Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Getting Ready for the Last Roundup

Cousin Marion Shepherd ( Shep) and I thought of ourselves as experienced trail riders after our 325 mile horseback and covered wagon trip to recreate our ancestors’ migration from Ranger in Central West Texas to Delta County in Northeast Texas. Friend Charles Horchem drove his old Studebaker wagon pulled by two white mules and kept us from starving (think well-fed).

Six years later, Shep, in particular, was itching for another adventure. And, unlike the Brazos trip, he had a horse gentle-broke to ride this time. We both were excited by a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ride with genuine cowboys doing real ranch work. Ain’t no place like Texas to get that done.

Danny Pickering, a Delta County boy who was superintendent of Guthrie ISD, offered us the chance we would not otherwise have had. He knew the famous Moorhouse brothers (Tom and Bob) and said he could arrange for us to ride along on Tom’s spring roundup. 

Tom had said we could come along if we “brought our own horses and could manage to stay aboard ‘em”. He didn’t want to mess with a couple of dudes who might spoil good ranch horses or just get in the way or get hurt.

I have always been fascinated with big ranches and the cowboys that make them hum. I have read a lot about them and heck, I even have some experiences to brag about.  My fascination probably began with old Western movies but it was honed to a sharp edge when I went to high school in the Panhandle only a half mile from one of the entrances to the famous Matador Ranch. Sam Brown, (high school buddy, novelist, cowboy poet, and lifetime cowboy), worked on the Matador with his father. 

In Rivers Ebb, my third novel, some scenes take place on that ranch. As they crossed the cattle guard and entered the Matador, Jake got that been-here-before feeling again. The full moon made the narrow winding trail look like it led to the edge of the earth.

Another good friend from high school had run the Quien Sabe Ranch farther north in the Panhandle for more than twenty years and I had the privilege of riding beside him during spring roundup and branding there once.
If you have been following my previous articles, you know I also met with legendary Watt Matthews and had dinner in the cook shack at his historic  Lambshead Ranch. 

I have also visited the XIT and the YO. None of this, however, qualified me to ride the spring roundup on the Moorhouse. 

But I had also spent five years doing competitive team roping since the Brazos trip. I knew that didn’t make me a real cowboy, but I felt ready for just about any cowboy experience. And I didn’t think any horse could have been subjected to more diverse experiences than my horse Rowdy. Given the chance, I figured I could rope-and-drag-to-the-fire with real ranch cowboys. Okay, not as good as them, but I thought I could catch a few.

I never met John and Ed Moorhouse, but I had watched brothers Tom and Bob show their ranch horses in competition a few years back at the Abilene Western Heritage Classic.  Friend Larry Mitchell, now a cowboy pastor at Rimrock Cowboy Church, drove a matched pair of horses and carried dignitaries in his restored buckboard during the rodeo’s grand entry each night of the rodeo for many years. He filled me in on the Moorhouse brothers and other ranches involved in this historic and entertaining event.

During the time of our planned trip to Guthrie, Bob Moorhouse was running the Pitchfork Ranch and his brother Tom  was running the family’s Moorhouse Ranch. Both have been featured in just about every cowboy and ranching magazine known to man and Bob was also garnering national acclaim for his photography.

Tom was known for running his roundups the way they did a hundred years ago, complete with chuck wagon. The prospect of participating in such an event was right up there with heaven for a couple of wannabe cowboys like Shep and me, both born a hundred years too late. 

Shep and I felt so experienced after the Biscuits Across the Brazos trip that planning for this one seemed like a piece of cake. So we didn’t do much planning. My horse and I had taken a few months break from roping, but I spent several days getting Rowdy legged up for the trip and felt he was ready.

Unlike the Brazos trip, we did not have to worry about two mules and four horses, sixteen days of provisions for four men and the many guests who joined us. There was no wagon to transport and drive, no detailed trail to plan, no cars or trucks to bother our stock. All we had to worry about was ourselves and two horses.

Next week: Leaving for Guthrie.

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Doc Turner said...

Jim, my place in Swisher and Briscoe Counties peaked out at 1200 acres. The ranches you mention have horse traps bigger than that. Our stocking rate was a pair to 20 acres, or 60 pairs, if you didn't want to buy winter hay, but we did supplement with cotton burrs from the gin located a mile and a half from the headquarters pens if the weather turned bad. We always tried to keep six big old remade cotton trailers full or being filled, then caked twice a week. Our little spread was called the Llano de Sacate Ranch, spanish for plain of grass. We traded out helping the neighbors when we did spring and fall work. I had good pens where we didn't have to rope anything, and used a good squeeze chute. Now I'm talking about cake sack cows and a squeeze chute. that's a far cry from roping calves and dragging them to a fire. But, some of the neighbors did. I worked the knife and the vaccinating, mostly because i can only rope a calve if it is standing still and I'm on the ground. I gave up flanking calves to the young men when I hit around forty. You were getting to do it the good old way on some real, sure enough ranches. I wanna hear the rest of the story Paul Harvey said.

Betty Lancaster said...

Jim, your stories fascinate and entertain, but also touch that "something" deep within me that loves Texas and the land. Not surprising, since I am at 75 years of age and a 6th generation Texan. You have a unique gift and I enjoy your books and your blog writings. If only more of us had your courage to "follow your bliss," as you have done. (Joseph Campbell quote)