Monday, December 9, 2013

My Silver Screen Heroes

December 2, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Times were tough in the late 1950s. My dream to attend the university vaporized after my first semester.

Well, who needed a university education? I had neither the ambition nor resources at the time. I was convinced I wasn’t intelligent enough to claw my way through eight semesters of classes at Arizona State Teacher’s College. So I gave up this goal. My second goal in life was to be a cowboy and it was far more desirable.

The old Quarter Circle U Ranch served as my introduction to manhood and making my own living. No longer would I be dependent on the folks at home. Often my checks were so small they didn’t even cover the bare essentials. That was OK with me. I was going to be a cowboy. My drive to accomplish this goal out-weighed my common sense, if I had any at the time.

I sold and traded all my precious childhood possessions and depleted my meager bank account to purchase a saddle, chaps, spurs, headstall, bridle, bit, reins, saddlebags, and a good 35-foot 3/8" nylon rope. My father and mother bought me a change of Levi shirts and pants. At the time I had a worn pair of Tony Lama boots.

Tom Kollenborn, "Ready for range work." Circa 1960. Photo credit Greg Davis.
I acquired all this tack without even a horse to ride. Barkley had not assigned me a remuda of horses to work with. Eventually I was given three head of horses to use. They were named Scooter, Sorrel, and Spook. All three mounts made an impression on me in one way or another.

Man, can I remember the first day I saddled up for my boss, William Thomas Barkley. I had carefully observed him during his saddling ritual every morning for almost a week. Never once did he ask me to saddle up and accompany him on the range. Finally one morning he looked at me and asked, "Are you ready?"

I tried to remember his saddling routine to the finest detail. First, he checked the horse’s feet to see that the hoof was clear of manure, gravel, small rocks and any other debris that might injure the horse’s foot. Using a hoof pick, Barkley ceremoniously cleared each hoof of debris. This was followed by careful examination of the horse’s back, withers, and barrel for sores or injuries. After this careful examination, Barkley would then curry and follow with a thorough brushing. Barkley then placed a smooth blanket on the horse’s back, followed by a thick saddle pad.

Curried, brushed, and padded the horse was ready for his old Kaiser low-roper saddle. As Barkley picked up his saddle you could hear the well oiled leather creak. In one smooth motion he placed the saddle on the horse’s back. He carefully centered and adjusted the saddle to fit the horse’s back and withers. Barkley rode his saddle high upon the horse’s withers.

He then gathered in the cinch D-ring and pulled the latigo through. He checked his cinch to make sure it wasn’t twisted. With a few quick motions he was ready to cinch up his horse and tie off.

Next came the breast strap. He then tied his 45-foot nylon rope on his saddle that he used for groundwork. A canteen and saddlebags completed his saddling ritual. The final step was removing the nosebag and placing the headstall and bit in the horse’s mouth.

Barkley’s old horse Champ had a particular dislike for a cold bit. Bill would warm the bit for a few minutes with his hand before placing it in his horse’s mouth. This simple act convinced me Barkley loved his animals. The buckling of the throat strap ended the morning saddling routine.

He looked over at me and asked, "Are you ready?" At that moment I started a repeat performance of his routine. He watched me like a teacher watches and guides his or her students. He then called out to me, "Hey Slim let’s go. We’re burning daylight."

The first day I was just trying to keep up with the man I now believed to be the "King of the Cowboys." I had envisioned a cowboy to be something entirely different than what I saw before me on that cool spring morning at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.

No silver-studded saddle, no fancy chaps, no Winchester in a saddle scabbard, no fancy Western shirt and most of all no six-shooter on his hip. This was just a plain old cowboy who worked range cattle.

Barkley’s dress and demeanor was just the opposite of what I expected. He wore a sweat-stained denim shirt, pants, gray Stetson and a plain pair of Tony Lama boots. His skin was tanned and wrinkled from years of working in the desert sun. His face revealed the lines of hard work and hard times. He was a man of the desert range.

"Just a real old cowboy," I thought as we rode off toward Coffee Flat to check on some of his stock. William Thomas Barkley was a cattleman following in the footsteps of his father William Augustus Barkley who settled on desert with his wife Gertrude in 1907.

If you travel to Gold Canyon, East of Mountain View Road, north to the Palmer Mine, and on to Canyon Lake and on east to Peter’s Mesa you are on the old Barkley Cattle Ranch. At one time the ranch encompassed one hundred seventeen sections of private, state and federal land.

I worked at the old Quarter Circle U Ranch during its twilight years as part of the Barkley Cattle Company. We rode the entire 117 sections of land packing salt, doctoring cattle and rounding up stock. By 1970 the Barkley Ranch no longer existed.

Today Chuck and Judy Backus own the Quarter Circle U Ranch and run cattle on state lease land. The Backuses are making an attempt to keep the history of the old Quarter Circle U Ranch alive. I certainly do admire them for doing that.

As I look back at my experience on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch I had found the true silver screen hero of the West in William Thomas Barkley.