Spanish Ranch Stories - Part 4
by Bill Mooney
I don’t know why I was riding Mule. He wasn’t in my string. I don’t remember Kane staking him to me. Actually, Mule wasn’t really a stake horse. Sometimes Kane would have me ride a horse just to have him ridden and keep him in the loop. I was leaving the first of May so maybe that was the reason. Get a ride in on him--I don’t know; I just can’t remember.
We found the cow in some brush, and it was bad. The calf had a front leg back, he had turned color, and he was grotesquely swollen. That poor cow, she didn’t even try to get up when we rode up to her.
‘This is bad,’ I said, ‘you want me to get the pickup and come back here and shoot her?’
‘Never shoot a cow, Mooney. There’s always a chance you may save her.’
‘Looks to me like we’re talking a miracle here.’
‘Back Mule in as close as you can, give me your rope, and we’ll see if we can get lucky and pull him out.’
I backed him up, took 3 turns, and started to pull. Instead of the calf coming out I was pulling the cow. The poor thing started to groan. I would let my turns run, pull some more, let the turns run, and pull some more. I kept doing that, but I wasn’t accomplishing anything.
‘OK, that’s enough,’ he said. ‘We’ll cut the calf’s head off, shove him back inside, pull that front leg out, and then pull him out.’
All we had was our two pocket knives, and we started cutting. Kane skinned out a piece of hide about 3” wide that ran from the brisket to the middle of the neck on the bottom side. That would act as a handle so when we pushed the calf back inside we would have something to hold on to in order to pull him out. It would also act as a shield as we could place it over the exposed neck bone in order to protect the cow’s insides if we had to.
Even with the head off, the calf was swollen so bad we couldn’t get him pushed back inside. Somehow we were going to have to separate that leg and front shoulder from the rest of the body. Kane then started to cut the hide from the top of the hoof and up the exposed leg as far as he could. We would then push and tug from different angles trying to get a gap big enough so he could get his hand inside and cut through the hide on the top of the shoulders, through the muscle, and then sever the tendon that connects the two legs. He was finally able to do that, and he skinned out the shoulder the best he could so it would separate more easily. For those of you that have worked on a dead calf before, you know what a chore all this is. Pushing a live calf back inside a cow is tough enough. Working on a dead swollen calf is really hard.
I got back on Mule and started pulling some more. It still wasn’t working. Kane would push up, down, left and right. Finally there was a little movement.
‘OK, it’s starting to move. Be careful, Mooney.’
‘Ya, I’m with you.’
We both knew that the more I let my turns run, the further from the cow I would go. The greater the distance, the more my nylon rope would stretch. If that calf were to come out, then the rubber band effect would come into play. You know, stretch a rubber band and then let go of one end.
Mule would be in for a big surprise if that leg and shoulder went up his ass. No doubt he would go into that famous spin of his which would place me at some very bad odds.
By this time Kane’s hands, wrists, and arms were just about to give out, and he was not happy with the progress we were making. I wasn’t overjoyed in the knowledge that I was sitting on a potential keg of dynamite. I was more than fully aware that at any second Buckaroo Bill could become Moon Walker Mooney.
It wouldn’t do any good for me to get bucked off and lose a horse. That cow was about four kicks from dying. She needed help, and we were there to help her. It was strictly business.
‘It’s gotta’ come out. Bring Mule back in here close. Take your turns and go, even if you have to drag her. That leg has gotta’ come out.’
I backed Mule almost right on top of her and did as he said. Sure enough the leg and shoulder popped out. It hit Mule low, but I had a tight rein on him so I didn’t get launched. We were finally able to push the calf inside, and once we had that other front leg out the whole calf came relatively easy. We loaded her up with medicine and boluses, and then she was on her own. I don’t know whether that cow made it or not.
“Blucher, Jim, and the cook left us at Scraper Springs. Kane did the cooking until another cook came out. From Scraper Springs we moved to Trout Creek.”
To be continued
My Faithful 7-- It’s over. The flame went out. I called Aline from Colorado and told her to send Part 3 to Kate because if she didn’t I might bury it when I got home. I’m bad about that. Once it’s over I never read them again. Sometimes I throw them away.
I had made a run to Douglas, WY. Aline picked me up and took me home after we ate dinner in town. I was tired, well fed, and in bed by 5 or 6 o’clock that evening. I couldn’t sleep because the stories kept coming to me. About an hour later I got up and started writing. I wrote until 3:00 AM. At 8:00 AM I was back at it, and I wrote until midnight. I had more cowboys to introduce to you and more horses to ride. I went to bed, and the next morning it was gone.
Whatever is he talking about? You ask.
About 40 years ago Butch Mansfield told me there are 2 kinds of cowboys--Those who talk about it and those who do it--
I did it, and then I chose to walk away and let the others do the talking. (When I say I walked away, I’m talking the buckarooing part of it. I have stayed cowboying on family ranches on the weekends.) I have worked and known people for over 25 years, and all they know is that I worked as a cowboy in Winnemucca or Elko on some kind of a big ranch.
Of course, around cowboys I would talk a little as they understood. It was Liz Moiola, Mitch’s mother, who first told me to write these things down. I never did. After the cancer surgery I was drinking heavy. I graduated from the bars. It was me, Jim Beam, and Coca-Cola at home. I would reminisce about the past. I would drink and write for hours.
There are 2 kinds of cowboys…..--I deleted everything. This went on and on. I knew what I was doing was bad for my health. Like any good drunk, I came up with a solution--I switched to Jim Beam and Diet Coke. More drinking, more writing, I threw everything away.
Aline retired, I quit drinking, and then I retired. Instead of a motor home we bought a commercial truck. We’ve been to 29 states; the truck pays for everything. Quite by accident I ran into the Buckaroo Guide. Mary and Ashley Riggs, Terry’s wife and daughter, told me to check it out. They said I might know some of the people.
Wow, what a site! Not only some of the people, but I recognized a few of the horses and camps where they were. The towns and bars were familiar. I sent an e-mail to the Buckaroo Guide asking if they knew how I could get in touch with Clark Morris. I knew this had to be an office with staff and maybe someone could help me.
It was Brenda, and only Brenda. The next thing I knew we were sending e-mails, and then I made contact with Clark Morris and Bill Kane. First on the phone, and then Aline and I visited them and their wives as the truck picked up a load for northern California and southern Oregon. Thirty odd years later I had finally come out of my cave. Let’s face it, in some ways I’m kind of a loner.
Brenda told me that I had ridden with legends. Tell us what it was like she would say. I started talking, and Aline told me to write it down. I went into a writing frenzy. The first was called “Spanish Ranch Recollections.” It was mostly about the ranch, not the brush. It was never made public. Then I switched to a story called “Recollections.” It was about 30 pages. I made notes to myself in it--rewrite this, change this, check the accuracy of this, etc., etc. Then it was over. The flame went out. “Recollections” never went public--There are 2 kinds of cowboys…..--I never followed up on the notes I had written to myself. I have never read either “Recollections” again.
Last winter NanaX2 asked if anyone out there knew her Grandpa, Archie Winter. She put pictures on Kate’s site. I told Aline that I knew Archie on the Circle A. I started talking; she told me to write it down. I called it “The Circle A and Archie Winter.” The flame went out but we sent it to Kate. Then the melancholy set in. Why did I do that, I shouldn’t have done that, what will the buckaroos say, have I betrayed the bond, the trust? There are 2 kinds of cowboys…..--I have never read “The Circle A and Archie Winter” again.
NanaX2 sent me a beautiful e-mail. The response from the public was great; they actually liked it. Maybe it was OK that I had sent it out.
Last spring I contracted CDF (Clostridium difficile). I parked the truck for 7 weeks. I was bored. The Triple Crown was on. I wrote something I called “Oh, Those Thoroughbreds.” It was about thoroughbred horses we rode on the wagons. I cut that story short, I’ve never looked at it since.
Sometimes Aline would ask why I didn’t sleep well. I was thinking of stories for hours on end would be the reason. She told me that if they were going to keep me up all night then I might as well get up and write them down.
Brenda realizes this (as I’m sure Kate does too), and you will see it in her responses to me. “Let it go, don’t hold it back, spread your wings, etc.”
In August the Ellison Ranching Company had its 100th anniversary. We were going to go, but instead we had to travel to New Mexico. Aline was with me, I started talking, she told me to write it down. And this is it, “Spanish Ranch Stories.” The flame is now out, the melancholy and guilt are back. There are 2 kinds of cowboys…..--
There’s a pattern here, and I have to change it. Maybe instead of a writing frenzy I can do something short every now and then. I greatly appreciate the good, supportive, and encouraging responses that I get back from those of you out there. I don’t want to quit and disappoint you.
Right now I don’t want to write anything new, but I will talk about the most recent part of the stories. What I write is from memory only. I was never smart enough or had the foresight to write anything down. But why should I have done so? I was a common desert cowboy, and a modern day one at that. Why would anyone be interested in a buckaroo’s life?
It’s all true. I never made any of the stories up, and I do not exaggerate them. If anything, I have a tendency to tone them down. There are mistakes, no doubt, but they are honest mistakes. I truly try to keep everything down to my own personal experiences, to what I actually did, saw, and heard, and some hearsay, but I try to keep that to a minimum.
For instance, Kane told me about Lawrence Jackson telling him about the old timers running those mustangs out of Dry Creek. I never met Lawrence Jackson; I saw him once in Elko. He was easy to spot as he was one of the few African Americans in the country. How he handled those horses was legendary. They say it was kind of a Tom Dorrance thing. He was always studying those horses. Lawrence could walk among those horses as if he was one of them. A big reason that Spanish Ranch cavvy would break and run on us was that they had gone from Lawrence Jackson to wrangle boys that had never handled horses before. If there is anything out there written about Lawrence Jackson, I would appreciate it if you would let me know.
When Terry and I had that big pack horse wreck I can’t guarantee Beaver was one of those horses. I had packed Beaver out of that corral, but I can’t recall for sure if he was there that day.
The tin cans are probably still hanging on the fence at Dry Creek. The quotes from John Reed and Harry Peters are as accurate as I can remember them, as are the short conversations with Terry with the pack horses and Blucher when the cavvy stampeded through the herd.
Blucher and I were always jabbing at one another. He did say that Nevada cowboys were good all around hands. He also said, and I failed to include this, that it looked to him like the reason we had our spur strap buckles on the inside was due to the high brush might tear the buckles off if they were on the outside. I had never thought of that, but it made sense.
Check out some of Charlie Russell’s paintings, you’ll see pictures with the buckles on the inside. Speaking of Charlie, in his roping pictures, look at the angle of the loop and then go back to the position of the cowboy’s hand. My understanding is that Charlie could not throw those loops but he could see them and then paint them. That is a God given talent.
Aline and I took a walk the other morning. We talked about the stories. One good thing about writing is it brings back some great memories. I’m referring to the cavvy splashing in the pond at Scraper Springs. Old Broom and I really, really enjoyed watching those idiots playing around like that. Of course, one of those playful equines might lay any one of us out the next morning, but that was all understood when we signed on.
Believe it or not, but I had completely forgotten about Mule. Once I got into Blucher and Scraper Springs, then it all came back in an instant.
A huge error in one of the stories, I forget which one. I say how Brian and Kane ran similar wagons with the exception Brian took the lead whereas Kane stayed in the drag. There was another big difference…booze.
I ran into Brian one day in Winnemucca on my way to Carson City. It was in the morning and neither of us had started drinking. “Bill, are you going to hang your shingle out?” he asked.
I had never heard it put that way before so it took me a minute to figure out what he was asking. “Ya, I guess I am.”
“You’re not ready yet, but one of these days you’re going to take a wagon out. And I’m telling you now, let your men drink. It’s not a Sunday school out there; you’ve got to let your men drink whisky.”
Kane’s policy was just the opposite. No drinking at all.
Note: A flashback just hit me:
It was a fall evening, and the Circle A wagon had just finished eating. Fischer pulled out a quart of whisky.
“Today’s my birthday, and I want to buy a drink.” He took the first swig and passed the bottle around. It went around a couple of more times and when it came back to him there was only one drink left. It was only fitting that Fischer have that last drink, after all, it was his birthday and his whisky.
Fischer was a man of few words. He sat there holding that bottle in both hands and just stared at it. Finally he looked at each of us and said, “A bottle of whisky around this place stands about as much chance as a hard-on in a whore house.” End of Note.
Make no doubt about it, my slicker is what caused Mule to go into that fit. When I rode over to Blucher he was impressed with how that horse could buck and he did mention something to the effect of “if only…”
Having just gotten Blucher bucked off, I saw no reason to talk about my slicker.
Kane agreed with me that Blucher was making a good ride up until Mule started spinning. That’s when he knew it was over. Nobody stayed with Mule when he went into his spin. Mule was a big strong horse, and as Blucher said, he could buck.
That poor cow story is as true as true can be. When Aline first read it she was surprised as to how gruesome it was.
Did I bring the rifle and shooting her up? Possibly. The point I really wanted to make there was the fact that Kane always believed that we should try and save whatever we were doctoring. He once told me that he wanted to be there when a cow that was about to die and yet give birth at the same time, died. (Got it?) At the exact moment of heart failure he wanted to cut the calf out and save it. I don’t know if he ever did it or not.
We were both concerned about the tight rope and the calf coming out. Probably me more so than him. He didn’t care if Mule bucked me off, just let it happen an hour later. Our mission was to save that cow.
I know I haven’t done justice to the amount of work and effort Kane put into getting that leg and shoulder skinned and ready to separate so Mule could pull it out. Only those that have done it can appreciate what I am trying to say. Personally? Most people would have shot her.
Should we have checked on that cow the next day? I really don’t have an answer for that. When I worked on the smaller family ranches, there is no doubt that we would have checked her that afternoon and the next morning. If I had ridden down there the next morning what would I have found? If she was still alive and standing up, what else could I do for her? Rope her and knock her back down to give her another shot? We had loaded her up the day before. As all of you know, in any kind of livestock business there is a certain amount of death loss. We did the best we could, and God only knows where we were the next day.
Will I continue with “Spanish Ranch Stories?” If the other stories with the flame going out is any indication, then the answer is no. It’s too bad; there are some good stories left to tell. Something will set me off again, maybe it will be a story one of you puts on this board. I do know this, I have to stop this marathon writing. I have to get it straight in my head that entertaining the reader is not in any way a knock against the buckaroo. Brian once told me that Butch was wrong--There are 3 kinds of cowboys, those who talk about it, those who do it, and then those that talk about it and can do it too. There are times when I wish I had never heard of that damned old Buckaroo Guide.
On the lighter side. When I was in my early morning hours of writing I did have the capacity to realize that the flame was only going to last for so long. I wrote an ending…
Wow, remember this all started because Ponyboy asked if I had any more cowboy stories? I answered that I had about 10 short sentences on a story I called “Whacked at Scraper Springs.” Well, dear reader, if you are still with me, I want to thank you for your patience. I have only one wish, and that wish is that I hope I have made your day brighter with my ramblings. Here’s “Whacked…..
2SP a Whacked @ Scraper Springs
We rode back to camp that afternoon and for some reason Kane wanted to look at a particular horse. The cavvy was standing in the corner up on the side of the hill so we eased up there real careful so as not to stampede them. Kane was riding Zipper in the bridle when all of a sudden a horse came charging out of the group, ears laid back and teeth bared, and headed right towards Zipper. Kane timed it just right and smacked him right between the eyes with his romal. The horse walked back to the cavvy shaking his head from side to side.
“Why’d he do that,” I asked.
“Must a wanted to get hit over the head.”