The Last Wagon on the IL
The IL Ranch is situated
in a remote area of northern Nevada that has few people
and is home to some of the last big ranches in the West.
The IL is a "straight-up” buckaroo outfit. This means
a “wagon” is used during branding time, “cavvy” horses are
roped at the” ropes,” cattle are worked out of an “open
rodear,” and the buckaroos have a “straight-up” riding job.
The IL covers 1,300,000
acres that begin 75 miles northwest of Elko, Nevada.
The ranch headquarters sits on the South Fork of the Owyhee
River. From the headquarters, it is 35 miles to the
eastern boundary fence and 55 miles west to the western
outside boundary fence. There are 351 miles of fence
on the ranch and 151,000 acres of deeded ground. The
Bureau of Land Management and the U. S. Forest Service control
the rest of the land area on this ranch.
In the 1870s, Isaac Laurence Requa, who
made his fortune in Virginia City and Gold Hill in the mining
and railroad businesses, decided to put together ranch holdings
in northern Elko County which were named for his first two
initials, IL. After developing the ranch, he transferred
it to the Owyhee Land Association. In 1883 it was
acquired by the Nevada Land and Cattle Co. Brand books
of 1884 show the IL as their brand. A harsh winter
in 1889-90 lead to the sale of the few remaining cattle
and collapse of that company.
The Antube brothers
from California in 1871 came to the Independence Valley
and began to put together the Spanish Ranch and acquired
the IL in 1898. Two brands, still used today, the horse
brand, pitchfork up, pitchfork down, and the cow brand,
lazy S hanging L, are also early ranch brands. The
IL was sold to the Allied Land and Livestock in the 1930s.
After Allied, there have been several other owners.
one time, this ranch and their Roaring Springs Ranch in
southeastern Oregon ran large numbers of sheep and cattle.
In 1968, IL holdings extended from the headquarters to the
Columbia Basin and had a carrying capacity of 9200 cattle
and 16000 head of sheep.
Agri-Beef, with their
corporate office in Boise, Idaho, had this historic ranch
leased during 2004. Jim Andrae was the General Manager.
We ran into Jim Andrae
and his wife Sharon in the spring of 2004 at the annual
“Big Loop Contest,” Jordan Valley, Oregon, a horse roping
and ranch rodeo where buckaroos from throughout the Great
Basin gather each year. Jim invited us to come to
the IL when the “wagon was out” and the buckaroo crew was
branding calves. The IL is one of the few ranches in the
west that still runs a wagon. Jim said, “You better
get it down on paper and film before this way of life disappears
the first week in July we received a phone call from Jim.
He reported that the” wagon was out” and the buckaroos and
the horse “cavvy” were camped in the Bull Run Field in Columbia
Basin east of Blue Jacket Mountain. Jim said, “Why
don’t you and Lee bring your bedrolls and tepee and come
spend some time with us on the wagon.”
The next day we loaded
our gear, left our summer camp in the Ruby Mountains, and
headed northwest from Elko into what is sometimes called
the “Big Open.” We arrived at the IL headquarters
that afternoon and met with General Manager Andrae.
He put us in the guest cabin and in the evening we ate supper
with the ranch crew (the hay crew, mechanics and irrigators,
who are sometimes called rosin jaws) at the ranch cookhouse.
During the evening meal Jim said, “I need to check on some
cows and water out on the Owyhee Desert in the morning.
See you at the cookhouse for breakfast at 6:00 am.”
morning, after a hearty breakfast, we headed out with Jim
in his ranch pickup. We traveled west from headquarters
to an old stone house named the “Winters.” This building
is a landmark in this vast high desert sagebrush country.
The house had been built and lived in by the Winters family
many years ago. As we left this building site Jim said,
”Notice how the sagebrush is all brown and dying?
This could be caused by the 5-year drought this country
has been in. This is as dry as I have ever seen this
desert and I have lived in this country most of my life.
We are going to wean our calves in July this year due to
We drove on to the northwest,
checking dirt water holes and seeing a few remnant cattle
that still needed to be gathered.
noticed “stud piles” along side the road. Wild horse studs
mark their territory by making these horse manure piles
along the roads. Jim said” The Bureau of Land Management
is going to make a wild horse gather using a helicopter
in this area in the next couple of weeks. There is
not enough water and too many horses.”
We continued to a place
called the Desert Line Camp. The ranch used to keep
a man in this camp to back-ride and check for cattle and
unbranded calves that have been left behind when the cattle
were moved off the desert to the summer country. They
no longer keep a man in this line camp and the pack rats
had taken over the place.
Drawings on the wall in Desert
We traveled on checking
water and cows until we came to another old-time buckaroo
line camp called the Devil’s Corral. The old line-shack
in this rocky canyon was reached by going down a wooden
ladder. I mentioned to Jim, “Looks like a good place
for rattlesnakes.” Jim looked down the ladder to the
tin building sitting in the tall grass below and said, ”There
has been a snake or two found here throughout the years.”
I said, without offering to go down the ladder, “I bet you’re
We left Devil's Corral
line camp and came out on a rock rim overlooking the Owyhee
River Canyon and looked north across the river into the
state of Idaho. This river is the north boundary of
the ranch. While looking out over a vista that is
hard to describe with miles of country and no people, the
radiophone rang in Jim’s pickup. After he finished
his call, Jim said, “Nice to have some contact with the
outside world in case your pickup quits. This is one
spot we get good reception.”
Jim told us about his
livestock program on the IL as
started back toward headquarters. ” We run around
5,000 mother cows, 300 bulls, and 700 to 800 replacement
heifers. Our cattle are crossbred type with some ear
and we use primarily Red Angus bulls. Most years we
run outside 11 months. In the summer, we run our heifers
on the US Forest Service mountain permit in Columbia Basin.
Once our calves are branded up and weaned in the fall, they
are shipped to a “warm-up” feed lot in Idaho. We then
trail the cows without calves back out on the Owyhee Desert
where they spend the winter. We do put up some hay
on the meadows near headquarters. This is used for
feeding the replacement heifers that we calve out in the
early spring. We also feed hay to our bulls and saddle
horse herd consists of a cavvy of 70 head of mostly grade
horses. Most of these horses come from this country.
We run an outside stud band from which we obtain our replacement
colts. We halter break our colts when they are around
a month old. We have the vet come to the ranch and
put the colts to sleep when we castrate and brand.
We found this is easier on the colts than roping and stretching
them out. We brand with a jaw brand as well as the
ranch horse brand. The horse brand is 'pitch fork
up, pitch fork down.' The jaw brand is a number for the
year the colt was born.”
“Years ago we used the
“two-pull” method to start our colts: “Pull up your
cinch and pull down your hat.” The last few years
Martin Black and Bill Van Norman have helped us with our
colt starting program using some of the Ray Hunt methods
for starting young horses. There is nothing fancy about
our horse herd but then we don’t go to horse shows with
our horses. These horses are buckaroo type horses
that can travel this vast country, do the miles and have
enough left to get you back where you started out.
When we hire a buckaroo on this outfit we assume he can
ride and rope.”
returned to the ranch headquarters, had lunch at the cookhouse,
and met up with the buckaroo crew. Riley Brown, the
leadoff man, was the buckaroo boss. Riley has been
with Jim Andrae for 9 years and knows Jim’s ways and the
ranch. Riley is married and his wife and family live
at headquarters. Riley spends most of the spring and
summer camped in his tepee with his crew. The rest
of the crew is comprised of single men. Cain Eaton
is from Montana, Jamie Hastings from California, Mike Holmes,
Nevada, Pete Osborne, Oregon, and Eli Burr, Idaho. These
men were loading corral panels on a flatbed trailer.
We followed the buckaroo crew toward Columbia Basin.
We stopped along the way and assisted in setting up the
corral panels for a temporary branding trap that would be
used for branding calves in the morning. We continued
to the Bull Run Field and drove down to where the wagon
was camped. We met the wagon cook, and then set up
our tepee along Bull Run Creek in the willows near where
the buckaroos had their tepees already in place. We
had arrived on the IL Wagon.
The IL Wagon
wagon is a homemade, self-contained, pull type, cook wagon,
with plenty of ground clearance for moving around in rough
country. Years ago, these wagons were pulled by a
team of horses. Teams have been replaced by pickups.
Inside, the wagon has a fold down table, propane stove for
cooking and baking, a propane refrigerator for keeping meat
& vegetables, and a propane lantern for light. The
inside was big enough to accommodate the buckaroo crew and
the cook at meal times. Jim Fowler was the cook and
had cooked on this wagon before. Jim had also cooked
for big game outfitters in Colorado.
The advantage of using
a wagon is very obvious. Camping near where your cattle
need to be worked is much more efficient. Camping
your buckaroo crew with the cattle saves hours of hauling
horses in gooseneck trailers over millions of acres on rough
dirt roads. The system Jim Andrae and his crew have
set up was fairly simple. The buckaroo crew set up
camp with the wagon. The horse cavvy was pastured
there, too. The crew set up the “ropes” where the
horses were gathered by the horse wrangler and pushed in
at a walk. The “ropes” have 11 metal stakes driven
into the ground 30 feet apart. The back end of the
ropes is left open. When the horses come into the
open end they line up side by side with their chests against
the ropes, and their heads out. The buckaroos lined
up in the open end with halters in hand. The buckaroo
boss, Riley Brown, an excellent roper, roped out the horse
called for by each buckaroo.
is done from behind the horse with a style loop called a
“hoolihan.” Once the horse is roped, it is lead out
by Riley to the open end of the ropes where the buckaroo
slips his halter on and Riley’s rope is removed from the
horse’s head. This procedure is repeated until each
man has a horse. During this time of year the horses
for the next day are roped in the afternoon before supper.
These roped horses are put in a “ketch pen ” for the night
and fed hay. Doing it this way saves valuable time
the next morning. The buckaroos can be gone at daylight
in the morning right after breakfast because the next day’s
horses are all caught and ready to be saddled. They
can get their work done before the day begins to heat up.
Cattle are easier to handle when it is cool. Later
on, in the fall and winter, when the weather cools down,
the horses will be roped in the mornings.
The IL Cavvy
Buckaroo Boss Riley
Brown assigns 6-8 horses to each mans “string.” During
busier parts of the year this string of horses may be increased
to 9 or10 per man. This will depend on how each man
rides and how the horses hold up.
IL horse cavvy carries “cavvy marks.” This means the
mane is clipped in a certain way above the withers.
Two tufts of mane hair indicate that the horse is a bridle
horse, one tuft indicates a two-rein horse, and if the mane
is clipped smooth on top of the withers, the horse is snaffle
bit horse. This procedure is done so that a new buckaroo
boss could step in and would know what to expect of the
horses. Also, if one of these cavvy horses is lost
to a wild horse herd, the horse could be identified at a
distance and be gathered.
A buckaroo’s job on
this ranch is a “straight up riding job.” The buckaroos
are not expected to fix fence, irrigate, or hay. These
men ride six days a week and sometimes seven, tending cattle
in rain, sleet, snow, and sun. The work is physically
demanding. The weather and the miles take their toll
on men and animals. There is very little social life
in this big empty country. A trip to be “social” in
the nearest town of Elko is more than 75 miles one way.
Sometimes this trip can very difficult if the weather and
roads turn bad. This is one reason single buckaroos
move from ranch to ranch. As one of these men told
me, ”You may have to roll up and quit to get a day off on
one of these outfits.” Most of these men are fiercely
proud of their occupation. They enjoy their way of
life despite low pay, no social life, long hours in the
saddle, and being at the mercy of Mother Nature.
IL Buckaroos all rode slick fork saddles, some with bucking
rolls. Most of the saddles were single rigged.
Wade trees were preferred. Most carried a 60-foot
rope with a metal or rawhide hondo. There is no rubber
on the saddle horn in buckaroo country. The horns
are wrapped with mule hide or deer skin. Snaffle bits
with a McCarty setup were used. All of these men wore
buckaroo chinks for leg protection while branding and riding
through the high sagebrush. Several of the “flat hats”
that are popular in the Great Basin were used for headgear.
No water canteens or lunches are carried by buckaroos on
their saddles. The men all eat a hearty breakfast
and that is it until the evening meal.
In the morning, we all
ate a big breakfast before daylight. The only light
in the wagon was a single mantle propane lantern.
Everyone was very polite to the cook and made sure that
they all said thank you for breakfast. When Riley
got up and headed for his horse in the ketch pen, all of
his men followed him out the wagon door toward their horses.
After saddling their horses, the buckaroos all followed
the buckaroo boss. There is a firm rule in buckaroo
country ”never ride in front of the buckaroo boss.”
He cut them each a circle to ride in order to gather cows
and calves that were on the meadows below where we were
Lee and I headed for
the portable branding corral we had helped set up the day
before. We met Jim Andrae there. He had driven
from headquarters to help with the day’s branding.
The buckaroo crew could be seen coming up the meadow with
cow and calves, pushing them toward the branding trap.
When all the cows and calves were in the branding trap,
the branding pots were lit from a propane tank and the irons
were heated. Two men remained on horseback inside
the trap and started roping calves. The rest of the
men hobbled their horses outside the branding trap and worked
on the ground. Everyone got a chance to rope and a
chance to work on the ground.
were good-sized calves so they were headed and heeled.
The header would neck a calf (rope around the neck.) The
heeler would move in and take his shot, then the calf was
stretched out. The rope was removed from around the
neck and placed on the front feet of the calf by the ground
crew. This is the Nevada way of branding bigger calves.
Jim Andrae castrated the bull calves, a 4-way shot was given,
year brand was placed on the replacement heifers on their
front shoulder, and the right ear was marked on the steer
calves so they could be seen in a sorting alley when the
calves were weaned. All calves were branded with the
ranch brand on the left hip, and their left ears earmarked.
When the last calf was branded, the cows and calves were
let out of the trap and held up by the buckaroos until every
thing was “straight,” meaning all the cows had claimed their
the cattle were driven back up the meadow and put through
a gate into another field. The buckaroo crew headed
back toward the wagon at a long trot. When they reached
the wagon, their horses were unsaddled. The rest of
the afternoon some of the men shod the horse they had used
that day. Buckaroos are responsible for shoeing the
horses in their string. Some of the others worked
on their gear. Toward evening the wrangle man went
out on horseback and brought in the cavvy to the ropes.
Riley Brown roped out the next day’s horses and they were
placed in the ketch pen. We were then called to eat
at the wagon. The cook had lots meat and potatoes,
with homemade gravy, bread and had baked a couple of pies.
What a feed we took on. We all thanked the cook for
a great meal and retired to our tepees.
When you are camped
with the “wagon,” after dark, lying in your bedroll in your
tepee, you can hear the cattle bawling and the cavvy horses
moving around near the camp nickering to each other.
You can still smell the smoke from the burnt calf hair at
the branding fire. You can feel the tradition of a
way of life that has been in this country for over 100 years.
These young men and a general manager who cares have carried
on this tradition with pride and passion.
This branding cycle
would be repeated for several months until all of the IL
calves were branded up. The wagon would then pull
in to headquarters. In the fall, the buckaroos would
start gathering the heifers from the US Forest Service Mountain
permit, calves would be weaned and shipped, and the mother
cows trailed back out on the Owyhee Desert. Winter
would set in, but by normally in February and early March,
first calf heifers would start calving. The livestock
cycle on the IL would start all over once again.
However, just as Jim
had sensed, things changed on the IL in the fall of 2004.
The calves were shipped that fall, as usual, but so were
the mother cows and replacement heifers. The sheep
are gone, as well. All the grazing leases were relinquished.
The IL wagon is gone,
the cavvy sold, the bunkhouse razed. Life on the IL
Ranch, as generations of buckaroos knew it, is over.
Other outfits may take over the leases, the ranch may be
sold. Jim summed things up succinctly, " We
don't know what the future holds."
by Lee Raine
Jim Andrae, Stockman
Retired General Manager, IL Ranch – Nevada
Andrae was born in Mountain City, Nevada and has spent his
entire life working on various ranches throughout the state
of Nevada. As a young boy, Jim would saddle his horse
each morning after doing ranch chores and ride to the country
schoolhouse on the Spanish Ranch. After high school,
Jim had an opportunity to attend Cal Poly State University
in California. Mrs. Jackson, owner on the Petan, YP
ranch, which neighbors the IL Ranch, was so impressed with
Jim’s horse handling abilities that she offered to pay for
Jim’s education. The deal was made for Jim to ride
Mrs. Jackson’s polo horses in California while he was attending
college. After completing his college studies, Jim
went to work on the IL ranch. He met his wife Sharon
on the ranch. She was the daughter of the General
Manager at that time. She has been at Jim’s side for
the past 43 years. Jim was the buckaroo boss on the
IL for nine years. The Andrae family then moved to
Smith Valley in western Nevada. Their son Rick attended
school there and Jim managed a ranch. He and his family
then moved to the TS Ranch near Battle Mountain, Nevada
and took over as General Manager. In 1991, Jim and
Sharon moved back to the IL Ranch and Jim assumed the role
of General Manager. He was on the IL ever since.
Horses, cattle, and
working with young men are what Jim enjoys. He has
brought a lot of talent and experience to the ranching business.
Jim is highly respected by the ranching community and the
men who work for him. His reputation was built the
old fashioned way, by working at it every day. Whether
calving heifers in below-zero weather, branding calves,
or starting colts he is always there, on the ground, leading
his crew. Jim Andrae knows the Owyhee Desert country
like no other man alive today. Jim Andrae is a real
stockman. Today he works as an Elko County brand inspector.