Black Wrangler - Part Three
Reminiscences of Lawrence Jackson 
Edited by Howard Hickson  

Lawrence Jackson.Photograph of Lawrence Jackson by Jonas Dovydenas, Lenox, Massachusetts. With his permission.


     I said mustangs was sensitive. They always had a guard or lookout on duty, usually the head stud. When he gave out a loud snort, or shrill whistle, the heard took off with one of the older mares leading. The stallion stayed behind, nipping at stragglers to see that they all get going.
     The mustang is the symbol of the Old West. The pioneers, ranchers and cowmen built up their herds with wild horses. A lot of them was worthless, but some made good saddle horses that could carry a man all day. It is a hardy animal to live on the desert summer and winter, sometimes short on grass and water. But, poor or fat, they was always ready to put up a good run. I have watched mustangs going to water. Some of the mares would have little wobbly-legged colts, only two or three days old. The water hole might be eight or ten miles away, but that didn't matter. They would start off in a trot for a mile or two then swing into a gallop all the way. Them little colts would get up close to their mothers, sorta lean against their shoulders, and run right along with the herd.


     On the desert there is a big lake called Button Lake, named after an old pioneer, I.V. Button. A pretty little brown stud watered there. When he shed off he was slick and shiny as a seal. He had four white feet, a wide white stripe on his forehead, and a long mane and tail. It was a thrill to watch him run, gaining on every jump. It looked like he was floating on air.
     He was called the "Pride of Button Lake." We couldn't catch him, even with a relay. When a horse gets away a time or two it usually runs the same trail - then you know his habit. Three or four wranglers on good horses hide along the trail, three or four miles apart. When the stud makes his break, the first man takes him on a dead run to the second man that chases him on to the third fellow, and so on until the mustang tires out. That's a relay. I worked for Gorham for four years and when I left that part of the country the "Pride of Button Lake" was still running free. That's just as well. When a horse is run until he quits he is busted, wind-broke and worthless.

Branding on the Spanish Ranch.
Branding on the Spanish Ranch. Photo from
the Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko.


     We was camped on the Little Owyhee at Mahogany Flat, above where Doc and me tried to build the dam.
     In the daytime the horses never gave much trouble, but at night and early morning was when I was the busiest. One day, I heard Doc was back and, as I had lots of time, thought I might as well drop in on him. He was waiting for Harvey Sewell to find out what he was going to do about the dynamited dam.
     We got to talking and Doc said, "Jack, you know where that old rock corral is, and the remains of that rock house up the creek aways? Well, about a week ago, an old Indian came by with a young kid. He said the boy had run away from the McDermitt school and made his way back to the Owyhee reservation. That's over a hundred miles, in a wild country, on foot. The old fellow was with the Indian police and was taking the kid back to school."
     Doc had some whiskey and gave the old man a drink or two. This loosened his tongue and got him to talking. He told Doc that there was seven Chinamen buried in a grave in the east corner of the old rock house.
     He continued, saying that 60 or 70 years ago, the Chinamen left Silver City, Idaho, with two wagons and $50,000, or more, in gold they had mined. They crossed the river at Duncan's Ferry and came this way, headed for Winnemucca. Nobody ever saw them again. Some figured it was Indians, but it was five white men that trailed them from Silver City that did it.
     Doc took me out to a blacksmith shed to show me what he had dug up at the rock ruins. On a shelf was three skulls, pieces of some more, and bones that was, without a doubt, human. About that time, I thought I better get back to camp and told Doc that the horses might be rambling. They never gave me any trouble but, just in case, I got back. That old desert holds a lot of secrets.


     Clyde Wiley had a small outfit on the East Fork of the Owyhee. He had some good horses and few cows. He was just getting started. He had to work part-time for other ranchers to make ends meet. At the time, Taylor and Reed was paying him to look after some horses they had on the desert.
     A man named McCoy lived on the desert and had two sons. They seldom worked. Clyde missed some horses and trailed them to the McCoy herd and found some of them in the bunch. Clyde had the old and the youngest son arrested. The oldest boy, Archie, wasn't with them. They was convicted and got 2 to 14 years in the pen. That old man and his son was fortunate. Back then, most trials for horse stealing was held under a tree or high gate post.
     The older boy said he would get even with Clyde. The local stockmen gave the boy time to gather when few cattle and horses he had and ordered him to leave the country, warning him never to come back.
     One evening, Clyde was unsaddling his horse and was taking off the bridle when a bullet grazed his shoulder, hit the horse in the head and killed it. The only protection Clyde had was behind that dead horse. Every time he exposed hisself somebody would take a shot at him from the rimrock. He laid behind the horse until dark, then crawled away. It might not have been the older McCoy boy, but Clyde put in a lot of time hunting for him.


     We had no fenced pastures. I always took the horses out after supper and herded them 'til dark, then hit them again at daylight. Most stock start to wander around sunrise.
     One night the moon was bright as day and I expected trouble. In the morning, I left camp earlier than usual and, sure enough, they was scattered far and wide. I counted them and came up 14 short.
     Gorham told me we needed those horses and I was to eat breakfast, then saddle up Rowdy. I thought I heard wrong. Rowdy was Gorham's private mount. I always admired that horse and never expected to get my saddle on him. He was a tall, long-legged bay built for traveling.
     I said, "Did you say Rowdy?"
     "Yes, no telling how far you have to go, so you need a good horse."
     Sometimes I lost their trail, but would swing back and forth until I found tracks again. I followed them all day across that hot desert. About an hour before sundown I was on a high rimrock and spotted the horses. They saw me at the same time and took off running. There was only one trail off the rim and I knowed if they beat me there that I would lose them in the dark. Rowdy had enough to outrun them
     About a mile back was a guard corral, so I took the horses there and tied the gate shut. By then it was sundown. Me and Rowdy was both tired. We had come 65 miles that day. Back of the corral was a rocky draw where I unsaddled Rowdy. I let him have about half as much water as he needed, then tied him to the fence to cool off. I built a fire and ate half my lunch. By that time the horse had cooled off and I turned him loose to roll and graze. I knowed he wouldn't want to leave as long as the other horses was in the corral.
     The desert gets awful hot in the day, but after sundown it gets cold. All I had was a thin, unlined denim jacket. I tried to get some sleep, but all I had for cover was a sweaty saddle blanket and the odor was just too much. I had fitful night. Coyotes serenaded all night and, ever now and then, a cougar would squall. Sounded something like a woman screaming. It made cold shivers run up and down my spine. I thought morning would never come.
     At the crack of day, I ate the rest of my lunch and drank what water I had left. I caught a black horse, called Brown Jug, and started back. I didn't make good time because the horses didn't want to go back to camp. It was a chore just to keep awake. Twice I fell asleep and woke up just in time to keep from falling off my horse. I was real sleepy, but my biggest concern was lack of water. I found some water, but the horses wouldn't drink it. I had been told that if a horse you know is dry and won't drink the water, then don't drink it either.
     About sundown, I saw I wasn't going to make it back to camp before dark. It wasn't far, but I didn't want to lose the horses in the dark. Just ahead, on Willow Creek, was a homestead where two old bachelors, Andy Merrit and Bill St. Clair, was staying. I put the horses in a field and went to the house. Nobody was home. Didn't look like they had been around for quite a spell.
     But, the custom is, make yourself at home, be sure to wash the dishes, and shut the gate when you go out. I was hungry, but the rats and mice had ate just about everything edible. I did find some canned tomatoes and a tin box with some cheese in it. A blanket, quilt and mattress was hanging on a wire from the rafters to keep the rodents out of it. Had to keep a lamp lit all night to keep the mice off the bed.
     The next morning, I caught a bay horse, named Spot, and got to camp just as the crew was having breakfast. Gorham told me had about given me up. The day before, he had two men out looking for me and was planning to go out again. Said he was glad I made it and got the horses, too.

Next: Jackson tells about a young man who was beaten, the sad story of a young black cowhand, camp retribution, squatters, and Napoleon (a mule).

©Copyright 2000 by Howard Hickson. If any portion or all of this article is used or quoted proper credit must be given to the author. 

[Back to Hickson's Histories Index]