My first experience with Skeeter and Bill was at the corral where the bailer and tractor wreck took place. Truman and I trucked (very seldom did we truck those horses) 4 pack horses along with our 2 saddle horses. I had them both tied up to the racks on that big old diesel truck. I hobbled Skeeter all around and loaded him with 4 blocks, and then I unhobbled him. Same with Bill, except I put 6 blocks on him; I did not take his hobbles off. Instead, I went over to help Truman load his second horse. Bill’s patience wore out, and his temper took over. He bucked that salt off while he was tied up and hobbled. He never set back, he just bucked that salt off right where he stood.
I’m sure you old packers are asking how the salt could come out of those panniers with the flaps buckled down. Easy, we didn’t have any flaps to buckle down. And then when the fencers used those panniers they would stand steel posts straight up and tie them on the X portion of the sawbuck. Those steel posts would poke holes into the bottom of the panniers and they would patch them with baling wire. This was when baling wire was still the king fixer upper. Duct tape and baling twine had not entered the picture yet. To say the least, our pack outfits were not in tip top shape.
“Why’d he do that?” was my question. “These are supposed to be dependable and gentle pack horses. Like the St. Bernards with their little bottle of whisky tied under their chins.”
“Those horses aren’t gentle, Bill. That’s why you have them. I might pack Skeeter with a real gentle horse, but I don’t want anything to do with Bill. That horse is going to hurt someone.”
He kept fooling around with his horses so I reloaded Bill myself. Somehow I got way ahead of Truman and his horses. I didn’t know the signs of what would set Skeeter and Bill off so I blindly rode into a wreck. They bucked all their salt off and I lost Skeeter’s lead rope. Away they ran, straight down the dirt road we had just ridden up and right past Truman. When I rode down to Truman he just smiled at me and kept on riding. He didn’t even bother to ask if I needed help.
At the end of the day Truman was waiting for me at the truck. I was now an experienced Spanish Ranch salt packer.
A couple years later Terry Riggs and I would pack out of that same location. I don’t remember if we had 5 or 6 pack horses. I can remember 5 horses’ names so I assume that’s what we had.
1. Skeeter and Bill of course. 2. A saddle horse named Beaver. Beaver was a pinto horse and he didn’t do anything wrong to get into the pack string. Who knows-- maybe Kane felt sorry for us and just wanted to give us a gentle horse. 3. A small work mare named Izzie. Izzie wasn’t bad, we just needed pack horses that day. 4. A saddle horse called Borracho. He had a bad habit of falling over backwards in the morning when a cowboy climbed on him.
Terry and I split up where the road forked. It was soon after that when a huge wreck took place. We both lost all our horses. Skeeter and Bill ran back in the direction of the truck. Izzie was standing on the Allied side of the fence with her pack saddle torn up and no halter. Beaver’s halter was hanging on the back of Izzie’s saddle. Borracho was standing on the side of the hill like he was lost and scared. He whinnied and came galloping down that hill. I always tied a small rope across the X, and that way I wouldn’t lose my panniers. Borracho’s panniers were bouncing up and down, and one of them actually flipped over to the other side. Borracho went from a lope to a trot to a walk and then he staggered and fell to the ground. He had 200 pounds of salt on the one side, and it was like he was pinned to the ground.
Terry rode over to me and asked, “How was that for a wreck, Mr. Mooney?”
“Terry, that’s the wreck of all wrecks. I’ve never been in one this good.”
It’s funny how a situation can change. People love to hear the stories of the wrecks. They make great conversation pieces in the bar at Christmas. Whenever I had a wreck it was a very lonely feeling, and it was as if I had failed in my mission. Being miles from anyone or anywhere with salt lying all over the ground and maybe your pack horses stampeding off (I didn’t always lose my horses) into the wild blue yonder was not exactly a feeling of accomplishment.
However, on the flip side of that coin, with a good cowboy like Terry with me that wreck was fun. I remember laughing about it when he rode over to me. I told him we had a long day ahead of us. I was really enjoying that day.
(My Dear 7 Readers, believe it or not I actually thought that I should write the events of that day down as some day it would make a great story to tell someone. I didn’t bother as who would ever want to hear about a modern day cowboy’s story.) Ain’t that something?
“Darlin’, I don’t remember what horse I rode that day when we moved out of Four Mile. Kane told me to ride up the dirt road along the creek and when I reached the head of the basin to go high. He told me to use my head and scatter that salt in the places I thought best.
“He was always saying that to me--“use your head.” Did that mean he had confidence in my great mental capacities, or was it his way of saying maybe you could put that pea brain into gear today and possibly do something right for a change? It was 50--50 so I never asked.
“By this time Skeeter and Bill had done a very good job of teaching me the things to watch out for so we wouldn’t have another wreck. There was a very old barbed wire fence line up on that ridge. It had been abandoned, and most of the posts had fallen over as it was rocky up there and the posts had not been buried deep. I rode along that fence for quite a ways looking for a place to cross. It finally dawned on me that I would have to build a crossing on my own.
“I did my hobbling thing with the horses and I placed rocks on top of the wire for a distance of about 10 feet. Skeeter and Bill led very well. They never set back so I knew once I got them going they would step right over those rocks never knowing there was wire underneath. I wondered if I would ever see that crossing again.
“The Winters was right below me, and I could see the wagon and camp. I don’t know why we were at The Winters. It did not belong to Ellison. There were some hay meadows there.
“And this, my dear, is The Winters. They say that old two story dilapidated rock house is haunted. I’ve been in it before. We camped here one fall. Usually I’ll stay in a building instead of pitching a tent. I had my good tent, the one that had a teepee top with 3 foot walls. You remember that tent, the one Claude Dallas lost when he was on the lam. I’m not saying I’m scared of ghosts, but I had my own tent and there wasn’t any sense in taking any chances. I never noticed anything unusual. See that pole barn with the tin roof? I shod a horse in there one afternoon. It beat shoeing him in the hot sun.
“Ellison bought the Upper and Lower Clover ranches from Allied, and The Winters was part of the deal. The Clovers are two alfalfa hay ranches that are south of Squaw Valley. Remember I told you that you always knew an Allied ranch by the color of the buildings. That’s the way the two Clovers are. I stayed in one of them and sat out on the screened porch one night. I took over the candy wagon that first year when the wagon pulled in as I wanted to see all of the company’s 7 ranches. Anyway, I had a big tractor on a trailer, and I wiped out the power lines in one of the Clovers; I’ve forgotten which one.
“When Ellison started to fence The Winters off, Allied came a running. They said this place was critical to their operation. You know that big field that is right across from the Jack Creek bar and runs next to the highway to the top of Chicken Creek? That’s called the Sewell Field. Allied kept The Winters and Ellison got the Sewell. Stanley Ellison was a smart manager.
“That’s Soldier Cap over there. It’s the main land mark that we used so we knew where we were at. This is good cow country here. The Spanish Ranch has good high country and lots of it. Kane would scatter us out down low here, and then we would push those cattle up those draws and rodash up there.”
“What does rodash mean?” she asked.
“That’s where we would rodear the herd and brand them. The only Ellison corral I branded in out here was the one at Four Mile. Out of Dry Creek, that’s where we’re going next, were some three sided corrals that Allied built in the old days. We used them a little, but for the most part they were too small. We had too many cattle to put in them. We tried, but it was a real nuisance. From here we’ll drive up Burner Hills, and then we’ll be in that Dry Creek area. You’ll be able to see parts of the Owyhee Desert there. All the big boys border on the Desert--Ellison, Allied, Petan, and the Circle A over there on the west.”
We stopped somewhere in Burner Hills and got out of the truck so she could see all around her. I was thinking that the last time here I was a true buckaroo. I would have probably been riding a snaffle bit horse, wearing a felt hat, scarf, long sleeved shirt, chinks, with boots and spurs. I traveled light--no belt-- and I only carried a pocket knife and toilet paper. (You’ve heard that song or poem that the way you tell a real cowboy is that he is the one sitting in the middle of the pickup truck so he doesn’t have to open the gate? Not the school I came from. The real cowboys always carried toilet paper.) It was then that I realized that it was over for me. I would never be a Knight in White Satin again. Look at me now, a wife, a pickup, a steady job, and a home. How the mighty have fallen. Why did it take me so long to come to this conclusion? I don’t know, maybe there was a slim glimmer that I would return. It wasn’t Aline, she would quit her teaching job in a minute if I wanted to come back out here. But I realized right there in Burner Hills that it was over. I didn’t mention it to Aline then, and this is the first time I have ever said it to anyone.
“Go down that road to the right for a few miles and it will take you to Dry Creek. The camp sits at the bottom of a ridge, and it is called Dry Creek for a reason. What water there is, is very cold. When we would first move into camp I would take a shovel and dig a hole and make a dam so the next day I could have some water to bathe and shave in. My mother called those kinds of baths a sponge bath. We called them whores’ baths.
“Dry Creek is way out on the western edge of Ellison and borders the Circle A. Not very many cattle are out there. We made a circle, and it about half way rained on us. When we all came together we only had one oreana, and he was very young--maybe only 1 or 2 days old. I assumed Kane would not brand and cut him, but I was wrong.”
Months later Brian Morris and I were talking about branding that calf.
“Bill, you’re wrong. Kane was absolutely right in branding that calf. There’s a certain amount of death loss in branding. Not much, but it’s there. Let’s say that calf was doomed no matter whether he was branded at 1 day or 6 months. No matter, he’s going to be dead, but you still have the cow to think of. If you are going to lose a calf the cheapest time to lose him is when he is a baby. Now you don’t have that feed invested in him and your cow will be fatter as she hasn’t had to support a calf all summer. If you want to sell her that is the time she will weigh the most.”
“And that, my dear, is why those two were the bosses.
“Irvin Thompson ran the White House ranch, where a lot of the Squaw Valley cattle wintered. I was talking with Stanley one day and I asked if Irvin was a good cowboy.
“Not only a good cowboy,” he said, “but a good cowman.”
“One day I was riding a young horse called Don out of Dry Creek. I would rope on him that day so Kane had me in the middle where it was easy and all I had to do was push the cattle up a dirt road to the rodear grounds. There was a Hereford calf that was wild. He couldn’t find his mother, and he was trotting around with his head up and his ears forward. I knew if he made a break for it then I would have a hard time getting him back in the herd. He finally broke and ran down the dirt road which put me out in the brush trying to outrun him. You know how when you’re galloping along you just know where your horse’s feet are? I happened to glance down and see a badger hole, and all I had time for was ‘oh no.’
“Don’s right front leg went into the hole, and down we went. I felt something soft roll over my back. It must have been his neck or his butt. I lost my hat, and when the dust cleared I was lying on my stomach with my left hand holding the popper at the end of my mecate, and Don was standing in front of me with my reins between his ears and one pulled tight while the other had a lot of slack for him to put his front legs through. I didn’t know what else to do so I said, ‘Whoa.’ I eventually inched up on my mecate without him running off. It was a good thing he was gentle.
“I had a piece of wood just smaller than the diameter of a pencil sticking out of my left hand at the base of my ring and little finger. It had gone in about a half inch. When I pulled it out it started bleeding so I spit on it and wiped it on my Levi’s. It bothered me a little later when I was roping, but other than that I got out of that wreck OK.
“The old tin cans and other noise makers are still tied to the barbed wire fence that is the wrangle field. That’s all Dry Creek is, is a wrangle field with a relatively small wire horse corral and very little water. I don’t know if that water even makes it out of the wrangle field. John Reed told me that he helped hang some of those cans on the wire. They would gather mustangs off the Desert, and then run them into this field. Kane told me that Lawrence Jackson had helped run those horses out of here many years ago. He said there would be several groups of mustangs, and they would stay away from each other and want to go their own way. In the morning when they opened the gate and ran those horses out it was nothing but a mad dash for miles. Those horses didn’t handle well and would run anywhere with the cowboys trying to control them. After awhile things would come together and they would trot those horses to Frank Button’s Double Square ranch near Golconda. They would sell some of the horses, and the ones they kept they would trot on down to Lovelock and start them during the winter. Those old guys made some huge rides from place to place.
“John Reed told me about some of the rides they would make from the Reed Ranch in Columbia Basin onto the Desert. Golly, they were long rides. Harry Peters from Jiggs repped for the Allied when he was a kid in the ‘40’s. He said most of those horses were burned out by the time they were 12 years old.
“We’ll head back to the east now like we’re going to Midas. Scraper Springs is right over the top of that ridge. Scraper Springs is on the Squaw Valley side so why was the Spanish Ranch wagon there? Squaw Valley didn’t have a buckaroo crew that year so Stanley sent us. Kane didn’t know that country so every few days Stanley would come up, and they would form a plan. I don’t know how well Stanley knew the country either. Most of his travels would have been in a pickup, but he would have gone to the sheep camps as well as the buckaroo camps so I suppose he had a pretty good idea of the lay of the land.
“And here we are my dear. Scraper Springs in all its glory. A typical setting, a wrangle field and a horse corral. Only this camp is different. See that old house over there? My first year I threw my bedroll on the table. Two other cowboys had theirs on the floor. The afternoon of the first day I was taking a nap when those other two woke me up.”
“Look up there in those rafters, Mooney. There’s a snake.”
“It’s a bull snake,” I said. “He won’t bother us.”
“Yea, well we’re out of here. This place is all yours.”
“It was here that Kane and I rode Cotton. I rode him right there in front of that gate. In that old tin building is some old material that has JG Taylor stamped on it from when it was shipped here years ago. John G. Taylor was a big sheep man back in the latter part of the 1800s.
“Over there is the horse corral. You can see that these fences are all set up for sheep, not horses and cattle. That corral was too big for us so Kane would have us stand about half way in the middle of it and the horses would circle around in there. It would get so dusty that you couldn’t even see Kane standing in the middle roping a horse. We’re lucky we didn’t get someone run over and hurt or killed.
“The first year I stayed in the old house. The second year I had a two man company tent. I pitched it between the road coming in and the tin building, and it was close to that little pond there. Old Broom stayed in it with me. Chuck had asked Broom how old he was, and the old man really got upset about it. Broom and I would stay in that tent for 3 or 4 weeks in different camps. I never knew his real name, where he came from, what he did in his life, or if he had a family or not. He never volunteered any information, and I never asked any questions.
“The highlight of the day for Broom and me was in the afternoon when the cavvy would come down to visit us. They would make a circle around that pond (that water is very cold), and then they would drink and then start pawing in the water. Some of them would walk into the water, some would roll in it, and then others would be all wet and they would roll in the dirt. These antics would last for 15 minutes or so, and Broom and I just loved it. Those horses could be so funny in the things they would do. I just loved being around that cavvy, whether it was around the ranch or out in the brush. Once I got to know those horses then it was even more enjoyable as I knew their personalities and I could better understand why they would do what they did. (Writing this brings back very fond memories of that Spanish Ranch cavvy.)
“Blucher was a big guy. About 6’ 2” I’m guessing. He was about Kane’s age, late 20’s. I was 6 years younger. He was broad in the shoulder and narrow at the hip. He lifted the anvil over his head 10 times, Kane did 8, and I struggled with 5. I liked being around him; we would get some good stories going.”
“Blucher, why do you wear your spurs all the time?” I asked.
“That’s the way we do it at home. Some guys have work spurs and also dress spurs.”
“Dress spurs? What are those?
“Spurs you wear to parties and dances. They’re made out of good silver and cost plenty.”
“That’s crazy. Ain’t you scared you’ll get drunk and pass out and someone will steal them?’
“We’re not like that in Texas.”
I told him that Brian Morris had a guy like that at the 25 Ranch. He never took off his spurs except when he rode one particular horse. That horse would buck him off if he should spur him so he took his spurs off in the morning and put them back on when he unsaddled that horse.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. “When I have to work on the ground I take my chinks and spurs off. My chinks are too hot and heavy. If you ask me, wearing spurs on the ground at a branding is asking for trouble.”
“You’re not from Texas, Mooney. You wouldn’t understand. Some things are hard for you Nevada guys to grasp.”
“I was born in Texas. I learned to talk with a Texas accent.”
“You remember it?”
“Doesn’t count then. You’re not a Texan. You’re from Nevada. You’re a Nevaaaaaaaaaadan. Did I sound like a sheep?”
“I was at the Circle A last year, and a Texas outfit called The Matador leased it for 5 years. When we finished all the work they laid us off in January and said to come back in 2 months. That’s how I ended up here. What’d they think--we were going to eat snowballs?”
“That’s the way they do it in Texas. It’s seasonal work. When they are busy, they hire extra help. When they are done, then those guys get laid off. You don’t have to be a good cowboy to be called a good hand. Say a guy only does the branding and he is good at it, well, he’s considered a good hand. Maybe a guy only shoes horses, he’s a good hand too. I will say this for you Nevada guys. You do it all. You can ride colts, shoe horses, rope; you can even pack salt on gentle work horses.”
“Blucher had two horses that are worth mentioning--Rattler and Mule. At first I thought Rattler was just some sort of an outlaw type of horse. Looking back at it, though, I don’t know if Rattler ever stood a chance. I’m guessing that he was a nervous and spooky horse as a colt, and then he was started by George Evans. George could get heavy handed with those horses. I have wondered over the years if George also started Bill as both horses acted the same.
“Rattler crashed into a fence post when he was being started and had a big X right in the middle of his face. He made me think of the Marty Robbins “Strawberry Roan” song. ‘Little pig eyes and a big Roman nose,’ or something like that. Whenever I hear the term raw boned bronc I think of Rattler. He had a long mane, powerful shoulders, high withers, and big feet. He was never used on the ranch. We had to put him in a bronc stall to shoe him. You couldn’t rope off him. He was what was called a circle horse. I never saw him buck, and I don’t remember Kane telling stories of him bucking, but it took a good cowboy to ride Rattler.
“We rode out of Scraper Springs and rodashed at some desolate place that would be very easy to forget about. It was at the head of a dry basin, no water of course, the grass was sparse and yellow, and the brush was short. The type of place people would think of as a Nevada setting. Blucher was going to work the ground that day so he tied Rattler up and hobbled him. Something went wrong and Rattler jerked away and took off running. His hobbles broke, and he ran back to camp. We finished branding and Kane told Blucher to stay there and he would send a cowboy back with Rattler. I told Blucher I could bring a horse back for him. He declined; he said it was his fault he lost his horse, and he would walk back to camp. Jim stayed with him, and they would switch on and off on Jim’s horse. It wasn’t as bad as you may think. The circle kind of angled back to camp so I don’t think they even had 5 miles to go.
“Mule was a big stout horse. He was called Mule due to his color, all brown, and his head resembled a mule’s without the big ears. You could ride him in a bridle. Mule wasn’t fancy but he was one of those ranch geldings that you could get the job done with. Even though he was big and good to rope off I don’t remember using him to cut stud colts with. Maybe he just wasn’t fast and athletic enough. All in all though, Mule wasn’t a bad horse.
“We were still camped at Scraper Springs, and everyone had their slickers that day. Even the weatherman would have gotten it right. The storm broke just about the time the circle closed, and by the time we hit the rodear grounds the sun was starting to come out. Kane told us he wanted to hold those cattle until they dried off, and then we would brand the calves. We weren’t riding those circles for practice. I climbed off my horse and laid my slicker on some sagebrush so it would dry off. I placed it between the cattle and my horse.
“By then Kane was getting bored so he and the wrangle boy started gathering firewood. About 45 minutes later I was sitting there with my right elbow on my saddle horn and my chin cupped in my right hand. I was thinking about getting down and tying my slicker on the back of my saddle. My horse was relaxed and the cattle were calm so I just let well enough alone.
“Blucher was 15 or 20 feet to my left. He had a grazer bit on Mule, and he was fiddling around with his split reins. Mule was just standing there about half asleep. This was the calm before the storm. A wind blew up, rattled my slicker, and Mule went absolutely berserk. Blucher came alive in a flash, and the bronc ride was on. Mule was one of those horses that made a lot of noise when he bucked. He grunted and groaned and squealed--that plus the noise of him crashing through the brush--I tell you, it was a sight to behold. Blucher was making a ride when Mule went into a spin and bucked him off.”
“Blucher, you all right?”
“Ya, I’m all right. Man, that horse can buck. If I’d a had a half second warning I’d a rode that son of a bitch.”
“I gathered up my slicker, and I didn’t bother to mention to anyone about what had set Mule off. Kane later told me that when Mule went into his spin no one had ever come out of it with him.
“Two years later we were at the ranch and turning out. We were getting our 1,000 calves branded before the wagon went out. It was a warm April day, and the ground was dry. The day before a feeder had seen a cow walking with a calf hanging out of her. Trouble was, he didn’t mention it to anyone until the next morning. Kane and I were trotting down to that field to find that cow. I forget what horse Kane was riding, but I remember well--I was riding Mule in a snaffle bit."
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