Mountain Mail Reports
This is part two of a series resulting from an oral history interview with Catron County rancher Dave Farr conducted by the Bureau of Land Management in Socorro, in 2008.
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.
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.
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.
This article focuses on the trail drives and the Stock Driveway.
Did you ever hire anybody on, just to help move the herd?
Dave Farr: Oh, we’d work these cattle in the fall and maybe there’d be four of us, five. And then them same fellas’d take the cattle to Magdalena. Way back there, you were talkin' about early 1900s. Why, I'd have to assume they'd have several bunches of livestock on the driveway at once. You know they could start out with the lambs and then, I don't know if they - I certainly doubt if they'd mix the old ewes with the lambs, and there’d be another bunch of sheep, and then they'd have a bunch of cattle goin' in. And then for some reason, the old cow market gets better around Christmas, so they'd always ship a load or two of old cows about Christmas. And that could be just oh, not many head, so there'd be two men with a pack horse.
Montague Stevens’ grandson told me about Montague, drivin' some big steers, you know,
4-year-old 'n up, to Magdalena. I don't know what year this was, but they were gonna load them on the train. And Montague got on his mule, and he was - you know - he's up and drivin' 'em. And a few days out of Magdalena, he pulled out ahead and got on the telegraph to the people, trying to sell these big steers. Anyway, he got in there and telegraphed Denver, St. Louis, St. Joe, Chicago, and he finally got an offer of seven bucks a head for these steers. And this was the delivery price - he had to pay the freight. So they figured with the agent that it would cost 'im nine dollars to get 'em there. So Montague got back on 'is mule, went back and met the steers, and he told them fellas, “I don't have any money to pay ya.” They all had homesteads, ya know. He said, “Take 'em back home. Divide 'em up among yourselves. That's all I can pay ya.” And he went on home. And that was on the driveway. Well, it wasn't an official driveway then. It was just open range. Eventually he went broke here, you know. I guess he was profitable for a long time. They had a good manager runnin' the ranch for them. He used to come visit my grandmother. He'd sit there all day tellin' about hounds, this hound and that hound, and, I'd get up and leave, [laughing] I'd had just about enough hound stories. But those where tough times.
Did any Indians from Alamo work for you?
Dave Farr: Oh, you bet, well, in later years. They’re good hands. You had to have somebody that would move the horses, slow. Keep ‘em quiet, so they wouldn’t want to run back home. An’ those Indians had the patience, they just take the horses so slow, keep ‘em quiet.
Can you tell us more about the cooks?
Dave Farr: I read a California book and he said they hired their cooks - not if they could cook - didn’t have nothin’ to do with it. They had to hire a man to drive the mules, so if he could cook was immaterial. And so they got some bad, bad cooks you know, and we did too. And it was hard to find a man who could hook up a team and drive the mules, and then finally we give up and used a pickup with a trailer and then we got to where we couldn’t even find a cook that way, and then my brother started cookin’. But the pickup was a bad deal. We never got stuck that way, but the team could always make it to camp you know. But you get a pickup and trailer and it gets to rainin’, why you can get stuck and you don’t have any camp when you get there, so the mules were good.
We had a Fred Harvey cook too. Well come to find out he was a Fred Harvey fry cook. He didn’t cook their extravagant meals, but he’d fry eggs in the mornin’ in the dutch oven. And he’d use a big tablespoon to get the grease over them eggs and then he’d fish the egg out and put it on your plate with a lot of grease, and sometimes he’d ask you “Do you want a extra spoon of grease?” [laughing] So man, it was greasy. But he could make sopaipillas and tortillas.
Do you remember his name, the Fred Harvey cook?
Dave Farr: Luna. I don’t remember his first name. Well, we had a cook from Roswell…what the hell was his name? He was a pretty good cook. And he told us a story - his father was a freighter, he hauled freight from Fort Sumner to Roswell and back, with an ox team, and his father happened to be in the saloon at Fort Sumner in the evening before they shot Billy the Kid. He was right with him. And that night they shot Pat Garrett, shot Billy the Kid, and this Otero - Otero was his name - so he went and looked at the body the next mornin’, and he knew Billy real well and, he swore it wasn’t Billy that they buried.
You heard the story from the cook?
Dave Farr: Well, he heard it from his father. He emphasized that they shot the wrong man, you know, and you hear that forever.
Yeah, one time Work Reed was the cook - you remember Work? He’s from Sweetwater, Texas. He’s a pretty good cook. Damn Work, pulled up in camp, and threw our beds off in a pool of water that deep, and it was foggy and, we had some corrals there that old Red Jackson had built, and had to go down this canyon and top over a ridge, and down another canyon to the corrals. So foggy you couldn’t see any landmarks, and I went down the next canyon to the right and, well, we got down there and we knew it wasn’t wrong and you could see this light coming over the hill - the fog was let up. So we went over the hill and found the corrals. The light was from the campfire and we got the cattle right up there and corralling them.
And something scared ‘em and they run, and my brother run to head ‘em off. And his horse run through a rat’s nest in the dark and fell with him, and boy, then we had a stampede. And dark, dark. Couldn’t see in the fog - no stars. We headed ‘em off as well as we could, corralled what we could, slept there in our wet blankets. And two Indians, they wouldn’t go to bed. They stood by the fire all night and they’d chatter a whole bunch of Navajo and it’d end up “Damn Morgan Salome waterproof hats!” Well, they were wearin’ staw hats and Morgan told ‘em they were waterproof. Then we got up and had a count in the mornin’ and Work didn’t wake up in time and we - all we got for breakfast was what water we could pour out of the water bucket that had rained in it. Went on and found the rest of the cattle but we’s short about 90 head. Got away in the dark. That was a miserable trip. And, anyway, we loaded the cattle and I brought the horses back to - even with Montosa. That was probably around the 1960s. Work was a pretty rough old guy. I remember one spring we went in and the wind was ablowin’ - I mean big time, and he couldn’t keep his hat on. And he took a barbed wire, a old rusty barbed wire and wrapped it around his head and twisted it. [Chuckling] Well, he could of at least found a balin’ wire! But - and he’d lisp you know - he said “Wis wimper sonofa bitch wath about ta beat me ta death.” His hat.
Sometimes the cook was drunk and he’d leave town drivin’ that team and hell, after years a lot of people knew him. He’d be so drunk he’d fall of the wagon - well that’s dangerous you know, them old iron tires run over you, but he’d used them same mules for so many years, when he’d fall off they’d just stop.
And somebody’d come along - he’d be right by the highway - a long ways from Magdalena, and they’d shake him around and wake him up and put him back in the wagon seat and he’d go on ‘til he fell off again…he’d have a bottle in his pocket. Yeah, it was a trip. We never knew where he got the whiskey you know. Well, we tried to keep it away from him you know, but he just, well, tried to fly to the moon.
In next week’s Mountain Mail, Farr talks about changes to the driveway over the years, water wells, and minor disasters along the way.