As the 150th anniversary of the 1862 Homestead Act approaches, the Socorro Bureau of Land Management’s Cultural Resource Program is increasing emphasis on oral history collection, particularly as it relates to homesteading.
This interview with Socorro County rancher Dave Farr is a part of that effort. Dave Farr brought in the last herd of cattle on the storied Magdalena Stock Driveway, or Magdalena Trail, in 1970. Just one of countless drives for him, this cattle drive marked the end of the 85-year history of the trail. This is part one of an oral history interview with Farr conducted by the Bureau of Land Management, Socorro Field Office, in 2008. This article focuses on the trail drives and the Stock Driveway.
Collected and transcribed by Brenda Wilkinson, Archaeologist, BLM, Socorro Field Office. The following questions are asked by Wilkinson, and BLM Assistant Field Manager Mark Matthews.
Can you describe a typical cattle drive on the Magdalena Stock Driveway?
Well, we always worked shorthanded. Like in the spring with straight yearlin’s there’d be two of us and a horse wrangler and a cook. And the horse wrangler would bring the horses in to the wagon and hook a rope on the wagon wheel and build a rope corral and catch our horses and saddle ‘em.
Well, we was always a’horseback so we’d change horses. We’d start out with the cattle, and the cook would start out with his wagon, horse wrangler go with his horses. We’d have a pow-wow with the cook, where we’d camp for noon maybe. We just grazed the cattle along, and the horse wrangler grazed the horses. Cook would hook up with the mules and get ahead so he could have dinner or supper ready. We’d change horses morning noon and night…we had night horses.
On earlier trips we made we’d have to stand guard every night, after everybody got in and ate, and the cattle bed down. Why, they’d look at a watch and divide the time up and each fella had so many hours, two or three hours, to ride around the cattle and hold ‘em. And they’d come wake the next guard up and then in the mornin’, usually the last guard he’d pull out with the cattle while the other cowboys were eatin’ breakfast and we’d whip up and relieve him and he’d come back and eat. This is all before the sun comes up, just daylight you know.
Was there decent grass left on the driveway by the time your family got there?
Well, in the '50s sometimes it was pretty scarce, you know, during the drouth. But general rule, you had good grass.
How many horses did you take?
Not many - about three, three each. You’d ride one in the mornin’, and one in the afternoon and one at night, and have an extra horse. And then in the fall we’d maybe have three men with the cattle, and the horse wrangler and the cook.
During the drouth we’d get close to Magdalena and there’d be arroyos this wide and ten foot deep, and blowed full a tumbleweeds. And we just saw a yearlin’, got off the trail and, tumbleweeds closed over. We’d never a known, but we saw ‘er and then you had to get a branch or somethin’ and dig it out from the mouth of the arroyo clear up there. They’d get down there and couldn’t see nothin’ , they’d just stand still.
Was there a road for the cook’s wagon or was the wagon able to make it cross-country?
Oh there’s an old road that goes from here clear to Magdalena but the wagon would have to take off when we’d get to camping spots. We were looking at one picture there and cook and the horses were not even on the driveway; they were taking a shortcut way away from the cattle. They must have been out on Bruton’s or somewhere.
Well, when we'd come to eat dinner, we'd string the cattle out, and get ‘em in to water. And somebody'd have to hold em, and then we'd take turns eating, and you know those deals, you'd have to stay on the side of the wind where you wouldn't make the cook mad, and we'd hobble our horse and put a rope on the bridle reins and hang onto that while we's fillin' our plate. And eat right quick, and then it was change horses, and go again. You always had a’hold of your horse. Here to Magdalena. Even at night, you’d keep your horse right by your bed. Well, without a horse, you're worthless.
In upcoming installments, Farr relates more stories about cooking on the trail, the patience of Navajo cowboys, weather on the Plains of San Agustin, and missile firings west of Magdalena.