from. That was where Dobie said every plant had a thorn barb or hook. Wes sure missed that brush. As we were prowling a pasture, he would ride out of the way to ride through a patch of big brush and hear the sound it makes dragging on his batwings.

My second or third day there we were prowling and came together at a tank. We stepped off, reset our rigs and rolled a smoke. I already figured we were made out of the same ball of dirt, so I said do you ever get kinks in your rope? He had a slight grin as he twisted the end of his handle-bar and blew a cloud of smoke. He said the only way to fix that is to tie on to something and let them hit the end of it. So was a good fall and our mounts and ropes were always in tune. We got into the Fall works, weaning big calves, branding late calves, cutting out dry’s and shipper stuff. Cattle were in good shape and calves were heavy. I was working with good cowboys and decent mounts . . . does it get any better?

One morning we hit a high trot to the north end to Tourney Well. The sky was just getting red in the East over the San Andreas Mountains. After we all reset our kaks, Wes sent half the crew with Clyde and the rest of us with him. I came out with my gather at Indian tank, as did Bob and Wes. We held everything up there. Some of those cows were pretty trotty and we needed to make sure they all had their calves or else turn ‘em back. As we popped our leggin’s and started them south, one big dry outlawed. Wes had a loop that fit those high horns and we stretched her out. We drove the other cattle over close, so when we let her up she would get with them. Wes took his rope off her horns and I kept her hind legs gathered so he could get mounted. She didn’t bounce up snortin’ and hookin’ . . . she “sulled up” and stayed down. She wasn’t tired, hurt or any of that. We’ve all had it happen and do a lot of tail twistin’, but Wes stepped off and pulled a trick I’d never seen! He picked up two ten-inch mesquite sticks, picked up her tail and grabbed the bushy end in his teeth. Then he set back to stretch the tail tight. He put one stick on each side of the tail, grasped the two ends with his hands and rapidly worked the two sticks up and down on her tail. I smelled smoke and in ten seconds she came to her feet in one jump, like they say those old trail herds did in a storm.

So the drive came together and the Fall works went on.

A couple of years later, at the Bells, they were needing another man. I told Don I knew a good hand that was craving to come North, so he hired Wes. We put out a lot of horse tracks on the Bells. But I’ll always remember a good Fall works at the Jornada. n