CHAPTER V. THE ROUND-UP
IN the range cattle business it is important for every owner of live stock to have some mark by which he can tell his own cattle. It is impossible for any man to remember and recognize by natural marks every animal in a large herd. On the open range there are no fenced pastures to hold the cattle, but all are permitted to run free and mix promiscuously. To distinguish the cattle of different owners a system of earmarks and brands has been devised by which each ranchman can identify and claim his own stock.
The branding is usually done during a round-up when every calf found is caught and branded in the brand of its mother. If a calf remains unbranded until after it is weaned and quits its mother, it becomes a maverick and is liable to be lost to its owner. A calf, if left to itself, will follow its mother for several months and then leave her to seek its own living. Occasionally a calf does not become weaned when it should be, but continues the baby habit indefinitely. If a yearling is found unweaned it is caught and ‘‘blabbed’’ which is done by fitting a peculiarly shaped piece of wood into its nose that prevents it from sucking but does not interfere with feeding.
If it survives the ordeal and lives it bears the same relation to the herd as the maverick and has no lawful owner until it is branded. If an unbranded calf has left or lost its mother it has lost its identity as well and finds it again only after being branded, although it may have swapped owners in the process. Theoretically, a maverick belongs to the owner of the range on which it runs, but, practically, it becomes the property of the man who first finds and brands it.
Although the branding is supposed to be done only during a round-up there is nevertheless some branding done in every month of the year. The ranchman is compelled to do so to save his calves from being stolen. Therefore early branding is generally practiced as it has been found to be the best safeguard against theft. Either the spring or fall is considered a good time to brand, but the only best time to brand a calf is when you find it.
Dishonest men are found in the cattle business the same as in other occupations and every year a large number of cattle are misappropriated and stolen from the range. Cattle have been stolen by the wholesale and large herds run off and illegally sold before the owner discovered his loss. Calf stealing, however, happens more frequently than the stealing of grown cattle and many ingenious devices have been invented to make such stealing a success. A common practice is to ‘‘sleeper’’ a calf by a partial earmark and a shallow
IN CLOSE QUARTERS.
A CATTLE DRIVE.
Different methods are employed to win a calf and fit it for unlawful branding. Sometimes the calf is caught and staked out in some secluded spot where it is not liable to be found and away from its mother until it is nearly starved when it is branded by the thief and turned loose; or, the calf's tongue is split so that it cannot suck and by the time that the wounded tongue has healed the calf has lost its mother, and the thief brands it for himself. Again, the mother cow is shot and killed, when the orphan calf is branded in perfect safety as ‘‘the dead tell no tales.’’
The owner of cattle on the open range must be constantly on his guard against losses by theft. Usually the thief is a dishonest neighbor or one of his own cowboys who becomes thrifty at his employer's expense. Many a herd of cattle was begun without a single cow, but was started by branding surreptitiously other people's property. It is not an easy matter to detect such a thief or to convict on evidence when he is arrested and brought to trial. A cattle thief seldom works alone, but associates himself with others of his kind who will perjure themselves to swear each other clear.
The cow ponies that are used in range work are small but active and possessed of great power of endurance. They are the descendants of the horses that were brought into Mexico by the Spaniards, some of which escaped into the wilderness and their increase became the wild horses of the plains. They are known by the various names of mustang, bronco and cayuse according to the local vernacular of the
The native cattle, like the horses, are small and wild, but are hardy and make good rustlers. The native stock has been greatly improved in recent years by cross breeding with thoroughbred Durham and Hereford bulls. Grade cattle are better suited for the open range than are pure bred animals, which are more tender and fare better in fenced pastures. By cross breeding the quality of range cattle has steadily improved until the scrub element has been almost bred out.
As a breeding ground Arizona is unsurpassed, but for maturing beef cattle the northern country is preferable. Thousands of young cattle are shipped out annually to stock the ranges of Wyoming and Montana and to fill the feed lots of Kansas, Missouri and other feeding states. A dash of native blood in range cattle is desirable as it enables them to endure hardships without injury and find subsistence in seasons of drought and scant forage.
The general round-up occurs in the fall, just after the summer rains, when there is plenty of grass and the horses and cattle are in good condition. The ranchmen of a neighborhood meet at an appointed time and place and organize for systematic work. A captain is chosen who is in command of the round-up and must be obeyed. Each cowboy has his own string of horses, but all of the horses of the roundup not in use are turned out to graze and herd together. A mess wagon and team of horses in charge of a driver, who is also the cook, hauls the outfit of pots, provisions and bedding.
LOADING CATTLE, WILLCOX.
WILLCOX SHIPPING PENS. Photos by E. R. Monk.
When camp is made and everything ready for work the cowboys ride out in different directions and drive in all the cattle they can find. After the cattle are all gathered the calves are branded and the cattle of the several owners are cut into separate herds and held until the round-up is finished when they are driven home.
Every unbranded calf is caught and branded in its mother's brand. In a mix-up of cattle as occurs at a round-up, a calf sometimes gets separated from its mother so that when caught its identity is uncertain. To avoid making a mistake the calf is only slightly marked, just enough to hurt it a little, and is then turned loose. A calf when it is hurt is very much like a child, in that it cries and wants its mamma. As quick as it is let go it immediately hunts its mother and never fails to find her. When cow and calf have come together the calf is again caught and the branding finished.
The pain produced by the hot branding iron makes the calf bawl lustily and struggle to free itself. The mother cow sometimes resents the punishment of her offspring by charging and chasing the men who are doing the branding; or, if she is of a less fiery disposition, shows her displeasure by a look of reproach as much as to say, ‘‘You bad men, what have you done to hurt my little darling?’’
A peculiarity of brands is that they do not all grow alike. Sometimes a brand, after it is healed, remains unchanged during the life of the animal. At other times it enlarges to several times its original size. Various reasons are assigned to account for this difference. Some claim that the brand only grows with the calf; others assert that it is due to deep
The cowboy's work is nearly all done in the saddle and calls for much hard riding. He rides like a Centaur, but is clumsy on his feet. Being so much in the saddle his walking muscles become weakened, and his legs pressing against the body of his horse, in time, makes him bowlegged. In addition he wears high-heeled Mexican boots which throw him on his toes when he walks and makes his already shambling gait even more awkward.
A cowboy's life has little in it to inspire him with high ideals or arouse his ambition to achieve greatness. He leads a hard life among rough men and receives only coarse fare and rougher treatment. His life is narrow and he works in a rut that prevents him from taking a broad view of life. All that he has is his monthly wages, and, possibly, a hope that at some future day he may have a herd of cattle of his own.
Managing a herd of range cattle successfully is an art that can only be acquired by long practice, and it is surprising how expert men can become at that business. All the work done among cattle is on horseback, which includes herding, driving, cutting and roping. The trained cow pony seemingly knows as much about a round-up as his master, and the two, together, form a combination that is invincible in a herd of wild cattle. The cow or steer that is selected to be roped or cut out rarely escapes. While the horse is in hot pursuit the rider dexterously whirls his reata above his head until, at a favorable moment, it leaves his hand, uncoiling as it flies through the air, and, if the throw is successful, the noose falls over the animal's head. Suddenly the horse comes to a full stop and braces himself for the shock. When the
GUARDING THE HERD.
KICKING UP A DUST.
It is a comical sight to see an unhorsed cowboy chase his runaway horse on foot as he is almost sure to do if caught in such a predicament. He ought to know that he cannot outrun his fleet steed in such a race, but seems to be impelled by some strange impulse to make the attempt. After he has run himself out of breath he is liable to realize the folly of his zeal and adopt a more sensible method for capturing his horse.
The cowboy who works on the southwestern range has good cause to fear the malodorous hydrophobia skunk. At a round-up all of the cowboys sleep on the ground. During the night, while they are asleep, the little black and white cat-like animal forages through the camp for something to eat. Without provocation the skunk will attack the sleeper and fasten its sharp teeth in some exposed portion of his anatomy, either the nose or a finger or toe and will not let go until it is killed or forcibly removed. The wound thus made usually heals quickly and the incident is, perhaps, soon forgotten; but after several weeks or months hydrophobia suddenly develops and proves fatal in a short time.