Teddy Sparks Was A Cowboy And A Cat-Skinner

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Edward Thomas "Teddy" Sparks was the youngest child of David Carson Sparks (1877-1965) and Jessie Corine (Wilhoyt) Sparks (1883-1979), who traveled from Texas to Arizona in two Newton wagons.

Before leaving Texas, David Sparks butchered six or eight large hogs and loaded one wagon with hams, shoulders, bacon, cans of lard, and an ample supply of canned fruits and vegetables. The other wagon held their clothing, dishes, cooking utensils, and books. Four horses pulled one wagon; two pulled the other.

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Teddy Sparks was the youngest of a Young pioneer family. The Sparks family came to Arizona in 1913. Teddy was known for his cowboying skills and the ability to operate heavy equipment. He was born in 1923 and died in 1987.

The trip took them through Silver City, Globe, and then on to Pleasant Valley (Young) where they arrived in 1913. David brought the S Lazy S brand with him.

David and Jessie Sparks married Jan. 7, 1900, in Texas. They had 10 children. The first five were born in Texas: Edgar (1901, died as a baby), Charlie (1903-1985), Eric (1905-1918), Burness Allen (1907-1986), and David Carson, Jr. "D.C." (1910-1975). Five more children were born after the family reached Pleasant Valley: Nina Harriet (1914-2000), Walter (1916-1918), James Tandy "Jimmy" (1919-2004), Ola Beth (born 1921), and Edward Thomas "Teddy" Sparks (1923-1987).

Ola Beth Sparks, who married J.D. Harris, then Kenneth Beedle, was named after Miss Ola and Miss Betty Young. The town of Pleasant Valley was renamed "Young" after this family. Miss Ola was Young's first postmistress in 1890 and served faithfully until 1940.

Nina Sparks married Earl Cline.

This couple's second son, Walter Cline, was a cattle inspector in Gila County for many years. After Malcolm Pyle retired, Cliff Aronson held the position for a few years, then Walter took the reins. Walter retired in 2001.

Teddy Sparks married Laura Fay Quarrels and had two sons: Teddy, Jr. and Kenny. Both attended Payson High School. Teddy, Jr. and wife, Lallah, live in Payson, today.

Now that my wife, Jayne, has laid down the genealogy roots of the Sparks family, I want to tell you a few stories about Teddy Sparks who made his mark in Gila County. His was one of those personalities that set the cowboy and his lore apart from those who would imitate him. Thirty years ago, most of the cowboys in Gila County could tell a good story about Teddy Sparks. Now there are just a few left: Raymond Cline, Joe Haught, Leroy Tucker, Dale Cline, E.C. Conway, and maybe three or four more.

When Teddy couldn't get work in his chosen vocation -- that of a cowboy -- he would sometimes take a job as a Cat-skinner. He was an exceptionally good hand in a saddle or on the seat of a Caterpillar. If there was a dangerous bit of Cat work that no one else would take on, Teddy was the man that could do it.

My dad told me that a Forest Service representative once asked Teddy if he could take a Cat into the bottom of a certain rough canyon. They were fighting a fire and no one in their employ would try to walk a Cat into that canyon. Teddy agreed to do the job and was promptly hired to fight the fire. He took the Cat into the canyon and helped fight the fire until it was out, then got off the Cat and walked away. The Forest Service rep called Teddy and asked, "When are you going to bring the Cat out of the canyon?"

Teddy replied, "I told you I would walk it off in there; I didn't say I would bring it back out." It is still there, minus what has rusted away in the last 50 years.

You all know, or should, that Gila County has produced some of the best ropers in the world. When cowboys yarn about the great ropers, names of world champions often come up.

Names like Asbury Schell, Joe Bassett, Ace Gardner, George Cline, Claude Henson, Eddie Schell, Leroy Tucker -- and now, Clay O'Brien Cooper and Penny Conway -- roll off the tongues of the rodeo cowboys and their admirers. These punchers could and can do the job on the range or in the arena.

When the talk turns to the punchers who could tie a ladino (outlaw steer) to a pine on the side of a mountain, the name of Teddy Sparks is sure to be heard at some point in the conversation. Teddy could have been a rodeo hand if he had applied himself. Joe Haught told me that his dad, Alfred Haught, said that Teddy used to come to the Pleasant Valley rodeos. "He was never a horseback (meaning he never had a decent horse)," Alfred related, "but he most always beat us anyway."

Pat Cline contributed, "Did Raymond (Cline) tell you that Teddy Sparks could rope a whirlwind? He could rope anything. He was the best." Raymond was raised in Pleasant Valley, too, and knew the Sparks family well. He furnished many of the details for the following stories.

Teddy was working for Chet Scott on the Flying Ws. He was to meet a roundup crew at the 76 Ranch, then owned by the Armer family and run by Frank Armer. Teddy was horseback with his dogs when a sow bear plunged from the brush and matched a battle with the dogs. Teddy shot the bear and saw that she was nursing, so he put the dogs on her backtrail and found three cubs in a little blow-out cave.

Teddy bundled the cubs in his Levi jumper and rode on down to meet the cattle drive where he found Murphy's Law in full effect. One of the little cubs managed to crawl out of a jacket sleeve and found its way onto the horse's neck. There, the little feller dug in its claws, latched on and rode for dear life. Horses and bears are at the opposite end of the political spectrum -- anyway, and a hell of a wreck ensued. The horse launched Teddy and his pets into the middle of the Flying W herd. The dogs tore into the bear cubs and the cattle stampeded -- all in a day's work for Teddy Sparks.

In 1950, cowboyin' jobs were hard to come by in Pleasant Valley, so Teddy hired on with Molly Griffin to work on her ranch near Globe. He caught a ride to Globe from Young with Happy Hanson. Teddy jumped his cow dog into Happy's pickup, threw his saddle in behind the dog, and the two men turned their backs to the North Pole and rolled down the crooked road to Globe.

As they pulled off into Rose Creek, a bobcat crossed the road, his hind feet knocking the dust off his ears with every jump. Happy tromped on the brake peddle, and before the truck quit rolling, Teddy's cow dog bailed out of the truck and made a charge at the bobcat. The cat jumped into the first tree it came to and sat there spitting and glaring down at the dog.

Teddy retrieved his rope from his saddle horn and managed to hang a loop on the bobcat. The two men somehow dislodged the cat from the limb on the side opposite the rope, so that he was swinging in mid-air and still held by the rope which was over the limb. Happy got a gunny-sack from the pickup and with a little cowboy ingenuity, the punchers lowered the cat into the sack and secured the open end with bailing wire.

Teddy and Happy loaded their cargo and set out for Globe once more in search of a watering hole. Evening found the pair in front of the K and M Bar in downtown Globe. Teddy was proud of his catch and pulled the gunny sack from the back of the pickup.

The punchers weaved their way through the dancers and settled on a couple of vacant barstools. Teddy deposited his prize at the foot of his stool and the men ordered beers. The bartender -- whose name was Cliff -- took note of the sack and asked, "Whatcha got in the sack, Ted?"

"I got me a wildcat in there," Teddy replied.

"Well, dump that son-of-a-buck out!"

Cliff didn't have to ask twice. Teddy pulled the twist of wire from the sack and dumped a hissing, squealing hairball of a demon onto the floor. The wildcat bounced off the walls, pulled down the curtains, and emptied the room of customers in a fashion that made Poncho Villa look like choir girl!

Cliff called the cops and they were intent on blowing the wildcat to oblivion, but Teddy and Happy convinced them that they could recapture the kitty. Teddy again proved his wizardry with a rope, shooting out a loop that settled around the bobcat as he made another sliding pass around the floor. Happy was right there with a push broom to keep the agitated cat from running back up the rope and building a nest in Teddy's brisket. The punchers held the frazzled kitty secure with rope and broom until they could get him back into the sack. Again, the sack was wired shut and Teddy held his prize in tow. He grinned at the bartender and asked, "Now, you want to know what I got in this sack?"

Town Historians Jayne Peace and Jinx Pyle, owners of Git A Rope! Publishing, Inc. have written the following books: "Looking Through the Smoke," "Blue Fox," "History of Gisela," "Mountain Cowboys," "Rodeo 101 History of the Payson Rodeo," and "Calf Fries and Cow Pies." Look for them at Art and Antique Corral, Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, Rim Country Museum, Mountain Air Gifts in Payson, and Lorraine Cline in Tonto Basin.

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