Calvin told me that the Quien Sabe is home to about a hundred registered quarter horses including about ten that belong to Calvin and Linda. The horses are all named Quien Sabe with successive numbers. When Calvin started work there, they were at 79. Now they are at 501.
He told me he got started in ranching after attending West Texas State. He worked for Earl Brown (father of Sam Brown, another schoolmate from Adrian mentioned earlier) on the Matador. Then he worked for another classmate’s dad, Louis Spinks. He liked ranch work and studied what old timers did, learned what to do and what not to do. He was recommended for the Quien Sabe job by a man who had turned it down.
We watched Zack and Zane work colts until dark. I was enjoying myself so much I let time slip away. I apologized for overstaying my welcome and headed for my pickup, intending to spend the night in Adrian or Vega so that I could go out to our old farmhouse the next day.
Calvin saw my luggage in the front seat of my pickup and picked it up. “Follow me.”
I lamely protested and told him my plans. I didn’t want to intrude.
“We’ll be starting branding in the morning. I’ll loan you a horse and saddle if you want to go along.”
Well, this was a dream come true. I had secretly hoped I might get to see a branding and had brought along spurs and chinks just in case. I followed him to a very nice guest house across from their house. Calvin set the alarm clock. “Come over to the house when that goes off.” He left me alone to peruse the Fulton book collection—everything from classics to westerns to investing. I chose a western novel and read till about eleven.
The alarm went off at 3:45. I dressed and walked over to Calvin’s house for coffee, feeling good physically and mentally. I wondered about breakfast, but was not hungry yet. We drained our cups and I stopped to retrieve my chinks and spurs on the way to the horse barn about 4:30. Calvin smiled when he saw that I had brought them.
He pointed to a Quien Sabe palomino and a saddle and bridle on a stand. We had our horses saddled and in a trailer in less than a half hour. We drove by moonlight for about twenty minutes along ranch roads that looked more like gully washes. On the way, Calvin explained how the branding took about two weeks. The 117,000 ranch was divided into sub-ranches, each with its own foreman or manager. The managers lived on their sub-ranch in small, but sturdy cabins.
Calvin parked beside several other pickup-trailer rigs in front of a small house with a few trees in the yard and a barn to the side. Inside, I met Rooster Falcon again. I had seen him at the Abilene Ranch Rodeo.
Rooster’s wife was friendly, country girl pretty and looked to be in her late twenties. There was a screened-in overhang porch to my right where I saw a sea of big hats, all brim-up, crown-down on the floor beside four freezers that Calvin said were full of beef. I added my Panama to the mix, though it looked like the runt of the litter beside the five-inch-brimmed palm leafs and black felts. Nobody wore a hat inside.
Calvin told me that the branding was a community endeavor, and as I watched twenty-one cowboys crowd into the small house, I knew I was in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Neighbors join the Quien Sabe at branding time, and the favor is returned on the other ranches. Some probably drove an hour or more to arrive pre-dawn.
I had immediate respect and gratitude for Rooster’s young wife as she organized the flow of hungry men through her tiny kitchen. She crowded orange juice, coffee, platters of toast, omelets and gravy, beef strips, jelly and preserves along her kitchen counter tops.
My appetite returned, but I was more interested in the cowboys. They ranged in age from pre-teen to men in their sixties. Wrangler jean legs were tucked into tall, slanted-heeled boots with thirteen and fourteen inch tops of green, yellow, red, white, and blue. Big spurs with big rowels adorned every pair. I was pleased that I brought my spurs, though they were smaller than anyone else’s. There were no t-shirts, no short sleeves, and no caps.
After breakfast, chinks and batwing leggings were taken off the fences, tree limbs and pickup mirrors where they had been left, pulled on, and buckled up. I didn’t see any shotgun chaps, but there might have been a pair or two. My chinks and Wranglers were about the only thing that made me fit into this group. We drove another five minutes to a pasture gate. As we unloaded our horses, I noticed that some cowboys had tapaderos (a leather covered hood) on their stirrups and some did not. I wondered if we were going to work in heavy brush or mesquite thorns. I realized I had not checked the stirrups for length when I saddled up and was surprised when they were exactly the right length. I wondered if Calvin or his sons had set them the night before after judging my height.
Next time: Gathering the herd and an abrupt, sad farewell.