by Curtis Fort
Question Mark, 1980
Right after all the good works at the Culbertson and Tequesquite Ranches, it was spring branding at the Question Mark outfit. I loaded my bed, war bag, saddle and all, and lined out my pickup toward Santa Rosa. I went on to Vaughn, Corona, and slid to a stop at the corrals at the Question Mark west of Carrizozo. Carl Lane, the owner, with the twins Justin & Jarrod, and their sister Melanie, had arrived the day before from the Nine Ranch at Tatum. Sterling Price, as good a hand as I ever saw, came in with a trailer load of good mounts. The neighbors, Tony Gable, Bob Curtis, Jim and Loren Patterson came from the Orndorff outfit; Sterling Spencer, from the Bar W; Rabbit Ward from the Harkey outfit; and Duncan Major from the Monte Prieto. Dewey Brown had his wagon there, cooking breakfast each morning. Dewey is all cowpuncher and came to that range from the Double O’s, at Seligman Arizona. The Mendenborough family that owned the Double O’s bought the old Bursom outfit in that Bingham range around 1978, and sent Dewey over to run it. He brought with him as good a puncher as ever jobbed his boot in a stirrup . . . Rusty McCorkle. Rusty and his wife Peggy and kids, held down the Hansenburg camp on the old Bursom outfit, which was a few miles west of Bingham, and a mile or so south. Bingham had a little Post Office up until the mid-80’s, and a “sort-of” store . . . and that was it. Besides cooking breakfast, Dewey and Rusty were there to help with the works.
The first morning we hauled to the east side on Highway 380 at the edge of the Malpais. We unloaded and hit a trot south, along the west side of the Malpais. Larry dropped a couple of men there at the old picket pens on the inside circle. At a high lope, they dropped the rest, with he and Carl taking the outside circle as bosses should. That old south pasture of 15 sections was a great drive. Those first tiger-striped, high-horned cows you boogered at the start of the drive would sure hit a high trot so everyone had to be on the ball to make that drive come together. It was a pretty sight. That south pasture was a fun drive. It was a rough pasture. With those trotty cattle it made everyone really tend to business to gather cattle and come in on the drive in same place they dropped you
. . . and sometimes you didn’t. If you have been scattered on a drive before daylight in a pasture you’ve never been in, you know what I mean. Be it rough, rocky country like that south pasture, sand hill range or brushy . . . you have to stay even or those ol’ smart cows will “give you the slip.” Then on the next rise, when you pull up and look back, they’re making tracks on top of yours that point the wrong way! But when it all comes together at that pipeline tub just out of the hills and on south side of highway, it feels good. Those Question Mark cattle would sure try us, and when we had them settled, Larry or Carl would ease around to the north and open those gates to cross the highway and go north a mile or so to headquarters. They’d hold the herd up there to cut the dries, same in the fall works, and we’d pen them in those good pipe corrals Larry and Carl built. They had Charolais bulls on those cows along with Beefmaster bulls, so those were good calves. Every day, as soon as we stripped the calves off, Larry would ask a neighbor or two to drag calves. After they did 50 or 60, he’d have two more get their mounts and bring ‘em to the fire. That’s the mark of a good outfit . . . they let the neighbors drag, because the neighbors are as good at roping as they are. Then they’ll drag when they go to help the neighbors.
One spring when we were branding at the north pens, Duncan Majors and I both were dragging at the same time. Someone said they’d never seen two left handers roping in the same branding pen. We worked several days working the Gomez, Highway, Crater, Middle and North pastures, after working that big South Pasture. I have worked for some fine cowboy outfits, and the Nine and their other outfits operated the way it should be. Every morning we had breakfast at 4:00, then horses were jingled from the horse pasture. Larry and Carl roped out the mounts. They mounted you if you brought your riding outfit and those Nine-bred horses were the kind that didn’t give out on you. They had a lot of bottom to them. They were not kid or dude mounts, and had a little snake to them. They were cowboy mounts. After everyone got their wood on their mounts, we hit a high trot to the back side of the pasture while it was still plenty dark. That ol’ ranch is probably my favorite. It was just a good, desert-mixed range, and there was cow work to do a-horseback. They all liked that kind of work, and craved it. Those tiger-striped cattle are good mother cows, and bred to those Beefmaster bulls the calves are as good as you want. When they were calving their heifers, they prowled them a-horseback, so those tiger-striped cows had respect for a mounted man. If not, they got a dose of nylon, which really helps them have respect. You had to lean over to work them, but they had good calves following them. I was there for several spring and fall works, and will always remember those works on the Question Mark outfit!
Not long after that, my friend Tye Terrell called, saying that he had a deal put together but needed some help. The Strauss Ranch, west of Las Cruces, had decided to lease the ranch and sell the cattle, and wanted Tye to handle it. I had met Jerry and Barbara, the owners of the outfit, the first time I went there with Tye. They are great folks, very hospitable, and made you feel welcome. On another trip Tye, Myles and I were on to that Las Cruces range and Tye said he needed to go visit with them the next morning about listing the deal. So next morning we pulled into headquarters about twenty miles or more southwest of Las Cruces. What a nice big headquarters! The barns, corrals and everything was painted cream or brown. I even saw two wheelbarrows, one cream the other brown. When we got out of Tye’s Lincoln, Jerry came out to greet us, and told one of the chore boys to take the car and wash it. Tye said he needed to visit with Jerry, so he handed Miles and I a tablet and pencil, telling us to do a quick little inventory around headquarters. Then they headed into the house. I looked at Myles and said, “An Inventory! I don’t know much, but that means everything here . . . vehicles, corrals, lists of tools, size of the building . . . about a weeks worth of time for this headquarters.” Myles shook his head and told me there were two cream colored Ford F-150 ranch pickups, so I wrote it down. But we both figured that Tye just wanted us out where peons belong, so I also listed a big yeller Tomcat that was perched on top a big post. At that time, Barbara stepped out and asked us if we’d like to have some coffee, and muffins,. We said, “Yes, ma’am!” She escorted us into the den where Tye and Jerry were having their big business talk. We knew Tye must be kidding about that so-called inventory, so I threw the tablet down on the big coffee table as Barbara brought out our coffee and muffins. Tye and Jerry had been filling up on coffee and muffins with whipped cream for an hour or so. They pushed their plates back, Tye lit a Marlboro, picked up the tablet and told Jerry that he really need those “inventories”, because they’re so important on a deal this size. I looked at Myles in shock as Jerry and Tye both looked at the tablet which listed two Ford pickups, a bucket of brown paint, and one big yeller Tomcat! Tye started coughing while Myles and I gulped our treats and were out the door pronto! So my amigo Tye, probably from Jerry being impressed with the good help Tye carried around with him, acquired the listing.
About the time we finished the branding works at the Question Mark, Tye called and needed help. It seems that he struck a deal with International Cattle Systems to lease the outfit and purchase the cattle
. . . some of those cattle were a little hard to gather. We’ll gather them next month!