Mad Jack Hanks: Working ranch cowboys are a breed all their own
Sometimes gentle readers we are, or at least I am, baffled by how some situations manifest themselves.
Let me start from the beginning.
When I worked on the LX Ranch north of Amarillo, Texas, they hired a feller — we’ll call Jim. We’ll call him that ‘cause that happened to be his name.
Jim was a “sold out cowboy.” By that, I mean that’s all he had ever done in his forty something years. He told us cowboys about the scars on his head were a result of his old daddy beating him with a bridle bit when he was drunk and on the warpath. I accepted that as the truth and it may have been. I know Jim was a tough guy and extremely lazy when it came to fixing fence on that one hundred plus section ranch. Jim didn’t stay long and longed to get out to New Mexico to work for the Bells. That was his life’s ambition. He finally made it some time later.
The Bell Ranch out of Tucumcari, N.M. at one time was a Mexican land grant of almost 700,000 acres.
In the ‘40s it was broken up to six large parcels. A feller by the name of Bill Lane purchased some 290,000 acres in the mid-’70s. He was later killed in a car wreck on the ranch in the early ‘80s, I think.
He had a son by the name of Jeff who worked on the ranch as a cowboy. Jeff asked no favors, lived in a cow camp with his family and learned the ways of the cowboy by watching and doing. I had been told that the cowboys on the ranch cut him no slack, owner’s son or not. When Bill was killed, Jeff took over the ranch. He had earned the respect of the cowboy crew, the neighbors and anyone who came in contact with the ranch. He had a huge responsibility. I met Jeff at a cattleman’s meeting in Denver some years back. I think it must have been around 1991. I found Jeff to be extremely likable, friendly and fun-loving. I ask him about my friend Jim and if he was still working for the Bells.
“Naw, old Jim decided he would slip off from his camp and go to Santa Fe and try to get into some of those cowboy movies they were making in that area. I finally had to let him go and hated to ‘cause I liked him, but he just wasn’t doing his job,” Jeff said.
I wish I could remember exactly how long it was after that when Jeff crashed his airplane on the ranch checking cattle and was also killed.
Stuff like that isn’t supposed to happen to folks like that. Bad things happed to good folks and good things happen sometimes to the baddest of the bad.
The Bell Ranch sold not too long ago to The Spur Ranches who purchased not only the Bells, but a number of the largest most historic ranches across the country. I understand from what I have read about the Spur Ranches is that they retained most, if not all, of the cowboy crews and folks on those ranches and operate them accordingly to what you would expect from a working cow ranch. Kuddos to them! I know that Jeff would approve of that sale if the ranch had to be sold.
Cowboys — working ranch cowboys — are a breed all their own and yes, they do have a code by which they live by or chances are they won’t be around very long. I feel so proud to have met Jeff and to have worked alongside of some of the best cowboys in Texas and that New Mexico area.
Ol’ Jim was a pretty good hand but like a lot of men as they get older and ranch work becomes harder and the days seem longer and that saddle harder and harder, they look for a different trail. Jim would have looked good in some cowboy movie as an extra ‘cause he just had that look and was a cowboy but broke the code by not being trustworthy to the brand.
Stay tuned, check yer cinch on occasion and remember to do the best you can with what ya got.
I’ll c. y’all, all y’all.❖
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