Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cowboys--Real Narrow Between the Eyes

After long and careful consideration, much cogitation and deliberation I have come to the conclusion that us cowboys ain't the brightest bulbs in the string. We're not real stupid, just sort of dumb. A few examples follow.

I was helping a friend of mine with cattle on a ranch he leased in southern Arizona. I had horses, and for helping I got to run a few head of my own cattle on the place. It was called Brown Canyon Ranch and the west end of the canyon ended in Baboquivari mountain, which is a sacred mountain to the Tono Odham, (previously known as Papago). This area is slightly higher than Tucson.
The two photos below show the working corrals at Brown Canyon with Baboquivari, the distinctive shaped mountain in the middle, and my little herd. I was well on my way to becoming a cattle baron.

My friend was an old Montana cowboy named Kip Ripley who had moved to Arizona for the health of one of his children. He was in ranch realty which was how he came on to this place. Not long after he started the lease he called me and said he was going to turn some cows onto the ranch but needed to ride fence first and could I help. I said sure and so we agreed to do it that weekend. This was about the first of January. On the appointed day I loaded up a couple of horses and drove down there. This was all well and good but it turned out to be the coldest day of the year with a light snow falling and a wind blowing. I wore a sheep skin coat, chaps, gloves and whatever else I could pile on. I saddled two horses, riding one and leading the other by a halter rope which I held in my hand, the rope not wrapped around my saddle horn. It all seemed like a good idea at the time. That was before the horse I was leading stopped, unknown to me, and the resulting jerk pulled my arm backwards and tore the rotator cuff. Why I was leading that horse is a mystery to me now. He was saddled but wasn't carrying things like wire or fence posts. Dumb.

The photo below shows typical Brown Canyon Ranch country and the very fence I was riding.

When we were living in Sierra Vista I had another friend who had some cattle but no horses. He called me up one day and asked if I could help him check on his cattle and the fence. Being a slow learner I said sure. This was in early December. The area where the cows were was in the foothills of the Huachuca mountains, probably about 5000 feet high. He said how about this Saturday? I said fine and he said this would also get us out of having to go to the Christmas parade. On the appointed day the inevitable happened—cold, wind, sleet and snow. Turned out to be the coldest day of the year. Although there were no injuries we paid a substantial price for missing the Christmas parade.

One day towards the end of June Kip calls me and says we need to brand. Now Kip liked to let the calves get pretty big before he worked them. They were usually yearlings before they were branded, ear tagged, vaccinated and cut(castrated for the uninitiated). He didn't usually sell them until they were about two year olds. Me: “When do you want to do this?” Kip: “ How about the 4th of July?”Me: “Say what? That'll be the hottest day of the year!” Kip: “Gotta be done.” Me: “Okay. See you there.”
The photo below shows typical Brown Canyon ranch country with some of our cattle.

True to form, I'm sure it was the hottest day of the year. I think where we were(Brown Canyon) it was about 105. Compared to Phoenix at 110+ I guess it wasn't too bad. However we built a nice fire to get the branding irons hot, handled wood, fire, hot irons, hot cattle etc. most of the day. We used a branding chute so didn't have to rope and wrestle with the cattle but it was still about as hot as I ever want to be. I have no idea how much water, cold drinks, etc. we went through.

Irons in the fire.

One time we ran onto about a two year old bull that had somehow missed being branded, cut, etc. Since we didn't want him breeding, we managed to herd him into a corral. This corral had no branding chute, but did have a stout pole, sort of like a short telephone pole, in the middle. So we roped the bull, one on the head and one on the heels, and stretched him out on the ground. This is how you brand out on the range where there are no corrals or branding chutes. We snubbed the head rope to the pole. We branded him, ear tagged him, and cut him. This did not endear us to him. In this situation when you are finished you want the head rope to come off before the heel rope. However, this critter slipped the heel rope first and was standing upright pulling back on the head rope still snubbed to the post. We can't just unsnub him and let him go with the rope still around his neck because he might get hung up in brush, trees, cactus, etc. on the range and die a miserable death. Kip being 20 years older than me, I am elected to get this rope off this ex-bull. So I take a knife, get in position to cut the rope around his neck, which puts the ex-bull arm's length from me staring straight at me. I'm hoping that because he is pulling back on the rope he will go backwards when I cut the rope. No such luck. The rope is cut, he runs straight at me, knocks me flat on the ground, some how jumps over me without stepping on me and takes off.
Of course what we should have done was re-rope his heels, take off the head rope and then let the heel rope go loose and everything is cool. But, being cowboys, we do it the hard way. I wasn't hurt, but that wasn't my fault. Dumb.


  1. I loved your story. It was fun seeing the country you were cowboying in the other day.--Cheryl

  2. I found out while writing this post that Kip Ripley died. I hope he finds good grass and water, good fences and cows that don't need branding. A little shade would also be nice.