Issues of concern to people who live in the west: property rights, water rights, endangered species, livestock grazing, energy production, wilderness and western agriculture. Plus a few items on western history, western literature and the sport of rodeo... Frank DuBois served as the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003. DuBois is a former legislative assistant to a U.S. Senator, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior, and is the founder of the DuBois Rodeo Scholarship.
Sunday, July 09, 2017
Boys to Men
Boys to Men
A Gila River Reunion
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
a chain uphill is possible, this week has been representative.
ailments relating to attempting to perform like a young man in a body that
isn’t along with trying craft the right words to convince the Secretary of
Interior that our presence on federal lands is worthy, the days have passed.
This has been a time that suggests heaven on earth doesn’t exist.
surprisingly, the light hearted moments have come from lessons learned from
those who influenced our lives from our past. The words of most importance are
from them. They are not the words put to paper trying to save our ranches or
our way of life.
Boys to Men
late Friday in the cool of the evening. We penned a bunch of cattle at our
Howard pens and another bunch at the Monterey
pens. The drive from the Raegan trough could have been slower if we hadn’t
dropped the youngest pairs out. One of them had been picked up just above the
drinker. I had gotten off to nudge the bright red baby up only to find its
mother charging up to enforce her motherly obligations. She had bawled at me
shaking her head and blowing snot.
to her she was a good mother and many humans should emulate her conduct. She
picked the calf up after I remounted and started to the herd, but I knew the
calf couldn’t stay up. I cut them off and my presence signaled to her to stay
pairs were dropped out, similarly.
back and forth was largely the process of making the decision to bring those
pairs or to drop them out. Most of the communication came from kids. Three
little boys ages seven, nine, and 11 were part of the crew. BJ and I were there
making final decisions, but the boys were offering their two cents with
(L-R) Partner Bell, Preston Bell, Caleb Kane
Two of them
were brothers and the third was BJ’s son. They were all close friends and had
been horseback since before they could walk. They had long been cowboys in
every sense. They would have blended seamlessly into any scene in John Wayne’s Cowboys. Caleb, the oldest, was the only
one with a summer straw. He was booted, spurred with a set of antique spurs
that and had chap guards, and his leggin’s fit him like a glove. His hat had
endured enough early rains that he had to lift his head just enough to see the
horizon. The sorrel mare he rode carried a freeze brand of a prominent Arizona cow outfit.
11 year-old Caleb Kane
the cowboy in the middle of the pack by age. On days I have seen him ride and
work, his chaps go on and stay as if they are part of his permanent attire. His
spurs will be switched out as soon as his boots are large enough to have spur
ridges. The shape of his felt hat changes every time it rains. In a long trot,
he posts. With cowboy courtesy, he’ll drop back behind you and come around the
outside if he spots a calf coming to the herd a quarter mile away. He’ll hustle
without every being prompted.
9 year-old Partner Bell
Preston is the youngest cowboy. His hat is reminiscent of
his brother’s. He is the most continuous in speech among the cowboys who end
every phrase with “yes, sir” or “no, sir”.He stands with one foot kinda’ cocked pigeon toed on the opposite boot
when he is conversing with you afoot. He was riding a warm blood-quarter horse
cross that dwarfed him, but he was boss. His split rains would rain fire down
both hips if the big mare didn’t listen to him.
7 year-old Preston Bell
At 5:15 the next morning, we were ready
to sort. BJ, Caleb, Partner, and I were horseback while Preston
was assigned the alley gate. The sort was quiet and efficient. Long before the
trucks came with the rest of the crew, we were finished and ready to commence.
equipment unloaded and laid out, irons hot, and calves staged, it was time to
start. Our approach was simplistic. We crowded drafts of calves in the alley
and the fathers waded in and dropped a rope over the calves Hawaiian style,
caught two back feet and held the calf until their boys got the rope dallied.
They drug the calf to the fire where it was flanked and processed. When that is
done, they were reminded to drop the rope and let the calf kick free. Not once
did we have anything suggesting a wreck. When good rhythm was established, we
drug two calves, simultaneously. Watching the intensity of those boys had all
of us smiling. That was especially the case when seven year old Preston was giving no quarter to that big cross bred mare
when she didn’t enter the alley and stand like he expected her to do.
pen, the yet younger children were tended in succession by mothers and big
sister. The women would switch off and vaccinate and castrate.
Few urban matrons would have any
idea how or what such a process would entail.
hiccup came when a friend was asked to come in and finish roping the last
calves at the Howard pens when the boys and their horses were tired. His horse
broke in two and bucked with him in the pen. In our history, that was an isolated
event and ended without undo harm. I did notice the boys were watching intently
as the event unfolded. Advice was coming in waves as the Texas raised cowboy rode the first several
jumps before inspecting the ground on the flat of his back.
hundred calves were branded that day.
conclusion of the branding, the normal work for the day ensued. Water lines and
storages were checked, valves were switched, a sick bull was treated, and the
camaraderie of friends made the work enjoyable. Rest would come in intervals or
when beds were sought in the evening.
Ranch life continued.
A Gila River Reunion
no difference Friday when Walt and Bill came to town. Walt was looking for a
flat bed trailer and found what he was looking for off I25 in Las Cruces. We gathered for lunch before they
headed home. We wore our hats until the food arrived. It was then we honored
our grandmothers and took them off.
conversation was normal and customary. We all had fences to fix. There were
details of slicks, tight bagged cows, lions sign, and horse idiosyncrasies.
There was a new saddle being built, and history found its way into the
conversation. It was reviewed and dissected. Our common roots encompass the Gila River. We wear it with a degree of kinship. It is
symbolized in our bleached white limbs under our Wranglers and long sleeved
grandmother owned the Redrock store and post office that no longer exists. My
great great grandfather had the same investment at Cliff. Both families were
hammered by uncollected credit during the Depression. We all know about the
flood of 1941 which washed Walt’s grandparents’ home away long before we were born.
The LC’s “red barn” was the place where the all night dances occurred in the
lower valley. Their grandparents courted and danced at those family gatherings.
My grandmother and her family rode from the mouth of Dam Canyon
to those dances only to ride home to do chores the next morning.
I find that
simply amazing. How they rode that Gila Box in the dark is beyond me, but they
did. We considered the options of what they likely did, and each of them is
incredibly difficult. Those dances were where my grandmother perfected her
skill at waltzing and she loved it. She taught us to love it as well.
When we were
about to leave, we saw Hollis and Dot walking through the door in that customary
fast walk holding hands. They had driven 175 miles from Mud Springs, and, there
we were in the midst of the restaurant, greeting and hugging our friendship. For
a few brief moments we talked about rain, pickup repairs, government
regulation, and family.
Perhaps we created a bit of
commotion to the patrons, but we didn’t notice. We shared our common lives. We
are ranchers, and we believe when God created this world, He made man and woman
and gave them two jobs … to cultivate this earth and fill it with respectful
and capable children. In the process, he gave us tasks that create friendships
We remain humbled to this life we
live, and we believe that it has every right to continue.
L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New
Mexico. “We all got our comments in to the Secretary
on time, but our numbers are so few.”