October 8, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
A national holiday that recollects the “Day of the Cowboy” is somewhat interesting and unique. The cattle industry was a wild and rough business in the early days, 1850 thru 1930. These eighty years of cattle ranching, roundups, trail drives, rodeos and even motion pictures played a role in shaping our image of the American cowboy. All these roles helped formed that cowboy image so personified by many of us. When we think of cowboys we think of cattle, horses, the open range, a ranch house, corrals, windmills, Stetson hats, chaps, spurs, boots, lariats, saddles and etc. Today, we mill around within an imaginary image of the “Old West” many us believe still exist, to some degree.
I can only speak from my experiences as to what cowboys are really like.
When I was a young man I dreamed of being a cowboy based on the images portrayed on the silver screen. I knew cowboys were good, honest and respectable men. They always defeated the bad guy and won the heart of the ladies. Hollywood had created the perfect image of the American Cowboy. This persona has accompanied me throughout my life.
My image of the American cowboy was shattered when I accepted a job on the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the mid 1950’s. I expected the cowboys to be a hero in all aspects, however, I soon found out this
was not case. Real cowboys were only human, they were not the demigods I thought they were. The real cowboys I met around Globe, San Carlos, Tonto Basin and Apache Junction were of a different breed. Most of them were rowdy, wild and often careless. They drank far too much alcohol, cussed too much and were often not too dependable.
Some of the best cowboys I ever saw were Apaches on the San Carlos Reservation east of Globe. Floyd Stone, owner and operator of the Tortilla Allotment, hired Apache cowboys to work his ranch. Most were really good cowboys. Elmer Pope, an Apache cowboy, could rope a wild cow on the run in the roughest country east of Superstition Mountain. But Stone always had a problem of keeping his San Carlos cowboys sober.
Cowboys such as John A. Bacon, Bernard Hughes, Charlie Weeks, George Cline, Billy Garlinghouse, Slim Ellison, William A. Barkley, Billy Martin Sr., Billy Martin Jr., Duane Reese, Wheeler Reece, Bill Bohme, Royce Johnson, Jack Reeder and many more were real cowboys in our area that have left the legacy of the cowboy and cattle ranching in central Arizona. They were all good men.
First, and most important, a good cowboy has to be honest and dependable. These are the star attributes of a cowboy’s character because they were often left in charge of corralled animals that needed to be fed and watered daily. By all means, not all cowboys are good cowboys. Any rancher can testify to that. Most cowboys are hard workers and they also play hard. Most of them love cowboy or country music. They would rather talk about cattle, horses, saddles, horse trailers or pickup trucks. Now, your old time cowboys wouldn’t be caught dead listening to some of the music we call Country-Western today.
As a young man, I dreamed of someday owning my own cattle spread. Of course, it was nothing but a dream. However, I did work on one of the true legendary cattle outfits. The old Quarter Circle U Ranch belonged to William A. Barkley and William Thomas Barkley. I worked for the Barkleys in the twilight years of this legendary Arizona cattle ranch. This was during the late 1950’s.
To this day, I cherished those years I spent becoming what I am today on that old cattle ranch. Life on that ranch certainly shaped my character, but also strengthened the values I had learned from my mother and father. More than fifty years ago I sit astride a wild ranch pony and chased wild cattle across the mountains and desert east of Apache Junction. In those early days there was not much in Apache Junction but a “filling” station, and a few desert dwellers who lived in mobile homes.
To find the old Quarter Circle U Ranch you had to drive out Highway 60 some nine miles and turn east toward Don’s Camp. After driving another eight miles you arrived at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. This
ranch was really isolated and had no communications with the outside world. The old ranch had no electricity and little running water. Conditions were very primitive, but I learned to cope with my new environment.
My parents thought I was insane working in such an isolated place making little or no money. I could never convince them I had found my calling. I wanted nothing more than be a cowboy. My dad had wanted me to go to college and make a career for myself. I suppose I was a disappointment when all I could talk about was the Quarter Circle U Ranch and the cattle I cared for.
Like all good things my cowboy job ended one day when I was severely injured by a large Brahma-mixed bull. I lay in a hospital bed for several weeks and realized my father and mother were correct and I needed a new direction in life. I eventually returned to college and embarked upon a new career with the life of a cowboy always in the back of my mind.
Now, friends, that is why I continue to this day wearing my cowboy hat, western shirts and jeans. Deep down in my soul I am still that young cowboy who worked on the Quarter U Ranch so many decades ago. The “Day of Cowboy” honors this magnificent persona of the American West.