SPANISH RANCH STORIES-Part 1
August 29, 2010 by Bill Mooney
A while ago Ponyboy wanted to know if I had any more cowboy stories. I remembered that I had written about 10 lines on a little happening that I called “Whacked at Scraper Springs.” I mentioned that it would take forever to bring my 7 readers up to par so they would understand what was going on in those 10 short sentences. A cowboy friend of mine had read “Whacked…” a year or two ago and he thought it was funny and that I should send it out on Kate’s site.
The Ellison Ranching Company, of which the Spanish Ranch is the headquarters, just had its 100th anniversary. I had hired out as a buckaroo in the early 70s when Bill Kane was the cow boss; buckaroo boss was another term quite often used. I had all intentions of attending the party, but we had to make a trip to New Mexico and that ended that. During our journey, I would get to thinking back on parts of my misspent youth and I would tell my wife, Aline, some of the stories.
“I’ve told you before, Bill, you need to write these stories down. People enjoy reading them. You need to share more.”
So, my 7 fans, kick back, and I hope I’m able to pass a little time with you. On second thought, I have a feeling this one is going to stretch out into a long, long tale. I’ll probably break it down into chapters or parts, or whatever those things are called. I’ll try to keep these chapters short. So, instead of kicking back--read it and get back to whatever you were doing.
I’d been out of the “life” for about 10 years, and we were living in the house that we still live in today. I was working for the Nevada Department of Transportation in the Construction Division. We worked with the contractors in building highways and bridges. We did the surveying, testing, inspection, and administrative work on the contracts. We were working 4-10s, which meant that I had Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off.
It was July or August, and one Friday afternoon I was bored. I mean, really bored. “Aline, I’ll get the bedrolls, the camp box, and the 22-250. You get the fishing poles and the ice chests. We’re going fishing; I don’t know where we’re going, but I have to get out of here.”
We decided to go to Wilson Reservoir, which is located in the NW corner of Elko County about 25 miles south of the Idaho border. By the time we were in Independence Valley I had had a couple of beers and I was in a talkative mood. I pointed out to her the low pass between the Quarter Circle S Ranch and Tuscarora where we used to trail 3,000 steers from the Nelson Field, which was on the Squaw Valley side of Ellison.
We drove by the school where she and Linda Bunch taught. I pointed out where I used to pack salt into the Tommy Joe field. As we drove past the Spanish Ranch meadows I had all kinds of flashbacks. We went past Nelo Mori’s ranch (I worked there for about 18 months after I quit buckarooing--what a wonderful family), over Chicken Creek Summit, and down Deep Creek.
“Aline, up here where the road makes a 90 degree turn and goes up that hill is where we used to truck the pack horses in and pack back into that Cornucopia area. There’s an old corral there. Stay on the cow trail that goes down Deep Creek and you’ll pass the old site where the Chinese used to camp when they were working the Cornucopia Mine in the old days. You can’t drive down the creek; you either walk or ride. That field is what’s called the Andre Allotment. It’s 22 miles long and runs west to east. It starts at the meadows of the Allied Land and Livestock and is not even a mile wide there. It ends at the highway near Chicken Creek Summit and is about 4 miles wide there. The bad part about the Andre Allotment is that we had to drive those cattle to the east and about half way through the canyons and draws run to the north. Pushing steers that didn’t know where to go was not that easy. Fortunately, those Door Key cattle were all home raised so they knew where they were at, and we would try to get those steers to follow them.
“This is where we turned the Door Key herd (about 500 cows) out in the spring. We also trailed 1,000 steers right down the highway we just came down and put them through that gate right by that corral. The first time I made that drive I was in the back of the steers with Kane. A young cowboy from Idaho went chasing after a steer through the willows near the Jack Creek bar. He went into those willows on a dead run, hit some wire, and down went both horse and rider. He came walking out with a separated shoulder. All Kane had to say was, ‘That will teach him to go charging through the willows when he can’t see what’s ahead of him.’ Sympathy was not one of Kane’s strong suits.
“The next 2 years we brought those steers down I was in the lead. It’s easier being in the back than it is in the lead. When we were on the highway going down Chicken Creek those steers would always want to start running. I had to do a lot of fast riding going back and forth trying to slow those steers down. One time Kane wanted to double check the count, so he counted them out of the ranch and I counted them through the gate.
“There are different ways to count cattle; I’ll tell you what worked best for me. I would get off and open the gate the same way the cattle would come through and swing it all the way back to the fence and leave it standing up. I would sit on my horse, parallel to the fence and on the same side as the cattle were on. Most of the time I had the cattle coming from my left. This put me right next to the fence on my right. Remember now, these steers were lined out for over a half mile and so it would be awhile before the drag went through the gate. Sometimes, if they bunched up and came fast, I would move my horse forward into the gate so as to slow them down, and then back up so they could keep coming. I never turned my horse’s ass to the cattle. Other times they would be strung out and be really slow. This is when it can get boring and miscounts are liable to happen during these breaks in the pace. I kept my reins in my left hand and counted by 1’s to 100. I never pointed a finger as I counted. When I got to 100, I would take 1 coil of rope in my right hand and then start counting from 1 to 100 again. At 200 I would take a second coil in my right hand and do this until the last steer came through. Say the last steer was number 88. I would look at the cowboys and tell them to remember 88. Then I would count the coils in my right hand. If I had 10 coils, then the number of steers was 1,088. Simple, huh? Obviously, I wanted to be riding a steady horse, not some bronco that was going to be shaking his head and pawing at the ground all the time. On that particular count Kane and I came up with the exact same number. That is unusual, as most of the time there would be an error of anywhere up to 5.
“Dry Creek will empty into the VN Reservoir, and the road will go over a narrow old wooden bridge. Follow that road and it will take you to the Allied main ranch. We’re going to turn off for the Wilson Reservoir before we get to the VN.
“Allied used to hire hay contractors. One year there was a contractor from Eureka, NV, and they walked (drove) their tractors here. They did the same thing going home. A guy was pulling a bailer with an old tractor that had very poor brakes. When he was coming down that steep hill he couldn’t get it slowed down, and when he tried to make that 90 degree turn he lost it all. The tractor and the bailer separated, and the bailer landed on top of him with the bailer tines through his neck. When we pulled him out he had an unopened pack of Marlboros in his shirt pocket. Nobody would take those cigarettes, didn’t want a dead man’s smokes I guess.”
The fishing was slow. I was standing on a big rock, and in the early evening I finally caught one. On the next cast I caught another one in the same spot. From then on I would just drop my line straight down below me and pull out another fish. When I caught enough to eat for that night and the next morning we pulled out. Aline and I don’t like to go to public camping areas. I had cowboyed that country on the Allied wagon so I knew where to camp. We hit a two track road and drove down it to a little creek and made camp.
At the crack of dawn I stirred up the coals and got the fire going again. For those that do not live in sagebrush country I just want to tell you that sagebrush makes a wonderful heat to cook on. I like to dig a rectangular hole, pile brush on it, and then set it on fire until there is nothing but coals left. There’s lots of heat in it, and all you have to do the next morning is stir it up and blow on it. You’ve heard of Dutch oven cooking? Place coals on the bottom of a round hole, put your Dutch oven on top of them, and then cover it up with more coals. Pack dirt on top so as no smoke comes out and you’ll have dinner ready when you get back to camp. I’m not a cook by any means, but that is a simple way to do it.
On the subject of my cooking--I hardly ever cook at home, but I do most of the cooking when we are camping out. I have an old aggregate screen that is about 1.5foot x 3 foot. So it’s all the same whether we have the pickup or a pack horse. Aline loves to pack into the Ruby Mountains. It’s steak, salad, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and French bread. In the morning it is some kind of meat with eggs and bread. She drinks hot tea. Of course she has to pay a price for all this fine dining. She’s both the dishwasher and the wrangle boy! Ha, ladies, just when you were thinking what a gentleman I am.
As a cook, I am slow. I mean really slow. It was too hot for coffee that morning so I drank about 1/3 of a beer and then put some tomato juice in it. A man’s gotta take care of himself. By the time breakfast and Aline were ready I was probably on beer number 3. “Aline, you just got lucky. Instead of more fishing and going home we are going to head for the brush. I’m in a good mood so we’ll go through my old buckarooing country.”
Her reply was, “You always said that you would take me to the Owyhee Desert, but we would have extra gas, spare tires, and hopefully a dirt bike in case we broke down. We don’t have any of that. All we have plenty of is beer.” (She doesn’t drink, so this is a real concern for her. There’s a reason why we’re called the odd couple.)
“Lighten up, sister, we ain’t going to the Circle A. I’ll show you the Spanish Ranch country. We’ll stay on the main road. I’ll point out the high spots and the location of the camps to you, and I’ll tell you stories that happened at each of those camps. We’ll move the cavvy and lose the cavvy. The cavvy will stampede through our herd with the wrangle boy’s saddle under his horse’s belly. We’ll go to Scraper Springs and get on the Squaw Valley side. I’ll even tell you about the wreck at Trout Creek. I’ve never told that one before. I’ll tell you about Skeeter and Bill, Cotton, Zipper, Dollar Bill, Wigwam, and the old timers running mustangs out of Dry Creek. Don’t let me forget Rattler and Mule. We’ll do some roping, ride a few broncos, get in a few wrecks, and get snowed on at the end of June. If you’re smart you’ll take notes, as I don’t know how long I’ll remember this stuff. I’m telling you, darlin’, today is your lucky day.
To be continued
1. Kane called them the California Kids. All bucked off. Randy Layton--Pinto Pete. Lee McGee--Badger. Brian Neubert--Tramp. Explain no disgrace, things happen, etc.
2. Blucher bucked off Mule
4. Old Broom and Blue Mane and Tail
5. Kane bucked off Zipper
6. Rope the lamb in the Big House Field
7. Water belly steer