Recollections by Bill Mooney
NOTE: March 7, 2014
In 2008 I had written two stories, “Spanish Ranch Recollections,” and “Recollections.” Neither story was ever completed and therefore never put out to the public. Somehow both stories were lost to me. If combined, they would have been about 30 pages. When I found out they were lost I had no intention of rewriting them again. I just put it under the heading of “too bad.” Lo and behold, I had sent “Recollections” to Lee and Mike at Cowboy Show Case and forgot all about it. Last night Lee e-mailed this story to me and wanted to know what I would do with it.
As I said, this story was never completed so as you read along I might jump around leaving you somewhat confused. Don’t worry about it, just keep reading. In the beginning I will mention the seven ranches that make up the Ellison Ranching Co. at that time (’72 to ’75). Since then some ranches have been sold and others acquired. I’ll talk about a cowboy I called Rider of the Rough String (RRS). I could write an entire story about him but I won’t. “Caliente, A Bridle Horse” is in this as well as a small part of “Wigwam, The Wrangle Horse.”
As far as I’m concerned, my writing days are over. As I’ve said before, it is so much easier to take some pictures, write a paragraph or two, and put in on Facebook. None of my scribblings were put down with the intent of making a profit; they are for the entertainment of the reader only. If there should be any historical value to them, then so be it, but that was and is certainly not my intent. So, read this, get out of it what you might, and I hope you enjoy it.
By Bill Mooney
October 25, 2008
Stanley Ellison was the big boss. He was the president of the Ellison Ranching Company. Deloyd Satterthwaite was the ranch boss and Bill Kane was the cow (buckaroo) boss. It was for Kane that I worked, back in the day. He was the cow boss when he was 19 years old. He eventually married Marie, one of Stanley’s daughters. Marrying into the family had no bearing on Kane being a boss. Kane was good, damn good. And Kane could be tough, damn tough. At that time the company had 7 separate ranches in the northeast portion of Nevada. Going from south to north they were:
1) Cottonwood. This was a hay ranch located about 40 miles south of Battle Mountain. The hay was used at Fish Creek which was located 12 miles by highway or 7 miles by the back road.
2) Fish Creek. This ranch also put up hay, but in addition to that it was also a feed lot. I went with Stanley one time and we shipped a truck load of finished steers from there to the packing plant. I can remember that when those steers started trotting their ankles would snap, crackle, and pop. I asked Stanley why all the noise and he said that’s how finished steers sound.
3) White House. This was a big ranch located north of Interstate 80 and accessed from the Stonehouse Interchange. Stanley told me that White House had more deeded acres than the Spanish Ranch. Most of the Squaw Valley cattle were wintered there and the ranch was managed by Ervin Thompson. He had been running that ranch for about 20 years. Ervin’s wife was a registered nurse and I think they had 5 kids. Stanley told me that Ervin wasn’t only a cowboy, but that he was a cowman, and a good one. The old ranch hands told me that when they were putting up hay in the summer the mosquitoes were so bad they wore Levi jackets, gloves, and wire mesh over their heads.
4) Lower Clover. This was another hay ranch that was located about 18 miles northeast of White House.
5) Upper Clover. This ranch and Lower Clover were both hay ranches that Stanley bought from the Allied Land and Livestock Corporation. Allied is now known as the IL Ranch. These two ranches had screened porches and had the nicest buildings of all the Ellison ranches. It was located about 6 miles northeast of Lower Clover.
6) Squaw Valley. Located about 5 miles southeast of Midas, Squaw Valley was a tough place to be. Infested with mosquitoes in the summer, it could get as cold as -50 in the winter. Squaw Valley ran a wagon.
7) Spanish Ranch. The headquarters for the company, this is where Stanley and Mae raised their family. Bill Evans, the head bookkeeper, and his wife Grace raised their family in the big rock house located on the lane just off Highway SR-226. The old original county road intersected this lane just below Bill’s house and it went past the River Ranch all the way to Tuscarora. When Brian Morris was the cow boss at the Circle A, he told me that the Spanish Ranch was the coldest place in Nevada.
He said, “I can’t swear to it, but it seems as if the storm starts and ends right at the Spanish Ranch fence line.”
One time when I turned off the highway and crossed the cattle guard onto the Spanish Ranch the rain hit my windshield. Go figure.
The Spanish Ranch put up lots of hay. Kane told me they had so much hay they could feed for three winters without putting up one bale of hay. The hay was mostly put up in loose stacks with a beaver slide and some of those stacks were so old they had turned almost black, had settled to where they were only about six feet high, and had crusted so much they had to be chopped into with an axe. Why did they let some of those stacks get so old? I don’t know.
The combined acreage for the company, deeded, Forest Service, and BLM permits, was about 1.5 million. That did not include the sheep ranges. Other outfits that ran wagons were:
1. The Circle A, which ran a little over 2 million acres
2. The YP, about the same size as Ellison
3. Allied, somewhere around 800,000 acres, they also ran sheep
4. The 25, I don’t know how big they were
5. The TS, I don’t know about them either
I’m sure there were other ranches that also ran a wagon outside, but either I wasn’t familiar with them or I have forgotten over the years. Probably the latter.
Terry Riggs was raised in Elko and was 19 when he went to work for Kane that summer. After he’d been there a few days he asked Kane where all his cowboys were.
“Oh, they’re scattered all around,” Kane replied. “Some have gone home, others to another ranch, some are haying here, and I have one that is missing. He just up and took off one day. I think there was a girl involved. His name is Mooney, and he used to have hair down to his ears. I call him my Carson City hippie. I’d like to hear his side of the story. Right now he’s AWOL, but don’t worry, he’ll show up one of these days.”
Kane was right, he didn’t know where I was; and I was most definitely AWOL. When I left the Spanish Ranch I ran into Lee Daniel in Elko. Lee said that Walt Fischer, the cow boss at the Circle A, needed ropers as he had to get 3,000 calves branded on the wagon before they started gathering in the fall. The Circle A roped everything by the head and heels and big loops and slick horns was the style. Lee and I agreed to meet in Winnemucca in a day or two and then we would head on out to the Circle A wagon. I hung around Winnemucca but no Lee, I was about broke so I went out to the wagon. About a month later Lee showed up with a good old cowboy story on why he was so late.
There were only 5 of us, Walt, Lee, 2 guys that hadn’t done much cowboying, and me. Walt’s wife, Irene, was cooking and sometimes she would help us ride. We would start riding when it was light enough to see, make a circle and drive the cattle to where we were going to brand. The Circle A had big branding traps and Walt would have Lee and me rope the first two thirds of the calves, eat lunch, and then he and the other two guys would rope the rest of the bunch. Lee had a 60¢ maguey rope and I was using 55¢ of 3/8 medium lay with smooth side out latigo on the horn. When things got fast and furious I could hear that rope hissing and whining and smell the nylon burning. Lee didn’t want to rope the big calves around the head as he was afraid that he would break his rope so I did most of the heading. Lee liked to rope fast so I would head one, take off trotting, and he would come in trotting or galloping perpendicular to the calf, left side or right side, he didn’t care, and heel it. Sometimes by the time we had our horses stopped and turned there would be 70¢ between us.
After we ate lunch Lee and I would do the branding. Walt would rope with the other two guys and it might take them awhile as those two hadn’t done much roping and the calves were getting wilder. We would set the coffee pot next to the fire and when a bull calf came in we would toss the cajones on the fire and drink coffee and eat. Oh to be young, single, and buckarooing on the big outfits. Life was grand.
I spent the winter in Reno working as a laborer in construction for Local 169. Instead of placing my money in long term investments where I couldn’t get my hands on it, I would spend it foolishly, that way I still couldn’t get my hands on it. In March I grew tired of filling out a time card and being in town so I decided to go back to the brush. I threw my back eater and bedroll into my ¢71 Ford Pinto and took off for the Spanish Ranch. I knew Kane would understand.
That afternoon I was sitting on an old wooden bench in front of the bunk house when Kane came over and sat with me. “I’m going to have a young crew this summer and I want you to be the leadoff man. I’ll pay you $350.00 a month. But no more AWOL; and I want you to tell me where you’ve been one of these days.”
I’m thinking, Wow, $350 a month. That’s $100 more than the other guys. There are other advantages to being the leadoff man too. I get my choice of horses. Well, I can ask for a horse, there’s just no guarantee that I’ll get him. I’ll throw in for that little private room too. With a little luck I’ll be able to ride in the cab of the truck instead of the back with the horses on the few days that we use a truck. Oh my, but ain’t my future looking good. Of course, there can be disadvantages to it too. Still, a hundred dollars is a hundred dollars.
In the spring, Kane liked to go through each feed ground and cut the heavy (most pregnant) cows out and put them in a separate group. When they had their calves, we would brand those calves on the ranch and the other cows we would drive down the river for two days and turn them out in the brush. He liked to brand about 1,000 calves on the ranch and about 2,000 calves outside on the wagon. Whatever was left we would get in the fall on the ranch when they came home.
We were gathering a feed ground one afternoon when a blizzard hit us. We put the herd into a rodeer (think of a circular “corral” made out of mounted cowboys instead of fence posts) and I could see Kane was going to cut the heavy cows out to the north as the wind was coming from the south. That way the wind was mostly at his back. I picked up on that real quick and I stayed right where I was, on the south side with the wind at my back. Two brilliant minds at work. “Mooney”, he said, “you get over there on that other side, I don’t want you sitting there doing nothing. I’ll cut these cattle through you. Nice try though.”
Kane’s young crew would have the “3 California Kids”: Randy Layton, Lee Magee, and Bryan Neubert. Bryan was a neighbor to Bill Dorrance, Tom’s brother. Tom Dorrance was the mentor to Ray Hunt, the internationally known horse trainer, so the “3” had a good horse background. Newell Squires came from Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M on a baseball pitcher scholarship. Craig Gillespie was from Idaho. This would be his second year on the spring wagon. Danny Williams would join us later. Pablo Quintero and Francisco “Peewee” Lara, good dependable Spanish Ranch hands. Efren would be the wrangle boy. Kane, Terry, and me. This would be my third year on the wagon. That’s all the cowboys I can remember for that summer.
I first arrived at the Spanish Ranch in January of 1972, I was 23 years old. At that time power was furnished by the ranch’s power plant which had two Caterpillar motors. The power plant was located behind the bunkhouse and you could hear one motor running all the time; chugging away and spewing out diesel exhaust. Commercial power would be installed the next summer.
The bunk house was big, dirty, and cold. In 1917 the original bunkhouse was moved to Squaw Valley and a new one was built at the Spanish Ranch. The outside walls were 3¢ wide and hollow and the floor was concrete. The idea was that air between the walls would act as insulation. It was great in the summer, that bunkhouse was always cool. It was terrible in the winter. My water jug would freeze every night.
There was only one door and it was kind of in the center of the building. Go to the right and you would be in a big bare room that had an inefficient coal burning stove and one filthy couch. I won’t call it a living room. There might have been several metal chairs in it. Next to it was the ranch hands living quarters. It was like a big barracks. Bunks on both walls with another inefficient coal burning stove. To the left of the door there was an open room that had a door going into a small private room that had a bunch of junk stored in it. Also off the open room was a door going into the cowboys room. That room might have been 20¢ x 30¢. There was a big old wood burning stove in one corner. I was told that old stove was from the US Cavalry way back when. You could burn coal in that stove all day and it still wouldn’t get that room warm.
I threw my bedroll on a metal cot in one corner of the room. The door was between my bed and the old stove. I put a nail in the wall and hung an electric light bulb on it and that was my main light source. There was a light bulb in the middle of the ceiling but it wouldn’t put out enough light to read by. We would eat supper at 6:00 PM and then I would get into my bed and read as that was the only way I could stay warm. At 5:30 AM the bell would ring and we would eat breakfast at 6:00. Dinner (lunch) was served at 12:00 with the bell ringing 30 minutes beforehand.
The bathroom was located at the other end of the main bunkhouse off from the ranch hands barracks. There were two urinals, one of which didn’t work. Two toilets, walls on each side but no doors for privacy. A shower head stuck out of one of the walls with a wooden pallet on the floor. A metal shower stall was eventually installed. It faced the two toilets and someone tore the shower curtain out, never to be replaced. There were four sinks and a washing machine. The washing machine had an open lid with a wringer attached. In the morning there was plenty of hot water, but in the evening the guys would wear their overshoes into the bathroom and use the hose to wash the manure and mud off, using up all the hot water. This, for 20 to 30 men. No women allowed.
Those coal burning stoves were filthy. I could leave finger marks on the walls. My bedroll tarp eventually would turn from white to a kind of grey. If someone threw diesel on the hot coals it would blow soot all over the room. There were no closets so I kept my clothes under my bed and put some sort of a cover over them.
On a cold overcast day the ranch would be very gloomy. The diesel exhaust and the smoke from the coal burning stoves would hang over the ranch and there was a distinct smell to it. However, in the summer, it was just the opposite. Everything was green, water running in all the streams and ditches, and birds everywhere.
Someone got the idea to paint the “living room” in the main area. There must have been a sale on yellow paint, because that’s what the chore boy painted that half of the bunkhouse with. Coal burning stoves and yellow paint, brilliant.
We were fed well, nothing fancy, but plenty of it. No napkins, no salad dressings. Tin cups and plates with the enamel mostly worn off. If you didn’t let the coffee cool off, you’d scald your lips on those cups. The chore boy would milk five cows every morning and separate the cream from the milk. He didn’t do a very good job as there was always something floating on top of the milk. Many people say they love fresh milk like that; I drank lots of it but I was never fond of it. Sometimes the cooks were pretty good. The company didn’t dare buy Vanilla Extract as the cooks would drink it due to its high alcohol content. The old ranch hands sat at one end of the table, the cowboys at the other, and the new guys in the middle. It was nothing to sit down in the morning and see five or six new faces.
The company raised some hogs. Whenever a calf in the “infirmary” died, we would drag it over to the hog pen with a horse and cut its belly open and let the hogs have it. The hogs would be taken to Twin Falls and butchered and then we usually ate bacon, ham, and pork for the next three weeks until all the hog meat was used up. Then back to beef for the next forty-nine weeks. This of course, depended on what cook we had at the time. Some of them stretched the pork out for four or five weeks.
The cowboys did the butchering when we were on the ranch. During the winter it was one cow every two or three weeks. In the summer, when the hay crews were there, it was two cows a week. We would put the victim in a corral in the morning, that way she wouldn’t have anything to eat or drink all day and would empty herself out. Those corrals were made of willows which meant the cow could not see out. Those willow corrals were the original ones that Pablo Altuble built back in the 1870s. They were maintained over the years and when new willows were put in the corrals were about 7¢ high. That’s why the cow couldn’t see out. Of course, if you can’t see out, then you can’t see in. I went out to wrangle (bring the horses in) the horses one morning in the Hogle Field and I couldn’t find the cavvy. Turned out we had forgotten to turn them out the day before. Anyway, the butcher cow would spend the day by herself and in the afternoon when we ran her into the slaughter house the cow would quite often be half wild and get on the fight. The slaughter house had a little pen in it that was about eight feet square. The door had a small square hole cut into for the rifle to be placed and when she looked at that hole it was “patas arribas” (feet in the air). We would swing the door open and commence to butchering, and I mean butchering in the literal sense. Kane would always do a neat job, he would leave the two kidneys in the carcass like the pros do. I would try to do things about half right, but some of those guys were terrible. They would slice the meat and cut holes in the hide. Kane wanted the hides in good condition as they would be sent to Salt Lake City and sold to leather shops.
After we had the cow cut open we would hook her in the hocks and then raise her into the air with a big wooden wheel that had a handle on it and a pulley on top. We had to be careful because if we cranked the carcass too high the rope would come off that pulley and down would come the cow. We would gut the carcass, quarter it, wash it with cold water, and then carry it to the “walk in box” in the cook house. Preferably the carcass would then hang for two weeks and cure. But that wasn’t the Spanish Ranch way, we would start eating her the next morning.
Terry was kind of a quiet kid and didn’t say a whole lot. When he did talk it was quite often about half humorous. He and I butchered one day and he was being slow and methodical as he wanted to do a good job. When we cranked the carcass into the air we turned the wooden wheel one too many times and down came the clean carcass into all the blood and guts. Terry got about half mad and said, “They ought to condemn this SOB.”
Another time Kane had two new guys help me butcher. I went to the office and picked up the rifle. The office man told me there was only one bullet left. “One’s just right”, I said, “I ain’t never missed a cow in a slaughter house yet.” Wouldn’t you know it, but I hit her about an inch too low. She was stunned but still standing. I opened the wooden door and told those two to get in there quick before she regained her senses. I slammed the door behind them and tried to watch the action through the hole in the door. It was too fast for me to be able to tell exactly what was happening but they finally got the job done.
It was January and the snow was 8 to10 inches deep. Deloyd had plowed paths down through the meadows and feed grounds with an old D-7 Cat that had a cable operated blade on it. Deloyd really knew those meadows as he could hit the crossings just right without being able to see them and not tear everything up. Over the next three winters I would be able to move cattle anywhere on that ranch as I learned all the crossings and gates to take cows through, but I would sometimes have troubles getting a vehicle to the exact spot I wanted without having to make a detour or two.
In the winter there were no spurs or cowboy hats. It was rubber overshoes and caps with ear muffs. We always had our slickers with us. I never saw anyone wear those real long slickers, mine would come down to just below my waist. I eventually figured out to switch from a yellow slicker to a black one. I would even wear the black one on sunny days as it served as both a wind break and the black would draw more sunlight. I learned to pack two pair of gloves with me. Good leather ones with inserts in them to keep my hands warm and dry and rubber ones to rope with. Gore-Tex hadn’t been invented at that time. Roping with those big and awkward rubber gloves was not easy but it was a lot better than getting my leather gloves soaking wet when I coiled my rope up. That area of the right handed rubber glove between my thumb and index finger would always rip open when I was dallying and letting my turns run. It was kind of funny, when spring came around I would have about ten good left hand rubber gloves and only one good right one.
Two weeks after I was hired Kane had me start the colts. These “colts” were five or six years old, had been halter broke as weaners, and not touched by human hands since. They were called broncos. He gave me four on Monday morning and told me I would get four more the next Monday morning. He wanted them hobble broke on all fours, saddled and checked up with a snaffle bit, and ridden in the big willow round corral at least one time and on Wednesday morning he would ride a saddle horse and take me up the lane where I would stop the bronco and take my rope down and get him used to a rope swinging around his head and dragging on both sides.
It was February and there was a lot of snow on the ground but about the time I started with those broncos it warmed up and started raining. In the morning the corrals would be frozen and about eleven o’clock they would turn into muddy soup. I had made some sack hobbles out of gunny sacks and at night I would put them in the power house as it was next to those corrals. The hobbles would never dry out but at least they weren’t frozen in the morning.
It was about a mile from the ranch yard up the lane to the highway. Kane wanted those broncos out of the round corral as soon as possible and outside galloping and learning how to get loose and to move under a saddle with a man onboard. Getting through the yard was a concern to me as there were old tractors, mowers with sickle blades raised in the air, the usual pedestrian and vehicle traffic of an everyday big ranch, and possibly a team and wagon load of hay passing through. Actually, it all went better than I expected. At first Kane would take off galloping in front of me with the bronco following behind; if something happened and the bronco veered off course then Kane would get behind me and haze me through the yard and into the lane. Once we were in the lane it was pretty much gallop in a straight line and let the bronco do his thing.
As I said, usually it went fairly well. However, in the morning the ground would be snow covered and frozen and the broncos would slip and slide. On the first afternoon, while I was on the third bronco that day, Kane was in the front with me charging along right behind him when the bronco saw two mares standing on the fence line to our right in the Little House Field. He quit Kane and ran over to the mares. Unbeknownst to the bronco, but there was a big irrigation ditch all covered with snow between us and the two mares. He hit that ditch and his head went out of sight in the snow. I don’t know how he kept from falling down. He scrambled out of the ditch and went over to the mares with the barb wire fence separating us. Kane came back to fetch me but there was no way I could get that bronco back across that snow covered ditch. Kane knew better than to bring his horse across as there were no guarantees he would make it. He finally went up the lane, through a gate, and came back and drove those mares off. Of course the bronco would go up and down that fence line trying to go with the mares, him ducking his head and me holding onto the saddle horn with both hands as we went through the willows.
In that first group of broncos there was a nice looking sorrel horse with a striped face that stood out from all the rest. Kane said he would take him and give the other three to the cowboys. He called that horse Tramp.
The next group of 4 broncos had a smaller horse in it. His length was normal but he only stood about 13 hands. This was small for those thoroughbred type horses the company raised. We called him The Pony and Kane had been watching him the last couple of years. This horse was wild and Kane told me to be careful and if anything went wrong to let him know. He never bucked but the first time he went outside things got western. He stampeded everywhere. Kane finally had another cowboy come over and the two of them would herd me around. After those 4 were started Kane had me keep them for awhile before he gave them to the cowboys.
It was kind of strange. For the most part none of those broncos would buck when they were being started. After they were given over to the cowboys it seemed they had things figured out and if they were going to buck that’s when they’d start. After these horses had been halter broke as weaners they would be placed in the young horse group. There were about 50 or 60 horses in this group. They went from weaners to 6 years old (some cases even older). They were not considered as part of the cavvy as they were not being used. The older horses in this bunch were, of course, the bosses of the group. However, when they were cut out to be started, they were put in with the cavvy. They were no longer the leaders of the pack, they were now rookies and the bosses of the cavvy would beat up on them. It was like they were in shock. Their life styles had changed dramatically and they didn’t have things quite figured out. After a couple of weeks of this they would fit into the pattern and eventually get into whatever part of the pecking order their personalities would place them. Horses are like humans, some are aggressive, and some are mild.
1SP a The Pony
It was a beautiful spring morning and I called for The Pony. Kane roped him and told me, “Be careful, he has that look.”
Kane was in the barn looking out from one of the open windows. All the cowboys were outside waiting for me. I led The Pony outside, cinched him up, stepped him out of it, and climbed on. I never got my right stirrup, he bucked me off up over the front of the saddle, flipped me in the air, and I landed on my back. The Pony stampeded off, crashed through the wooden gate, and down through the meadows he went. They had to take the cavvy down to get him back. Kane was hot; not at me, oh no, he didn’t care that I had been bucked off and knocked half goofy. He was more concerned about the attitude The Pony was developing. When they brought him back we laid him down and applied some of that Ray Hunt “rub him all over stuff”; it must have worked as I never knew The Pony to buck again, stampede-yes, but not buck.
One fall afternoon Kane told Riggs and me that he would stake us each to a horse. Stanley was at the ranch and they wanted to cut the 5 or 6 colts that we hadn’t cut earlier that spring. We branded them but we didn’t cut them because they were too young yet. He had an older sorrel horse for me. I did not know the horse and all I could get out of Kane was the horse had been with the company forever. Kane roped them around the head with figure 8s and either Terry or I would heel them. When the horse was on the ground Kane’s rope would be put on the two front legs, Terry’s rope on one hind leg, and my rope on the other hind leg. That way there were 3 horses holding him down. Stanley would then cut him. When we had the last horse stretched out Stanley said, “Mooney, you’re harder on horses than these other two guys. Look at your horse, all sweated up; when you unsaddle him I want you to wipe him down with a dry rag, walk him until he cools down, and then groom him and grain him.”
I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about so while we were riding back to the barn I asked Kane about this “wipe him down and groom him and grain him” stuff. “Oh, didn’t I tell you? I must have forgot, that’s Stanley’s horse you’re riding.”
……….Wigwam saw the open gate and galloped through it. When the mare saw the cowboys she spun around and came charging back in my direction. She was coming from my right and would pass about 6¢ right in front of me. This was a very high percentage shot. So high, in fact, I don’t miss these shots. My loop hit her on the side of the neck and away she went. She was running up the side of the hill with me and Dollar Bill in hot pursuit. I built a loop but the ground had thawed out and the mare was beginning to pull away. Going uphill like that and in that wet and soft ground was having an effect on Dollar Bill. I fed my loop out and made it bigger and made a long, long shot. I caught her around the neck but when I jerked my slack there was so much rope out that Dollar Bill ran over it. This was not good. With the mare pulling away I did not have time to get my rope straightened out so I took about 7 turns around the horn, grabbed a rein in each hand and hoped for the best. When I finally got the mare stopped Dollar Bill’s right front leg was sticking straight out with the rope under it. He was not a happy horse. Since he handled well and was about half worn out I got away with it.
I decided that we better “neck” the mare into Wigwam. I had never done this before, but Kane had explained it to me. “Put a leather hobble on each horse’s neck and tie a rope about 3¢ long into each hobble”, he said.
“That sounds good, but how will they eat and drink?” I asked.
“Oh, it will take them a little while to figure it out. But pretty soon they’ll walk down to the creek, stop, look at each other, wink, and then put their heads down and drink”. And that’s exactly what happened.
Most of the buckaroos were young and the main reason they came to the big outfits was to improve their cowboy skills, go out on the wagons, and have lots of fun. When they were about 22 years old they would have it mostly figured out and go back to wherever or whatever they came from. I was 25 before I even started thinking about the future. Even though I was still young, I was beginning to have some minor problems with my knees, ankles, and feet. Having horses fall with me was my biggest source of wrecks. What was I going to be like at age 50? Maybe Port-a-gee Joe was right.
Port-a-gee Joe liked to call me Billy. At that time he was in his 50s or 60s. He was mostly spending his time cooking for either Ellison, Allied, or Willis Packer. When Joe was cleaned up he was kind of a respectable looking old guy. Joe’s favorite food was fried steaks and he always had ice tea for the men. He only wanted us to eat hot food. For instance, he would have a half a dozen hot cakes on the table when the first man came in to eat. “Don’t eat those hot cakes”, he would say, “they’re getting cold and I have some hot ones coming.” He would serve 4 hot cakes to the man and then continue to cook more and put them on top of the original 6. When the next man came in it would be the same, “Don’t eat those”……and on and on. By the time breakfast would be over Joe might have 20 or 30 hot cakes he would throw away. Same way with the steaks, but he wouldn’t throw them away, he knew we would eat them cold later on.
I was going back to the ranch one day and I stopped in at Taylor Canyon to get a hamburger and a coke as I was too late for lunch. Joe was there, looking good in his snap brim hat. He was working for Willis at the time and was taking a few days off. He was staying in one of the three little cabins across the highway from the bar. Joe was getting into his cups by the time I arrived. “Billy,” he said, “you get out of here. You’re too smart to be out on these ranches. You marry that school teacher and go to town. Get a job in the lumber yard. I’ve left lots of little soldiers in the brush. You get out of here. Go on now.”
One day in the spring Kane told me there was a new feeder in the South Powers and to check him out the first thing in the morning. The next morning I was riding about 200 yards away from and parallel to the highway. It was blizzard conditions but the wind was at my back. I could hear a car coming from behind me and when I turned to look I could see it was Aline. That’s what an education does for you. She just left a nice clean, warm house, climbed into a warm car, will spend the day in a warm schoolhouse, and go back to a warm house. Look at me, riding a snaffle bit horse in this storm and nothing to go back to but a cold, dirty bunkhouse.
When I rode up to the new feeder, he was standing behind his wagon and looking as if he was having problems. Maybe he was stuck. I stepped off my horse and was walking towards him not knowing there was a patch of snow covered ice in front of me. I fell through the ice and landed face down, my saddle horse jerked away from me and ran over to the team of horses. I was freezing cold, the feeder caught my horse and told me he didn’t have any problems so off I went heading back to the ranch. I was now riding into the wind and was very cold. Whenever I would get off my horse to open a gate the ice would break off my clothes. Later that day Kane told me he wanted me to stay until we had the cattle turned out and the wagon pulled out. Then I could go. Once again, I politely declined.
On the afternoon of April 30th I unsaddled my horse and drove Aline up to the Mother Davies meadow. I wanted to see how deep the snow was. “Look at that,” I said, “all you can see are the top two wires of a 4 strand barb wire fence. For this time of year, that’s a lot of snow. Now that it’s over, it was a hard winter.”
She asked me where I was going, I told her I didn’t know. The next morning I rolled it up. I never worked for Ellison again.
3SP2 c Blondie
A new guy was hired and he came waltzing in as cool as could be. He had new levis, new boots, a new hat, but just didn’t quite look the part. He said, “They told me in town that if I could make it a year on the Spanish Ranch I could work anywhere. Is that true?”
I told him I had never heard that before but we could give it a try. He was in his early 20s, slender, and about 5¢ 10². He had blonde hair that came down to his shoulders. We called him Blondie.
Blondie was a kick. Everything he did was funny. He walked funny, he talked funny, he told funny stories. He had never been around cattle, his hands were no good on a snaffle bit horse, he couldn’t rope, but he could ride good enough that he could mostly keep up with us. All of us liked Blondie. All but one that is, Kane wanted a cowboy, not a personality.
I don’t remember exactly what happened, but one afternoon a horse threw some kind of a fit. Blondie was talking way over his head, telling the cowboy what he should have done, what he should be doing and so on and so forth. Kane said, “Alright, we’ll see what you have in the morning.”
Kane roped a big huge horse called Clark. Clark was grey almost to the point of being white. I had never seen Clark ridden before but the book on him was that years before Clark Morris had started him in a spade bit. Clark was a horse, that’s all he was.
We trucked up to the Mother Davies and Kane led his horse over to the gate and opened it. Everybody but Kane and Blondie climbed on their horses and rode to the gate. For some reason we stopped before going through the gate. Blondie knew he was the main attraction so he stepped on Clark, grabbed the horn with both hands and let out with a loud “yee-haw”. Clark gave a loud grunt and groan and hopped straight up in the air. Blondie was holding on with both hands and lost his reins. Clark came down, another grunt and groan and up he went again. Blondie lost his hat. Clark came down and did the same thing again. Blondie lost his right stirrup. His head was flopping around and blonde hair flying everywhere. I had never seen anything like this before, it was hilarious. Clark kept on grunting and groaning and took a couple of more hops. All of a sudden he stopped; they hadn’t gone 15¢. Kane walked over, gathered up Blondie’s reins and hat and handed them to him. I was laughing so hard the tears were pouring out of my eyes. Kane walked over to me, shook his head, and said, “God helps those that can’t help themselves.”
All the cowboys were hoping Blondie would make the cut and go out on the wagon with them, but alas, that was not to be.
3F c Caliente
It was around the middle of October and we were catching fresh horses that afternoon. “I’ll stake you to a horse”, Kane said, “we’re going to Jack Creek and I’ll take the cowboys to the head of the creek but I want you to ride those three canyons. You’ll be by yourself so I want you to have a good horse.” He roped Caliente.
Caliente, at one time the fastest horse in the Spanish Ranch cavvy. I had only seen him ridden two or three times, and only by Kane. Caliente was class. A big good looking sorrel on the thoroughbred side. He was a bridle horse, a bridle path cut at the top of his mane, and a bridle notch on his withers. He was freshly shod by Kane. I was in for a good afternoon.
We trucked over to Jack Creek and went our separate ways. Kane with the cowboys, up to the head of Jack Creek. Me and Caliente, to the three steep, rocky canyons with the pine trees. Even though he was a bridle horse, I put my snaffle bit on him. Being in that rough country, you never know. When I rode to the head of the first canyon I started hollering and the cattle just boiled out of there. It was that time of the year to go home and those cattle knew it. They hit the trail at the creek and down they went. This is as it should be, a good horse, a beautiful fall day, and cattle going the right way for a change. Buckarooing on the big outfits, my oh my.
I came to the second canyon and it was the same thing. I hollered loud and long and down went the cattle as if they had good sense. If it was always this good I would recommend it to others. Don’t get me wrong, the riding was tough. Those canyons were steep and rocky and I had to watch where I was going. Horses like Caliente though, make it worthwhile.
When I came to the third canyon I saw the Durham bull way up high on the other side. It took me awhile to get to him and of course I was concerned about getting him down that canyon. There was a beaver pond at the head of the creek and some of the cows stopped there. I quit yelling as I was hoping those cows would stay there and the bull would go to them and then I could push them all out with the bull following the cows. All went as planned. When the bull and I reached the cows I saw the water from the beaver dam had covered up the original trail but the cattle had gone uphill making a new trail. The cattle started out in single file with the bull near the end. I just poked along giving them lots of time as it was rather steep going. The trail went under a choke cherry tree. The cattle could walk under it with no problem but the branches were too low for me to ride under. I had a choice, I could lead Caliente under the branches, or I could ride up and around a crop of rocks and a very steep section. I did the smart thing, I stepped off my horse.
Caliente kicked me on the outside of the left knee. I hit the ground and grabbed my mecate. Why? Why did he do that? I didn’t do anything wrong.
I was kind of lying on my left side with my left arm propping me up. I took my hat off as the sweat was pouring out of me. I felt nauseous and wanted to throw up but I couldn’t get squared around and I knew I would splatter all over myself. I hurt so bad I wanted to cry.
I finally managed to roll over on my back with my arms outstretched and stared at that blue, cloudless sky. This cowboying ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. STOP IT! Quit feeling sorry for yourself. You’re in a jam and you had better start thinking how you are going to get out of this mess. Your leg is broke and you are in deep trouble. Don’t turn Caliente loose, he’s the target they will see. I wish it was 24 hours from now, this night will be over and I will be in a nice clean, warm hospital bed with some young pretty telling me how brave and tough I am---some old hide will be telling me that’s what I get for working for this outfit. A helicopter. Ellison will never pay for a helicopter--they don’t fly at night. The only way out is horseback. I don’t want them to put me on Caliente, he’s too tall, and there’s no guarantee the idiot won’t kick me again when they drag me off. There’s one horse that is gentle and small. I’ll tell Kane to put me on him. It’ll be dark in 3 or 4 hours, I hope they find me by then.
So there we were, me and Caliente. Me down and broken. Him just standing there, not a care in the world. If I had a gun Caliente, I’d shoot you dead. Better yet, I’d gut shoot you, then you could lay here and suffer with me. QUIT IT!
After what seemed like hours I was able to move my toes, then I could move my left foot a little. It hurt something terrible, but at least there was movement. They say if you can move it, then it ain’t broke. Maybe I’ll get out of this after all. I finally managed to stand up and hop around. Oh, but I was in pain. Now what do I do--Caliente is standing with his right side facing up hill--it would be easier to get on him from that side as I wouldn’t have to put my left foot in the stirrup and have it bear all the weight. But these ranch horses aren’t broke to get on from the right side, and this is not the time or place to be testing his patience.
I managed to get him turned around the other way. I wanted to kick him in the belly but I knew that would have been an impossibility. If I doubled up my mecate and whacked him between the eyes he would have jerked away from me and ran off. I took the heel of my right hand and jammed it into his eye. I must have got him a good one as he rolled his eye back and water came out of it. Now I know that what I did was not the right thing to do, but at the time it sure made me feel better.
I don’t remember how, but I did get on him and rode back down to the creek as I didn’t know where the Durham bull had gone. Or the cows either, for that matter. I couldn’t get my left foot in the stirrup so I just let that leg hang down. I would make a stab at the bull, but if he was not going to go then I would leave him for the “white buckaroo” (snow). If that didn’t get him then he could winter with the coyotes for all I cared.
After about 45 minutes I finally made it to the gate and Kane was standing there waiting for me. “Did that Durham bull make it down?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, he came out of the third canyon with some cows and he’s heading on down the road in the right direction. He’s way down there. Where you been--what took you so long?”
“Caliente kicked me.”
“Why’d he do that.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
It would be years later before I ever told anyone the story of Caliente. Why? I don’t know. I guess I just never felt like talking about it, though I vividly remember the thought process as I lay on the side of that mountain.
One Saturday morning the kids met us at the barn. It had all been approved, they were going to cowboy with the buckaroos that day. One of the boys was going to ride an old horse called Coon. Coon was old and very sway backed. I told the cowboys I would saddle Coon myself as I wanted it done right with the way his back was. I cinched him up tight and tied a US Army Cavalry knot in the latigo. Those never come loose. About 10 o’clock that morning that saddle fell off and the kid hit the ground. I never heard a satisfactory answer to any of my questions, but the cowboys sure gave it to me for how good of a “horse saddler” I was.
We changed horses at noon but let the kids keep their same ones. It turned out to be a long day and about 4 o’clock we were rodeering right off the lane near the dipping corrals. Kane would cut a cow in the RRS’s direction but the RRS wouldn’t make a “hole” for the cow as she came out. Kane would head a cow in his direction but he wouldn’t move. Kane would leave the cow where she was. Finally he said to me, “If he’s not going to make a hole, then I’m not going to push a cow through him.”
I rode over to the RRS and said, “When he brings a cow to you, and you don’t move, then that cow doesn’t know if she should go left or right. When the cow looks at you, and you move either to the left or the right that creates a hole and the cow will go to it. These cows have been worked all their lives by horseback so they are looking for the hole when they come out of the rodeer. As soon as you move, she will go to the hole.”
He caught on to that and things were moving right along. All of a sudden one cow made a break for the outside and Kane hollered for the RRS to bring her back. He put the spurs to Wiggle and holy moly did that horse blow up. Both of the RRS’s legs were on the same side of the saddle and he tipped over backwards. Both spurs were caught in the saddle blankets and his head was hitting the ground. I knew I was watching a man die. He came loose and got up and started walking around, his knees were bent and he was all hunched over. I didn’t bother to go after his horse, I rode over to Kane and said, “That was vicious.”
“Yeah, maybe I ought to take Wiggle away from him.”
Stanley called Kane and told him to get enough big steers to fill 5 or 6 trucks. Kane had been expecting this and we already had the steers in the Big House Field. The beauty of the Big House Field was that the shipping corrals and chute were right next to it. The bad part was the Big House Field had lots of willows on the creek and irrigation ditches that went through it. Kane scattered us out, him on the left and me on the right with the cowboys in between us. He told us, “No hollering, and go slow. The area between the willows are like lanes, let the steers walk along and we will all meet at the gate into the corrals. Go slow, you will not be able to see the guy next to you as the willows are too thick.”
As I was riding along with the steers moving nicely, I ran through my head what horse each cowboy was riding. Kane had seen to it that everyone of us was riding a decent horse. There would be no wrecks with these steers.
The steers eased through the willows and when I rode through I could see the herd was all coming together in the big opening where we were to meet. Things were looking good, the Spanish Ranch would make money today. All of sudden a horse called Dutch came busting through the willows with no rider; and wouldn’t you know it, here comes the RRS in a full gallop right behind him hollering “Whoa.”
Right through the herd they ran and all the way to the white gate near the barn. We were able to keep the steers under control without too much damage. After we loaded the steers we were tying our horses up in the barn and here comes Stanley himself. He walked right up to the RRS and said, “Cowboy, I ever see you run through a bunch of steers again, I’ll shoot you out of the saddle.” And he left.
The RRS came over to me and said, “I did wrong didn’t I? I’m probably in trouble.”
“Be quiet,” I said, “ don’t say anything, and stay away from Kane. Don’t even let him see you until things calm down. I don’t know where he is right now, or even if he knows Stanley came to the barn. Stay away from Kane.”
That afternoon Terry had a big thoroughbred bronco called Mercury tied up in one of the stalls. The RRS came in with another cowboy that was of questionable competence. The other guy kept hammering the RRS about how dumb he was and he would surely get fired. They kept arguing and the next thing I knew they were in a brawl, bear hugging and trying to throw each other down. They rolled into Mercury’s hind legs and he started kicking with both feet. You’ve heard the expression, “Sounds like a stick hitting a watermelon.” Out they came and that other guy had the wildest, meanest look on his face that I have ever seen.
Terry started laughing and said, “Now there’s a wild looking character if I ever saw one.”
They started talking .44s and 30-30s and off to the bunk house they went.
Terry said, “Mr. Mooney, maybe we ought to stay here until after we hear the gunshots.”
Needless to say, those two soon left our happy crew.
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