Spanish Ranch Stories #2
We pulled out and as we were heading back to the VN Reservoir I told Aline about how we used to bring those Allied (Allied Land and Livestock—IL Ranch) cattle up from the desert and over to Bull Run, which is in Columbia Basin. (I’m talking the Allied wagon now, not the Spanish Ranch wagon.) Allied only had about 50 horses in their cavvy which was really unusual for me. I used to be so bowlegged that I said I would never work for an outfit that didn’t have at least 100 horses. One thing about having a smaller cavvy like that was most of those horses were used all the time--both on the ranch and on the wagon. As a cavvy they were pretty dependable; they were ridden a lot more, and for the most part they were more trustworthy.
I’m not bad mouthing the Spanish Ranch horses. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Allied didn’t have any horses that were “wagon” horses only. Kane had some horses that we never rode on the ranch, only on the wagon for those big circles. And even then, some of those horses you didn’t dare take a rope down as there would be a big wreck. Some of the nicest horses I ever rode were Spanish Ranch horses; some of the “funniest” horses I rode were from the Spanish Ranch. For the most part Kane never gave me any of those real ignorant horses. How do you doctor a sick cow on a horse that you can’t take a rope down with? I started a couple of those kinds of horses.
So why have horses like that you ask. They could make the big circles. And let’s face it, there was a certain “old timey” style and reputation to uphold. If a new cowboy came in talking big, well, Kane certainly had horses to test that guy’s talk. And Kane would test him. From what I saw, none of those big talkers were very good. There was a guy I called the Rider of the Rough String (RRS). It was my own form of sarcasm. I could write pages about him but it will not happen in this story. He lasted longer than I thought but I could see those horses were really getting to him.
Kane was a great storyteller, and I used to love hearing those stories. I was always asking questions about those horses. It took me awhile, and I really had to work at it, but I came to know those horses pretty good. I would stand at the gate as they were being wrangled and name and identify them as they came in. I could recognize a horse by his color, markings on his legs, the shape of his withers, the shape of his butt. I could even tell some of them by their ears. The last year I was there, just for something to do, I made a list of the horses we could put a saddle on and ride from Point A to Point B. It took a few days, and I came up with 131 names. How I would love to see that list today and get the flashbacks on those horses.
To this day, Kane does not like it that people want to hear about how bad his horses were. We used to talk a lot about the cavvy. It was his cavvy and he was, and still is, proud of them.
And Kane wasn’t the only one in the valley that had been around. There was Jerry Chapin and Randy Bunch. Those guys had all come up from the 25 Ranch with John and Tom Marvel.
“Aline, I want you to keep an open mind and see the humor in these stories I will tell. Don’t get the wrong impression about those horses. Bear in mind that for every 10 seconds there is a bucking horse, there are 100 hours of horses doing their job. And it ain’t just saddle horses. We’ll get into the pack horses too. Nelo Mori told me one time that work horses injured and killed more men than saddle horses. Len Kimble, who ran the Circle A wagon for 12 or 15 years, told me that when he was young he hired out on the Spanish Ranch to rope runaway teams. This was way back in the 30’s or 40’s.
“OK, there’s the Allied meadows. That river is the South Fork of the Owyhee. It heads up at the south end of Independence Valley at Willis Packer’s ranch and then runs north right through the Spanish Ranch. It’s about 20 miles from the Spanish Ranch to the Allied, and Summers Flat is about halfway in the middle. Summers Flat is a main camp for Ellison, and we would drive those cattle through it when we were turning out and coming back home. Below Summers Flat is a place called the Narrows and that is where we would cross those cattle and then take them to Four Mile.
“Four Mile was the first camp when the wagon pulled out in the spring and Kane would drive it right through the Allied main ranch yard. One time Kane and I were in a pickup talking to the Allied guys. They were telling us about these butcher cows they had been grain feeding, and those cows were just about finished and ready to butcher. They were so proud of those cows that they had us take a look at them. Kane immediately spotted a Door Key cow, thanked those guys for feeding that cow up for him, and had a truck pick her up the next day.
“Allied had nice buildings. They were all uniform in color. You could always tell when you were on an Allied property, the buildings were brown with a green roof, (NOTE: I may have those colors reversed) and the vehicles were painted red. They had screened porches on all the bunk houses. All but the buckaroo bunk house that is. Brian Morris told me that he would have liked to run the Allied cows but he never made it to this side.
“Over there is Four Mile. We won’t drive in there, I’ll just tell you about it. The creek heads up in Four Mile Canyon and runs north. It goes to the Desert Ranch where Allied has a reservoir. If you were to drive into Four Mile you would never know you were in a buckaroo camp. All you would see is a fence corner with a wire corral there. That is the horse corral, and of course the fence is part of the wrangle field. Four Mile is a main place. It was used in both the spring and the fall. In order to save feed Kane would have the wrangle boy take the cavvy out into the open country. When we rode back into camp we would quit trotting and stay low in the draws so as not to stir the cavvy up as they would get pretty wild those first couple of weeks that we were out.”
I first went to work at the Spanish Ranch in January. Truman Walker, from New Mexico, and his wife Connie, had a young daughter and they lived at the Andre Ranch. Truman had been there for 2 or 3 years. There were two young cowboys from Idaho, Chuck Kendall, and Pooch. Chuck had been on the fall wagon. Francisco “Peewee” Lara was feeding that winter but he would go with us on the wagon. I started 8 or 10 colts; those “colts” being 5 and 6 year olds. Broncos is the accepted terminology. I have written about how one of those broncos bucked me off in front of the barn before I ever had my right stirrup. We knew he was gunning for me when Kane roped him. He even told me to be careful; and I was careful, that round just happened to be his. A cowboy from Arizona, Jim Foster, showed up in April. Pablo Quintero would also show up late that spring. Blucher, from Texas, showed up right after that. Old Broom would later join us out in the brush. If I have forgotten someone, I apologize. (NOTE: I don’t remember Pooch’s, Blucher’s, or Broom’s names. Last winter I wrote a story called the Circle A and Archie Winter. In it I talked about roping a mustang mare and losing and regaining my rope. I made that rope into a mecate that I still use today. It was Jim Foster that taught me how to untwist that lass rope and then braid it into a 4 round mecate. Terry Riggs was at the Spanish Ranch 100th reunion and he said Peewee was still there. I believe he married and raised a family there. That’s over 35 years that I know of. )
I had heard of Ellison’s Squaw Valley wagon, but I knew nothing of Bill Kane or the Spanish Ranch. The others had, of course, and they were there for the wagon. We branded about 1,000 calves on the ranch and had everything turned out by the middle of May. The wagon would pull out on the 20th of May.
We branded with sagebrush fires. Kane loved to work; some called him a working fool, and he would never stand around while the rest of us gathered wood for the fire. If anything, he usually gathered the most.
Brian Morris, at the Circle A, had that same mentality. They both thought that since the boss made the most money, then he should do the most work. Their personal lives were quite different. Brian was single and the Circle A was considered home as long as he was there. Kane was married with a family and home was the Spanish Ranch. They both ran their wagons very much the same way with one glaring difference. Brian would take the lead (his brother Clark would argue with him about that) whereas Kane always stayed in the back of the herd.
When we were still at the ranch I would ask Kane about the chore boy and the wood when the wagon was branding. “Hey, Kane, I understand that the chore boy has to milk the cows and he can’t help us here, but how will he know where we are branding so he can gather the wood for the branding fires out on the wagon?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, Mooney. I’ll have 10 or 12 chore boys out there. They’ll all be wearing cowboy hats and spurs and chaps. You might recognize one of them--he’ll have blue eyes and comes from Carson City.”
I had picked up my new Bill Maloy saddle in Reno in April. It was a 5/8 single, high gullet, high cantle, Cheyenne roll, with roses carved in the stirrup leathers. I had a padded seat in it for the sake of esthetics. It had smooth side out latigo for horn wrap. That horn was really fast. When the action picked up my rope would get to buzzing and I could smell that nylon burning. (Today I use mule hide, and my ropes are still scorched.) Originally it had 4 inch Monel stirrups but horses falling on them had broken one. Those stirrups cost like $60.00, if my memory serves me right. Kane used 6 inch stirrups that he bought at Capriola’s in Elko for $18.00. Good enough for him, then good enough for me too.
“We would cut and brand the studs in May before going to the brush. For the most part, the horses we were riding were bridle horses. Big and strong and athletic. Kane always had me as one of the ropers when we were cutting the studs. I didn’t mind that as being on the ground with a horse down can be a little touchy. There is tremendous power in a horse’s back legs even when he is on the ground and kicking. We would do 2 or 3 at a time. I would push one so that he was galloping in a counter clockwise direction. That would usually put him on a left lead and Kane would figure 8 him. The other roper or I would then heel him. Once the horse was on the ground the head loop was placed on the two front legs and the two other ropers would each take one back leg. That meant that there would be 3 horses holding one stud down. When I was there Stanley Ellison always did the cutting.”
“What’s a figure 8 mean?” she asked.
“The loop will go over the horse’s head, and then cross over itself forming a figure 8 in front of his chest. The horse’s left front leg will go into the bottom of the 8. Now you have a horse roped around the neck and a front leg, which means he will not choke to death. You need to be careful though; if your hondo is sitting on the top of his head between his ears there is the possibility that your rope will pull off over his head and maybe stay on his front leg. Then you would have a horse running around with a rope on just one leg. To me, figure 8’s are a class loop. Some guys put a little angle on it, but it’s mostly from the wrist.
“It’s the same idea when roping big cattle. You’re roping a large animal and by having one front leg caught with the head you are accomplishing two things. First of all, your animal will not choke to death. The second advantage is that you have just taken 25 per cent of her strength away, meaning that she only has 3 legs on the ground. Whenever I had a cow roped with the head and a front leg I would tell the heeler that it was OK to take one back leg. When the guy on the ground tailed the cow I would let my turns run and the cow would drop. There’s also a little deviltry that can be played here. If I don’t like the guy on the ground then I will not let my turns run when he pulls on her tail. Jerking on a cow time after time is exhausting work. When the guy was just about out of gas I would let my turns run and down she’d go.
“One year, I can’t remember why, Stanley wanted us to move those studs the next day after we cut them. Kane sent me to do it by myself and Stanley was there waiting for me. He told me to just take them slow and easy and the walking would actually do them some good as it would loosen them up. I did as he said and all those horses made it just fine. I can’t remember for sure, but it seemed like I moved them 4 or 5 miles.
“Brian Morris told me that there used to be an old cowboy on the Owyhee Desert that roped a lot of horses. He threw so many figure 8’s that it just became a natural loop for him and he wouldn’t even have to think about the 8. Randy Bunch was another good horse roper that threw the 8 a lot.
“Aline, Kane sent 5 of us with the cavvy my first year. Chuck and I were in the lead with Blucher, Jim, and Pooch in the rear. Kane never told us anything about how the cavvy handled, he just said to take them to Four Mile. We trotted them off the hay meadows, over the ridge, and dropped down into the dirt road and cow trails that went down the river. We had gone a couple of miles down the river when the cavvy tried to run over the top of us. I assumed the guys in the back were playing games and started those horses running. I had my mecate down and was hitting horses in the head trying to turn them but it didn’t do any good. It’s a simple fact, a saddled horse with a cowboy can’t outrun his brother with nothing on his back. I would like to say that we got those horses under control, but we didn’t; it was more of a matter of them turning back by themselves. It turned out that the guys in the back did not start those horses running. The cavvy had been spilled over the years, and that was just what they did. The guys in the back thought that we had taken off running and were playing games on them so they did not bother to keep up. When they saw those horses turn around and start back at them, then they got to hollering and waving their arms. The cavvy was getting tired of running, after all they had proven their point that we couldn’t control them, so they turned around once again and started trotting down the river. We made it to Four Mile with no more trouble.
“That would be the last time I ever moved the cavvy when the wagon was out. I handled them a lot on the ranch, but never again in the brush. I missed it too. It was easy and I enjoyed moving horses. From then on, except for a time or two, I would pack salt. Kane would help me get started, tell me where to make the salt licks, and how to get to the next camp.
“Four Mile wasn’t a bad camp. It was a pretty good creek for Nevada standards. There was a little pool a couple of hundred yards above where we parked the wagon. I would make sure the cook had plenty of water in his buckets and then I would take a bath in that little pool. I never told the cook what I was doing as I didn’t want to listen to that “don’t bathe above the camp spiel.” No sense in telling him that there were cattle and mustangs above the camp. That would be too logical.
“In the brush we just laid our saddles on the ground. I would keep my bridle and hackamore with my bedroll, but everything else-snaffle bit, curry comb and brush, and sack hobbles-I would lay on the sheepskin and then cover it all with my 2 saddle blankets.
“We would stand in the horse corral and when I was up Kane would ask for my horse’s name. He would rope that horse. After the horse would stop, I would walk up to him, touch him high in front of the left shoulder or in the middle of his neck (depending on how gentle he was) with the back of either hand, loosen the loop around his neck, and then slide the end of my lead rope over the top of his neck with my right hand. Then I would put my halter on, and take the lass rope off.
“I know that sounds elementary, but that was the way those horses were broke. You would be surprised how many new cowboys would walk up and reach under the horse’s neck with their left hand with the lead rope in it and go over the neck with their right hand making a circle around that horse’s neck. Usually the horse would jerk away, sometimes knocking a cowboy to the ground. Kane would then have something to say.
“I always hobbled my horses on all fours, even the gentle ones. Why? Because it kept my timing and coordination constant. If I kept in practice on the gentle ones, then when I had a funny horse to hobble I would not have to go through a refresher course and miss my hobble when I flipped it.”
“I don’t have any idea what you are talking about,” she said.
“OK. I’ll flip the bird with my right hand. Then I’ll lay the end of the sack hobble at the base of my middle finger with the short end touching my little finger. I bring my middle finger down as if I’m making a fist and now I’m holding the hobble in my right hand. I’ll bend over and touch his left shoulder with my left hand and place my right foot behind my left foot. Now if he goes to the right I can go with him or if he comes to me I can put pressure on his shoulder with my hand. I’ll flip the hobble with my right hand behind his front legs and catch it with my right hand when it comes around the front of his legs. I can now walk his front legs together. Remember, I’m still bent over with my left hand on his left shoulder. I’ll put pressure on his shoulder which will cause him to slide his left foot to his right foot, then I’ll release that pressure and pull the hobble with my right hand and slide his right foot towards his left foot. Do that once or twice and my horse’s front feet are close together, and I twist my hobbles a couple of times between his front legs and then tie a square knot on the outside of his left leg. Do the same thing with his hind legs, except you place your left hand on his left hip.”
(NOTE: Hey you 7 readers, I don’t know if you’re interested in these kinds of explanations or not. Remember, I’m talking to Aline, who is not a cowboy, many years ago and I’m explaining to her how we handled those ranch horses. I realize that in today’s world the clinicians are not hobbling their horses anymore. However, I was talking with some buckaroos last month and they all said that they are still hobbling their horses and will continue to do so. Fearing that these explanations are of no use to you I will not go into detail on how we mounted our horses with the 3 point stance. I was not the best bronc rider out there. Part of the reason that I had what little success I did was that I practiced the basics everyday, no matter what the horse. I made picture perfect mounts the first thing in the morning. The thinking being that I couldn’t ride them if I couldn’t get on them. Now that I told you what I’m not going to do, I will reverse myself and tell you that I will go into detail on how Kane wanted those calves roped and handled when we only had 2 cowboys on the ground. Kane will no doubt be a legend in the future. He does not like that kind of talk, and he would choke me if he were here right now. Kane learned from legends, so I guess in a sense, I, too, have learned from legends. I am by no means implying that the way we did it was the right way and the only way--all I am saying is that is the way we did it in this country at the time that I was there. Please, let us not get into big geographical arguments when I do talk about the roping. On second thought, if you do not want to read it, let me know and I will not write it. Amen, brothers and sisters in the Lord.)
Wow, I really flipped out there, didn’t I? I wonder what Aline will say when she proofreads this.
“The first day out we gathered right out of camp. Instead of taking those cattle up Four Mile Creek we branded right in the wrangle corral. Blucher and I were in the back as we were coming down the creek and all of a sudden the cavvy ran down the ridge from our left, through our herd, and up the ridge, and out of sight on our right.”
“Wow,” I said, “did you see that wild herd of mustangs stampede through our herd?”
“Oh yes,” Blucher said, “and the wildest one was that sorrel with the saddle under his belly.”
“The wrangle boy was off his horse, and when he went to get back on, his cinch was loose and his saddle went under his horse’s belly. His horse panicked, which of course sent the cavvy into a tizzy. It always took a couple of weeks before those horses would settle down.
“We worked Four Mile in 4 or 5 days, and then it was time to move on. I would be the first to leave as I would be the last to arrive at the next camp. I would be riding one of my better horses as I would be packing Skeeter and Bill. That afternoon we wrangled the horses as Kane wanted to make sure the pack horses would be good to go in the morning. Kane roped a great big huge horse called Clyde and when I was putting my halter on him Kane told me to be careful when I led Clyde out of the gate as he would jerk away and run off.”
“No way, he ain’t getting away from me.”
“I had such a tight hold on him that he pulled me over and I hit the ground. Away he went.
“Kane didn’t see the humor in it. ‘Saddle a horse and go get him. Next time hang on to him.’
“The next year it was the very same thing with Clyde. Only this time when he jerked away from me we never saw him again. And I mean never. He was lost and gone forever.
“When we finished on the Squaw Valley side we moved back to Four Mile. From there we went to Summers Flat. Kane sent me with Skeeter and Bill in hopes that I might run into Clyde. I stayed high on the west side of the river and about 3 miles from camp I saw a fresh calf that was trying to stand up for the first time. His mother was right there licking him and being a good mother. Then I noticed 3 coyotes had that pair circled. They were each about 50 yards away from her. I yelled at them, but those coyotes were too smart for that. They just sat there looking at me, patient as could be. There was nothing I could do. As they say, let nature take its course.
“Skeeter and Bill were work horses. Skeeter was a bay, and Bill was a sorrel. They were too wild for the feeders to work so Kane had us pack them in the spring from the ranch and then they would go with the cavvy outside where I usually had the honors. They were not as big as the Budweiser Clydesdales, but they were big enough to pull a hay wagon and too big to ride.
“I would put 200 pounds on Skeeter and 300 pounds on Bill. As a general rule, I would pack into the higher country. I would drop 2 blocks of salt off in a saddle on the ridges. Cattle would drink in the creeks and then graze their way back up to the top where they would spend the day as that was where the breeze would be and also the salt. Brilliant, huh?
“I always led Skeeter and tied Bill into Skeeter’s pack saddle. If I were packing 3 or 4 horses it would be the same with Skeeter as the lead horse and Bill as the last horse. When I came to a salt lick I would face my saddle horse to Skeeter and take 3 or 4 turns around my saddle horn. Then I would get off and hobble him on his front legs with my leather saddle hobbles. Then I would hobble Skeeter on all fours with sack hobbles, hobble Bill on all fours with sack hobbles, take 100 pounds off Bill, and work my way back to my saddle horse taking hobbles off as I went.”
I have written about Skeeter and Bill before. I remember I opened one paragraph with - If there’s a horse heaven, I wonder if Skeeter and Bill made it.
To be continued