As we rode through the fence that surrounded Rooster Falcon’s home, Calvin told me we would be rounding up cattle in a 3600 acre pasture. The cattle were mostly Charolais and Herefords, purebred and crossbred. We all broke into a long trot with Calvin leading. My horse knew the drill.
Cholla (pronounced Choya), plants that look like Yucca cactus, gramma grass, and purple sage were prominent. We paused at regular intervals to drop off one or two riders to start sweeping the pasture. I stayed with Calvin. As we passed pastures with sixteen foot fences, Calvin said they called that area the zoo. The ranch owner wanted to raise exotic animals for hunting, but he said they eventually became coyote bait.
He spotted a lone cow off to our right on a tall ridge and rode almost out of sight to move it in the right direction. Lightning streaked the sky on the horizon and the weather turned cool. The wind gusted to about forty MPH. I was pleased when my Panama with the self adjusting band stayed on. Calvin’s big palm leaf brim bent with the wind, but didn’t blow off.
I was humbled, almost awed as I stayed put and watched Calvin ride his horse to a rock ridge for a better look at the roundup progress. I was unsure how the pasture lay or where the fences were, since none were in sight and the cattle did not seem to naturally herd. I was surprised at how scattered they were.
I finally got a sense of things as the cowboys pulled them together against a north fence and pushed them toward the corrals. When they were penned, the cowboys separated seven bulls first (one bull for 14 cows or 7 to 100) then about thirty dry cows. I helped a little with this, but most of it was handled by cowboys who wanted to get their horses work in the herd as well as test their own skills. Each man politely asked Calvin’s permission to work a new horse.
Calvin pulled a new Chevy 3/4 ton truck into an adjoining corral. Pairs (70) were than herded into this smaller pen. The pickup rocked as the cows pushed against it. Two cowboys rode into the pen and starting pushing them toward the gate. Rooster flagged off the calves using his chinks. If he missed one, two cowboys on horseback stopped the calves and pushed them back inside.
With the calves separated, Rooster fired up a propane blower and put five branding irons into an iron bucket. He heated them with propane flame. When the irons were ready, two cowboys started roping and dragging.
All the cattle were branded, ear-notched, dehorned, (if required) and vaccinated for blackleg under their left shoulder. Bulls were castrated and given a penicillin shot. Testicles were dropped into a bucket for later cooking. About twenty pair. Then all cattle were sprayed using the rig Calvin had been filling when I drove up the previous day.
We were done by 11 A.M. Back at Rooster’s house, his valiant wife was ready with buffalo steak strips, garden salad, mashed potatoes, toast, gravy, iced tea and gelatin dessert. Incredible.
After lunch, we unhooked from the sprayer and headed back to headquarters with three horses in old open-topped trailer. I was filled with gratitude for the experience afforded me and gushed with admiration for the life Calvin had made for himself and his family.
I asked more questions about the ranch and its history. Calvin said that the ranch real estate alone was worth about $250 per acre at the time of the elder Fulton’s death. The ranch was about 150,000 acres back then ($37.5 million), but the son had sold it down to 117,000 acres.
R. H., the father, was a pipeline installer and installed a lot of Alaska pipeline. Calvin said the board of directors of Texaco had visited for a weekend of hunting “back in the day.” The ranch had plentiful pheasant, deer, and quail, back then. The son, Joe Kirk, once raised game animals as conservation measures, but did not allow anything shot on the ranch now except for coyotes.
R. H. also owned a lot of the works of Remington and Russell, as well as first edition books that were sold at auction by Christie’s in New York when he died.
Calvin stopped the pickup and rolled down a window. “This has been a good life, but the problem is that I don’t own a single thing you see. Not that house, not this pickup. Not even most of the furniture. I lose this job, I’ll be leaving here empty-handed after giving this ranch the better part of my life.”
I sensed a sadness I had not seen and asked if he got along well with Joe Kirk. Calvin told me that Joe Kirk was the first Texas Tech Red Raider (mascot). He had recently mortgaged ranch property to purchase a 600 acre ranch in the Hill Country with a villa for six million. He also owns homes in New Mexico and Colorado as well as race horses.
Without directly answering my question, he started the truck again and headed back toward headquarters. We had gone less than a mile when Calvin lifted a finger and pointed at an approaching ranch truck. “Speak of the devil.”
Joe Kirk Fulton visits the Quien Sabe about five or six times a year, and chose this day to arrive. He wanted Calvin to show him the current crop of yearling horse prospects. Calvin asked if I could drive back and unload the horses. We said our goodbyes.
I left the ranch about mid afternoon without seeing Calvin again.
A few months later, I heard that Calvin was working for a feedlot in Dalhart. I haven’t seen him since.
Next time: Old Tascosa, The Mother Road, and the Bent Door.