Compiled by Andrea Caudill
Linda Davis was born in New Mexico in 1930, and her life has been entwined in the very fabric of AQHA. Her father, Albert Mitchell, is the Association’s only four-time president and was one of the most influential men in the Association’s history. Linda’s mom died when Linda was 4, and her father and grandmother raised her and her brothers on the Tequesquite Ranch at Albert, which is being recognized in the Journal as an 80-year breeder this year. In 1953, she married Les Davis and moved to the CS Cattle Co., which ranches on land around Cimarron. The ranch, founded in 1873, is 110,000 acres in the northeast corner of New Mexico, raising cattle and horses to work them. In 2000, the CS was awarded the AQHA Best Remuda Award for its legendary horses. Today, Linda’s family continues to manage the ranch.
Here, she reminisces about some of her many memories.
Ranching in the 1940s
During the war years, it was the kids and the old men who were the crews. If you could rope, you started with a wagon crew at 10 years of age. Your older sisters and brothers would do the calf flanking. The youngest would do the roping, because he’s up there safe on a horse and out of the way.
All of the military-eligible men went to war. Women and kids and older men kept these ranches going. Everybody was in the same boat. We went from the Depression into the war.
You’ve got to keep a wagon crew mounted and working through the season, you’ve got to have each man with a string of six or seven horses that they can rotate three a day and have one spare.
That meant that you had to have enough mares to keep the rotation in those days with most of these wagon crews. In the old days, every man got one or two young horses a year. The horses they got in their string … they’d have usually seven to eight horses in a string for a cowboy. If you have a crew of 15 or 18 men, start counting your numbers there.
In the wintertime, you’d find that most of the ranches had a couple of their top hands who would work through the winter. You’d hire temporaries in the summer. They’d top off these young ranch horses at 3 years of age. Just get them enough where you could catch them, and they’d come to you.
Dividing the Horses
When the wagon would start out in the spring, a wagon boss would assign the horses to the crew he’d hired for the summer for the branding. Most of these ranches were big, and once they left the headquarters, they’d stay out and be gone for the summer. Each man had at least one good, strong bronc and two or three older horses.
If you had people show up who needed a gentle horse, you’d ask one of the guys if they could loan out their gentlest horse for the day. That’s how they’d handle it.
They would get a couple of good saddlings on a young horse and then turn it over (to the cowboys). You’d start off in the morning on your bronc when you were gathering. Then you’d come in and change. Usually changed horses at least three times a day.
The Grasshoppers and Locoweed
In ’37, the droughts broke a little, and we had the terrible grasshopper plague all over the panhandle. You couldn’t see the sun. They came in rolling clouds. Literally, when they hit the ground, it would be like waves on an ocean. The most terrible grinding noise. Something you’ll never forget. They move their legs together and ugh.
After the drought broke a little, every place grew locoweed. All of the little kids in the summertime, all we’d do is grub loco. If you had any time at all that you weren’t doing chores, you went out with an old kitchen knife and (dug it up) – it has one tuberous root. It was so tough on the cattle and horses. The only green thing that showed up was loco, and you didn’t want your horses to eat it.
It really affected us after all the drought, and all the cattle could munch on was woody stuff, sagebrush and things like that. Then to have this nice, green loco come along and how quickly it reacted on these horses and cattle that had been through so much drought. The loco was really lethal.
My dad was also a past president of the American Hereford Association.
My kids grew up with Hereford cattle, and we sent them off to college and (they) told us we’re making a big mistake, we’ve gotta crossbreed. That’s their college education.
Now we run a black baldy herd. Actually, we’ve gotten to where we’ve found some Red Angus that have a decent temperament and decent size. We like the red color at this elevation. The higher you get, the harder and closer to the sun.
These black bulls get hot in the summertime, and they’ll find a shady spot and bull each other around. The black hides just absorb the sun. The Angus cattle do very well if they’ve got enough shade. You’ll find a Hereford bull will get out and get his job done. The Red Angus bulls will get out and be more active.
You pull the hide off a Hereford cow and the hide off an Angus cow and off a Shorthorn if you can find any, it all grades the same in the long run if they’ve had the same diet.
Now people are doing all sorts of genetic stuff, trying to (improve) the calving ease of heifers and things like that. In the old days, we didn’t breed a cow until she was 2 years old. Nowadays, they say you’ve lost a year if you don’t breed yearlings. It’s an art of trying to have as little calving problem as you can.
We have to raise our own replacement heifers because, if not, you’re going to have brisket disease the higher you go up (for grazing). We go up to 10,000 feet here.
|Cowboys work a herd of polled Herefords. (Credit: courtesy of American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame)|
The Ranch Horses
Dad looked at their feet and their legs (first). He wanted a horse that could travel. We never did much shoeing of our horses. We had mesa country with a lot of rocks and things. He’d run his mare bands in the rincon and on the sides of the mesas and all. They pretty much kept their own feet trimmed. They’ve got to have some size and muscle. Good withers.
He didn’t like a lot of decoration on a horse. He liked Hereford cows and sorrel horses. I think he’d shake his head in this day and age with all the color schemes we have in cattle and horses. With our hot sun here and you’re not close to any veterinary care, the pigment of the skin is important. If you’ve got 65 or 70 head of horses and you’ve got to keep a wagon crew mounted and working through the season, you’ve got to have each man with a string of six or seven horses that they can rotate three a day and have one spare. And then hope they can work hard.
|Albert K. Mitchell sits aboard a sorrel horse. (Credit: courtesy of American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame)|
We used the horses all the time. After the second World War, the traders came along. You started not needing as many horses as you used to because the advent of the mechanization of agriculture. All these people and giant firms that produced all the jeeps and tanks and ammunitions for the war effort switched and went into the mechanization of agriculture.
Before and during the war, your harvesters were pulled by horses. You stacked your hay and did everything with horses. Everything. They were the main source.
There were a lot of people up in Kansas and Arkansas and places like that that raised draft horses. Most of these ranches would get their teams to pull the chuckwagons.
They wanted them (the horses) not too heavy. Not the great-big-footed ones, but they wanted them to pull. Most of the wagons in the old days had at least four horses on two teams on each wagon and a spare. You had a hoodlum wagon that was going with you that would get water for the cook and the guys to wash their hands. The water usually wasn’t where the chuckwagon was parked. The chuckwagon would move every few days to a different pasture and different area.
More Ranching History From Linda Davis
Continue reading this series:
AQHA History: Building America’s Horse
How the American Quarter Horse breed came to be, as told by Linda Davis, the daughter of one of the most influential men in AQHA history.
The Tequesquite, Bell and CS
After spending a lifetime on some of the West’s most historic ranches, prominent rancher Linda Davis reminisces.