Monday, December 29, 2003

El Gaucho

December 29, 2003 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Several decades ago when I was [a] cowboy on the Quarter Circle U Ranch for William T. Barkley and his mother Gertrude, I met many interesting characters and animals. The ugliest, the meanest and the largest critter I ever met up close was a black Brahma-Angus crossed bull.

Barkley called the bull “El Gaucho.” He always said it required a mean bull to survive on this cattle range known by old timers as some of the roughest cow country in the Southwest. Believe me, I can bear witness to that statement after working on that cattle ranch off and on for three years during the 1950s.

Most large bulls are slow and lazy on the open range, but Gaucho was something different. He acted like one of the wild Corrientes used in Mexico for bull fighting. He appeared to always be on the fight. I had a lot of respect for this animal and, to be honest, I feared him when I was in the same pasture with him. He protected his cows with a ferocity that would put fear in the heart and soul of any good cowboy.

Jack Riddle and Bill Finch both had told Barkley to get rid of Gaucho before he hurt somebody. Gaucho’s reputation preceded him when I hired on at the Quarter Circle U.

I worked for Barkley for almost six months before I even came across the bull he called “Gaucho.” Early one morning about dawn I was riding southeast from the ranch toward Tule Canyon. I had just jumped a small herd of javelina when I spotted a large black bull pawing the ground in a small clearing a couple of hundred yards away. I never dreamed the animal would challenge my presence in the area or in his territory. I did notice a half-dozen or so cows down the draw from his rut. That particular morning I was riding a very spooky broom tail blazed bay horse called “Pee Wee.” Old Gaucho pawed the ground, raised his head and charged full steam in my direction. Quail scattered, javelina ran up the hillside and my horse took a fast crow hop. My first adventure with Gaucho was about to unfold.

His charge was so strong I thought my mount would never get out of his way. Pee Wee ran up a steep slope and snorted. Gaucho stopped short of us some fifty yards, raised his head and bellowed. This display of defiance convinced me this bull was dangerous. I continued my ride into Tule Canyon and didn’t see Gaucho on my return trip. Thank goodness.

I recall another time I met Gaucho. He was in a “duel to the death” with another large bull we call[ed] “Yaller.” I heard them bellowing and scuffling about just south of the ranch house in a small brush corral. I walked down to see what I could do about this fight. Usually on the open range fights didn’t last [too] long, but these bulls had cornered themselves. It was apparent one or the other was going to be seriously injured. I hazed them with rocks, sticks, and even a shovel full of dirt, but all of this effort was to no avail. I even fired my shotgun near them. The sound of the shotgun startled them, but it didn’t stop them from fighting.

Then all of a sudden a bright idea came to mind. Around the U Ranch the ground was so rocky and hard we often used dynamite to dig post-holes. “Why not?” I thought.

I returned to the tack room, grabbed a stick [of] dynamite, a cap and a piece of fuse. I carefully placed a cap on the fuse and crimped it down with the cap crimpers. I then prepared the fuse, a cap and a quarter stick of dynamite and returned to the brush corral. The two bull[s] were still butting heads, slobbering, bleeding, tired and red-eyed from fighting. I lit the fuse and tossed the stick of dynamite into the corral near the two fighting bulls. As the fuse burned I thought, what a brilliant idea!

Little did I know what would happen when the dynamite exploded near the two enraged bulls.

There was at least a minute of fuse on the dynamite, and awaiting the blast for those 60 seconds seemed like a lifetime.

The bulls were within three feet of the charge when it went off. The blast sent the bulls charging in opposite directions through the sides of the brush corral. The two bulls did so much damage to the old corral it required almost two weeks to repair it. Yes, the bulls gave up their fight with little or no injuries. I never told Bill Barkley how I broke up the fight. I just told him they [tore] up the corrall while fighting. Barkley’s comment simply was, those damn bulls are causing a lot of damage so keep them separated. The “Battle of the Bulls” on the old U Ranch will be one of my fond memories of my cowboy days.

Jack Riddle, Bill Finch, Buck Wallace and other men who knew the Barkley range were always teasing or joking about Gaucho. These men didn’t add much to my confidence as an aspiring greenhorn cowboy. Most of Barkley’s cattle were gentle and easy to work, but a few of his bulls and cows were wild and very difficult to manage. The wilder cattle always kept me on edge. Actually I seldom came across Gaucho on the range. He often remained hidden in the mesquites that lined the arroyos east of the U Ranch.

Just prior to roundup in early May of 1959, Gaucho and my trail crossed once again. This was our final meeting. Barkley had a large group of cows gathered and we placed them in the pasture-corral west of the ranch house. He was preparing to ship out some of the yearlings. Gaucho was still in the east pasture and usually stayed away from the ranch house area. About 5 p.m. on May 9, 1959, I heard a loud commotion down in the run separating the east and west pastures. Rather than saddle a horse, I grabbed one of the gentle mules named Pete and decided to ride bareback down to see what the commotion was all about. That was my first mistake.

As I rode along the run, I spotted the Gaucho bull all tangled up in barbed wire. His tongue was out, his eyes bleeding, and he appeared to be almost dead. He had struggled in an attempt to free himself from the wire until he had no more energy.

Immediately, without thinking, I jumped off the mule and ran up to the bull. That was my second mistake.

I grabbed two large rocks and began to cut the barbed wire that was cutting off Gaucho’s breathing. That was mistake number three.

Gaucho was up and all over me before I cut the third strand of barbed wire. His first charge broke my left arm. His second charge cracked my hip, and then he gored me in the groin.

Blood was everywhere and I thought my cowboy days were over. My life was spared that day because Pete “the pack mule” felt endangered and attacked Gaucho. It wasn’t long before Pete had the upper hand with his precise kicking ability with his hindquarters. A third and swift strong kick brought Gaucho to the ground and gave me time to escape under the remaining fence. When Gaucho recovered, he was so enraged, he charged the barbed-wire fence. Eventually he ran off, snorting, down the run toward a large corral.

My injuries were severe and require[d] almost a year for me to recover. You might say El Gaucho, after three years, had ended my cowboy days. I did a lot of thinking during this period of time. My destiny was not to be a cowboy for the rest of my life. On the other hand I would not have traded my cowboy days on the Quarter Circle U Ranch for anything else. This adventure prepared me to meet many challenges in life. When you are so close to death, the fear of death no longer is threatening. Yes, I grew to adulthood that day on the Quarter Circle U Ranch, thanks to the Lord, almost fifty years ago.