Branding out of a Rodear on the Spanish Ranch, Part 2
March 10, 2012
Branding Out Of A Rodear On The Spanish Ranch--40 Years Ago--Part II
NOTE 2: I need to put a clarifier in here. I will soon start to write about how we branded and handled calves on the Spanish Ranch forty years ago. At no time will I insinuate that this is the right way or the only way to handle calves. However you brand your calves has undoubtedly been working for many, many years. So do not think that I am trying to persuade you to use these methods. Stay with what you’re doing, as I’m sure it works just as well as anything I’ve ever been around. There is more than one way to skin a cat. I will only write about how we branded when I was there. How did they brand before Kane took over? I don’t know. How does the Spanish Ranch brand now in the modern era? Once again, I do not know. I can only relate to the style we used when I was there. And that’s it for NOTE 2.
We trotted out of Dry Creek for five or six miles. “Five or six miles,” you say, Martha, “whatever happened to that ‘you ride for thirty miles to the cattle, do your work, ride back, and at the end of the day you have ridden fifty or sixty miles?’”
I’ve ridden big circles on the big outfits. When I was 15, 16, and 21, I rode the Tevis Cup which is 100 miles in 1 day. Years later I would take a 3-year-old into the branding corral at Jiggs for the first time, and he went bonkers. He started kicking calves with both feet and broke one calf’s leg. Out of that corral we went, they couldn’t afford that kind of free help. The next year, I took him down again. This time I climbed on him at midnight and trotted down to Jiggs, which is about 30 miles from my house. I got there at 6 o’clock for breakfast. We gathered and branded a herd that morning and that afternoon we branded our second bunch. I roped on him then, and that horse did just fine. Matter of fact, over the years I branded both cattle and horses with him. Out of sheer boredom I made that same ride another time too. That time I took two horses. In 1994, when I was 45, just for the challenge of it, I rode 3 horses from the Utah state line to the California state line. I rode the Nevada Division of the Pony Express Trail, and it was 429 miles across the state. If you have a good horse, anybody can go 100 miles in 1 day. That ain’t no big deal. But on the “Pony” I had 3 horses--which meant 3 backs to sore, 12 legs to cripple, 12 feet to go bad, and 8 days to accomplish any of that. The ride went as planned; matter of fact, I could have come in the evening before. I averaged 54 miles a day for 8 days. When I was in my early 50’s, I did a benefit for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. I walked and jogged for 10 miles, rode a bike for 35 miles, and then rode 30 miles on 2 horses for a total distance of 75 miles. People would pledge so much money for every mile I completed. I did the entire 75 miles and raised about $1,800.00
So I think I have a pretty good idea of what a good “cowboy” pace is. I also know how fast and how far a cow will travel. As I mentioned in Part I, the purpose of a wagon is to be where the cattle are. Why would you ride 30 miles to your cattle when you can move the wagon and be right in the middle of them?
People like to talk about the big outfits, those murderous rides, the killer horses, and the thousands of cattle worked in record breaking time. Well, we were the big guys. And the way we did it was a little bit at a time. A little bit day after day, week after week, month after month, and the next thing you know--you got a whole lot of miles ridden and a whole lot of calves branded. We were never caught up. The weather is usually what threw a monkey wrench in the works.
I was at a branding on another ranch one time where we branded about 450 calves. At times there were 8 of us roping and the corral was not all that big. There were so many people there that they were getting in each other’s way. I would see calves with an ear mark but no brand and vice versa. Who knows how many shots were missed or how many bull calves they had that fall. When we were all done and the final count taken the man asked me how many calves we branded on the Spanish Ranch in a day. I told him that Stanley Ellison told me that if we averaged 50 calves a day on the wagon he would be happy. The man said he wouldn’t bother with a branding for only 50 calves. I never set foot on that ranch again.
So just what was the most calves we ever branded in one day? My best recollection is around 220, and it was on the ranch. And of all things, it was first calf heifers. It was a wet spring and we couldn’t get a dry day to brand. And guess what, those heifers did not hold up having their calves so we could get caught up. When we opened the gate we had heifers going in and out, calves going back and forth through the barb wire fence, and heifers walking out in the brush with 2 or 3 calves following them. It was a nightmare. Being behind like we were, it was off to new adventures the next day. Pee Wee Lara was doing the calving, and he was days trying to get everything straightened out. If he ever did. I never did hear what the final leppy count was. Simply put, Kane did not like working with big numbers.
OK, let’s take it the other way--What’s the least number of calves branded in one day? It happened on that far side of Dry Creek. When the circle closed we had only one oreana.
Kane had been there about 10 years by the time I showed up so he had things pretty much figured out. In the fall we would open outside gates on each end of the ranch. When one of those fields had about 300 head in it we would drive them down the lane to near where the River Ranch and that big wide spot were. Seller steer pairs one way, seller heifer pairs another way, cows with babies would stay there, bulls one way, yearlings another, strays went somewhere else, and dry cows through another gate. You get my drift. Even working with those small of numbers of cattle one or two of us would be sent back the next morning to straighten out tight bags.
They say sheep are dumb. You can have 800 ewes and 1,000 lambs in a corral and they will mother up within a half hour. 800 cows and calves will never do that. However, I have seen some cows do things that were impressive. On the other hand though, I have seen them do some incredibly stupid things as well. Speaking of the word stupid, let me go with another note here. Once again my mind is wandering in this…the throes of creation.
NOTE 3: Aline was 38 years old by the time we got her a horse and a saddle. She is not a cowgirl, and she has no intention of ever being one. Riding a cutting horse is not one of her wishes, and she has no desire to learn how to rope. She loves to pack into the Ruby Mountains or trot out for 10 or 15 miles. Early one summer we went down to Jiggs to help Harvey Barnes move a herd. Aline had her confidence built up, and she knew her horse could handle anything that came along. We were closing the circle when Harvey rode up. “So, Aline, what do you think of this cowboying?”
“I like the early morning, and I love riding my horse and thinking that I’m actually helping out. But cattle are so stupid!”
“I can’t argue with you there,” he said. “But there is one thing that is dumber than a cow, and that’s the man that is trying to make a living off her!” End of NOTE 3.
Meanwhile, back to the story of rodashing and branding.
So, continuing on… We trotted out of Dry Creek for five or six miles. We were in low, dry country where the brush was not very high, and we had a pretty good place to hold the rodeer. Kane was adamant about how we handled those calves when we brought them into the fire. A cowboy could make one mistake and not too much would be said. Two mistakes at the same branding meant he was on thin ice. His next error would get him out of the roping and into the holding part of it. I hated holding rodears. It was so boring that I just wanted it over as fast as possible. I would get to the point where I would get mad if the cowboy missed a shot, which meant we had to stay longer. Lucky for me, when I was the lead off man I would rope one day and work the ground the next.
OK, let’s get into the working the ground of this discussion. It has taken me 10 hours to get to this point of the story. See what I mean about a marathon? All I’m going to say about the roping is that the calf was caught by both heels. There was no “wrastling”--if it came to that, then Kane would make us pull out and come back again with the calf. He wanted things done right, and cowboy, you better get on the same page. The whole trick is to KEEP THE CALF MOVING.
Let’s say Kane is on the ground and I’m roping. He’ll see what part of the herd I’m coming from, and then he will position himself on one side of the fire or the other. That will be my target. He’ll be close to that fire, like within 8 or 10 feet. Maybe even closer if you’re riding a good horse and there’s no wind. He’ll get squared around so I am coming into his left shoulder, and when I turn my horse around I will be facing directly to the herd. The herd will not be to my left, or to my right, but directly in front of me. This isn’t as hard in real life as it sounds on paper. I’ll ride my horse right in front of him, like within arm’s reach, and the calf will come into him that way also. The brand will be put on the left side, so let’s say I’m dragging the calf on its right side. I’ll keep my eye on Kane and keep the calf moving until Kane bends down. Once he touches the calf I will let my turns run while I’m turning my horse, and then I’ll spit. At no time will there ever be any slack in my rope, and that calf had BETTER NOT move once Kane has touched him. If your horse moves, let your turns run, but DON’T let that calf move. For the most part we did not ride up on our ropes as we would do if we were heading and heeling. I guess the thinking there was that we would lose too much time.
Let’s think about that for a minute. Drag a calf in and stop. Now walk up to the calf, it doesn’t matter if it’s from the left side or the right side or from straight in front of the calf. That calf is going to see you coming, and it’s going to get up, or try to anyway. But if you keep the calf moving, there is nothing it can do.
Now, let’s say I’m dragging the next calf on its belly. The back feet are crossed, and its head is straight up. I don’t want to go too fast as I don’t want to be snapping any ankle bones with both feet crossed like they are. Kane is already in place, and I am riding perpendicular into him. That means he’s facing north and I’m coming into him at a 90 degree angle from the west, his left. I’m heading about 2 feet in front of his left shoulder. It’s OK if he has to move a step forward, but I better not crowd him as to where he has to take a step backward. I KEEP THE CALF MOVING while Kane bends down and pushes the calf over onto its right side. Once the calf is on its side, with Kane touching it, I’ll let my turns run while turning my horse and spitting. My mother abhorred spitting. She said it was a filthy and disgusting habit. This from a woman that smoked no filter Camels for many years. In those days smoking was not the public enemy it is now, so nothing was ever said. She also said the reason I swore so much was because I didn’t have the brains to improve my vocabulary. Yes, Mother Dear!
However, with the calf coming in on its belly like that, Kane might not bend over to push it. He might put his left foot on the calf’s left shoulder and push it over that way. You might want to be careful doing it that way though. If you don’t time it just right, you may lose your balance and fall over backwards. Many times I have brought a calf in while Kane was using both hands to refill the vaccine gun. I kept coming, and once he pushed the calf over with his left foot and knelt down on the calf, that is when I would turn my horse. See what I mean? He just took a calf down without even using his hands. All because I KEPT THE CALF MOVING.
Now let’s bring one in on its left side. Same thing, Kane will get me on the angle that he wants and I keep coming. This time though, Kane will walk a little ways towards me. With the CALF STILL MOVING, he’ll reach down and grab the left front foot, which is the bottom foot, and while he’s walking he’ll roll the calf over onto its right side. Once I see him go down on his knees I will let my turns run while turning my horse and…I know mothers, I know…but ya gotta spit. I mean, that’s just the cowboy way.
Cowboys, just to satisfy your curiosity and to show the kids, have one of them rope a calf and keep the calf dragging. Now you reach down, and while you’re walking, you can roll that calf from side to side, over and over. And there you have it. It’s just that simple. The calf goes right to the fire and there is no “wrastling.” The cowboy keeps his eyes open, and the horse keeps the calf moving. You have to work together though. The knife man has to set the cowboy up as to where he wants him, and the cowboy has to think a little. Remember I said the calf will be caught by both feet? You can do all of this with only one foot caught too. Just keep the calf moving, that’s the important thing.
One time RT was riding a bronco, I mean this might have been that horse’s first time at a branding. The horse moved and pulled the calf out from under Kane. OK, these things happen, but RT should have let his turns run; it’s OK for the horse to move, but that calf had better not move. RT really got to paying attention as he knew it had better not happen again. But the bronco did move again, and the calf did too. “RT, you jerk one more calf out from under me and you’re going to hang your rope up and hold. You hear me?”
My sympathies were with RT. He wasn’t doing anything wrong in handling his horse, young horses do move at a fire, but he didn’t let his turns run. He was just riding a young horse was all. However, Kane’s patience and tolerance had a short limit.
We were on the Squaw Valley side and camped at Trout Creek. We made a huge circle and were taking those cattle up Rock Creek or Toe Jam, I forget which. We had been there the year before, and Kane didn’t like where we branded so he told me to take the lead higher and stop when I found a good, big clear space. I couldn’t find anything that I considered good so I just stopped them before we started getting into the steep canyon. We had way too many cattle, and we knew it.
If Kane figured we had over 100 calves to brand then he would tell us at about the halfway point that we could change jobs. You know, go from the ground to roping or holding. It was a nice gesture but I never knew of any of us to take him up on it. And he, of course, would never consider having someone take over for him.
“Mooney, I’m guessing 150 calves,” Kane said. “We’ll trade at about 75. You guys keep track and let me know when it’s time to trade off. Think you and Pablo can handle it?”
There are times in my life when I wish I would have chosen silence over bravado. “We’re cowboys ain’t we? Bring ‘em.”
And bring ‘em they did. Kane called for one of the better ropers to join him, and those guys really put the mash on us. I had the knife, and Pablo Quintero had the irons, the gun, and the fire. When I would ear mark a heifer I would put the ear in my right back pocket. When I cut a bull I would put the sack in my left back pocket. That’s how we kept count. I emptied my pockets out several times so I had a pretty good idea of what the count was. Pablo was watching his dosages so he and I were close as to the number of calves branded. Of course, when it came to 75 we never said anything. Kane was kind of suspicious of us, but he never said anything either. When it got to be around 100, Kane asked if we wanted to change.
Pablo pipes up and says, “We’re buckaroos; more cattle.”
At around 150, Pablo and I are having second thoughts about our wisdom. Kane brought another calf in and said, “You two look pretty tired. Why don’t you go over and lie under that sagebrush, and I’ll get a couple of young boys to finish up for you.”
That of course, made us dig in deeper. “Pablo,” I said, “if I could go back to my youth, I would take out the day that I wanted to become a cowboy. I had visions of what it would be like, but I never saw the bitter cold, or the heat, or the hard work. I would even eliminate a horse or two.”
“Yes,” he replied, “much work. Much work, Papa, but soon we’ll be like a cow and go to water.”
We called each other Papa because of our heifer calving days. We each told the other how good of a Papa he was. And of course, there was always the insinuation that the other was the Papa.
Even though we were holding the herd right on the creek, we never took a break and went to drink. Dumb, I know, but that’s the way it was.
I don’t remember the exact number, but we just barely broke 200. When we finished that last calf Pablo kicked the wood out of the fire, I emptied my pockets, and we went to the creek and plunged our arms and heads in and started tanking ourselves up. Kane wanted the cowboys to keep holding as he wanted everything mothered up as much as possible. We had been there for hours and hours, so I don’t know why he wanted to hold them any longer. Tradition, I guess.
Kane would later tell me this story: “While you and Pablo were at the creek bloating yourselves up, I hobbled my horse, finished putting out the fire, and counted the ears and bags. Things you and Pablo forgot to do. I could see you two flopped over on your backs and holding your bellies, so I started walking around and looking things over. I was about 8 or 10 feet above the creek in some thick brush and I could hear two cowboys talking.
‘Newell, throw a rock at that calf so I don’t have to get up and chase him back to his mother.’
I believe his name was Newell Squires. Newell was an agriculture graduate out of Texas A & M. He earned his degree from a full scholarship as a baseball pitcher. He was a southpaw (left handed), and he could really throw. He had heard about this Nevada style, so after he graduated he came up to see what it was like. He spent the winter and spring at the White House with Irvin Thompson, and he joined us right after we moved out.
‘Wow, right between the eyes. You killed him, look at him kicking.’
‘Ssshhh, be quiet. Bill Kane hears you and he will take that calf out of my wages. Don’t say anything.’
‘Look, Newell, he ain’t dead, he’s getting up. Man, you got lucky. Where did you learn to throw like that?’”
Those guys never knew Kane was there and he got quite a kick out of that little conversation.
When January of ‘75 rolled around all that was left was Kane, Terry Riggs, and me. Sometime around then I put out the word that May 1st would be it for me. Once in awhile through the winter Kane would tell me I ought to stay longer. He never pushed it, and I never said anything.
We picked up a few cowboys, and in March we started working out the heavy cows so we could get 1,000 ready to go outside. There was too much snow, and so we worked on another 1,000 head to turn out. April 15th rolled around, and we had to do something. A D-7 Cat plowed a trail through the meadows for us, and once we went through the gate we were on our own. We had 2,000 head, and Kane told me to take the lead but to stop them periodically as he didn’t want two herds. I knew where to stop them, but those cattle knew where they were going, and I never could stop them. I would ride back and forth in front of them and slow them down, but that was the best I could do. Ever see that picture where the cowboy has one leg slung over the horn, smoking a cigarette, and watching the herd move below him? I have a couple of problems with that picture. First, if he has a leg slung over the horn that tells me he hasn’t been around very many funny horses. And second, sitting there doing nothing means he’s just about to get cleaned. Oh, he’ll eventually get ahead of ‘em but he’ll run his horse half to death doing it.
We went 10 miles down the river and left the herd in a buckaroo camp called Summer’s Flat. It’s funny, but I don’t remember what we did with our horses. Did we ride back to the ranch and ride back the next morning with fresh horses? I’m guessing that’s what we did as if we left those horses and rode them again the next day, it would have been plenty tough on them. The next morning we crossed the narrows and pushed them over the hills into Four Mile. From there Kane wanted the lead to head for the Winters but to drop them when they hit that fence corner. If the lead wanted to keep going south to the desert, that was fine; if cattle wanted to pull out and go into those canyons around Soldier’s Cap, that too was fine. They knew where they were at so let them go have their calves wherever they want. I rode back to the rear, and then we quit the herd and trotted over to the IL.
This is hard to believe--the morning before a D-7 had to plow us out, and when we rode into the IL the next afternoon they were dragging meadows. The IL is about 20 miles down the river from the Spanish Ranch, but what a difference in elevation and the snow conditions. A semi came and picked us up at the IL. Kane rode in the front, and the rest of us rode in the back. We would stand up when we were on the gravel roads, but when we finally hit the highway we could sit down.
Around the middle of April, cowboys started trickling in, but not as many as we thought were showing up. Kane wanted me to go out with the wagon one more time and then leave. I stuck with my date of May 1st.
So why didn’t I go with the wagon one more time? After all, I was the lead off man, making more money than I would on another ranch. I knew the country; I would have good horses. I got along with everybody. It was the wagons that I really liked being on, way more so than being on the ranch. I had my own tent and sheepherder stove. I was set up for the brush. What made me leave? I don’t know; it was that time I guess.
On the afternoon of April 30th I unsaddled my horse and waited for Aline to come back from the schoolhouse. We jumped in my car and drove to the Mother Davy’s on Chicken Creek Summit as I wanted to see how deep the snow was.
“Look,” I said, “this is a 5 strand fence, and you can only see the top 2 wires on it. That’s a lot of snow for this time of year. It was a hard winter.”
She wanted to know where I was going. I told her I didn’t know. Then she asked if she would ever see me again. I thought about it, and then I finally said, “Probably.”
The next morning I rolled it up. I never worked for the Ellison Ranching Company again.
Well, Martha, there you have it. I hope I answered your questions. It’s 4:55 on Saturday afternoon. It’s been right at 13.5 hours for this little bit of trivia. The mood has passed. It’s over, and I’m glad it’s over. I’m tired. I never got anything accomplished today. Anyway, there’s your story.