Walter Lee Lovelady: Part 1, From Texas To Arizona

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Walter Lee Lovelady was the oldest of six children born to James Pleasant Lovelady and Eunice Hale Lovelady. Walter was born Sept. 10, 1891 in Dickens County, Texas where his father was a wagon boss for the renowned Matador Ranch. Raised on horseback, Walter was slated to be a cowboy from his life's inception.

His maternal grandmother, Rebecca Thomas Hale had died when Walter's mother, Eunice, was only 12, so his mother's younger brothers, Forest Hale and Duke Hale, came to live with the Lovelady family. The family left Concho River, Texas and headed west into New Mexico sometime in the late 1890s.

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Walter Lovelady was born to be a cowboy, according to his grandson, Jinx Pyle. He also bore the weight of being the man of the family when his father, a lawman, had to be away from the ranch for long stretches of time.

Traveling ever westward, the Lovelady family had arrived on the Blue River in Arizona by 1898. The Blue ran deep in a forested canyon, and 7-year-old Walter remembered how his father, James, and uncles, Forest and Duke, had to hold the wagons back with saddle ropes dallied and horses sliding behind the wagons as they were lowered into the canyon.

James made a home for his family on The Blue, but 1899 found them in southern New Mexico at the town of Nogal. Eunice's father had moved there from Texas with his new wife, Aunt Minnie, and their family. The two families threw in together the following year and returned to The Blue.

The Lovelady family had come to The Blue with only a few head of cattle. They were able to live off the land, but money was hard to come by, so James Lovelady took a job at the Magdalena Stockyards. Walter's early education came from his mother. He had little formal schooling, but was grateful for the time he was able to attend school with the Cosper children on their Y -- Y Ranch, called the Y Bars. Walter worked for Toles Cosper at the Y Bars during the years the Lovelady family lived on The Blue. His schooling was often interrupted because the family seemed always to be moving to Magdalena or Luna, N.M.

Work at the Magdalena Stockyards was seasonal, so James sometimes hauled freight across the Plains of San Agustin between Magdalena and Luna. James also carried a badge and would often disappear for over a month leaving his young family to fend for themselves until his return. It was Walter's shoulders that carried the burden of the man of the house when his father was gone.

Walter worked on the ranches between Magdalena, N.M. and Arizona's Blue River from the time he was 8 years old. His first jobs were as a horse wrangler, but because of his wiry build and because necessity truly is the mother of invention, he soon became known as a top bronc peeler. Walter found his talent in demand not only because of his riding ability, but because he was a hand with horses. His easy handling of a horse could make a good one out of a bad one.

Many Apaches, as well as Mexicans, called the country around Magdalena and points west "home" and Walter learned to speak both languages.

Sometime between 1904 and 1909, Walter visited his uncles Forest and Duke who had moved from The Blue to Gisela, Ariz. There, he met Jess Chilson and rode some horses for the Tonto Basin rancher making a life-time friend of Jess. Years later Jess was to tell Walter's 5-year-old daughter, Dorothy Lovelady, "Dottie, the horse has never been born that your daddy couldn't ride."

Walter returned to New Mexico to be near his mother during his father's absences and continued to break horses during the summers. Winter work was hard to come by and he sometimes had to take jobs far from town watching some rancher's horses or cattle.

While working on one of these ranches, Walter found where a big Longhorn bull had been killed. An acre of torn ground bore evidence of a tremendous fight and revealed that a grizzly had been the bull's combatant. Walter related the story, "I found the bear's trail leading away from his kill. He hadn't eaten on the bull and as soon as I got away from where they had been fighting, I could see that the bear was bleeding. I found the bear dead about a quarter-mile from the bull. He'd had a horn stuck clear through his belly and just crawled off to die."

Walter was on many cattle drives where the cattle numbered more than 1,000 head when they used to trail the cattle from outlying ranches to Magdalena, a major shipping center for cattle. On one of these drives he and a Mexican cowboy were both bitten by the same rabid skunk. The skunk had come into camp at night to do his dirty work when the men were sleeping. The Mexican took hydrophobia and died a terrible death chained to a tree at his home some weeks later.

Walter never took the sickness. He believed it was because the skunk had bitten into an artery on the back of his hand and the blood spurted, washing out any saliva. "The rest of the crew watched me pretty close for a while," he said and smiled.

Walter worked on various ranches -- between Central New Mexico and Blue River, Ariz. as a cowboy and a bronc peeler -- until his mother's death June 4, 1909. She is buried in Magdalena.

James was away attending the duties of a law man when Eunice died and Walter, being the oldest of the children, bore the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings until his father's return.

Walter was working on a ranch out of Reserve, N.M. in 1910 when he got into a gun fight with some horse thieves and was shot through the calf of his left leg. Some of the thieves took up his pursuit, Walter thought, because they feared that he could identify them. He said he did not know the men individually, but knew them to be attached to the old syndicated Hash Knife Outfit.

The chase became a running gun fight. Walter was able to throw his pursuers off his trail long enough to clean, bandage and stop the bleeding of his leg at a spring, but they did not give up the chase until he dropped off the Mogollon Rim into the Tonto Basin.

He took the same trail through Gilliland Gap in the Diamond as John Gilliland (the first man shot in the Pleasant Valley War) had taken in 1886. Walter made it to the home of Forest Hale and his wife, Dolly, who had just bought the old Siddles Place on the East Verde River. He remained there with his uncle and aunt until his leg healed, then went back to New Mexico, "To straighten things out," as he put it.

As I think back over the years to the time my Grandad Walter told me about this gun fight, I recall that he had just taken a bath and was shaving. I had a considerable interest in scars when I was about 6 years old and asked him how he hurt his leg.

A few years later, I conned my dad into letting me spend a week with Grandad Walter at the Diamond Point Lookout Tower. Grandad was instructing me on the finer points of handling a "hog laig" as he called it. I would set up cans on the rocks and among the bluffs then climb up into the tower and shoot them.

Crows always seemed to have an infatuation with the tower and several of the big black birds were circling it. I began blasting away at the crows, but could only succeed in making one of the varmints dodge once in a while. After watching me spend a couple of boxes of .22 shells, Grandad Walter took my hog laig. He promptly blew two birds out of the air in as many shots, handed the gun back to me and advised, "Try swingin' that hog laig along behind 'em till you get a feel for where they're goin' then swing it on by and touch it off just as you pass 'em. Let 'em fly right into your bullet."

My point is that whenever I saw my granddad touch off a hog laig -- cans, bottles, birds, and rock squirrels scattered, shattered, fell, and died. He hit what he shot at. With that in mind, I have often wondered if he told me everything about his encounter with those horse thieves, the incident that eventually brought him to Payson to live.

Anyhow, Walter would never say much about how or what he did to straighten things out, but he was living in Payson by the end of 1910. We will continue with Walter's story next week.

Look for books by Jayne Peace and Jinx Pyle, owners of Git A Rope! Publishing, Inc. -- "Looking Through the Smoke," "Blue Fox," "History of Gisela," "Mountain Cowboys," and the newly released "Rodeo 101, History of the Payson Rodeo" -- at Jackalope Books and Sue Malinski's Art and Antique Corral. If you want a numbered Rodeo 101 Collector's Edition book, call Git A Rope! Publishing at (928) 474-0380.

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