Once again, I can’t sleep.The following story, “Wigwam, The Wrangle Horse”, appeared in the Buckaroo Guide a couple of years ago.To keep peace in the family I will post it on this board (Irreverent Buckaroo) also.For those of you that have read it before, nothing has changed.For you new readers, or for those who have never been around wrangle horses, I’ll try to give you a little explanation and hopefully bring to light how critical the wrangle horse is to the buckaroo.
You’ve heard that old saying, “a journey of 10,000 miles begins with the first step?”Well, in order for us to do our cowboy thing, we had to be horseback.And how did we get the cavvy into a corral so we could rope those horses?You guessed it, the wrangle horse.He was the first step in our day of adventures.
Lots of different horses were used to wrangle with.Two things were mandatory - they couldn’t get ignorant behind a herd of horses and they couldn’t buck.After all, what good is he if he bucks you off and runs away?When I was there, I was the only one to ever lose the wrangle horse.
The first horse I rode on the Circle A was a black wrangle horse called Billy.He and another black horse called Pickaninny were used to gather the cavvy.I couldn’t remember the “book” on those two horses so I gave Clark Morris a call.
“His real name was Billy the Burro,” Clark said.“He was named that because he had feet shaped like a burro.This was all long before I arrived on the Circle A.I had him in my string.If I had to pick three of the nicest traveling horses I ever rode, Billy the Burro would be one of them.He wasn’t a real big horse; Pickaninny was a lot bigger than him.Both of them were those good old ranch bridle horses that had served the company well over the years.Brian used them as wrangle horses as they deserved to be semi-retired and not have to make those long rides anymore.Those two horses roped lots and lots of cattle in their day.Others we used were Big Snip, Little Snip, Little Joe, oh, there were lots of them.”
On my second tour of the Circle A we were using a great big horse called Jake to wrangle with.Jake was a sorrel and not a bad looking horse.He was gentle, and I don’t mean dog gentle; no, Jake was as gentle as a kitten.We were camped at Calico and we were humped up in the big crew tent one rainy August afternoon.We had both tent flaps open so as to get a little breeze. Three or four guys were playing cards just to the right of the door, and I had my bedroll set up on a cot in the far left hand corner.I don’t remember if a cowboy led Jake into the tent or if he happened to just wander in on his own, but there he was, in the tent with us, nibbling at the grass.We all thought that was pretty funny.Jake was parallel to my bed and he would bend his front legs and turn his head in order to “lip” at the
grass under my bed.I was lying on my back reading a magazine and not paying any attention to him.
I had completely forgotten about the Coleman lantern on the ground just to the left of my shoulder.Sure enough, Jake knocked that lantern over.When I looked down I could see that not only had he knocked it over, but he stuck his left front foot through the metal handle.
“Whoa, Jake.Hey, you guys.Whoa, Jake,” I said.
“Son of a bitch, don’t let him move, Mooney; he’ll tear this place apart.”
“Whooaa, Jake; whooaa, Jake; easy, boy.”I tell ’ya, I was nervous.
Jake moved his foot and it slipped right out of that handle.Wow, you talk about a close call.Can you imagine what would have happened if his foot stayed in that lantern handle and he went bananas on us?Yes, he was gentle, but like I always say--the gentle ones can get you hurt just as bad as the funny ones.Needless to say, Jake was escorted out of that tent and told NOT to come back.
Now that I have you convinced on how gentle the wrangle horses were I’m going to take you out to right field with a little side bar.I had the night shift calving heifers on the Spanish Ranch.Bill Kane had caught a horse for me to use that night, and I did not know that horse.I think he called him Sunday.
“This has been a good old horse,” he told me.“Lots of good cowboys have ridden him, and when he was younger he would buck some of them off.He’s old and stove up now, and I’m going to chicken feed him this fall.Be careful when you first get on him as he will be really tight and humped up.Ride him out straight and use your hands to talk him out of it.He shouldn’t buck.And Mooney, he has a lot of cow.If you have to bring a heifer in tonight, sit up straight and pay attention as he will turn with a cow.”He was right on that score.Later that night I was bringing a heifer in as I had to pull the calf.I was holding my reins in my left hand and had a flashlight held up over my head with my right hand.Instead of going through the gate into the lane she took off running towards the mangers.There was lots of mud and hay on the ground there, and just before she crashed into the wooden mangers she turned back.Sunday turned with her, but his front feet stuck in the ground, his nose went in the mud, and I almost fell off.Fortunately, he didn’t go down and all turned out well.
Later that fall I noticed Kane had caught Sunday and was putting him in the wrangle corral.“What are you going to do with him?” I asked.
“He’s the wrangle horse.Truman doesn’t seem to appreciate the horses I have given him so I’ll let Sunday sweat him a little tomorrow morning.Maybe he’ll get a little respect.”
“What if he bucks him off?”
“He shouldn’t buck,” he said.“Maybe you come down in the morning and see what happens.I don’t know, maybe you’ll have to wrangle yourself.You’ve ridden him before, use your best judgment.”
I got to the barn just as Truman was leading Sunday out.Man, oh man, was that horse ever tight.It scared me just to look at him.They stopped and Sunday was standing there, and I swear you could have put his four feet into a two foot circle.
“Look at this horse,” Truman said.“How am I supposed to wrangle with him like this?He’ll buck me off, and Kane will fire me for not getting the cavvy in.If there was another horse here, I would ride him and turn this horse lose.”
I told him how Kane had told me to ride Sunday and sure enough it all turned out OK.Kane knew those horses, and if he told you to go about a horse in a certain way you had better pay attention or else your day could go bad really, really fast.I believe that was the last time Sunday was ever ridden.A month or two later he walked onto the truck.
For the most part the Spanish Ranch wagon used a little bay horse called King of the Road to wrangle with.He was gentle enough, but he was kind of chargey and pulling on him was like pulling on a fence post.Kane liked to keep his horses cleaned up and looking good.By that I mean his horses were all shod and trimmed, and all had some sort of cut on their withers.He always tied his horses tails with different kinds of knots.He showed me how to tie those knots, but I never had any luck with them as they always came untied a couple of hours later.He told me I didn’t spit on them right.
So instead of tying knots in their tails I would keep my horses looking good by combing their manes and tails out, trimming the hair around their feet, keeping ’em shod, and cutting the mane on their withers with a snaffle bit cut or one button for a bridle horse.I didn’t bother with a hackamore cut or a two button.I never gave my horses a bridle path behind their ears as it was fly season, and I wanted them to have as much mane and tail as possible.
Kane liked to keep King of the Road trimmed up in a manner that was quite unique.He would shoe him and then comb his mane and tail out.He would take his sheep shears and cut a bridle path, three buttons, and then trim his tail like a pack mule’s.I don’t know what the name for that is.
We were camped at Summers Flat, and I caught King one morning while it was still dark.I had never ridden him before but many others had before me and there was no doubt that he was gentle.King knew where the cavvy was as he had been listening to them moving around, whinnying, and of course he heard the bell horse all night.
NOTE:You old timers will remember the bell horse as the bell mare.I was never around a bell mare but I heard those geldings in the cavvy just loved the baby colt and would always want to be around him and play with him.
So how do you make a bell horse?Easy, and this is just one example.One spring we had traded our winter horses in for our wagon horses.Kane saw the bell in the barn.It was about 8 inches long and it made plenty of noise.He had ridden a nice promising young horse that day so he buckled the bell around that horse’s neck.We led our horses out of the barn, and when they started trotting off that young horse realized that something was attached to him so he reared up and fell over backwards.Then he jumped up and started running for about 100 feet.Then it dawned on him that he wasn’t hurt so he trotted over to the other horses, and from then on, a bell horse he was.
I hobbled King on all fours to saddle him as he was looking to go find his buddies.The South Fork of the Owyhee River runs right through Summers Flat.There’s a two track road that goes through the camp, across the river, and out the other side of the wrangle field.We took off trotting on that road, and I gave King his head as we were crossing the river as I figured he would stay on that road until we were past the willows and then turn down in the open meadow to the cavvy.Wrong!As soon as we were out of the river he took a cow trail that went through the willows.As I said, he was kind of chargey so down through the willows we went--my left hand holding my mecate reins and saddle horn, and my right hand holding onto my hat.I got some welts and a cut under my left eye for that stupidity.When we came out of the willows instead of going behind the cavvy King took off galloping right into the middle of them.I finally got him under control and started the cavvy towards camp.Didn’t know that being a wrangle boy could be so hazardous to your health, did you?I never again let King do the thinking after that.
I think I have written before that sometimes the cavvy would just walk through the river, amble around, graze through camp, rub against the tent ropes, and then go into the wrangle corral.Sometimes they would act like they had brains in their heads and just trot across the river and go right into the corral.And then, of course, on a cool morning they would hit that river at a gallop and crash through camp scaring all the cowboys still in their tents that they would get run over.
Here’s a little tip for those of you that might not know.ALWAYS open the gate in the direction that your animals are moving.If you’re bringing horses into a corral then you would swing the gate
into the corral.If you’re turning them out, then open it outwards.If you open it the other way you
are taking a chance of knocking a hip out on a horse or a cow.And, of course, if you are bringing cows and calves into the corral then you’ll have about 15 calves on the wrong side of the gate.Do the same with a wire gate.It doesn’t matter if you’re horseback or afoot, open the gate all the way and stand it up straight against the wire fence.It only takes a few seconds and it might save someone from a terrible, terrible wreck.
There were different ways that we caught the wrangle horse.If there was a little wrangle field with grass in it we would leave him there.Sometimes we had hay for him and would dry lot him in the catch corral.If we came in late in the afternoon we might run the cavvy in and catch the wrangle horse then.Sometimes the buckaroo camp would be in high country, and you couldn’t see where the cavvy was.I would ride up to a high point and look for the dust from the stomping ground.The what? you ask.Take two horses and in the late morning in the summer they will stand head to tail and shake their heads, swish their tails, and stomp their feet.Now have a hundred horses doing that, and in two or three days the grass and brush will all be stomped out and there will be a big dust bowl.That is what we called a stomping ground.For the most part the stomping ground would be circular in shape, and there would be several of them depending on the direction of the wind and what have you as to why the cavvy will pick a certain spot.
I know…..I’m ramblin’, here’s “Wigwam…..”
Wigwam, The Wrangle Horse
We pulled the wagon out of Four Mile, went through the IL Ranch, then took it through the Spanish Ranch and down the river about 10 miles and set up again at Summers Flat.
That afternoon Kane said, “I’m going to take Terry Riggs and go back to the ranch for 3 days.I want you to gather everything that’s on both sides of the river and what’s below us that might be left on the river.There are two things I want you to do on your own.When Deloyd was flying the Andre Allotment over by Cornucopia he spotted a sorrel horse outside the fence.I think it’s a company horse from the young horse bunch that must have got run through the fence.Take a gentle horse with you and turn him loose and that young horse should follow him back to camp.If that doesn’t work then figure something else out, but I want that horse back.Then I want you to go way over there by Willis Packer’s fence and make sure those gates are open so anything that we might miss can make it home.If you run into any cattle coming back bring them here so we can take them home.If you do pick up some cattle it might be a long day for you as it’s a long ways over there.”
What he meant by opening those gates made good sense.Gathering 100% of all the cattle on those big outfits was pretty much considered to be an impossibility.A small group here and there was always missed and therefore spent the winter outside.Quite often, cattle that spent the winter on the desert were in better shape the next spring than those that went back to the ranch and fed hay all winter long.Why?The ranch was much higher in elevation than the desert resulting in tougher winters and the cattle left outside would get to the green grass in the spring long before those others.I don’t care what anyone says, there is no comparison between green grass and hay.That’s just the way God and Mother Nature set it up.
However, in the higher country where I was going, any cattle left outside would probably not make it through a tough winter.By opening those gates they at least had the chance of drifting down to the valley where someone might see them.
Kane and Terry loaded their stuff up and drove off only to return in about 10 minutes.“Terry and I just spotted 2 pair on the other side of the wrangle field.Catch the wrangle horse and run them in.Mooney, now that I think about it, I caught Wigwam for the wrangle horse and I’m not kidding you but Wigwam has some “cow” in him.”Really.He doesn’t handle that well but he can turn a cow.See for yourself when you bring those cows in.”
I caught Wigwam and didn’t bother to cinch him up tight.After all, the wrangle field was only about ¼ mile wide and ½ mile long and all I was doing was opening the gate and letting 2 cows and 2 calves walk through it.Everything went according to plan until the last cow was about to go through the gate.That’s when I decided to see if Wigwam really did have some “cow” in him.Sure enough, Kane was right, Wigwam could turn a cow.The cow didn’t appreciate me playing around like that
and she turned on the “wild side” and up the outside of the fence she ran.Her big heifer calf on the inside running stride for stride with her.The brush was too high and I couldn’t get around her and when she came to the corner of the fence she kept running straight and her calf ran through the fence and went with her.I finally managed to get them turned and headed back to the wrangle field.The cow crashed through the fence but the calf turned, ran to the other corner, then she proceeded to run down the other side of the fence back towards camp.
Enough of this, I took my rope down and worked the calf over to an open spot as I knew if I kept running her through that fence something was eventually going to get broke and I would have to fix it.The calf turned and started going back up the fence and when she hit that open spot I gassed it and roped her around the neck.We were flying low when I jerked my slack.She made a hard right turn and Wigwam kept going straight.I was looking right at her while I was dallying and then I hit the ground.I mean, I smashed into the ground.Remember I didn’t bother to cinch my saddle up tight?Well there I was, the heifer was inside the fence once again, but this time with my rope, and Wigwam stampeding in a big circle with my saddle under his belly.He was heading my way in a big panic so I started waving my arms and hollering whoa, all to no avail.When he went by me I could see my cinch across his back and both stirrups bouncing off the ground.Not a pretty sight.He hit the fence, flipped over, and off he charged, looking for the cavvy.I gathered up my two saddle blankets and started walking.
The mighty Spanish Ranch was afoot.I had just lost the wrangle horse.While heading back to the tin house it dawned on me that the gate on the other side was still open; if the cavvy spotted that, then I was about to lose the entire horse herd.
I told the youngest cowboy to hotfoot it, quick like, and close that gate.I got lucky, real lucky. We managed to get my rope off the calf, Wigwam wasn’t all cut up, and the only damage to my saddle was one of the saddle strings behind the cantle was broken and I had lost my slicker.When a cowboy was wrangling the horses the next morning he found my slicker.Once again, Luck of the Irish!
The next day everything went fine.We gathered a bunch of cattle and put them in the wrangle field.On the second day I saddled Dollar Bill and put a halter on Wigwam.After I scattered the cowboys I headed for Cornucopia looking for that sorrel horse that the airplane had spotted.
Lo and behold, it wasn’t a company horse but a mustang mare.Decisions, decisions.Kane said he wanted that horse, that horse he shall have.This was going to be easy.All I had to do was take the halter off Wigwam and turn him lose.He and the mare would see each other, whinny and prance around, buddy up, and then I would drive them back to camp.
So much for Plan A.When I turned Wigwam lose, instead of going to the mare he would try to go back to camp.I would herd him around, but with all that action the mare wouldn’t come anywhere close to us.When I would get him going her way, she would run off the other way.It took awhile but I finally managed to get them together.
From where we were, let’s say that camp was at the 12 o’clock position in the direction the crow would fly.That would be the shortest way back to camp.But by going that way we would stay high and have to ride the tops of the ridges where it was kind of steep and rocky with some snow.By cutting down a draw at the 4:30 position we would hit the river and then go up the trail right into camp.Not the shortest way, but certainly the easiest.
Wigwam would have nothing to do with that easy way.It was straight to camp, his way or no way.I let him go his way, if he was happy, then I was happy.At first I stayed way back as the mare didn’t like having me around.But after awhile it was Wigwam in the lead, her right behind him, and me tagging along about 10¢ behind her.I could have roped her any time I wanted but why bother.All I had to do was trail along behind them and when we got close to camp I would holler to the cook and he knew to come out and open the gate for me.All of this had taken much longer then I had anticipated so if luck was still on my side, the cowboys would be back and they would know what to do.About ½ mile from camp I used my head and cinched my saddle up tight.As we rode in closer to camp I made sure my mecate was tucked into my pants real tight, pulled my hat down, and built a loop in my rope.I was ready for action, just in case.I didn’t have to do any hollering as the cowboys were back and they had seen me coming.
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.How easy I thought, this was a very high percentage shot.So high, in fact, I don’t miss these shots.
My loop bounced off the side of her 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 in front of him 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
By late afternoon of the third day I hadn’t made it back to camp yet.The cowboys got worried and two of them went back to the ranch and told Kane I was amongst the missing.When he found out I was riding a horse called Putt Putt he said, “Don’t worry about him; he had to make a long ride
today and I’m sure he found some cattle on the way back.Putt Putt might have jerked away from him and run off and left him.We can’t go looking for him in the dark.We’ll just lose two or three more cowboys.”That, of course, was the right decision.I knew the country, and if I wasn’t back then he didn’t dare send anyone out that didn’t know it to go looking for me.
Kane and Terry showed up for breakfast the next morning and when I told him about the mustang mare he wanted her out of the cavvy first thing.Wild Horse Annie was still in her “heyday” and he didn’t want the company to be involved with anything that might get us into trouble.We turned her lose and she went back to the “wild bunch.”
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