Scatterin’ the Drive

Armendaris, Part I. 

That fall of 1971 was fun working for the Jornada Ranch three days a week. I had all my classes scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday, so Organic Chemistry and Range Science 450 kept me quite busy. Also, I had a great class named Indians of the Southwest with a great professor . . .

he really knew his subject. The class was the study of old Native American cultures that lived in dwellings such as Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. They were called Mogollan, Hohokam, Paytayan, and Anasazi. Along with Jornada and school, I got to cowboy at a famous cow outfit up north on the old Camino Real.

Every Friday when I would get home from the Jornada, my friend Joe Wallace would show up at my camp and I would throw my outfit in his pickup. We would head north on I-25 to T or C, then east, 10 or twelve miles to the headquarters of the Armendaris. Most of the Armendaris lies along the Jornada Del Muerto, or Journey of Death. This goes back to the Spanish conquest during the 1590 to 1820 period. The Spaniards began to enter New Spain by coming to present El Paso or Paseo Del Norte in the late 1500s. This was the route of Oñate and many after him. Coronado’s route entered New Mexico in 1540, but he came through the west (Arizona). The Jornada Del Muerto was ninety miles of trail through the desert with very little or no water. The Spaniards would leave the Rio Grande a few miles east of the present day town of Hatch, and head north. Being familiar with the territory, I just couldn’t figure why they would do that! As they came north, their caravans would consist of soldiers, settlers, herds of sheep, goats and cattle. Also, there were many carts pulled by Oxen, loaded with all the baggage required for this group, along with tools and all the necessities to live in a new land. So why not stay with the river where at least water was available? It seems with all the hundreds of arroyos and canyons coming into the river from the Caballo and Fra Cristobal mountains on the east side, and all the canyons coming from the west that drained the Black Range, it was too hard to cross each one. Another factor was the Apaches, who hated the Spaniards and loved to lay in waiting in all those hiding places.

The outfit we were headed for was referred to as the Armendaris. The name came from the land grant given to Pedro Armendaris by the Spanish government in 1819. Pedro Armendaris, was born in 1782 and was a lieutenant with the Spanish Royal Army. He served in Mexico and Santa Fe under Lieutenant Melgares, who was also a close friend. Under his friend’s command, Armendaris, along with 100 dragoons were sent to Santa Fe in 1806. Their mission was to explore the Plains, do whatever necessary to pacify the Indians and watch for unwanted American explorers. On their return trip to Chihuahua they escorted an American, Zebulon Pike, who was captured in Colorado, just north of New Spain’s northern boundary. After Pike was interrogated, Armendaris was part of the group who escorted him to the Texas line on the Rio Grande, probably in the Laredo area or further down river. Armendaris’ amigo and boss, Melgares, was appointed as governor of Nuevo Mexico. He was the last Spanish governor appointed by Spain, serving until 1822. In 1819 Pedro was appointed tax collector at Santa Fe. While his amigo, Melgares was still in control, Pedro applied for a grant. It was approved in 1819 and consisted of two grants. One was the Fra Cristobal which consisted of 400,000 acres, the other was Val Verde, with 100,000 acres. It was a large tract of land (around 800 sections) including 50 to 60 miles of the Rio Grand River. There’s no real evidence that Pedro ever lived on the grant, but it seems his son-in-law managed the property up until 1825 when the grant was abandoned because of the constant Apache attacks.

The outfit Joe and I worked for was 700 sections with the headquarters at Engle, N.M., a railroad siding and cattle shipping point established in 1879. It had a post office from 1881 until 1955. The headquarters was on the south end and the north end was 50 miles north, with several camps scattered every ten miles. Bobby Munsey ran the Armendaris. He was all cowpuncher . . . cow dust, horse sweat, and everything else that makes a great Wagon Boss flowed in his veins. His sons were young. Several years later in the Corona range I got to work with Tim Munsey at a friend’s branding works. It was in his veins, too . . . what a hand! I’ve also worked in other ranges with more Munseys and all are good cowboys. Bush Reid was the general manager of the Oppenheimer properties in New Mexico. Bush was a cowpuncher who had worked his way up through the ranks and was a good general manager because he had done the job as a working hand. Ten miles north of headquarters was Deep Well Camp. Dennis Cleaver and his wife Alice lived there . . . another example of real cow folks. Alice’s folks, Les and Mary Fleming, were cooking at headquarters. Dennis and Alice have worked for a lot of ranches and we are still good friends. In fact, forty years later Dennis is now the Sheriff of De Baca County. In my years working different cow ranges, I’ve met several Sheriffs who have spent 40 years working for big cow outfits and noticed that long days and bad horses seems to temper them for riding for the law. As for Dennis this fits, and his wife Alice, has been a tried and true partner all the way.

There were three single cowpunchers that were making the fall works at the Armendaris. One, named Tom, was raised in the Montana range and was just out of the service during the Vietnam War. He was a good cowboy and good fella. Another couple of fellas, Larry and Ed, were from that big ranch country in northern Arizona. The R.O., Big Boquillas, Babbit”s C.O. Bar outfit, the Yolo, to name a few, all ran a wagon or pack string during their spring and fall works. They were good hands and fun to work around . . . typical drifting cowboys. They had good outfits

. . . saddles, leggings, bits, hackamores . . . all that a fella needs to make a hand and all in good shape. They craved the cowboy life. When they drew their pay they bought whatever was necessary to keep their outfit in top shape . . . then after that, easy come, easy go! As I became friends with all the crew through that fall, the Arizona boys told me how they drifted to the Armendaris. They were working for one of those big Arizona outfits when the wagon pulled in and they all got a few days off for 4th of July. Seems they got carried away with all the festivities and wound up in jail. The judge thought they should spend a few days there for their rowdiness and bad behavior. They convinced the sheriff that they were both camp men and had wives waiting for them to bring groceries. The sheriff probably had cowboy’d for years before he started wearing a star and a pistol, so he felt sorry for ‘em and let ‘em go. I believe the idea was to return and finish their short sentence very soon. So these hombres decided they should change ranges, especially to one in a different state. I think we were sitting around the La Cienaga camp on the north end of the Armendaris when they told that story. We all had a good laugh. I said it reminded me of stories I had heard about some cowboys who came to New Mexico from Texas. One said “Oh no, the sheriff in Yoakum county, really likes me. He rode to the state line and just begged me to come back.”

That first night that Joe and I got to the Armendaris headquarters around 8:00. Most had already hit the sack but Tom was on the porch having a smoke and showed us some empty cots to roll our beds out on. The Diamond A’s old horse brand was still painted above the door and was called the Wagon Rods. Next morning at 4:00 we had a big breakfast, washed it down with one more cup, then headed for the horse corrals. Arizona Ed had wrangled the horses before breakfast. Bobby Munsey started roping out horses for everyone. We hit a high trot behind the boss and after many miles he had scattered the drive in a big pasture named Cedar Lake. We made a drive on the south half and “throwed” into headquarters. It was nearly 11:00 when the drive came together. Bobby and Bush cut out the dry cows which we “throwed” in the shipping trap and the herd into a holding pasture. So by the time we unsaddled some tired ponies and had dinner it was 2:00. Then we’d nap, shoe a horse, patch our leggings, or tie a honda and horn knot in a new rope. About 5:00 they would jingle the horses, and we would hang morals on them.

The rest of this story will be continued in next month’s issue.

Suggested Reading: The Southwestern Journals of Zebulon Pike 1806-1807