Monday, April 7, 2014

Life of a Cowboy

March 31, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Some time ago somebody ask me what it was like living at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the late 1950s. I thought about it for a minute and said, “I was quite young and wanted to be a cowboy. Electricity and running water were not a priority for me.”

Tom Kollenborn at Barkley’s Bluff Springs Cabin, circa 1959.
However, at the same time I must admit life was quite primitive at the ranch. We cooked on a wood stove and a propane two-burner stove. We had a Serval Freezer that ran on propane. We had a single pipe in the kitchen for water. That is when there was water in the tank.

Our water supply depended on a full tank of water pumped by a windmill. The windmill depended on a breeze to operate. The problem with wind on the ranch was you either had not enough or too much. No, we didn’t have fans or coolers.

How did we survive 110° F in those days? It wasn’t easy, but we were young and foolish. I will try to describe what it was like working on the old Quarter Circle U Ranch.

We were usually up by 4:30 a.m. to feed the stock in the corrals. This would include our riding horses and cattle that were being treated for various ailments or injuries.

Every animal was important for us to save. After feeding the stock, we fed our chickens and then the two dogs. The dogs were stock dogs and they helped us gather cattle out of the brush and other inaccessible locales.

While I fed, my partner Mike would begin breakfast and also prepare a pot of beans to cook on the wood stove. By the time I completed morning chores that included gathering our eggs for breakfast I was ready to return to the ranch house. We generally had bacon, potatoes, chili, and eggs for breakfast. We had to slice our own bacon so the slices were often quite thick. Our bean pot had beef, bacon, and chili in it. We quickly learned to keep a stone on the bean pot lid. If we didn’t, we would have a mouse in our bean pot. Just more protein if you’re a hungry cowboy after a day of hard work. Mike and I would alternate jobs during our morning routine.

After breakfast we would go down to the barn and corral to prepare for our day ahead. During the summer months we generally worked from about 6 a.m. until about 2 p.m. at which time we would shade up. We would then go back to work at about 5 p.m. working for another couple hours or so.

Summer days were long days no matter how you looked at the work agenda. Usually we were fixing fence, repairing water sources, checking stock or packing salt.

When we worked for the Barkley Cattle Company, the ranch included one hundred and seventeen sections of state land, forestland and BLM land. We rode from Canyon Lake in the north to Tule Canyon in the south.

All of the Gold Canyon area was part of the ranch’s range with the exception of the King’s Ranch Guest Ranch and Resort. The main head quarter’s ranch was located at the Three Rs Ranch. The old ranch headquarters was located just south of Apacheland Movie Studio.

All has changed in the area today. We often herded stock from the U Ranch to the stone corrals at the Three Rs Ranch. The ride was about eight miles, but was slow and dusty with fifteen to twenty head of cattle.

Bill Barkley, Mike Finley and I drove about seventy-five head of yearlings along the old Three Rs – Quarter Circle U Trail in April of 1959. I think this was the last time the entire trail was used for a drive.

Often along our route we had a mixture of Mule deer and Javelinas. The wildlife would eventually fade into the desert, but often stayed with us for a mile or so.

Once the spring roundup was over, branding, dehorning, castration, and doctoring done, we then prepared for the long, hot summer. We would return to the bunkhouse at the U-Ranch. First, and most important, was putting all of the bed legs in a tin can filled with motor oil to help keep scorpions out of our beds. The pesky creatures would then crawl up on the rafters in the roof and drop into our beds. We also dealt with black ants and mosquitoes. Mosquitoes were very common after the summer rains in July. You wouldn’t believe the swarms of Mosquitoes we contended with. Sleep at night could be very difficult in those days.

Another interesting place was our outdoor privy. The outhouse was a notoriously coveted place by scorpions and an occasional rattlesnake.

Scorpions often waited for an unsuspecting victim to sit down on a toilet seat and then greet him with painful sting. We soon learn to lift of up the seat and check it for scorpions or whatever else might be waiting for us. Small rattlesnakes lying near the outhouse found it cool and comfortable in their world of survival. I eventually painted a sign for the outhouse that warned people of problems they might encounter in our outhouse.

If we had any riding to do, like packing salt, we were up at 3 a.m. and would be on the trail long before sunrise. I recall a trip we made to Bluff Springs in July to drop salt. Our plan was to be back at the ranch by 11 a.m. We would have made it, but we spent two hours working on the water source at Bluff Springs so the concrete tank would fill. Our ride back in temperatures that exceeded 110° F about did us in. We were sunburned and dehydrated by the time we arrived back at the ranch.

Life on the old ranch was rough, but I still recall all those adventures and it was probably one of the most exciting times of my life. I owe a lot to William Thomas Barkley for giving me that opportunity to grow into manhood and learn what work was really about. All ranches on the desert were like this. The old U Ranch was no exception.