By Christine HamiltonThe American Quarter Horse JournalNovember 6, 2013
Daybreak at Crofoot Ranches' Bitter Creek Ranch, as the cowboys saddle up to gather the herd. (Journal photo)
The November Journal has a feature on the AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder Crofoot Ranches' horse breeding operation. It’s a story I captured over an Easter weekend three-day branding at Terry and Kelly Crofoot’s Bitter Creek Ranch in the Texas Panhandle.
Part of an editor’s job is to focus on a particular story, and make good use of the page space to tell that story, which means that a lot of material that doesn’t lend itself to that focus just has to go.
But that doesn’t mean what gets cut wasn’t good. Or wasn’t painful to cut. Especially when it’s the story behind the story, which included the images and sounds of the dust and mesquite and daybreak and men behind three days of Texas Panhandle branding.
For this story, “The Crofoot Trend,” I had to cut two sidebars, and I thought I’d share them here. And if you scroll down, you’ll see a slide show of the full spectrum of images I had to pick from.
Maybe, as an editor, you’d have picked differently on what you’d have kept in the magazine. Luckily, between the Journal’s pages sitting open in your barn aisle, the digital edition on your iPad and our AQHA.com Showing page presence, we can share it all.
The Bitter Creek Country
It belonged to the Apache first, before the Comanche and Kiowa moved in. A couple of Spanish explorers crossed it in the 1700s, then the United States cavalry in 1852, when then-captains Randolph Marcy and George McClellan led an expedition to survey the Red River system.
By the 1870s, cattlemen had begun to carve ranches from the arid canyon breaks stretching east of the Llano Estacado and its Caprock Escarpment: Charles Goodnight and the JA Ranch; Lewis Carhart and the Quarter Circle Heart; Alfred Rowe’s RO Ranch; and the colorful Bill Koogle’s Half Circle K.
When the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway arrived in 1887, the Panhandle town of Clarendon had been around almost 10 years in a recently made-official Donley County – they moved the town south five miles so it would sit alongside the new line. Eventually, farming replaced ranching up north, but south, in the breaks stretching down through Hall County, the cattle remained, and they are there still.
Of course, the whitetail and mule deer have always been there, grazing the tall grasses between mesquite and junipers, with the wild turkey making their evening roost in the cottonwoods and hackberries, streamside. Sketch in cattle and horseback cowboys with a lonely windmill and tank now and then, and you can picture the Bitter Creek country as it’s been for more than 100 years.
Many thanks to the Texas State Historical Association for many of these historical references – www.tshaonline.org. Check it out, it’s worth a look.
Burl’s Funeral Pasture (or How a Wise Cowboy Says ‘No.’)
Bob (Jones) called up ol’ Burl to see if he could help the ranch brand the Six pasture.
“We’re going to gather Six, Burl, can you help?”
Now Six is an exceptionally rough ol’ pasture, thick with cedar, mesquite, prickly pear and rocks; up arroyos and down. It makes for long miles horseback. Bob could almost hear Burl thinking in the pause over the phone.
“Naw,” Burl finally answered, “I’ve got a funeral to go to.”
“A funeral? We’re not going to gather for another 10 days or more!”
“Well, I’m sure someone’ll die between now and then.”
And that’s how Six came to also be called Burl’s Funeral Pasture.
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