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ON A REAL CATTLE ROUNDUP
Most of my growing-up years took place in the country. I didn't care for city (Alpine?) life. That is consistent with just about everyone who has ever lived in the country. About 1946 I was lucky enough to work on a real cattle drive. By then I already had my own saddle, spurs, chaps, etc...
Ray Shuler, an old friend of Dad's from his Nine Point days, needed to get some cattle from his ranch near Santiago Mountain to the railroad stock pens in Alpine. Mr. Shuler hired Dad and David Walker, a cousin of Dad's, a Mexican cook, and me. Dad had talked Ray into hiring me on at half price cowboy wages. That meant I would be earning about $12.00 a day. Good wages for a twelve-year old (Collecting my wages from the trail boss several months later is yet another story).
The five of us loaded all our groceries and gear (sleeping bags, clothing, saddles, etc..) into Ray’s old pickup and we headed for the country. After about two hours we finally arrived at Ray Schuler’s ranch house where we stayed the first few days of the roundup. We were forty south of Alpine and about ten miles east of the highway. We were not very far north of Nine Point Mountain. Santiago Mountain seemed to loom large every time I would look up.
Our first order of business was to roundup the saddle horses and make sure they were all healthy and in good condition for the job. Early the next morning, and I do mean early, we began our first day riding out and beginning to gather all strays we could find in a certain distance pasture. As it turned out this was only a preview of things to come.
When we began rounding up his 'wild' cattle, I doubt that most of those wild animals had ever seen a human being any closer than about half a mile away. It was wild and rugged country; lots of white brush and catclaw brush and rough deep canyons. Even at a distance you could see them raise their heads, then their tails (hence the description: high-tailing it), then strike out in the opposite direction from where we were riding. In those few days we had to cover several square miles and several pastures each day.
I recall being assigned a rather small but excellent cow pony named 'Boy'. He was a red and white paint in color, and we were probably about the same age. It seemed all I had to do was point him in the right direction - and hang on. And that was a full time job in that rough country. I still remember what one particular tree and ditch looked like. We were chasing a very belligerent steer. Every time Boy and I thought we had him going in the right direction he would turn for the brush again and again. Boy became just as determined to make that steer go where we wanted him to go as that steer wanted to go his own way. It became a challenge for all concerned. It was either ‘him or us’. I could see a branch reaching out over the ditch coming up, but Boy refused to change his course. At the last moment I threw myself to one side of the saddle and hung on. My thoughts were that the limb was already so low it would catch on the saddle horn and no telling what would happen. Somehow it missed the saddle horn and me, but it could not have been by much. The next thing I remember we were still going at full speed into the brushy draw after that damned animal and I was simply hanging on for dear life. Actually, I really enjoyed riding Boy. We worked well together. We all would have been scratched up pretty badly by the catclaw brush had we not worn our chaps and long sleeved shirts every day.
After about three days of hard riding we had finally rounded up and penned all the stray cattle we were going to find for that year. Ray said “The rest will have to wait yet another day - another year before being captured and taken to market”.
Next, it was a two-day cattle drive to get over to the Terlingua highway. (It was still a dirt road then, called ‘the lane’.) This became a little tricky, as there were no fences, except the ones we had to go through. The cattle were getting a little more used to us being around – as long as we didn’t crowd them too much, but we still had to be very cautious going through those gates. Luckily, where we arrived at the lane, there was a water tank. It isn’t there any more, but it was then called the “forty mile tank” because it was forty miles to Alpine.
After reaching ‘the lane’, it was easier traveling as there was a fence on each side of the roadway. We then proceeded about ten miles a day herding the cattle to Alpine. Other than the daily and constant herding and pushing the cattle north toward town, the rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. After about ten full days of cowpunching we reached the Southern Pacific railroad stockyard pens east of town. Our work was finished.
Looking back, I saw this trip as significant in local history as well as my being a part of the cattle drive. Many ranchers had already started using trucks to haul their cattle to market. Ray Shuler and other small ranchers could not afford to contract trucks to haul their cattle so he did it the old fashioned way, he used cowboys and herded them to the railroad stock pens. We herded cattle all day, ate camp cooking, slept in bedrolls on the ground every night and lived a real cowboy’s life for ten days. Daylight to dark. There was no time clock to punch. The only vehicle was the one we rode in getting down there; and our chuck wagon was the same old pickup.
This cattle drive was to destined become one of the very last of a dying tradition and I was lucky enough to have been a part of it.
Tommy R. Woodward - June 2002.
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