Monday, October 14, 2013

Packin' Salt

October 7, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many years ago when I worked for the Barkley Cattle Company I learned how to pack salt the hard way. Come to think of it, I learned everything the hard way on that ranch.

Bill Barkley assigned me a job to pack salt to a place called Tule Canyon. His directions were vague to say the least. Actually I would have been better off following a blind man’s directions.

"The salt grounds," Barkley said, "are near a small seep south of the ranch house just through the gate up there in the saddle. The pads and cross bucks are in the barn." Bill was always a man of few words around his cowhands.
Tom Kollenborn on a pack trip in the Superstitions.
My first question was, "Bill what do I put the salt in to pack it?" His reply was simple and to the point. "Swing the salt blocks with a rope." I didn’t want to sound ignorant so I didn’t ask anymore questions about how to pack salt. He then said, "See you in a week." Unfortunately, this was another of those experiences I would never forget.

First, you must understand the U Ranch and the Barkley Cattle Company were in their twilight years when I accepted employment. The forest service was constantly reducing the number of units that Barkley could have on his grazing allotment. A new management plan had been just introduced to the West called "multi-use." This was at a time when I knew very little about the forest service or grazing allotments. All I knew was Bill Barkley owned a large cattle ranch and he had just assigned me a job to carry out for him. I didn’t know the different between patented land, state lease land, national forest land or Taylor graze land when it came to ranching.

Before sending me off on my latest adventure as a "genuine" cowboy, Bill told me how important salt was to his cattle. When Bill was done with his lecture about salt and cattle I was certain I was on a mission of mercy. My effort to pack two hundred pounds of salt blocks over Tule Summit and down to Tule Seep would be a monumental task for the preservation of the herd. I was proud he had chosen me for such an important responsibility. If he had only known my ability or inability as a cowboy or packing, he probably would never had assigned me this chore. You might say I was getting on-the-job training to be a cowboy.

I was up the next morning before dawn preparing for my trip. After breakfast I returned to the barn. I stood there and looked at the blocks of salt and the packsaddles thinking of just how this job was going to be accomplished. First thing was putting the pads and packsaddles on the horses that were going to carry the salt. After trial and error for several minutes I finally got the packsaddles on the horses and they were secure. I stood there and continued to study this "swing the blocks" thing. Ah, finally I figured it out. I would slip the rope through the holes in the blocks of salt and swing them from the packsaddles. Wasn’t that what Bill said, "swing the salt blocks with a rope?"

When I finally got the last horse packed with its swinging salt blocks I was ready to ride for Tule Summit. Well, I thought I was.

Once on the trail, I found out the horses didn’t care for free swinging blocks of salt hanging from their backs. I could soon see it was going to be a long day on the salt block trail to Tule Seep. The first hours were spent unpacking and packing the salt blocks back on the horses. Nothing appeared to work! It was one disaster after another. Occasionally a salt block would fall off near a steep embankment and roll for almost a hundred yards before coming to a stop. On one occasion the salt block exploded like a stick of dynamite when it hit a large rock. The pieces of salt where scattered over a large area. Oh well, Barkley’s cows could lick the salt here and there.

Finally the undesirable occurred. I dropped one of the blocks of salt on my big toe. I limped around the rest of the day believing I had broken my big toe. While hopping around on one foot I backed into a cholla and that didn’t improve my day. For moment I couldn’t figure out which pain smarted the most. At least it took my mind off packing salt for a few minutes.

Actually I was afraid to look at my toe, so I focused on trying the pull the cholla out of my hip. My last attempt at packing the salt appeared to work even though the pain in my big toe was smarting and I still had not pulled all the cholla spines from my flesh. I finally cradled the salt in a rope net giving the salt support rather than allowing the salt to swing freely. Packing and unpacking two hundred pounds of salt blocks, actually one hundred and fifty pounds of salt by now, will work any man into the ground. Even a young man like myself in those days.

I finally climbed back into the saddle, sore toed, sore tailed and rode on. I finally rode down a canyon into the small valley flat where Barkley had directed me to dump half of the salt blocks. I carried the rest of the salt blocks another mile down canyon and dumped them near another seep where several head of cows and calves were standing around as if they were waiting for my salt delivery.

My return trip to the ranch could have been uneventful, but it wasn’t. I was leading one packhorse and tailing the other. When I arrived at the divide gate, I stepped off my horse and opened the gate, then pulled the two packhorses through the gate. Just as I climbed into the saddle something spooked my horse. I wasn’t seated and the horse threw a wild-eyed fit. The packhorses bolted and ran for home as I crashed to the ground, landing on a small Teddy Bear cholla near the gate. The only thing I can be thankful for the cholla was a small one, but my leg, hip and arm thought it was an extremely large cactus. The pain was excruciating as I began to pull the dozen or so cholla balls from my body. I don’t really want to explain my methodology of extraction at this time. I finally got most of them out and then began my two miles walk back to the ranch.
There were times along the trail I really didn’t believe I would make it back to the ranch house. Finally, about sundown, I was limping into the corral at the ranch. I unsaddled the runaway horses, my horse, who by the way, was waiting for me. Then I fed them. I then continued my painful walk to the bunkhouse.

I was a mess. I probably still had hundreds spines in my flesh. Actually I sorta looked like a porcupine. I picked spines out of my body until almost midnight and finally fell asleep from fatigue. After that ride, picking cactus spines out of my hide became more or less a routine part of the job. Believe me, anyone who has ever worked cattle on the desert and didn’t get into cactus spines hasn’t worked cattle on the Sonoran desert.
The next morning I was a slow moving "genuine" cowboy. I looked like some poor soul that had been shot with a load of No. 8 birdshot from a double-barrel shotgun. Oh yes, I did ask myself, "Why do I want to be a cowboy?"

Maybe Bill Barkley was right when he said, "You’ll probably make a pretty fair hand if you live through the summer."

There were times when I didn’t think I would survive that first summer in hell on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Mesa City - Globe Wagon Road

September 30, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There was an old mill town named Pinal City located a few miles west of Superior on Queen Creek. This was a booming mill town in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Small rolling hills lead up to Iron (Irion) Mountain just north of Pinal City, and these hills provided small springs and good grazing for cattle.

The area also had a canyon called Haunted Canyon. This canyon was filled with small caves. The region is known today as the Roger’s Mining District and includes upper Hewitt Canyon, Iron Mountain and Roger’s Canyon. According to a July 17, 1880 Pinal Drill newspaper article, a group of Mormons tried to build a wagon road from Mesa City to Globe through this region. They followed a route east from the Bark Ranch, then up Fraser Canyon. The promoters of this toll road idea finally ran out of funds and the road was never completed.

Early in February of 1891, Surveyor William M. Breakenridge, a famous Tombstone deputy, A.J. Halbert and William Kimball made a trip into the mountainous region west of Globe. They were in quest of a suitable route for a wagon road between Globe and Phoenix. This party found the mountainous region west of Globe extremely difficult to cross with a wagon road.

Billy Breakenridge and his party left the Mesa City-Pinal Road about six miles east of Desert Station and swung around the southeast end of Superstition Mountain to Marlow’s (Bark) Ranch, some twenty-seven miles east of Mesa City. A road was surveyed up a canyon to the Fraser Ranch (JF Ranch) on a slight grade. From the Fraser Ranch, Breakenridge surveyed a line that ran four miles up and over the mountain range east of the Fraser Ranch. From the summit, the road would follow the course of the West Fork of Pinto Creek to the Horrell Cattle Ranch. One mile below the Horrell Cattle Ranch and a few miles to the east of Globe the road would connect with a county road leading to Globe.

Breakenridge believed this route to be the most feasible from Mesa City to Globe. The construction of a wagon road between Mesa City and Globe was attempted again in 1892, but failed because of a lack of funds.

Caption: Allen Blackman leading a ride along a portion of the old
Mesa City - Globe Toll Road that was never completed. Photo, c. 1979.

The railroad arrived in Phoenix from Maricopa in 1879, allowing a rail connection to the Globe-Miami area through Safford by 1898. The King Trail provided sufficient access to the area for many years and discouraged the spending of funds for a wagon road. The citizens of Arizona Territory were not too keen on tax funded transportation routes. The concept of public funding of roads did not reach Arizona Territory until well after the turn of the 20th century. The original Mesa City-Globe Wagon Road was planned as a toll road.

Shortly after the Mesa City-Globe Wagon Road survey project, Breakenridge became involved with locating a site for the Tonto Dam (Roosevelt Dam). Breakenridge soon realized the government would be building a road from Phoenix to the Tonto Dam site. This road would eventually connect with the old Tonto Basin Wagon Road, therefore providing a wagon road to Globe via the Tonto (Roosevelt) Dam. Breakenridge soon realized there would be very little need for a toll road from Mesa City to the Globe area through the mountains west of Globe. The Mesa-Roosevelt Road was bonded in 1903 and completed in 1905. The Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Apache Trail) was used for wagons and self-propelled vehicles from 1905 until 1922.

The Globe-Superior Road, U.S. Highway 60 today, was completed in May of 1922. This road provided Phoenix merchants an opportunity to tap into the rich economic markets provided by the copper mining towns of Globe and Miami.

Globe was a rich mining area prior to the turn of the 20th century. When copper became king, Globe and Miami became very important Arizona cities. The remnants of the old Mesa City-Globe wagon toll toad attempted by a group of Mormons road are still visible along the course of Fraser Canyon southwest of the JF Ranch today.

Sources: Arizona Republican, 02/28/1891. Pinal Drill, 07/17/1880.