Mountain Mail Reports
This is the final part of a three-part series resulting from an oral history interview with Catron County rancher Dave Farr conducted by the Bureau of Land Management 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.
Part three focuses on the trail’s end, the Magdalena stock pens, and the advent of trucking cattle.
I had heard that before World War II people were startin' to use trucks instead of the stock driveway. But then, during World War II, more people started using the Stock Driveway again because of the shortages in fuel and steel and rubber. Do you know anything about that?
Dave Farr: Well I was just in 7th, 8th grade or somethin', 6th grade, but I'm sure they did. 'Cause they couldn't get tires and gasoline, and you know, sugar, coffee.... Everything was rationed. So I'm sure they probably drove more cattle then.
Yeah, I heard that it became patriotic because you were conserving things.
Dave Farr: It might have been enforced patriotic. (laughing) It was sure trouble with tires and fuel.
Now how did they set a time, was it the distance you were driving? How did they determine the dates to receive them? If you shipped earlier the Driveway was in better shape? The cows did better?
Dave Farr: You didn't notice going in later, except after Hubbells, where it narrowed down close to Magdalena there wouldn't be no more grass than right there (pounding on the table). And that was during the drouth too. It was a mile wide, five miles wide - there was plenty of grass for everybody. But before it was fenced I guess my father had trouble finding grass - there was cattle running over it all the time. But I only went over it after it was fenced and - a lot of grass. And then it kept getting better 'cause everybody quit using it.
I heard you guys had the same date and time every year to get to Magdalena. Is that true?
Dave Farr: Yeah, for years they used the 20th, and then they switched to the 18th.
Dave Farr: Yeah, October, so it was the 18th all the time I was ever involved. There was an agent there, a Santa Fe agent ran the whole depot you know. A real nice fella, knew what he was doin’ but boy, he had a feelin’ for alcohol. And he’d get drunk…he wouldn’t know which end was up, and we’d have to get Karen [Dave Farr’s wife] together with the cattle buyer. She’d go down to the depot and get the appropriate forms and type up all the bill of lading, where the cattle went. And year after year, as long as he was there, it all went smooth. I guess the cattle got where they were supposed to.
He’d be down there at the stockyards tryin to count ‘em, and they had to count what went in the cars. Of course he probably couldn’t count ‘em, but he damn sure couldn’t go up and do any typewritin’ stuff, so that’s a little odd, isn’t it? Well, I know what the count was for, insurance or… It was all immaterial. We had weights, counts, and everything changed hands. His count was ‘case some buyer said, well, “you lost some of my cattle” or something. So there was never any problem that way.
And then, what was it like when you got to Magdalena?
Dave Farr: It was a nightmare. (laughter) We used to have to hold - steam engines you know - and dogs a barkin’ and kids a hollerin’, and those steam engines would let off steam and turn the cows and it was a real job to get them cows up to the corral. But we always got ‘em corralled. But the cattle, they aren’t used to people or nothin’. It was really a hard job to corral ‘em.
And then just turn around and come home? Or did you stay in Magdalena for a little while?
Dave Farr: No, the usual trade in those days, the cattle were stood in the corral overnight – 12 hours - and you weighed ‘em in the mornin’, and then you waited for the train. And we loaded ‘em all on the cars, and that was all done, and hopefully you got some money. Then we thought about bringin’ our horses home, then all the cowboys were drunk, and either my brothers or I would bring the horses home, a lot of times.
They had two loading chutes, and they’d probably use ‘em both at once if you had enough help you know. And…did you ever see ‘em load those cars? Well, they had a big old ramp - width of a car - and rings in it. ‘Course the railroad car’d be that far away, and you’d have to pick this ramp up and set it there, and swing the wings in and… Well first you’d have to take crowbars and pry them doors open. All they needed was oil but, I didn’t find that out for years. I mean it took crowbars there!
Pry ‘em open, put your ramp in, swing the gates there, and had the cattle counted and bring ‘em up. And once they were all in then you’d get a four inch pipe that fit on the knobs there and keep a fightin’ cattle back in there and get your crowbars and - oh it’d take two or three minutes to close them doors. Just terrible.
One year a Santa Fe man showed up there, had squirt cans with nozzles on ‘em, and they’d just walk up and down on top of the cars and oil them rollers. Shoot, you could just pull ‘em open! And that was probably the last year or two that we ever….but just the nightmare for nothin’!
As far as when you got there, was there a certain time of day, like 6:00?
Dave Farr: Well, life isn’t simple. We’d corral these cattle and weigh ‘em about…before the sun came up. Well to move back, first, in the fall we might have yearling heifers, yearling steers, old cows. And we’d get one day out of Magdalena, we’d hold ‘em up and cut ‘em in classes of cattle, and water ‘em at Hale Well and then it’d be one man with each class of cattle. On into Magdalena, and you’d just have to find a place to turn the whole bunch loose. And everybody’d have to corral the first bunch - through all that melee - and that, that had somethin’ to do with where I was goin’ right there.
You had the three classes of cattle and each weighed separately, maybe going to different destinations, different buyers. And there’s a railroad rule imposed by, I think the federal government, that you can only haul cattle 24 hours without stopping for feed and water. Or you can sign a 36 hour release and haul ‘em for 36 hours. Well they’re so slow around Magdalena, depending on the destination, if we’d load them in the mornin’ the time started. They’re on the cars. So then, I heard - I never watched it - by the time they switched around, got down to Socorro and side tracked ‘em and all, they might have to unload ‘em in Socorro for feed - 24 hours. So, ‘cause they didn’t make connection, they were just sittin’ there waitin’ for a train from El Paso or somethin’. So that’s expensive and bad.
Cattle buyers’d get together with the agent and tell him, “When you gonna load?” “Aw, we’ll be ready at 8:00, load cattle.” Well, they may have slipped him a $20 bill and said , why don’t you load about sundown? And we’ll get out of here about 12 hours later, and I’ll make that connection in Socorro, maybe have a clear run on into Texas.
Well this is all unbeknownst to us, ‘course we want to load and go home, but they’d treat us that way and then we’d load in the dark and have to spend another night before we start back here.
Did you camp, or stay at a hotel in Magdalena?
Dave Farr: Aw, we always camped right by the cattle.
The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps)
Dave Farr: Yeah, I remember watchin’ ‘em build the fence right over here. That was in the 30’s. Of course I wasn’t very big. They're still there. We're still usin' them. You came through one, right there at the sign.
You look, and probably those posts, if they haven't been replaced, they're all cut off, like they had a two man saw or something. I was too young to visit with those men. I knew men later that had jobs.
An Indian here had been on the CC job, building that fence, and he said, uh... what’d he say? He said 80 men went one day to cut posts and they brought back 79 posts 'cause one of 'em had a comic book with 'im. (laughter) But they did build a good fence.
The Last Cattle Drive
Can you tell me about the last time you used the Stock Driveway before they shut it down?
Dave Farr: Well I’d have to think, I don’t know if we would have used it in the spring or in the fall, probably in the fall. It was 1970. See, we’d always made two trips a year, steer calves in the spring and cows and heifers - other class of cattle - in the fall, but it was no different than any other trip so…
Did you know it was the last trip?
Dave Farr: Well we were gettin’ kind of anxious to use trucks ourselves. ‘Cause we’d been using trucks intermittently and….a lot easier.
Oh. OK. So it didn’t hurt your feelings when they shut it down.
Dave Farr: Well, we always liked the trip and….you could really relax and….all you had to worry about was cattle in front of you and getting there on time.
Yeah. You said you'd started truckin' some by then and it was easier?
Dave Farr: Well, my father woulda preferred drivin' 'em to Magdalena, but we didn't. We didn't moan and groan over it, it's really, kinda easier to round up the cattle, and load 'em on a truck, and, you're done. But, what's gonna happen today with this high price fuel....and no railroad?