Rodeo Tails 11:
Modern roundup ‘rodeo’
It was the end of May and while exploring back roads on the Mogollon Rim we came upon a sight that proved Rim Country rodeos were not a thing of the past. Innocently we had stumbled on Clifford Finch and his partners of the Crooked-H outfit near Clints Well.
They gave us a warm welcome and invited us to watch what would be an authentic “rodear” (ro-day-are). The ranchers were also giving their children a real life lesson in the cattle business. About a dozen young people, ages 10 to 20, riding beautifully-kept quarter horses, joined in the task of separating the cows from their calves. The bulls, thankfully, had been separated from the herd before we got out of our car.
Cows and calves were herded through a series of pens by opening and closing gates and shooing the herd. Bullwhips cracked the air and the chorus of human yells rose and fell. Finally all the cows and a few stray young bulls were secluded in a large holding corral, the very one we were standing in to watch. We were relieved to discover the animals were not the least bit interested in us. They were too busy calling mournfully to their offspring in another pen. The calves were bawling back.
I looked about for the small fire that would heat the branding irons, but that is old hat. Instead a large tank of butane on a truck sent a line through the fence to a small blast furnace where the branding irons were heating.
Young men on horseback were among the milling calves, and swung their riatas (lassos) in the air to get a good loop, then cast them at the hind legs of the calves. It was not easy to snag their legs on the move, but finally with a rope binding the hind legs and another around the neck each calf was pulled kicking and bawling toward the heated iron. Often the animal was still on its feet and had to be wrestled to the ground.
There was a large bullock that had apparently slipped through last fall’s roundup, and he put up a mighty resistance. He slammed the gate against a young cowboy and kicked another in the ribs.
Then another calf balked as the young cowboy tried to prevent it from going the wrong way, and the cowboy flipped over with the horse on top of him. Both horse and rider hit the ground with a thud, but both got up immediately to carry on their work.
The youngest cowboys and cowgirls took turns attacking each calf with a huge syringe for an antibiotic shot before the next two procedures. Then the rancher wielding the Crooked-H brand moved in to press the hot iron into each hide, burning the air with smoke and stench.
For the male calves there was a higher price to pay. Another of the experienced ranchers moved in with special shears and expertly removed those “mountain oysters” and tossed them against the fence where no one would slip on them.
As the youngsters were released, their pain seemed momentary. They seemed to object more to being roped and thrown down than to the quick sequence of surgeries that followed.
After watching about 10 calves get “worked” we decided not to stay for the 50 or 60 more to do.
Earlier that morning we had encountered another roundup near Pine and a brief visit introduced us to a well-known Rim Country rancher, Lee Jones.
I asked him about a roundup story I had heard, that when he worked for the Doll Baby Ranch he had been dragged by his horse. He lay unconscious while his wife Dixie raced to the NB Ranch and got Howard Childers. They brought Lee to Payson in Howard’s pickup where Dr. Cartmell gave first aid and ordered them to get Lee to the hospital in Cottonwood.
The road was rough and when they stopped to make Lee more comfortable Childers suggested they give the patient some whiskey. However Jones was still unconscious, and Childers insisted that he was the one that needed the drink.
As we visited that day almost half a century after that chilling ranch accident I wished him well, understanding now that rodeo-roundups could be pretty dangerous.
Next: Rim Country legends: Water everywhere