Monday, March 27, 2017

The Day of the Cowboy

March 20, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A national holiday that recalls the “Day of the Cowboy” is somewhat interesting and unique. The cattle industry was a wild and rough business during the early years of 1850–1930. 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 to form the cowboy image so familiar to many of us. When we think of cowboys, we think of cattle, horses, the open range, a ranch house, corrals, windmills, Stetson hats, bandannas, chaps, spurs, boots, lariats, and saddles. Today we mill around an imaginary world of the “Old West.” To some degree, many of us believe this world still exists today. There are movies, dude ranches, and gunfights to enrich our beliefs of what the “Old West” was like.

I can only speak from my experiences as to what cowboys are really like.

William Thomas Barkley watches from the back of the corral as he sits atop his horse “Champ.” c. 1958

When I was a young man I dreamed of being a cowboy based on the images portrayed on the silver screen at the old Rex Theater in Hayden, Arizona. I knew cowboys were good, honest and respectable men. They always defeated the bad guy, defended the good guy and won the heart of the ladies. Hollywood had created the perfect image of the American cowboy on the movie screen in my mind. This cowboy persona 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 1950s. I expected the cowboys to be a hero in all aspects, however I soon found out this was not case. Real cowboys were still only human—they were not always the men I thought they were. The real cowboys I met around Apache Junction, Globe, San Carlos, Tonto Basin and Winkleman were of a different breed. However, many of the cowboys I met were what I had expected. Some 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 and knew how to work wild cattle. Elmer Pope, an Apache cowboy, could rope a wild cow on the run in the roughest country east of Superstition Mountain. Stone always had a problem 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., Jimmy Heron, Frank Herron, 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 responsible. 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 will testify to that statement. 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 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 although I did manage to work for one of the real 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 1950s and I cherish those couple of years I spent becoming what I am today. Life on that ranch certainly shaped my character, but also strengthened the values I had learned from my mother, father, and silver screen heroes. More than fifty years ago I sat 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, some permanent residents and a few desert dwellers that 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 with no communications with the outside world. The old ranch had no electricity and little running water. Conditions were very primitive, but I learn to cope with my new environment. My parents thought I was insane working in such a lonely place, making little or no money. I could never convince them that 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 career ended one day when I was severely injured by a large Brahma-mixed bull. I lay in a hospital bed for several weeks. I found a new direction in life. I realized my father and mother were correct and 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 that worked on the Quarter U Ranch so many decades ago. The “Day of the Cowboy” honors this magnificent persona of the American West. I dedicate this column to all the cowboys who believe and follow this philosophy in life. An old friend, “Arkie” Johnston, recently passed away and left a cowboy legacy. He had four sons who are some of the best cowboys in the Southwest.

Note: Those of you that would like to read about another real cowboy, I recommend the book Cowboy Sign by Duane Reece. Duane has cowboyed all his life, and spent twenty years as a rodeo hand. His book should be on every cowboy and cowgirl’s shelf or in his or her saddlebags. For more information about Duane’s book, call (928) 812-0300 or drop a card to Kaycee Reece-Stratton, 4840 Longhorn Lane, Winkelman, AZ 85192.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Arkie" Johnston: Occupation Cowboy

March 13, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday, when I met “Arkie” for the first time at Dallas Adair’s Greenhorn Stable next to the Superstition Inn. Dallas told me Arkie’s name, but that was about all. He was showing Arkie some tricks to packing a horse for a trip over rugged terrain in the mountains. This was some time in either 1972 or 1973. Eventually, I was talking to Arkie and he told me he was giving up truck driving to become a cowboy. He was adamant about making this decision. He had been raised on a farm in Minesota around horses and cows. He understood working stock and cattle. He wanted more than anything to be cowboy on a ranch in the American Southwest. From that day on he worked on those cowboy skills. Packing, riding, roping, fence work, windmill work and whatever else was part of a cowboy or rancher’s job. Arkie soon found there wasn’t much money in just being a cowboy so he decided to start his own pack outfit. He decided to take on an old cowboy, “Bud” Lane as a partner. Bud was quite a legend in these parts with a reputation as a very skilled cowboy and rodeo rider. It wasn’t long before Arkie opened Peralta Stables on South Meridian Road below Broadway Road in Apache Junction. Arkie and his stables were almost our neighbors.

Arkie Johnston, a top hand,
a good cowboy who would help
 just about anyone in distress or in trouble.
Shea Lynn, my daughter, loved horses like all young girls so she eventually got a job attending to Arkie’s five children and helping Pandy, Arkie’s wife. We were always taking Shea Lynn down to Arkie’s to baby sit. Shea Lynn started riding Crow occasionally and having a great time. She and Charley, Arkies son, were riding Crow one day when the horse jumped a small ditch and they both feel off. Charley broke his arm.

It was some time in the 1970s that I traded Arkie my Chevy pickup for a horse named Crow and a pair of Crockett spurs. Crow turned out to be the best horse I ever owned—and I have owned several over the years. I boarded Crow with Peralta Stables for several years until Arkie sold out and decided to manage the U Ranch for Chuck Backus sometime in the early 1980s. Knowing Arkie, it was one adventure after another. First there was the Circlestone documentary, then the legendary Joe Mays Expedition and the Crystal Skull, then the May’s Documentary. This was followed by a summer at the Reavis Ranch. On all of these Johnston adventures, I learned many new things, whether I agreed or disagreed. I met Auggie Guiterriz, Don Allen and Frank Liken. Then in 1982 the ride to the top of 5024 with Nyle Leatham, reporter for the Arizona Republic, Arkie Johnston, Ken Coltmen, Doc Case and myself. This was a trip that none of us would ever forget. Arkie started helping out on roundups here and there, learning the skills of a range cowboy and better knowledge of the cattle industry. Eventually he sold out the Peralta Stables and became ranch manager for Chuck and Judy Backus.

Arkie was at the U Ranch in the 1980s. When Arkie left the U Ranch he was a top hand, a good cowboy and knew what he was doing. He had totally fulfilled his dream to be a cowboy. He always loved the cowboy way. Arkie would help just about anyone in distress or in trouble. His heart was in the right place, but sometimes he was a bit wild like all cowboys have been at one time in their lives. He raised four sons, Will, Charley, Chester and Matt to be cowboys. These four young men will carry on his legacy.

Editor’s note: Everett Kenneth “Arkie” Johnston was born in Humbolt, Minnesota on June 29, 1944. He was U.S. Army veteran. He had five children, Will, Charlie, Matt, Chester and Catie. He had fifteen grand children. Arkie is survived by his brothers Jack and Larry, and also his sisters Linda, Phyliss, and Christina. Arkie Johnston passed away on February 22, 2017, in Mesa, Arizona.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Dr. William F. Wright: Cowboy, Educator and Statesman

March 6, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Education and the World lost a good friend with the passing of William F. Wright, Sunday, February 19, 2017. He was my mentor for more than half of a lifetime. He was a friend and wonderful example to follow for all who knew him. We will all certainly miss him. He was a friend to all humanity and wished to help all. His legacy will be “what he did for others, his family and his life was filled with accomplishments that mark the path of a great man.”

Right to left are Bill Wright, Tom Kollenborn, Jay Drazinke, Gary Hunnington, and Allan Blackman.

Bill, do you remember those campfires we sat around in the Superstition Mountains my friend? We often talked about what was good and what was right. We discussed people and things. Bill’s philosophy was to spend time with people not things. Bill Wright made several trips into the mountains with me over the years. The last horse trip we made together was with his son Matt and Mr. Gallager. I don’t recall exactly when we made that last trip.

I could write a book on his accomplishments and successes as an educator. But I am going to tell a little different story about a person we enjoyed on many trips in the Superstition Wilderness Area in search of peace, solitude and tranquility. Our lives required an escape from the hectic schedules we kept and in those mountains we found that peace and solitude. We were, in a sense, living the life of a cowboy. All of you know what a “cowboy” is and many of us have known real cowboys. Bill loved horses and the open range. We talked about Floyd Stone, Billy Martin Jr., John Bacon and William Barkley and many of the old time cowboys of the Superstition Range. When Bill and I first made trips into the wilderness, cattle still roamed the mountains. Seeing and talking to a cowboy was not uncommon, it was the norm. I would talk about the old days on the U Ranch and Bill talked about his time upon on the Blue. We often reached a consensus about the cattlemen we knew. They were fine men and we enjoyed being in their company. Bill’s heart was filled with the “Cowboy Way.”

I can remember one night in particular in 1975. We were all sitting around in front of the fire place at the old Reavis Ranch, with a foot of snow on the ground outside. When Bill spoke, everyone listened to his words—they were usually filled with wisdom and sound advice about the day’s ride. Even old Bud Lane agreed with Bill’s comments. This was a side of Bill’s experience few of us expected to hear. He was a man of diverse knowledge about cowboys and horses. One of his grandchildren recently said he was “John Wayne” to them too, and I can see why. As we sat there huddled around the fireplace on a cold winter night, Bill talked about several of the brands on the fireplace mantel as if he had one day worked this country and for these brands. This was William F. Wright in a totally different environment and knowledgeable of his surroundings when it was least expected.

Here is another story about his ability to adapt to the extreme. He always taught his children, students and athletes to adapt to changing situations. He was “Coach” to many of his friends. One year, he and I flew to Chicago. He was giving a national presentation about our school district to a group of school superintendents from around the country at the legendary Palmer House Hotel. The Palmer House was cowboy country in Chicago. I set up a dissolve slide presentation for Dr. Wright to present. The presentation was set for about forty minutes. The presentation would have worked as planned, but in the middle of it, the power went off. The room became pitch black. You couldn’t see your hand in front of you. Bill Wright didn’t miss a beat and continued the presentation without the slides or any lighting. About ten minutes later the lights came back on and I advanced the projectors to the right slide—he continued without missing a beat. When he was finished, the group gave him a standing ovation. In my opinion at the time, he was the master of making a presentation under any circumstances or conditions. How he kept up with his story line amazes me to this day. This was Bill Wright, the master of the impossible. He instilled this quality in his children, his athletes and those around him. I am a far better person for having known him and was honored to call him my friend.

Editor’s note: William Frank Wright was born in Tollenson, Arizona on November 22, 1940. He Graduated from high school in Page, Arizona in 1960. He married Martha, a cheerleader at Page High School and the love of his heart in October of 1960. They had three children Julie, Matt, and Mike, twenty-three grand children and forty-eight great grand children. He played football at Phoenix College and attended Arizona State University where he earned his degree in education. He was a coach, friend and teacher to all he knew. The “Master” in the sky has his lead rope now, guiding him to a green pasture there.