Woman in Levi's

Eulalia Bourne

Chapter 6

To Market

Oh, we rounded them up and put them on the cars,

And that was the last of the 2U-Bars

sang the cowpunchers who followed the Chisholm Trail. But that quick summary wasn't the half of it. The hundred-odd verses in the old song-whatever version you hear-tell about hungry days and sleepless nights, blizzards, hailstorms, stampedes, dry runs . . .

He jumped in the saddle and gave a little yell,

And the swing cattle broke and the leaders went to hell.

And the boss came around with a cutter in his hand

And swore he'd fire every Dad-Blamed man . . .

There was trouble, worlds of trouble, shipping cattle to market in the old days. There still is.

Mine began with my first shipment in a downright unusual way. Cattle trucks had come into use by that time, so I only had to trail the calves-and their mothers, for no human being can drive calves just taken off the cows-a couple of miles down the canyon to some old corrals and make a temporary loading chute out of fence posts and brush.

I had thirteen calves to go. Eleven weighed no more than 400 pounds each and sold for three cents a pound. The two that weighed 500 went at two ant a half cents a pound.

We put up a makeshift chute which the worried cattle tore down a few times before we got the calves separated from the mothers and loaded into the bobtail truck sent out by the buyer. They were white-faces, fat and pretty. I was proud of them, and still remember being touched by the pathetic way they peered back at me as I followed their truck in my little Model A.

At a little more than half the distance we had to go, we rimmed the outskirts of the city to take a main highway westward. Just as we were passing the cemetery gate five miles from town, a car ignored a stop sign and dashed out from a side road. The truck driver swerved, the wheels struck a soft shoulder bordering a deep ditch, and the truck flipped over on its side, spilling out my calf crop. Without the slightest hesitation, the liberated weaners jumped the low hedge and began eating the grass on the tree-shaded graves. The caretaker, armed with a hoe, ran over shouting and laying about, demanding that we get "them cows" out of his cemetery. The driver and I blocked his efforts to chase them out into the highway traffic, and our whoops, whistles, and cow-country antics won the day. The calves romped over the turf of the opulent graves, knocked down a few markers on the bare mounds identifying the cheaper plots, and escaped into the mesquite thicket on the uncleared area at the back of the huge burial grounds.

I went to hunt a telephone. My friend Baylor, the cattle inspector, who had spent a lifetime on Texas and New Mexico rangelands, had told me to call him when I reached the junction of the highways, and he would come out to inspect the calves to save taking them on into town through the heavy traffic. He heard my wild story and finally believed it.

"Ain't this a Friday?" he asked. It was.

"Well, I vow," he teased. "You can't expect me to have nothing to do with thirteen calves on a Friday in a graveyard. No Ma'am!"

He harped on this theme until he almost had me thinking he was serious.

Before I got back to the scene of disaster, a big wind had come up from the south. By the time the inspector arrived, a great dust storm obscured the view in every direction. The inspector offered to call in a couple of young fellows in the vicinity who kept horses, but horsemen were useless in the thicket of second-growth mesquite-the thorniest branch that grows. I went in afoot to scare out the calves. Being in my ladylike town clothes, my silk stockings and print crepe dress were ripped and threaded in the thorny maze, and later on, soaked, when a heavy shower overtook us in the lane leading to the slaughter house where we borrowed a chute to reload our cattle. The driver had called a wrecker to come out and help him right the bobtail, which had received only minor injuries besides losing all its oil.

It was long after dark when we got to the buyer's corrals near Red Rock; he had to write my check by car lights. No telling how many pounds the calves had shrunk on their long day's journey, but I was kidded about turning them into the cemetery lawn to put a fill on them.

That episode started my shipping troubles. And more recent events have proved that it was only the beginning. I took a couple of long yearling steers, one weighing 650 pounds and the other 730, to the livestock auction in my pickup, topping the season with my best calves. Nothing unusual marred the trip, but I didn't get to stay to see my steers sold. I had to go looking for a little lost calf.

A neighbor had kindly offered to haul a cow I called Wild Bill in his big cattle truck with some of his own he said were as wild as she was. That was a real favor. Wild Bill was an old cow with tiger blood in her veins, a real live one-horned people-hater. Horseback, I could drive her to the ranch corrals with a little bunch of her less savage pals, but the minute she found herself in durance vile she made sure no human being went in with her. That made it impossible for me to put her in the crowding chute for loading. Even if I had been able to load her into the pickup, she surely would have torn the wooden rack apart with her bare horns. It was really a stroke of luck when my neighbor's men drove her to his ranch with some of his cows that had strayed into my country. From there he could take her to town, when he had gathered a load of his own, in his big truck that-was supposed to be cow-proof.

I welcomed a chance to get rid of her without having to shoot her. She was born wild. Her mother was a big, reasonably gentle cow named Pennsylvania. But Wild Bill took to the hills at sight of a human being from the time she was a calf. The only reason I kept her was that I could never catch her to sell when she was a yearling. When she was six years old she hurt a front foot between the toes and flies got in. We tracked her by the blood on the rocks in the rough canyon she occupied. With a little bunch of well-behaved cows we got her to the corrals. She could jump out of all-except the hospital one made of solid mesquite poles. Fortunately she liked hay. The only way I could cure her foot was by dropping a flake of hay into her corral against her side of the fence, then lying flat on the ground on my side so she couldn't see me, when she edged up to eat, I'd reach under the bottom pole with a long stick ending in a swab of worm medicine and give her wound a good swipe before she dashed away.

It was sometime before my neighbor was ready to take her away. When one day I met him at the post office, he told me Wild Bill had had a calf. Half-heartedly, I offered to bring her home. No, he said, he would wait a few days until the calf was strong enough to go, and she would bring more money with the baby by her side.

At the auction ring that Saturday I settled myself in a good spot, anticipating seeing poor old frightened Wild Bill put the arena directors behind the barriers or on the fence. Then in came my neighbor with a long face and told me he had lost her calf on the way to town. There was a hole in his wooden rack, and the little one had evidently found it and fallen out. He didn't know it until he arrived at the stock yards to unload. It was fifty miles back to Mammoth where he had made his last stop.

I signaled the Nephew and back we went in the middle of the hot July day, driving slowly as he scanned the right side of the highway, and I the left. My hope was to find a little dead body; then I wouldn't have to lie awake thinking about the lost baby slowly starving to death as it wandered through the heat and cactus. Nephew's hope was to find it alive, for if we did it would be his.

Our search was unsuccessful. We kept looking as we suffered the heat on the slow drive back to town to pick up the check for the steers. However, the story had a happy ending. That night my neighbor found the baby calf not far from his ranch corrals where it had been loaded. I went next morning and brought it home. And, by good luck, for it doesn't happen too often, I got it adopted by a young cow who had given birth to a stillborn calf.

Moving livestock is never easy and often hazardous. Gathering and shipping often breeds crises. Some body is going to be hurt; sometimes a man's, more often an animal's. After a "work," the horses are bunged up. Some are crippled for life. Cattle suffering is inevitable. Cattle locate in certain areas which they claim as their own. To drive them out is like driving refugees from their lifetime homes before an invading enemy. For the weaners-the calves to be sold-it is the end of their good, free life on the range; never again will they know the warm comfort of a milk-giving mother ready to defend them with her life. For days after they are taken away, the ranch is loud with bovine cries of anxiety and bereavement.

The accidents are of various kinds. One time we had brought in nine big steers, all in heavy enough condition to mash the scales, and every pound needed to pay the bank. Next morning we found that one had been shoved into the manger upside down. He was dead, with his feet sticking up in the air and his body so swollen the Uncle had to get a block and tackle to dislodge him. I had a weary time chasing his mother two miles down the canyon and across a fence, so she wouldn't have to see the cadaver of her son dragged off to the bone pile.

One year we had a steer with peculiar white lines down his back and across his shoulders and front legs. We called him Pinto. He ranged over at the Big Tank, eight miles from headquarters. As I drove him in, fat and slick, he was a sight to catch the eye. It was nearly dark and I had a little trouble penning my bunch. Next morning, as we drove our yearlings to a neighbor's shipping pen, we noticed something was wrong with Pinto. He stuck his neck far out, led with his nose, and walked in a way to show distress. By the time we reached the corrals it was obvious he was sick; the buyer cut him back. He was able to stagger the two miles back to the ranch before collapsing. Large doses of salts and mineral oil did not help.

When the Uncle dragged his dead body over into the Bone Yard next morning, I followed with a sharp knife and an axe, determined to perform an autopsy to see what was the cause of death. The Uncle was against it. He would have nothing to do with it. He argued that I might get dangerous corruption on my hands and take "colery-morbus" or some such foul thing. My smidgen of science stood by me. Search revealed in his first stomach a long strip of red inner tube that had been used to wrap a broken pipe near the corral. The university laboratory confirmed this as the killer of poor Pinto.

Before the local livestock auctions came into being, it was a headache to find some truck to haul the cattle after the trouble of hunting a buyer to get a delivery contract. For several years I shipped to, or by, or with old T.C., the most famous (some have said infamous) cattle buyer in our parts. The advantages were that he would buy my cattle at some price, no matter how slow the market, and, to my amazement, he would give a woman who had no business being in the cow industry practically the same price per pound or by the head that he gave big operators. Besides, he owned-or controlled-his own trucks.

"How many you got?" he would shout into the telephone at six o'clock in the morning, about the only hour I could contact him.

Then he would say, "Get them up to the Green House corrals, and I'll buy them if anybody can."

When asked what he would give, he never hemmed and hawed. He came right out with his price. We-and here I crossed my fingers-would agree on a day and hour for delivery, and I would drive home wishfully thinking that this time maybe T.C. would keep the appointment. As the seasons rolled by, my hopes dimmed. There was never any telling when he or his trucks would show up.

The Uncle, the Old Vaquero, and I would be up bright and early. We were never once late with our cattle. We would shut them up in the shipping pen, unsaddle, tie our horses in the shade, and try to find a bearable place in which to lie down and fight ants and flies while waiting. Usually the hour was supposed to be ten o'clock, as it took the trucks two hours to come from town. Eleven o'clock would come. And twelve. I would break out the sandwiches and fruit. The long afternoon would drag on. At four or five the men would give up and go home to do the chores. I would turn the cattle out into the little holding pasture and catch a ride to the village to call T.C.'s wife. She would tell me, innocently enough, that he had gone to Nogales that day to receive 500 steers; or to Phoenix with two truckloads of cows. When he got a bigger deal than ours, he forgot about us.

And sometimes when he made an effort to be there, his old trucks would break down. During the war years they ran on their reputation, as whose motor vehicles didn't? But when he began making money in five or six figures, he still would buy my little bunch, although he had ever less compunction about standing me up if a better opportunity offered. He merely laughed and joked and teased about leaving me in the lurch. My misery did have lots of company. All over the countryside, especially among family-sized ranches, cussing old T.C. was a main topic at any gathering.

After I weighed them out to him on a neighbor's scales, I still had to be uneasy about the cattle. But at least the responsibility and the loss were now his, not mine. Once a load of my good steers sat all day in the heat in a dip on the mountain road while the driver caught a ride to town and brought out parts and a mechanic. There was a very steep hill three miles from the village where the paved highway began. Only a truck in number-one working order could make it without help. Otherwise one semi would unhook its trailer and hitch on to help the other up the grade. The cattle all piled into the back end of the rack and didn't always come out the same. A neighbor pulling a load of cows up that long hill killed five of them in that manner. Space was at a premium; they were packed in like sardines. Some were knocked down and trampled. Most drivers would stop and try to get them up. But not all. Some of old T.C.'s drivers, exhausted from lack of sleep and over-exertion, perhaps irritated at not getting their pay on time, or not getting their trucks repaired, would stop along the road for a few beers, letting the cattle shrink. I always followed the cattle if they were to be weighed in town, as was the case when T.C. got his own yards and scales.

Even with arrival at the city stockyards, we still didn't have it made. One time a bunch of my yearlings undertook to go down the unloading chute all at the same time when they were released from the truck. A board was knocked off the chute, and the last yearling-a wild one from the cholla flats farthest from the ranch corrals-jumped out and hit the ground running like a scared rabbit. There was no outside fence to stop him. I took after the steer in my little Ford, realizing that he could cut corners that I couldn't, but knowing nothing else to do in the split second it happened. He ran across vacant lots and over deep ditches and hit the old unfashionable part of town at a high trot. As I hurried through the narrow dirt streets, I could catch glimpses of his bobbing rump now and then, or see a clump of children gaping in wonder. "Mira la vaca!" (Look at the cow!) they cried.

Before he reached the paved streets, reinforcement came in the form of a young friend from the East who belonged to a roping club and was keeping his horse in T.C.'s yards. He took after the steer on his thousand-dollar pony, and I managed to stay close enough to tell, by the confusion and animation among the populace, which way they went. Right through the big city center they sped, disregarding traffic and traffic lights, crossing at a busy five-points, heading east. When at last I caught up, about six or eight miles from the pens, Dave Stout had roped the heaving steer in an opening cleared for a housing project. I went back for help. Someone had a pickup with a horse trailer. About dark we hauled the fugitive back to his fat hay-munching buddies in the stockyards. And to this day I hold it against old T.C. that when we weighed the runaway, not one pound was allowed for all that shrinkage. I offered the gallant young man who had saved my calf ten dollars, but he settled for a drink on old T.C., not having learned to be western about livestock.

The worst shipping jam I ever got into was the time I delivered eighty cows, about twenty of them with calves, at a town down on the Gila River at the end of a railroad spur. I had known the little town only as a place the highway passed through. I had no idea how non-up-to date it was as a shipping point.

Another bad year had struck Arizona. There was no spring feed, and the cow market dropped out of sight. I had put this little bunch on an irrigated alfalfa field on the river and hoped to keep them there for ninety days. Somebody will always buy cattle if they are fat. Then, before it was too late, it rained in West Texas and made a surplus of green stuff needing cows to eat it.

I was doctoring some cattle for pinkeye in a corral on the farm where the cows were pastured when a car drew up, and over the fence crawled a Texas buyer, full of business. He sized up the cows and their owner, and dived into his buying routine, not in the least interested in whether or not I was sincere in saying I was not ready to sell. After a certain amount of dickering he cornered me into saying I would take $80 for the dry cows and $110 for the pairs. But what I really wanted was to keep the cows until they were fat. For my firmness he got even with me, although I did not realize it at the time, by writing into the contract where the cows were to be delivered to the railroad. I scarcely noticed the clause. The point was only thirty-two miles away, and I did not dream there was a place on any railroad in the world where trucks couldn't get to the loading pens.

For once, I was not worried about shrinkage, and for once the trucks came on time. The Old Vaquero and I rode with the drivers of the semis while the Uncle went in my car, chauffeured by the Star Boarder. They brought the lunches and coffee pot. Not until my driver turned off the highway to private stockyards this side of the river did I wake up to my problem. Across the river and the other side of town, (a full mile and a half from our present location) the railroad loading pens perched on a rough hillside, beside tracks laid on a rocky cut high above the paved highway. There was no access road a truck could maneuver, leaving no way in the world to get the cattle up to the pens except to walk them. The train was ordered. We were miles from our horses. And the agent sent to receive the cows told me he would give me my check only when the cattle were counted out in the railroad stock pens.

The owner of the corrals where we had unloaded and watered suggested that I go to town and look in a certain bar where I might find Don Antonio, a rancher who had also brought cows to go to the Texas buyer. His ranch was near. He had driven his cattle in early, put them in corrals adjacent to those we were using, and had gone with all his vaqueros to the town's cold spot to wait out the heat of the day. I didn't like the idea of joining forces, uninvited, with a stranger. It amounted to throwing myself on his mercy. There was not room in the railroad pens for both bunches of cows, and they had to be received and counted separately. Mine should be out of the way and on the cars before Don Antonio was ready.

The May weather was firecracker-hot in the river bottom. Don Antonio was an old man, but this handicap was offset by bold manly grit. It was plain that he had occupied his bar stool for hours and was keeping right up with his rough cowpunchers, can for can.

Seguro que si! (of course!) he would help a woman get her cows to the yards. Of course he would lend me his horse, his own personal mount. But the day "made hot." The heat was bad for the cows. Bad for the horses. Bad for the peoples. "Give her beer!" he shouted, finding a stool for me, stating that we would await a fresh hour in which to move cows.

Gallant Don Antonio! He will always occupy a bright page in my memory for the quick answer he gave when I asked the question that had always perplexed and tormented me: What to do with your cherished horses when they get old? Without a moment's hesitation his answer came straight and sure: "I feed them hay and grain." Bravo, Don Antonio! Ole, ole, ole!

I regretted that Fate had not cut me out to excel in tact or in the consumption of the refreshments served in cool, dark, music-jangled bars. And rejoiced that I was soon able to convince my host that all my troubles were from the lack of a horse.

The Uncle and the Old Vaquero, lying in the shade, enduring heat and flies, eyed me with disgust. I had been gone longer than they could see any excuse for. But I had a horse! Only one, to be sure, but one that knew his business. When the Old Vaquero was up on him, he forgot his pique and took to the cows like three men. The Uncle, more forgiving every step that brought him nearer the cool bar, helped me bring up the drags afoot. In all his life, he remarked, this was the first time he had made a cattle drive afoot-and using a walking cane to boot!

We had a delicate job. Most of our cows were gentle, but there were several from the chollales as wild as lizards. None of them had ever walked the streets of a town, or seen street traffic, or crossed a concrete bridge over a river. The road approaching the bridge was not fenced, but cut through thick mesquite and batamote clumps. The credit for not losing a cow must go to the Uncle's habit of using nothing but paper money. His town pants hung heavy with coins. We had no more than got a good start when a swarm of boys appeared, and they were fast to respond to the Uncle's method. When an old cow sneaked off into the brush he would cry: "Put her back, kid!" The boy who put her back got a dime or a nickel or a quarter-whatever came first to hand.

It would have been easy to lose the whole bunch when we crossed the bridge and turned into Main Street. Fortunately, there were folks who saw our predicament and held up the cars until we passed. The Uncle's shouts and my whistles apparently reassured our uneasy cattle, and long before dark (and before Don Antonio considered the hour propitious for his drive), we counted out every cow to the agent.

Now that there is the convenience of weekly livestock auction sales, shipping need not be such a hazard. You can have your own small truck and take the animals to town two or three at a time. But you never can be sure of anything about delivering cattle until you have your check.

I had three yearlings to take one Saturday, and stopped in the village to hunt the cattle inspector to get papers on them. I parked in front of his office and stepped across the street to see if he were having his breakfast in the cafe, when a passer-by boogered the cattle. A big quarter-Brahma steer jumped on the endgate and broke it down. Away went the yearlings around the sheriff's office and off to hunt for home. In a second I was in the pickup, rushing to see which way they had disappeared.

As I roared around the corner, help arrived in the form of two young miners, just off graveyard shift, who had seen the escape. They were country boys who had some horses pastured across the river on a farm. The horses were loose in the field, and it took some time to drive them to the corral, saddle them, and ride back to the lane where I held the steers. I had met the vagrants just as they were backing up to make a running broad jump over the obstructing cattleguard. A whoop and a rock turned them back, and I drove madly to beat them to the other end of the lane-entrance to the wide river bed. There I again attacked them with rocks, and back they scurried toward the cattleguard, where I arrived just in time to turn them again. Thus we played pussy-wants-a-corner for what seemed to me a full hour before the two horsemen arrived and drove the played-out yearlings to a local corral and helped me reload them.

This adventure, though not disastrous, put a good big shrink on my steers, well counterbalancing the bait of hay I had fed them that morning.

With shipping, no matter how well planned, there is always the chance of a crisis. It used to be nightguards and blizzards and stampedes. Now it can be broken-down trucks, delayed trains, holes in fences or truck-racks, and men and animals on the prod. Among the cattle, you will always find Fiery and Snuffy. Among the horses there'll be some salty jugheads. And men? If the work lasts long enough, there'll be gripes and peeves which can fester into cussings and fist-fights.

If it has to do with livestock, there is no such thing as a cinch.

Copyright © 1967. The Arizona Board of Regents.

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The University of Arizona Press, 2/2/97 2:06PM