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

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

     When I got to the top of the hill, I looked down and saw a tent and two men. I perked up. Thought it was a sheep camp and a herder is always good for a cup of coffee and a bowl of beans.
     When I got there, I saw I had rode head-on into a moonshine still. The two men was nowhere in sight. It's a creepy feeling to know somebody is watching you down the barrel of a gun and you can't see them. I headed down Boulder Creek and never looked back.


     Beowawe wasn't much of a town. Just had a post office, saloon, two stores, a hotel, a few houses, a train depot and a section house. It was a wild little place on paydays. The railroad, the big ranches and a mine kept it going. I always stayed at the ranch, off the firing line. They used to have some wild times down on the Humboldt.
     One night, George Hurd, the saloonkeeper, and a patron, George Ivester, got into a fight over a honky-tonk woman. Ivester shot Hurd in the leg. Said he didn't intend to kill him, just slow him down a little so Hurd couldn't get at him. Seems the bullet hit a blood vessel and Hurd died.


     Abel, the fellow I was working for, leased feed lots. Charlie Butler and me did the feeding. Another man by the name of Washburn pumped water and his wife ran a boarding house. That spring, the lease ran out and I helped make a four-day drive to Paradise Valley, then worked on a calf roundup.
     One of the cowboys, Albeno Tayos, a Mexican, or so I thought, hated Fred Castro, the cowboss, because he was always making bad remarks about Mexicans. Albeno told me he wasn't Mexican, but was a Yaqui Indian from Mexico. After taking a closer look I could tell the difference. He told me that during the Pancho Villa uprising the Yaquis received very bad treatment. When Villa moved into his village, he took over the horses, cattle, hogs, chickens, food and young women, then forced the young men to join his rebel army.
     Albeno escaped to Texas where he was put on a chain gang. He and a partner, Walupi Ortego, got away one night and made it to California. No wonder he was so bitter. He lost his whole family in that war. He was a good guy to work with. We got along fine, but I would hate to be his enemy.


     When we got to Bull Run Basin, I met a young fellow about my age. He was from the Powder River country in Wyoming so everybody called him Powder River, later, just Powder.
     When Powder first came to Nevada and dropped off a freight train, all he had was the clothes on his back. He was determined to have something someday and homesteaded in Pool Valley on the South Fork of the Owyhee, where he raised a family and built up a nice little herd of cattle and horses. He broke his own horses.
     Him and another small rancher, Homer Andrae, went together and bought a chuckwagon of their own. They did all right until the Depression hit and, like most of the little outfits, both went down. Powder refused to stay down. He had too much guts for that. He came back strong and bought a better ranch on Jack Creek. We was friends for years. I don't know what happened, but when he got things fixed up and was going strong, he got sick and died.

Spanish Ranch chuckwagon and mess tent.
Spanish Ranch chuckwagon and mess tent. Photo
from the Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko.


     In those days, each outfit had its own chuckwagon and their own territory, or range. It was all open then, no fences. Horses and cattle got mixed up, but each man respected another's property and rights.
     The chuckwagon was pulled by four horses or mules. The food was coarse and simple, but there was plenty of it. Bacon, eggs, hot cakes, plenty of beef and always beans. We called biscuits "cat heads." The cook usually packed enough food to last six weeks for ten or twelve hands. It was served in a cook tent.
     If we was out on the range looking for stock, we didn't get lunch and usually didn't take any with us. Water was the big problem, so we carried a bottle or canteen most times.


     An average crew was the boss, seven or eight cowboys, a cook and a horse wrangler. When you went to work you was issued a string of horses. A full string was eight to twelve head. When you was working stock all day them horses tired easily. The string was like your own property as long us you worked at the ranch. Not even the boss would bother them without asking. You took care of them and kept them shod, which is easier said than done. A set of soft shoes, the kind we used in that rocky country, wore out in a month to six weeks. Some of them horses we had to tie down in order to shoe them. You had to be sure you got them shoes on good and level, or they could come off. Might cripple your horse. You had to trim, rasp down and level so it wouldn't wobble, then draw the show down good and tight.


     Dry Creek was in wild, rough country. Mustangs and wild cattle ranged there the whole year. A wild cow is a dangerous animal. It takes a good, fast horse to catch one, and, if you do catch a wild cow, make sure someone is around to help. Even then, you are taking a chance on getting your horse gutted, or yourself killed or crippled for life, on them sharp horns. A lot of them wild cows died of old age out there on the desert.

Lawrence Jackson.
Lawrence Jackson driving a team on the Clover Ranch.
Photo from the Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko.


     We moved off the desert and stopped at the Winters Ranch, a small place where they kept one man, Jack Fersetti, there to irrigate and raise a little hay. Jack was an old retired cowboy.
     The boss said the Circle A was going to work the Calico Mountain area and they wanted a rep to come and pick up our stock. I wondered why he was telling me this and he said I was the only man he had who knew the desert and wouldn't get lost. He knew I had crossed and recrossed that desert a lot of times but, if he sent me, he wouldn't have a horse wrangler.
     Most cowboys will quit before they will wrangle horses. Nothing extra about wrangling, anybody can do it, but he has to get up earlier than the rest of the crew and chop wood for the cook. A buckaroo is insulted if you ask him to chop wood. But I liked wrangling, plenty of time to catch up on my sleep in the daytime. I didn't tell any of the crew but I making ten dollars more a month than they was.
     I told the foreman that he had another man on the ranch that knowed more about the desert then me. Jack had put in several years in the Calico country. The boss went to talk with him. It took a lot of talking, but Jack finally decided to go. It was plain he didn't want to.
     After I bedded down in my tent, I heard a scratching on the canvas. It was old Jack and he wanted to talk. I knowed he had something on his mind. He told me he had a strange feeling about going out on the desert again. I told him I thought it wouldn't be bad. A trip like that wouldn't take more than twelve days to two weeks. He said that might be ten days too long.
     I helped him get started the next morning. He took six saddle horses and a packhorse. Jack had a lot of experience packing, but I noticed he done a lot of fumbling and stalling. When he finally did get going I told him I'd see him when he got back.
     Jack shook his head, "I don't know. I don't know."
     I had heard of people getting premonitions of trouble, but never thought much about it, but maybe there is something to it after all. 
     When Jack didn't get back on time we never thought much about it. We guessed that he might have been held up by the hot weather. In the heat of the day cattle will bunch up and won't move, and there isn't much you can do about it. All you can do is get off your horse and wait until sundown, or the next morning.
     We was moving back from Frazier Creek. I was driving the cavvy, as usual, and picked up three of Jack's horses. Then we knowed for sure. Something must be wrong.
     When we got back to the ranch, Fred Bunting, the CS foreman, phoned and said a buckskin horse came to the North Fork Ranch with Jack's saddle under its belly. We all knowed his saddle, it had a silver name plate on the back of the cantle. Another call came in. Shorty Riff's boys had found Jack's body on one of the North Fork trails. He had been dead two or three days. Crows and magpies had pecked his eyes out and something had been eating on his nose.
     You could see his trail. He had crawled a mile or more and made three fires. The custom was, when in trouble and you need help, build a fire and put dirt on it to make smoke. Poor Jack had signaled in vain. He had his bridle over his arm. We believe he must have turned the saddle himself and took off the bridle so the horse would go back to the home place. He did go, but too late. We never sent a man out alone after that.

Next: An outlaw bull, a cattle drive to Oregon, and cheating death on river ice.

©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. 

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