Scatterin’ the Drive

Winter 1972 at the Bells. 

In early January of 1972 I had just finished my last semester of school at NMSU and had put out lots of tracks on the Jornada and Armedaris outfits. My friend Calvin Bailey was running the college ranch and offered me a job. So, I planned to do that until spring, then drift to Arizona and work for those big outfits there.

I got word from Don Hofman, manager of the Bells, that they needed a steady cowpuncher at headquarters, whose wife could cook at the cookhouse.

It was good to be back in that rim rock country. We got our mail at Bell Ranch, New Mexico. The mailman came Monday, Wednesday, and Friday around 11:00 a.m. Abbey, Don’s wife, was Post Lady and sorted the mail. We had to be at the cookhouse early each morning in time to cook breakfast, and it was 7:00 p.m. each night before we finished with supper. We had plenty to eat, cowboy wages, and best of all, we were horseback 95 percent of the time. Everyday was fun . . . rain, snow, sleet or shine. Working with good cowboys, and well mounted, what more do you want?

We all had five mounts we kept up for the winter. Of the five, usually two or so were young horses that were broke the previous summer and still needed lots of miles on them. The other three were top mounts and you could rope anything on them that wore hair. Every morning Leo roped out our mounts and we would load up and prowl some pasture. We’d get back for dinner, get fresh mounts and go again. While prowling, we made sure we checked those old Indian camps for arrowheads. It’s great to find a nice arrowhead and wonder who the last fella was that held it as he tied it on an arrow shaft. There were also many places on the Bells with Indian drawings on the rocks. There were snakes, deer, antelope, circles, and all sorts of odd figures. Leo liked all the Indian things, also. When we were prowling a pasture, he would roll a smoke and say, “Curtis, you and Jim ride the Perra Creek and when it gets into that little canyon, there’s a big overhang up nearly to the top on the north side. Sure some good flint chips and metates there. That would be a good place to reset your saddle,” he’d say with a grin.

One January morning it was double cold with a couple inches of snow, but we loaded our mounts and headed for the Seco Pasture. We unloaded over at the Gavilan Mill. It was very cold as we mounted up. Leo struck a match, lit his Prince Albert and said, “Bert, you and Jim, if you don’t mind, prowl that Red Spring Mill and Upper Cow Pass country. Curtis and I will see what’s going on over around the Muertos Canyon range.” When we got to the Muertos Mill, we split up, I headed for China Canyon. Leo said he’d prowl that Muertos Canyon range. As I rode past the China Canyon Mill I thought of that day in July back in 1958 when the Wagon Boss, Buster Taylor was killed there branding maverick calves. Cattle were bushed up from the cold, so I rimmed out up a trail. Just short of the top along the foot of the bluff, I hobbled Porticito, kicked some cedar together and got a fire going. I was at the foot of ten-foot boulders, some with Indian drawings. As I warmed up, the cedar smoke and the Prince Albert smoke all mingled and smelled good. It was 15 degrees and overcast, but I could see several miles. I worked my way afoot up through a crack in the rim rocks. As I gazed to the south around the Upper Cow Pass I could see two different columns of smoke curling up. As I looked to the north there was some smoke working its way up through some rim rocks in that Muertos Canyon range. I think my amigos were doing the same as I, trying to warm up along with doing our jobs. That cold morning as I gazed across that Bell country, I realized I was very fortunate to be there. About 11:00 those smokes all disappeared and half an hour later we all showed up at the trailer. I think it all balances out as throughout the year, as so many times we were past dark calving heifers, fighting prairie fires, or water-gapping on Sunday. We rode for the brand.

We not only rode all the Headquarters range, but we were always loading up and going to one of the camps and helping that camp man work cattle. There was the CA Camp along with the Mosquero, Casa Colorado and West camps. All these camps were acquired when Mr. Lane, the owner of the Bells, purchased the Waggoner ranch

. . . 150,000 acres that joined the Bells on their north and east sides. Back around 1918 Mr. Trigg bought 238,000 acres at $3 per acre from the Red River Valley Company. A few years later he sold 150,000 acres to W.T. Waggoner of the famous Vernon, Texas Family. Then W. T. sold to Thompson and Graham in1969, and Mr. Lane bought it in 1971. The Bells had just doubled in size so we started keeping a large percent of the heifer calves to make mother cows to stock all this new range.

In the fall we’d throw all those bred heifers into the Zorro Pasture, about 20 sections along the east side of Conchas Lake. Late February we would make several drags on the Zorro throwing 300 heifers into the Tulosa and Sabinosa pastures, each about 5 sections. Then we’d work them every week and throw the “heavies” into the Windmill Pasture, which we rode every day, accounting for each heifer and pulling calves when necessary. As they calved they were kicked back out in the Zorro, and more heavy heifers into the Windmill Pasture. One-hundred fifty more bred heifers were trailed up to Casa Colorado Camp, where Leo Williams and Gary Morton were, and they calved them out there. Casa Colorado was the old working headquarters for Waggoners and is located in a pretty place on La Cinta Creek. Twenty miles down the La Cinta is the Bell Headquarters.

When we gathered those heifers out of the Zorro there was always five or six that were really wild and when Leo would do his tally book, there was some still in the Zorro. So the next day, when we caught our afternoon mounts, Leo told Jim Peebles and me to haul over to the north side of the Conchas Lake and cut sign for those heifers. It had snowed the night before and melted in the morning. We unloaded and hit a high trot to where the Perra Creek comes in the Zorro Pasture and flows a half mile or so before it flows into the lake and forms a salt cedar thicket, 100 yards wide and half mile long. We saw their tracks as we rode through to the west side over by the Zorro Corrals. We looked around an Indian camp, and started back toward the creek. As we crossed an arroyo, we hobbled our horses and crawled up to the top so we could look over at a tabosa flat area. As we carefully peeked over the edge there were five of those wild heifers grazing in the open. We tightened our cinches and tried to cut them off from that salt cedar, but they beat us there. We followed each track and when we’d crowd one close enough she’d bust out of the brush. Then we roped ‘em, stretched ‘em out, put dirt in their eyes and drove ‘em back into that salt cedar. We did that to all of them. We figured we’d show them they weren’t safe from these cow punchers, even in that brush. We loosened our cinches and let our horses blow. It was nearly sundown, and we figured when we came back we’d force ‘em out one at a time, whack it on them and lead them to the Zorro Pens.

Well, the next morning we loaded our mounts and headed for the Windmill Pasture. As we crossed the cattle guard into the Zorro Pasture, Leo slammed on the brakes. He said, “There’s those heifers we’re short.” And sure enough, standing in a corner in open country, with their heads up, miles from their salt cedar hideout, were our wild heifers. We unloaded pronto, Leo eased around to open a wire gate and we put them through and off a trail into the Sabinosa. We pulled up on the rim and as Leo rolled a smoke he said, “Boy, we are sure lucky to find them so easy!” Jim looked over at me with a grin

. . . another good day on the Bells!