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

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


     We got word that some of our cattle was on the Five Bar and the boss sent me up the get them. He said an outlaw bull was with them. He told me to get the cows, but if the bull gave any trouble, just to leave him.
     Bill Loveland from the Five Bar and me got 14 cows and calves and a white-spotted steer. When the bull seen us, he hightailed it out of there in a hurry. Good enough, I thought to myself. Bill said to let him go, that he was after the cows and would come back. We didn't go far until the old bull caught up.
     Bill said, "If he turns and faces you, ride around him and don't get too close."
     I knowed that.
     Bill headed home and turned the cattle over to me. That night, I stopped near the Forty-Five, then made it to the Desert Ranch the next night, after a long day. Old Geronimo, as I had named the bull, dodged out a time or two, but always came back and didn't give me too much trouble until I got close to the ranch.
     He dodged out again and I thought I had lost him. The next morning, he was hanging around the fence. He seemed to be getting used to me so I put him in the field and shut the gate. But, when Old Geronimo saw four buckaroos headed his way, he tore up a lot of fence and headed for the tall uncut . One of the boys started after him but the boss said to let him go. Next spring he was back on the desert.


     At one time our buckaroo boss was Bob Ward. He wasn't a fighting man, but was ornery and contemptible. Although ornery, the only profanity he ever used was "you saucer-eyed sippadilly." Now don't ask me what that is, but it was his favorite expression. He was a natural born stockman, one of the very best. He could talk horse language.
     I seen Bob take outlaw horses that experts had turned down as hopeless. At first, they would fight him, but after he rode them awhile, they would quiet down and be all right. I remember one big black horse. Bob rode him all summer then told me I could have him.
     "No thanks," I told him, "I have all the horses I need."
     Bob said he wasn't kidding, that the horse was all right. Against my better judgment, I saddled him up. After I rode him a time or two, I liked him fine
     Bob and me got along fine, but if he didn't like a man that feller might as well pack and move camp.
     He was so ornery that a lot of people said he would never die a natural death. But he got sick with pneumonia. He was at the Humboldt Hotel. An old cowboy, Shade Johnson, went up to see how he was doing. Before he left, Bob asked him to set his boots close to the bed.
     "Folks always said I'd go out with my boots on," Bob told him.
     Shade told him to forget it and walked out. Later that day, they found Bob dead. He had one boot on and the other in his hand.


     The dry spell of the 1930's was on, seven straight years of drought and the outfit only had a few small hay stacks and no pasture at all. It was November, awful late to start a drive, but something had to be done. The cattle was bawling and walking the fences.
     The boss, Bill Cooper, found hay in Jordan Valley, Oregon, and told the cowboss, Jimmie Dewar, to shape up a thousand of the strongest cows without calves.
     We left with 1,012 cows. We used pack horses for our supplies. An average pack was about 200 pounds, but we packed heavier because we knowed the packs would get lighter every day. We would have to travel on short rations as we had to pack grain for the horses. We had three horses each. With nine pack animals, six mules and three horses, we headed north to Oregon, crossed the corner of Idaho and went into Oregon at Hot Spring Trail. Those springs was welcome as we needed baths after ten days on the trail.
     After we crossed the line we was in a pocket, or small basin, at Three Forks. The river makes a big bend, a natural place to camp and hold a herd of cattle but, at one time, it turned out to be death trap for a troop of soldiers.
     They was building a road to a settlement called Poverty Flat when they was attacked by Indians and forced into this pocket and was slaughtered. The bodies and equipment the Indians didn't want was thrown over the rim of the canyon. I looked, but didn't see it. The road was never finished.
     The cattle was in strange country, getting nervous and jumpy. They never gave me much trouble in the daytime, but at night they got real spooky. A horse would shake a saddle or, at the least little noise, they would jump up and start milling around. We never had a stampede, but all of us kept a horse saddled in case the herd got out of hand. Even us hands, after riding on short rations, was cross, out of sorts and irritable. 
     One night two of the boys pulled out, Frank Burton and Buck Vaughn, leaving us short-handed. Everybody had been standing two hours on night guard. With two men short, that meant three hours. Unless you've been through it, you can't imagine what it's like to be asleep and somebody shakes you awake for your turn on guard. 
     After nighthawking, you just get asleep, and the cook hollers, "Roll out and roll up! Eat and hit the trail!"
     No wonder everybody was homicide-minded. The two men that deserted hurt themselves worse than they did us. To quit the herd on the trail is as bad as mutiny on the high seas. Once a man gets the name of being a quitter, he has to hunt for new stomping ground as nobody wants a quitter.


     Owyhee Springs was our next stop. When we got there the place was deserted. We thought it strange as they knowed we was coming. The house was open and dishes with food in them was on the table. The stove was warm. We knowed something was wrong, but we set up camp and made ourselves at home. The next morning we moved on to the Fred Scott Ranch and found out what happened.
     Walter Bowden, owner of the Owyhee Springs place, went out to gather some cattle he had on the river. Him and his wife was going to have Thanksgiving dinner with her folks and he sent her on ahead and told her he would come later.
     The cattle was across the river. It was froze over. He thought his horse might fall on the ice so he got off and was walking across when he fell, broke his leg and passed out. His horse could've walked off, but it didn't. When he came to, he knew he had to do something, or die, so he crawled to some willows, cut some straight branches for splints and tied them with his belt and scarf. He cut a forked stick and used it for a crutch. He got to his horse and rode 16 miles to a old bachelor's place.
     When he got to Bill Cummings' gate he knew, if he got off, he would never get on again. He started hollering for Bill as loud as he could. Bill said he first thought it was a coyote and almost went back to sleep, then got to thinking that it didn't sound like a coyote. Sounded more like a man in trouble.
     Walter had passed out and fallen from his horse. Bill didn't have a car, so he hooked up his team, filled the wagon with hay and blankets, then drove all night to the hospital in Jordan Valley.
     When Walter came to, his wife was sitting by the bed. The first thing he said was, "How is my horse? If it hadn't been for him, I would wouldn't be here now. Take good care of him."


     Two days after Thanksgiving we arrived at Jordan Creek. We had started with 1,012 head and, 17 days later, arrived with 1,009. Lost only three head on the trail, not bad at all.
     The crew rested a day and started back to Nevada. Jim Cronin, the trail boss, and me stayed with the cattle. We wintered at Jordan Creek, got fat and lazy, and dreaded the long trip back. One of the local boys, Ted Balzar, stayed with us and fed cattle.
     Just before Christmas, two little girls come by collecting for a Christmas party. We each put in a dollar, but didn't go to the party and dance. The day after the party, the little girls came by with some packages and told us, that since we didn't come to the party that they brought us something. We had candy, nuts, oranges and fruit cake, enough to last all winter. I got a necktie for a present, just the thing to pitch hay in.
     When spring came, we headed back on that long trip to Nevada.

Spanish Ranch cowhands working in a corral.
Spanish Ranch cowhands working in a corral.
Photo from the Northeastern Nevada Musuem, Elko.


     With the exception of me and another fellow, Johnnie Vaile, the hands was all young men in the prime of life, raring to go places and do things. Not everybody could handle a bunch like that, but our Irish buckaroo boss, Tommy Hays, was equal to the task.
     While the calf roundup was going on they had lots of long, hard hours in the saddle and everybody rested at night. But, when the work slowed down, they began to get restless. Tommy knowed just what to do. There was a lot of mustangs on the desert close by. He told them to see if they could corral some of them mustangs, brand a few colts and alter some of them little studs. They also got enough big geldings to give them something to do in the afternoon. Besides that, we got some saddle horses we needed.


     We usually had three cattle drives a year, two with steers and one with fat cows. Most trail herds of a thousand or more had to be handled with care. If they got spooked and started running, it didn't take too long for them to run off fat they had gained all summer.
     It was a nine day drive from the IL Ranch to Elko. Several outfits used the same trail and a schedule had to be worked out so the herds wouldn't get mixed.
     When the herds started, in early August or early September, for the next 60 or 70 days a drive of cattle would pass through every day. It was easy to tell where the trail was, the grass was trampled to a dust bed a quarter mile wide and a dust cloud hung over the trail until the fall rains came.
     When we got the cattle shipped, the boss had a real headache rounding up the crew to go back and start another herd.  Some of them would be in jail and a fine had to be paid, others was skinned up some, some was too sick to work, and others just couldn't be found.

Next: Horses, a scrubby little bull, and scabie herds.

©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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