Monday, November 26, 2007

Horses I Have Known

November 26, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many years ago when I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch I became very well acquainted with some interesting and provoking cow ponies. Many of these ponies were pleased to just dump your carcass anywhere they could. Believe me, they tried it often, with persistence and with some success.

I will never forget the time I was riding a pony called Spook. Spook was a small bay gelding with white socks and a blaze. He was appropriately named because this pony could crow hop and complete a full 180 degrees before coming back to earth. He would spook at the drop of a hat, the snap of a twig or the strike of a match. My bruised and skinned body was a testament to this cow ponies ability or to my lack skill at riding these rough cow ponies. I spent considerable time on the backs of these broomtails searching the Superstition Mountains for Barkley’s cattle, maintaining fence and repairing water holes. When there was nothing else to do I was busy packing salt to some isolated area. Ironically, I worked alone for the most part.

I will never forget the time I left the Quarter Circle U Ranch with two pack mules loaded with salt. The morning was very cold and there were unusually dark low clouds. Rain or snow was in my forecast. My destination was the salt grounds on Peter’s Mesa. The ride required about four hours.

I knew before I left the ranch I wouldn’t get back until after dark. When I arrived on Peter’s Mesa the temperature had dropped and the dark clouds had moved in lower. Bad weather was upon me. Blizzard conditions had moved in by the time I was ready to ride down off the Mesa. As I descended the trail above Charlebois Spring it was snowing so hard I had to depend on my horse to find the treacherous trail down off the rugged escarpment. I turned off the trail and rode into Charlebois Spring for a temporary shelter. It was here that my horse and two mules got away from me and started running for home. I hiked all the way back to the ranch some seven miles following the tracks of the mules and my saddle horse. It was so cold I never stopped to rest. Not only was I embarrassed I was also quite foot sore when I finally arrived at the ranch. This will always be a day I will remember in my annuals at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.

During the 1950’s the Barkley Ranch included some 117 sections of forest and state lease land. One hundred seventeen sections of land is one hundred and seventeen square miles my friends. Our range ran south of the ranch to Tule Canyon and north to the shores of Canyon Lake. The western boundary was forest fence east of Apache Junction. The eastern boundary sliced across Peter’s Mesa through Peter’s Divide. All of Superstition Mountain was part of the Barkley Ranch, a ranch that began operating around 1907.

I spent many sunny afternoons talking to Gus prior to his death in 1955 at the old Three R’s Ranch in what is now Gold Canyon. He was a great story teller, and he loved his cattle and this mountain. I worked for his son William Thomas Barkley in the mid 1950’s and in 1959.

Now back to those horses I have known. I am a little older now and a bit wiser about horseflesh. I am not sure I would have climbed on the back of any of the horses Barkley owned with the knowledge I have today. However, in the 1950’s I was young and a very inexperienced cowboy. A real greenhorn is the best way to describe it.

Early one morning we rode out to Tule Saddle to inspect some calves for screw worms when I met with disaster. This particular morning I was riding Spook of course. As I rode through the gate, Spook crow-hopped into the middle of a large Cholla patch. I had Cholla balls from the brim of my hat to the heel of my boot. The pain was excruciating. I couldn’t even get off the crow-hopping and bucking horse.

Finally I just dove off and landed in a pile of boulders, luckily not breaking my leg or arm. The last time I saw Spook he was bucking and running back to the ranch a mile or two away. You might say I was in a difficult situation. If you haven’t had a chance to experience Cholla cactus in your flesh you haven’t really experienced the Arizona desert.

I picked up a small piece of Mesquite and began to knock the Cholla balls out of my hide. This was a long painful process and to top it off I knew I had a long walk back to the ranch. It was ten o’clock in the morning when this horse wreck occurred. I limped into the ranch about 4 p.m. just in time to feed. Not one animal in the corral could care about my painful situation. All they wanted was to be fed on time.
Spook is a horse that is still at the top of my memory list for U Ranch horses. That was just another incident I had with Spook. Let me tell you about another. I was always trying to impress Bill Barkley with my latest acquired knowledge. One day I put on a pair of bat wing chaps, backwards that is. I climbed on Spook and did I ever put on a ride for Barkley.

The bat wings spooked that horse like a bolt of lightning. He literally exploded in the corral. The next thing I knew the earth was coming up fast. My impact in the corral startled the cattle nearby. I was extremely slow getting up, and Barkley looked at me and said, “Slim you got your chaps on backwards no wonder the damn horse spooked.” “Well, why didn’t you tell me that before I got back on the horse?”
I continued to ride Spook or maybe he rode me. Eventually I could stay in the saddle, but it wasn’t always easy. Another horse Barkley had was named Scooter. He was also named appropriately. He was never a problem to saddle or get on.

However, once you were on him he made an effort to scrape you off under just about every Mesquite, Palo Verde, Ironwood or Saguaro along the way. Any of the methods could be quite painful.

One day I was running a mother cow trying to get a rope on her and Scooter decided it was time to dump me. He lined up on a big Saguaro with many arms and grabbed the bit in his mouth. I lost my control and saw the Saguaro coming up fast. Believe me I abandoned ship (horse) at the first opportunity. This particular departure was quite rough on my hide and my shoulder. I again limped around for several days before I recovered from this particular rapid departure. Believe me I didn’t ride Scooter anymore than I absolutely had to. He was a horse to reckon with. I finally started using a mechanical hack with him and was able to break him of his nasty habit of rubbing cowboys off his back.

Barkley had another horse named Sorrel. This was a beautiful red gelding. He was gentle, but somewhat inexperienced. One early cold morning I saddled the Sorrel for a quick inspection of the fence in the east pasture. Several cows had slipped out of the east pasture according to our neighbor Bill Martin. I rode east from the ranch house to locate the break in the eastern fence line. Barkley’s directions were often insufficient. I rode east until I reached Reid’s Water then I started checking out the fence in several areas where we had problems before.

Sorrel was walking along not paying a lot of attention while I searched for a break in the fence line. All of a sudden we went crashing to the ground. I was on bottom and the Sorrel was on top. The only thing that saved my body from the weight of a one thousand pound horse was two large boulders I fell between. I lay there waiting for the sorrel horse to make his move. He just laid there and nickered. He made no attempt to get up. I couldn’t get out from under him because my foot was still wedge in the stirrup. This was a bad situation to be in. If the horse jumped up to soon he could easily break my leg. After about ten minutes of lying on two large boulders the sorrel horse finally got up slowly allowing me time to extract my foot from the stirrup. I looked myself over, then the horse and finally remounted and continue on with my inspection of the fence line casually as if nothing had happened.

Horses were my main tool for working cattle, checking fence, packing salt and inspecting water holes. Working cattle on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch was something I really enjoyed even though it was sometimes very hazardous work. My work on the old U Ranch was sporadic.

I worked off and on for almost five years. The longest period I worked as a cowboy on the ranch was in the winter and spring of 1959. The last day I worked on the Quarter Circle U Ranch for the Barkley Cattle Company was May 8, 1959. My tenure as a cowboy was ended by a thirteen hundred pound Black Brahma-Angus bull named El Gaucho. After my encounter with El Gaucho I retired from being a cowboy and choose another career.

After I retired from working cattle I continued to ride horses in the Superstition Wilderness for the next forty-five years. I have owned several horses over the years. They were Grey Horse, Crow, and Chico. I rode Grey Horse for about eight years. I rode Crow for twenty- one years in the Superstition Wilderness and I have ridden Chico for the past twelve years.

I still think about those wild and careless days as a young cowboy on the Barkley Ranch in the middle of the Superstition Mountains. I was lucky to live and survive the life many people only dream about. Those wonderful, wild and sometimes dangerous experiences are memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.