The Cobre Loma Ranch goes back a long way in time, as such things are considered here in the New World - not back to Roman times, nor to the early Middle Ages, you understand, yet respectably far enough - as far as the history of the West goes…
So I thought I would begin with something positive and uplifting this time …
The Procrastinator’s Year
January - full of promise and relief
This year I’ll turn over a brand new leaf
No more waiting till the end
Time will be my new best friend…
February - has no urgency here
COWS, PIGS AND HORSES….
I remember the first few years we lived in this valley, my ex-husband, Pete, and I were farming on a large farm outside of McNeal, some 40 miles south of Pearce, and one year we were short an irrigator. We had planted winter wheat to pasture cattle, and it was important that the irrigating routine not be broken, so I inherited the job. At the time it seemed a bit hard to be rolling out of a cozy bed at 5 am, climbing into layers of warm clothes and rubber boots, but even then I would not have traded those early mornings for a million dollars. I remember one particular morning glancing at the thermometer on the way out the door, and it showed 0 degrees F. Nowadays, this kind of temperature would be talked about for weeks – then, it seemed fairly commonplace. Of course, it was much colder in the valley than on our milder mountain slopes of the Dragoons, but there is no denying that the temperatures have warmed considerably over the past 40 years.
We would get out of the house around 6:30, and I would climb into my irrigation wagon, an old jalopy of a car, which trundled happily over the rough ground, till I reached my particular patch of field. In those days the most common method of irrigation was by a system of ditches from which the water was transferred to the thirsty earth by means of siphon tubes – long, curved black plastic pipes – and the routine was as follows: you took one end of the siphon tube in your freezing hands, placed a palm over one end, and then sloshed it in the icy water until the tube was full – then, with a practiced slosh you threw it on the ground, and the water commenced flowing through the tube into the furrow. There used to be around twenty-five or so siphons in a setting, so to do them all took a bit of time, a lot of bending, and very frozen hands. But, as I said above, I would not trade those memories for anything in the world – the rising sun just creeping over the Chiricahuas, the misty steam rising off the warm water – warm compared to the freezing air – the first rays of sunlight glinting on the tops of trees, and the faint green of the just emerging winter wheat in the furrows ….
Then, at the end of the several hours that it should have taken the water to meander down the half mile long field I would drive down to the other end to see which furrows had come through, and so which pipes could be pulled, so as not to waste the precious water. Because you had to know which pipes to pull when you got back to the head of the field, using binoculars you would count how many pipes from the beginning of the setting, marked by a pole with a flag on it, your “through” pipe was, and write it down – there were usually several – then drive back to the head of the field and pull those pipes. You can see that this was very dependent on being able to identify which furrows had come through, and the only way was to count them from the beginning of the set, the one furrow with the flag on it. One year we had a farm hand who assured Pete that he could, indeed, drive the tractor, and set straight furrows. He turned out to be not only a liar, but an inventive liar. When he found (as we deduced long after we had fired him for some other stupidity) that he was veering to one side or another, he would simply lift the lister and begin again, so making one furrow into two, or two into one, as the mood took him. This, of course, became maddening when trying to identify which furrows were the ones with the water through – I remember many a time having to slosh through the field in order to identify what was what, and more than one time when the wet mud would suck the boot off my foot and pitch me face first into the cold, muddy water. I hope Tim’s ears were ringing then – he was remembered – and cursed!! I will add that long before that, we had privately renamed him – he was known on the farm as Dim Tim.
There are other memories, too… We had 500 crossbred steers on that wheat, once it had grown, and they were in smallish pastures, being rotated into fresh ones as the wheat was grazed down. All this sounded really good in theory, but often the theory was somewhat messed up by the bovine boarders – they ate a great deal more than they were supposed to, and when they weren’t eating, they were getting into trouble. I remember one memorable day when they stomped down the pvc water line, which broke, and had to be repaired. I don’t remember where exactly my husband was at the time, or any of the hired hands, but I do remember that it fell to me to fix the line. So – try and imagine 500 jostling, thirsty, 600 lb steers trying to get to the non-existent water and wondering why this puny human was in their way. I had to dig up the broken line, then cut the ends, splice them and glue them together with a fast setting glue – sounds simple enough, done in the quiet setting of a garden, say, or some other unpopulated place. Not fast enough, however, for a horde of thirsty, curious bovines who just have to see what the heck you’re doing, jostling each other, snuffling down your neck, stepping on the tools and repair materials – and then doing their best to step on the newly glued water line, testing it to see if they could break it again. So – in view of all this, taking care of several hundred range cows and calves is a snip! Not only do they take care of their food supply, they are content to drink out of muddy water “tanks”, and they have a healthy respect for a human, on or off a horse!
Some time along then, our Mexican hand by the unusual name of Salome, opined that it would be lovely if we had a milk cow. “A milk cow!” I said, “whatever for!!” “For the leche, señora, for the milk – lovely fresh milk, how lovely, muy sabroso!!” said Salome – and for some stupid reason, I listened. It so happened that someone up the valley was selling some Holstein cows, and, as generally happens to me, when I went to look at one, I came home with two. This was great for a while – we had gallons of milk – which neither of us drank – and twice daily entertainment watching Salome milk them – until one day, he said “Señora, ya me voy por Mexico!!” ….. his mother was sick – really? With promises to return, he left – and I was stuck with the milking. Not only that, but now there was nobody to drink the milk, and it seemed a futile exercise to milk the cows and pour the milk down the drain! About then our veterinarian, Dr. Gary T. (who is still our vet today, some 42 years later, I’m so happy to say), came by to doctor someone or other, and, on seeing my plight, told me that a friend of his had solved the same problem by buying baby calves at the sale, and putting them on his cows – one for each teat. No sooner said than done – I went off to the Willcox sale and came back with several bovine orphans. Of course, it transpired that the cows – named, if you please, Fifi and JouJou – wanted nothing to do with other cows’s calves – and so a milking stanchion had to be built, whereby one would entice the cows into it by means of some goodies to eat, then catch their heads so they couldn’t get out, hobble their feet so they couldn’t kick, and then install the hungry mouths to fill their bellies. You can see that this was quite work intensive – but profitable. I began to calculate how many cows at four calves per cow for two months at a time would it take to make a decent income out of this (this was years before I realized that there is no such thing as a decent income from any farming venture!!) and came up with some horrid figure like 50-60 cows. That in itself was bad enough, but there are other factors associated with so many eating mouths – the result of all that eating coming out at the other end … its volume is considerable … and something has to be done with it.
As I was pondering this, it happened that I heard of a gizmo named The Maternal Robot. This was a machine which, hooked up to water and electricity, automatically mixed the proper amounts of calf milk replacer powder and warm water, and dispensed the mixture through two tubes run through a wall to a face plate with a teat on it – and so fed up to 40 or so calves, with a lot less fuss than fighting with ten cows. So of course, I got one…. then two…. but that’s another story.
I don’t even know how I got here to talk of this – actually, it was because I was thinking of a pig named Sarah. During all this bovine feeding venture, I was buying hay from a local farmer, and, one day while driving to the farm to get some, I passed a truck and almost wrecked my own, because, looking out the window, trotters crossed, and an interested, benign look on its face, was a small pig. It was standing on the back seat, leaning on the shoulders of the driver, a very pretty girl, and it happened that she pulled into the hay place also, so we got acquainted. Her name was Linda, and the pig’s name was Sarah. We got to be friendly, and so, when she asked me some weeks later, if I could take care of Sarah while she spent a month in Tucson on some business, of course I said yes. I had, by this time, lots of calf pens, and there was always one that was being left empty, to be disinfected by the sun. So Sarah came to visit. Along with her feed, Linda also brought a small children’s wading pool, which we placed in the shade of the ramada. It was this pool that accorded me a glimpse into the intelligence of pigs. One day I went to visit Sarah, and saw that the pool was in the sun – and there was Sarah, busily pulling it by her teeth into the shade! When she had it in the right place so it was comfortably shaded, she grunted with approbation and climbed into it, to wallow in the pleasantly cool water. Now, that’s reasoning!! That’s reasoning – the planning and execution of a plan – I thought it quite amazing. Sarah had a good life with Linda – until, when she was grown to some 1200 massive pounds, the family moved to Naco, a little town near Bisbee, and Sarah took to meandering through the suburbs, terrorizing people and ruining their gardens. After many complaints from neighbors, and fruitless efforts to keep Sarah penned in, she finally had to go to the happy hunting grounds. Sad – but large pigs are not animals to be argued with, and Sarah, once grown, was undeniably, a bad tempered sow. I remember even when she was still a piglet and visiting with me, one time when she tried to snatch at her food – and, when I pulled it away and slapped her, she backed off, thought it over, and then deliberately lunged at me in an effort to bite – “Take that! human!!” she seemed to say. I didn’t think I would want to argue with her when she weighed 1200 lbs!
And as a final note on animal behavior – on Danny’s days off, it’s up to me and Jimmy to do the feeding. So this last Sunday we fed all the horses and then finally the group from the Horse Pasture – the 100 acres where the Grapevine vacationing horses used to be turned out. This pasture leads into the old lane which has been turned into a corral, with four large hay feeders, and even though there are only five horses there now, they all get filled with hay each feeding – not only for the food value, as there is a lot of green grass still out there, but also so that the horses come in daily, and we can look them over – a bit difficult to do on a hundred acres of trees, bushes and washes! When Jimmy and I fed this last Sunday, I noticed that one horse was missing, and it was Hank. Thinking that it was unusual for just one horse to be off by himself, I decided to wait and see if he turned up after we had fed all the others – but he hadn’t. This was a bit worrying – if two are missing, you think they couldn’t be bothered to come in, but one horse by himself was a bit odd. Because I am a good, professional worrier, when we didn’t see him then, Jimmy and I decided to drive down to the end of the Lane to see if he was there – but no, no Hank. This was now really beginning to get to me. We drove out the front gate and down the fence line of the Horse Pasture, to see if we could see him someplace – no horse. Now I was really worried – we drove back home, me thinking I would have to saddle up and ride the pasture – but there the monkey was, filing his face at the feeder! I bet he had been hiding in the bushes by the lane gate as we drove out looking for him, probably peeking out to see we had gone before legging it up to the feeder. I soon thought of the reason – I had had some friends here for a week, and one of them had ridden Hank pretty consistently – and he was making sure he wasn’t going to be available for another ride! When I told Danny about it, he said it often happens when there are people here, for, say a round up, and several horses are required, they take to staying out – so we have got the point that when we plan to use them, we have to close the gate at the end of the Lane the day before, so they can’t go out to the Horse Pasture. Who said horses are dumb – that they don’t think, don’t plan! Whoever he was, or is, he doesn’t know horses, hasn’t lived with them enough to know their scheming ways!!
By Isaac Jay DVM
T’was the day before Christmas, and all through the house, creatures were stirring….
Twenty miles out of Tombstone, Arizona on a lonely caliche road, two urchins were crying for help. Living “off the grid,” they had no phone. The two had run a mile to the nearest neighbor, an 80 year old hermit lady who understood little of the “nino’s” excited Spanish. She called the Sheriff and the Border Patrol. The dispatcher tracked me down at a ranch 40 miles away. I had just finished a morning’s work and was hoping to make it home for Christmas Eve with my family.
The dispatcher said it sounded more like a veterinary emergency than a law enforcement problem, had no deputies available, and hoped I’d respond “since there’s a cow involved.”
An hour later I arrived at the hermit ladies place, she had forced the two youngsters to stay put until help arrived, by then the 8 year old boy and 10 year old girl had calmed down enough to stop mixing English with Spanish but were in tears, worried that the Border Patrol would pick them up. They’ve lived in the U.S. all their lives and their parents would have qualified for Reagan’s amnesty but they never finished the paperwork. Their first words to me were, “We’re not mojados!” (Spanish slang for “wetback.”) I asked, “What’s wrong with your cow?” The hermit lady interjected, “You wouldn’t believe the pack of lies they’re telling. Be careful if you go up to that place with those kids. You better wait for the sheriff! It sounds like another meth. lab blew-up!”
The two urchins politely thanked the crabby old woman and eagerly climbed into my pick-up, relieved to be free of the hermit lady. A mile up the road they finally relaxed and started grinning. I got nervous. I thought, was the old lady right? “What’s so funny?” I asked. “Do you know the story about Hansel and Gretel?” they giggled.
Pulling into their driveway I saw very late-model singlewide mobile home set on a hillside, its front side on blocks three feet off the ground, its backdoor level with a patio on the high side of the hill. A deluge was pouring out from under the trailer, four cow’s feet and legs were dangling through the kitchen floor. Nobody was home.
The girl shouted orders to her little brother, he ran to the well house and shut off the generator, the water eventually stopped flowing. She led me around back to the sliding glass patio door, into the trailer home, and to the site of true “shock and awe.”
Queso, the family milk cow, a 1000 lb. Jersey – Holestein crossbred, had fallen through the kitchen floor and gotten herself high-centered over a steel floor girder. In her panic and struggle, her wringing and flapping tail flung cow-flop floor to ceiling in all directions. Her flailing head and horns had torn out the kitchen cabinets and sink. Shattered dishes, and dented pots and pan were everywhere. A flock of chickens had followed her into the house and were roosting in every room. It’s amazing how many dropping they leave in a few hours unattended, and for some reason chickens have an affinity for lace curtains, venetian blinds, lampshades, boxes of cereal, bread, and anything else the can get their beaks on. Two-inch deep water was still draining from every room in the house.
Without me telling her, the girl grabbed a bath towel and wrapped it around the cow’s head and eyes to calm her struggle. I asked if they had an ax or a saw and pulled a sedative from my truck. The boy brought a chain saw. I found a tail vein and gave the shot. Even before the cow was relaxed the 8 year-old had the chainsaw running and was ready for my directions. I showed him where to cut and he went to work like an experienced lumberjack. In ten minutes we had a hole cut through the linoleum and plywood floor big enough to drop a cow through. It took us another half hour of pushing, pulling and prying to roll the sleeping cow off the steel girder and through the hole.
Both kids crawled under the trailer to tie a rope to the cow’s feet while I tied the other end to my pick-up truck. I yelled for them to crawl out but they insisted they would make sure her head wouldn’t get caught or her eyes wouldn’t get drug through the rocks. I towed her out from under the trailer and into the yard. We rolled her up onto her chest, washed her scrapes and bruises and waited for her to wake up. While we waited they told me their day-before-Christmas story.
Their parents had gone to Tucson for some last minute Christmas shopping made possible by a winning scratch lottery ticket. The kids were to milk the cow, feed the chickens, clean the house, make tortillas, and start the frijoles for dinner. “Somebody” left the sliding-glass door open while he fed the chickens according to the girl. “Somebody” left the corral gate open after she milked the cow according to the boy.
While they were away at the hermit’s house the chickens found the still-open door.
When Queso woke the girl led her back to her pen, threw her some hay and ordered the boy to get the chickens out of the house. The girl announced to me “Thank you so much for the help, but we can’t talk anymore, we have to clean the house and fix dinner before our parents get home.” The boy grabbed me by the hand for a manly handshake and asked, “How much does it cost to become a veterinarian?”
“Hansel” and “Gretel”, as I call them, were 8 and 10 years old. Would your 8 and 10 year olds run a mile to a grouchy stranger’s house for help, feed and milk the cow, feed the chickens, catch the chickens, turn off the generator, run a chain saw, fix dinner, and clean the house without fighting? And not worry about their parents being angry when they got home if everything didn’t go just right? And be thinking about a career to boot?
By Isaac Jay DVM
Wednesdays in October and November are almost always fully booked for this cattle vet in southern Arizona. It’s shipping season for ranchers, their once a year payday; when their herds are gathered; calves are weaned, marketed, and shipped; non-producing cows are culled before winter; and bulls are fertility tested and checked for venereal diseases. The ranchers often spend weeks locating all their cattle and driving them to the shipping corrals, the neighbors trade day help and co-ordinate their “fall works” so that a lot of temporary hiring isn’t required, and to identify their own cattle that may have strayed into the neighbor’s pastures. In these borderlands strays are a constant distraction. Fences are cut, knocked down, or driven-through almost daily by illegal border crossers, smugglers, and federal authorities in pursuit.
Doc had a full day scheduled and was on his way before daylight, he had forty mile of pavement to cover and 35 miles of washboard gravel road just to get to the corrals out on Geronimo Trail where he was scheduled to pregnancy test a draft of 200 cows. He was halfway there when his cell phone rang, a 10 year old rancher’s daughter was in tears, her favorite barrel horse had been bitten on the nose by a buzz-tailed snake, and her folks were out helping the neighbor gather cattle, the horse was gasping to breathe, its nostrils swollen shut. So Doc took a detour 20 miles out of the way and met the girl at her folk’s hardscrabble ranch near Mud Springs. He consoled the little cowgirl, treated the horse intravenously and made a short breathing tube to insert into the mare’s nostril to open an airway. Its face was swollen from the tip of its nose to its ears, both eyes were swollen shut, it would need attention most of the day to keep its airway open until the swelling subsided. The girl was home alone, had already missed the school bus, and was spitting mad that her perfect school attendance would be wrecked by “that damned old snake.”
There was a spare gooseneck stock trailer parked near the barn so Doc told the girl he’d take the horse with him and take care of it during the day while working the cattle, the girl’s folks would be helping at the ranch anyway. They hooked-up the gooseneck, loaded the wobbly horse and headed to town, dropping the girl off at her school with 5 minutes to spare.
He arrived at the corrals an hour late, but nobody seemed to care, they busied themselves sorting-off the calves, and had the cows penned and ready to go to the squeeze chute for Doc to do his dirty and intimate work determining whether or not the cows were pregnant again. The little cowgirl’s mother was there and took over attending to the snake bitten horse.
Two hours later we were about half way through the herd with the non-pregnant open cows being sorted into a separate pen for shipping to the auction when, a thud-thud-thud of a Border Patrol helicopter was heard over the bawling calves’ and baying cows’ chorus. Seemingly out of nowhere it appeared and hovered low over the corral, producing a dust cloud so thick that Doc couldn’t see the cow that he had his arm inside. Then it landed within 100 feet of the corral. When the dust cleared the old wooden corrals were demolished and all the cattle and calves were scattered and high-tailing-it for the hills. The only cow left within half a mile of the place was the one in the squeeze chute that Doc still had a hold of its tail with one hand with his other arm shoulder-deep inside.
The pilot and a crew member jumped out of their helicopter, then tried to jumped back in when they saw the havoc they had caused and saw the angry crew of dust-gagging and spitting cowmen. They apologized with a shrug and explain that they were looking for a fuel tank that an Air Force jet had accidentally dropped while on a training flight over the area. Thinly veiled death threats were exchanged between the rancher and Border Patrol agents. Doc reschedule the work for his next available open day in December.
The snake-bitten horse survived and the little cowgirl’s perfect school attendance record was preserved.
Such is ranch life in the borderlands, no wonder border ranchers call the helicopters “Hell-a-coughers”
“Doc, ranching out here is getting to be the shits. After you were out here the other day trying to figure out what killed those two cows, I put out the calcium/phosphorus supplement and went looking for old cow bones like you told me. Sure enough, I found parts of the carcass from that bull that died two or three years ago, you know, the one that the Border Patrol hit in the dark and wrecked their truck. I had drug it off the jeep trail and dumped it in a fenced-off gully for the buzzards to recycle it, but I guess the coyotes drug parts of it back into the pasture. Just like you said, the old bones weren’t all flakey and dried out on the outside, they were licked smooth and had some cow-tooth scratch marks on them, so the cows had been licking and chewing at them, your guess that the cows died of botulism from chewing on old bones was spot-on. But your finding an old bone lodged between that one dead cow’s molars was a pretty good indication too…….. But what’s bothering me now is that while I was out there on the mountain I found a fresh body of a Mexican girl that must have died a short time before I got there. It looked like she had stopped for a rest and was tending to some horrible blisters she had on her feet, one shoe and sock was off and she had her backpack open with a fresh pair of socks laid out and ready to put on. The whole bottom of her foot was blistered to the bone. You know, we’re 48 miles from the border the way the crows fly, she must have been walking a long time. She looked to be a teenager, but who knows, I didn’t find any ID in her back pack. I was horseback and by the time I got back to where I could get some cell service it was way after dark. I called the Border Patrol and the Sheriff and they asked if I’d go out there and watch the body ‘till they could get there to pick-up it up, they didn’t want the buzzards, bears, or coyotes to pick it apart. So I went back out there in the dark, trying to get near her in my pickup truck, but got high-centered on a big rock and was stuck where there was no cell service again. So I hiked up the damned mountain trying to find her again, hoping the Border Patrol or Sheriff’s deputy would see my flashlight in the distance and know where to go. But on foot, in the dark, landmarks just don’t look the same as they do on horseback in daylight. I tried most of the night to find her, but didn’t find her again until daylight. When I was finally able to direct the Sheriff to her, the critters of the night had already torn into her. Her bare foot was completely gone and an arm had been eaten off. After they put her and her stuff in a basket affair to pack her off the mountain we were looking around for anything else left behind. I found her arm about fifty feet away from where she died. Her Timex wrist watch was still on her wrist….AND IT WAS STILL TICKING!! I just can’t sleep at night…I still keep seeing that damned watch ticking away. The point is, one of these days you’re going to find an old bone stuck in a cow’s throat…and it’ll be what’s left of some poor Mexican that was chased to death by the Border Patrol….When are they going to stop this shit right AT THE DAMNED INTERNATIONAL BOUNDARY rather than let them cross the border and then chase them ‘till they drop?”
Tom runs about 400 cows, he ranches on the southern edge of Cochise County. His fence-line neighbors on the east and west are descendants of homesteaders. On his north is a ranch owned by an out-of-town investor, his south fence is along the “Roosevelt Easement” and international boundary with Mexico.
Tom bought the ranch from his wife’s parents after retiring from a thirty year career in the military. It’s a hardscrabble place, a combination of deeded private land, state grazing leases, and Bureau of Land Management grazing allotments.
With the help of his neighbors and some “horse-loving” friends from Tucson, he gathers his cattle, weans the calves and ships the calves to market every November. Four years ago he noticed his calves were nearly 100 pounds lighter per head than he had averaged for many years. He blamed it on a two year drought. And each year since then they weighed a little less, and there were fewer of them to sell. Finally, last year he realized that only 60% of his cows were producing a calf on time. He had been culling a few older bulls each year and replacing them with new blood over the years. He always bought very good quality bulls from reputable breeders. Every year he culled old cows religiously if they “missed’ having a calf and replaced them with good young “pairs” (cows with baby calves at their side) from a local sale barn.
Tom cornered Doc at the weekly livestock auction and quietly asked if anything was “going-around” that would affect his calf crop and weaning weights. Doc knew the ranch well. He had helped Tom’s in-laws before Tom acquired the place. Doc answer was, “There’s always something going-around!”
Doc went to his truck and dug out his canned “Herd Health Considerations and Recommendations for Arizona Ranchers” that he has developed over 40 years of veterinary practice in the area. He gave it to Tom and told him to look it over.
Tom called Doc the next morning and said, “Jeez, Doc where do we begin? I just do what my father-in-law had done for years, I guess we need to do a little more. Do any of my neighbors do any of it?”
“Some do, some don’t.” was Doc’s answer. “You probably should start with the bulls, we should test them for “Trich” and while you’ve got them in a chute we could semen test them too.”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” Tom complained. “I keep them out with the cows year-around, they’ve never been in a chute since we branded them when they were yearlings, they aren’t very social, and now they’re so damned big they won’t fit in our old squeeze chute. Most of them are big horned Herefords, some are F 1 Brafords, and some are Beefmasters. The F1s and Beefmasters are pretty athletic…we don’t mess with them much.”
“I can bring a portable chute that they’ll fit in if you can get them gathered.” Doc told him.
“My corrals are pretty old, if they start fighting each other the corrals will be in splinters when they get done, how about if we do half of them one day, and do the rest later?”
“Okay, Tom, but we need to test all of them, especially the older ones, even those you plan to cull this year. Trich. is a true venereal disease, the bug lives in the wrinkles and folds in a bull’s sheath, so we have to scratch and scrape around with a long pipette up next to their penis to get a good sample to send to the lab for a PCR test.”
“What’s the odds that they’ll have trich?” Tom asked.
“I’m not real sure, two of your neighbors tested last year, we didn’t find any in them, but there are 16 herds in southern Arizona that I know of that have had it over the past few years.”
“How do they get it?”
“It’s a true venereal disease, either you buy it, or your neighbors buy it and bring it home, you can’t test the cows reliably since they abort, get over it and eventually breed back, 90% of the time after 4 months away from the bulls the cows will eventually clear themselves, but there is no long-term immunity. There’s no treatment for it approved in the U.S. so infected bulls have to go to slaughter.”
“What’s the odds that the bulls won’t semen test very well?”
“Maybe one out of twenty or thirty won’t have good semen.”
“How about if we just do the trich test this time around? I’ll have about 20 bulls up next Saturday if you can fit me in…I’ll have some extra help on the weekend…. and bring your squeeze chute.”
“If I were you I’d try to get some help from your neighbors, they’re pretty good cowhands. That weekend wannabe cowboy poet crowd with their pet horses that you had around at branding time could be a wreck if your bulls get on the peck.”
“You don’t pull any punches do you, Doc?” “But if I’ve got trich in my herd I’d rather not spread the rumor to my neighbors.”
“If you have trich you darn-sure better tell your neighbors, along that border there are no fences worth a damn, if the smugglers and illegals haven’t cut them the Border Patrol sure has. If the neighbors know you have trich maybe they’ll help keep your fences up and return your strays a little quicker. And that ranch on your north is owned by a big time lawyer who makes a million bucks a year suing people for damages, if he’s forewarned maybe he won’t own your ranch too.”
Tom took Doc’s advice and got help from the neighbors, real “Border Cowboys”.
When Doc got to the ranch they had ten relatively gentle bulls in the corral ready to test. Another ten were out in twenty-acre trap nearby. If the testing went well on the first ten they would drive the other ten, more reluctant bulls, into the corral. No wannabes were in sight but Doc knew they were there, he had seen all the fancy show horse rigs parked in the driveway.
Tom told Doc, “I sent your favorite ‘wannabes’ and all their barkin’ dogs out to try to locate the six “wild” bulls that we couldn’t find. I know you don’t have much patience with them or their tenderfoot dogs, they should be out of your hair all day, I doubt they’ll be able to do much with the wild ones if they find ’em. If we get done with these and those in the trap we’ll send the neighbors out to help the wannabes. If we have to, maybe your ‘border cowboys’ can rope and drag some of the nasty ones to the chute.”
With the experienced help of Tom’s “border cowboy” neighbors we had the first ten bulls tested in an hour and had coaxed the next ten into the corral. That next ten weren’t as cooperative, after two hours we only had two left in the corral to do when we heard the dogs barking and wannabes whooping and hollering.
Tom climbed into the bed of Doc’s pickup truck, then onto its roof for a better view, Doc and a cowboy joined him on the truck’s roof.
A mile or more out in the big pasture was a huge cloud of dust. The wannabe had three bawling big-horned bulls on a dead run toward the corrals. One wannabe was out front, riding like a pony express rider trying to outrun one of the bulls that was chasing him, the other two bulls were hooking at the dogs as they ran, two wannabes were galloping hard to keep up, another was loping far behind, his overly fat horse exhausted.
Doc and the cowboy crew scrambled to get the last two bulls in the corral into the chute and tested. Tom ran to open the corral gate and trap gate for the new arrivals.
The border cowboys mounted up, knowing the wannabes would need help when the bulls got to the trap. Tom yelled, “You better get out there quick, those bulls are really nasty, they’ll turn on those dudes when they know they’re cornered!”
The cowboys made a quick circle on both sides of the oncoming stampede of bulls and wannabes, trying to outflank them and chase the barking dogs away from the bulls. The lead bull was gaining on the pony express rider, whose horse’s tail was now flagging in the bull’s eyes. A cowboy charged the bull from the side and whacked it with his rope, the bull hooked at the new target but the cowboy’s horse make a quick turn, kicked hard, and planted a rear hoof squarely on the bulls jaw, it sounded like a rifle shot. The other two bulls shot past the stunned bull and ran through the trap gate. The stunned bull followed. A cowboy quickly closed the gate. Three wannabes safely stopped at the gate, their horses exhausted. The pony express rider was in the trap with the bulls, and the dogs started in again, harassing and chasing the bulls in circles through a mesquite thickets in the trap. A dog yelped as it was hooked and thrown high above a mesquite tree, landing tangled and howling in a limb twenty feet above the ground.
One bull unknowingly spun through the corral gate into the dead end of the corral, his tail flagging, his head strutting up like a periscope looking in all directions for a target, his horns loaded and ready for anyone he saw. His mouth wide open, his tongue stretching straight out like a dragon’s fire, his eyes ready to explode, he saw the pony express rider charging for what the rider thought was the safe harbor of the corral. They met at the open gate. The bull scooped under the horse’s belly flipping it straight up and over on its back, and kept driving its horn into the horse’s soft under belly. The horse squirmed to its feet. The bull backed off, pawing the ground, throwing piles of dirt and gravel in the air, then pranced off to join his compatriots fighting the dogs. The bull never saw the unsaddled pony express rider climbing a mesquite to safety. Eventually the dogs gave up the fight and went running. The three bulls trotted toward the trap’s wire fence and vaulted it in succession without touching a wire. They were last seen in a lope headed south.
The cowboys tried to restrain the injured horse. In pain, it was kicking at its belly. One cowboy was trying to hold and push a loop of intestine back into its belly. Doc ran for his surgery bag, drew up what he needed and gave three quick I.V. injections, a tranquilizer/pain killer, a sedative, and a quick acting anesthetic. The horse wobbled and fell in a heap. The cowboys rolled the horse up on his back and Doc went to work trying to push the loop of gut back into the horse’s belly and suture the gaping hole left by the bull’s horn. There wasn’t much time for sterile technique, all they could do was wash and flush the loop of intestine with water from a nearby trough and what disinfectant Doc had handy in his surgery kit. Once done, everyone finally took a deep breath while the horse slept off the anesthetic. Doc asked if anyone was hurt. Nobody would admit to any physical injury of consequence, but the pony express rider needed to be helped to his car. He was dizzy and vomiting on himself. The dogs’ tongues were dragging on the ground but none of them seemed hurt.
Doc asked if the pony express rider owned the horse, because it would need a ton of aftercare if it survived. Tom said, “It’s mine, I shouldn’t have let that guy use it, but his horse was lame when they got here. Do what you can for the horse, but I don’t expect much. If he’s sufferin’ too much we’ll put him down.”
When the horse was back on his feet they walked him to the barn and Doc started an I.V. to treat him for shock, then loaded him with antibiotics and pain killers. “I suppose it’s your favorite horse,” Doc shook his head. Tom said, “Not really, but he is a tough son-of-a-gun. I caught him running loose out here with four bundles of pot hanging under his belly. I guess his pack saddle slipped off to the side and he ran off from the smuggler’s pack train. I turned the pot into the Border Patrol, told them I found it out in the pasture, didn’t tell them about the horse.
Doc told Tom that if they ever got the bulls that were left to the corral to call him and he’d be back out to test them, and he offered a dart gun and tranquilizer to use if they needed it, then took the twenty trich sample back to his office and sent them to the Diagnostic Lab in Tucson for PCR testing.
The following Thursday Doc broke the bad news to Tom, five of the bulls were positive for Trichomoniasis. His whole bull battery was suspect, the safest and quickest way to get it cleaned-up would be to send all his bulls to slaughter, wait at least four months, and then replace the bulls with virgin bulls.
“Hell, Doc, we can’t get anywhere near the rest of the bulls without them running off. And the three wild ones that they chased up to the trap are gone….the Border Patrol told me that they ran through that temporary fence they had up when they were fix’in the hole that the smugglers cut in the border wall.”
“Do the Morales still own that ranch in Mexico?” Doc asked.
“I really don’t know, Doc. Since the Border Patrol built that wall we can’t even visit over the fence, I guess we’re not very neighborly anymore.”
“Well, Tom, you’d best let all your U.S. fenceline neighbors know you’ve got trich in your herd so they’ll be on the lookout for it.” Doc insisted. “I’ll find out if the Morales still own the ranch south of you and let them know, but I doubt you’ll ever see the three crazy bulls again.”
Doc call his old friend “Chilolo”, a local Mexican veterinarian, to ask if his cousin still owned the ranch along the border south of Tom’s place. When Chilolo asked why Doc was inquiring, Doc explained the situation. Chilolo told Doc that “officially” the Mexican government claims that Mexico is “free” of trichonomias, but then he admitted that they never test for it, so how would they know. Chilolo said he’d let his cousin know about the stray bulls.
A week later a volley of rifle shots rang out south of the border below Tom’s place. Chilolo had told his cousin about the bulls and that they might have trich. His cousin went to the Mexican Army unit that was camped on his place patrolling the border for gun runners bringing weapons and drug money south. He told them to be on the lookout for the stray bulls and that they could barbeque them if they found them. The Mexican Army unit had a feast. The bulls were tacos.
Eventually Tom got all his bulls captured and shipped them all to slaughter. The horse seemed to recover but had recurring bouts of colic, and finally died a year later. He doesn’t have many wannabes volunteer to help on round-ups anymore, and he insists that if they want to come and ride that they bring their own mounts and leave their dogs at home. Tom notified his lawyerly neighbor via certified letter. The lawyer spent $50,000 on ten miles of brand new fence along Tom’s northern fenceline. It’s the best fence on Tom’s whole place.
Saint Bernese by Isaac Jay DVM
I didn’t prepare myself very well for being a small animal veterinarian. I never intended to work in a small animal practice. Horses and cattle were my forte, at least, that was my plan.
After a stint in the Army Veterinary Corps, I wanted to open a large animal practice in a rural Arizona town. So I went to the local bank and asked for a loan to start a practice on my own. There already was a successful small animal practice in town. Unfortunately, that veterinarian thought he was over worked and wanted another small animal practice in town to trade-off with for night, weekend, and holiday emergencies. And, he was a good friend of the loan officer.
Of course, the loan officer did a little research to see if a large animal practice could survive in the town, and called the only veterinarian in town. The vet convinced my loan officer that the only way he should make the loan was if I was willing to do enough small animals to support my large animal habit. And that vet said he’d make sure I got enough small animal emergencies to make the loan payment.
So I took out a loan much larger than I had originally planned and built a state-of-the-arts, mixed practice with all the current bells and whistles. I went to work servicing farms and ranches in the area during the day and doing small animal emergencies nights, weekend and holidays.
“Saint Bernese” was one of my first “small animal” emergencies on a Friday night. She was not exactly a “small animal.” She was a 180 pound, nasty, biting, “bitch” in all senses of the word. Her name started with “Saint” but she sure wasn’t one.
She was an “accidental” cross between, a Saint Bernard and a Bernese Swiss Mountain Dog, thus her saintly name. She had been “rescued” ten years ago from a “puppy mill” breeder according to the current owner, who was petrified of her and kept her tied on a tow chain most of her life. Somehow the current owner thought that a life tied out on a tow chain, shoveling food and water to her from a distance was better than the euthanasia the puppy mill had planned for her. But apparently the “rescuer” had other dogs running loose and Bernese had gotten bred and was whelping. She had already given birth to two dead pups. The owner was certain she should have a full litter, was sure she had more to deliver, and thought she needed some help. My colleague was nice enough to give me the referral.
Saint Bernese arrived at the clinic in the back of a pickup truck, chained to two corners of the pickup’s bed. She was covered in huge mats of hair and jumping with a million fleas. She was not happy. Her owners, a husband and wife team, led her into the clinic, each one of them holding a chain in opposite directions and never letting the dog get closer than four feet from either husband or wife.
I had an assistant, Ol’ Jim, that helped me with the horse and cattle work and “camped” at the clinic most nights. I thank God he was there that night. While the couple held that biting and snapping bitch between them, Jim was able to get a pigging string around the dog’s hind legs and stretch her out for an exam. I dug through the mats of hair, filth, ticks, and fleas trying to palpate through her obese abdomen for additional puppies. I couldn’t find anything.
So we drug our portable horse x-ray into the waiting room and took a few films. Once they were developed, sure enough, we could make out another two puppies deep in her abdomen, not anywhere near her birth canal yet. She would probably need a caesarian section since she had already been in labor for two days.
I quoted a price, the owners objected, so I gave them two other options; try to induce uterine contractions with a series of oxytocin injections through the night, or permanently relieve her of her miserable life. I thought ten years on a tow chain without a bath was long enough.
Of course they opted for the oxytocin series and expected us to stay up all night doing it. So I told them that the only way I’d take-on the project was that if it didn’t work, they’d have to agree to pay for a c-section that we’d do first thing in the morning. They reluctantly agreed.
No cage was big enough for her, so we let her loose in an exam room and left the chains on her, but fed each chain under the entrance and exit doors so we could get a hold on them to restrain her to give the shots every two hours.
The system worked pretty well, Ol’ Jim had a way with critters, she didn’t snap or bite at him much, even when I gave her a shot in a hind leg. I tried to sleep on the clinic couch between scheduled shots, Jim put his bedroll next the exam room door and talked to the dog half the night, when he wasn’t talking “sweet nothings” he was whistling or snoring. By morning I noticed our jar of dog cookies was empty, either Jim ate them, or he fed them to the dog.
But our oxytocin regimen didn’t work, the next morning the exam room was absolutely appalling, but no puppies.
I notified the owner that a c-section was planned and got the surgery room prepared. I had no idea how we’d get an IV injection into her to induce anesthesia long enough to place a tracheal tube for the gas anesthetic that we’d need to keep her under for the surgery. So, while the dog was still tethered in the exam room I found a vein on her stretched-out hind leg and did it there. Once sleeping Jim and I laboriously drug her down the hall to the surgery room and lifted her onto the hydraulic small animal surgery table, opened her mouth and tried to introduce the tracheal tube. But we weren’t quick enough, Bernese was waking up and struggling. So I turned on the gas anesthetic machine and put a mask over her nose and mouth and tried to “cone” her to sleep with anesthetic. It was a hell of a wrestling match.
By the time we got the dog anesthetized the surgery table was over turned, the hydraulic cylinder had been pulled apart, hydraulic fluid was flooding the floor, all of the sterile instrument packs were scattered all over the room and both Jim and I were in a heap on top the dirty dog. Fleas were everywhere.
It took us an hour just to get the surgery table back together; get the dog back on the table; get her belly shaved, scrubbed, and draped for surgery; and for me to get cleaned up for surgery.
The surgery was going pretty well after I got through a three inch layer of belly fat. Her uterus was easy to locate and exteriorize for examination. But when I looked for the puppies in the uterus, I couldn’t find them, they weren’t in her uterus!
“Ah ha!” I announced to Jim. “What we have here is an ECTOPIC pregnancy.” I proudly declared my brilliance and went on explaining how that could happen.
While I searched her peritoneal cavity for the puppies I lectured Jim about how a fertilized egg could exit her uterus through her fallopian tubes and imbed, implant, and grow outside her uterus. But I couldn’t find them. I exteriorized every organ I could get through the incision, then enlarged the incision and pulled almost everything out. I looked everywhere in her abdominal cavity. By then I was sweating profusely…and getting worried.
“Doc,” Jim finally whispered. “I think your education is running away with you. I think you theory is bull shit. Let’s take another X-Ray”
“An X-Ray?” I laughed, “What the hell for? To look in her belly? Here, stick your head in her belly and look around!” I frustrated. “I’m just going to put her back together and sew her up, I don’t know where the puppies are. Maybe we were seeing things on the first X-Ray.”
“No, Doc, you know they were there.” Jim pointed to the X-Ray film on the viewer where two puppy skulls we obvious. “I’m going to take another film.”
“Whatever,” I huffed and started putting everything back in its place.
Jim rolled the portable X-Ray machine in the surgery room, pushed me aside, took two more x-rays, and went to develop them.
I just finished a final stitch closing the skin incision when he return with the film and announced, “They’re still there! Right where they were before!”
I looked at the film, sure enough there they were. “But what is all that lumpy stuff around them now?” I asked myself out loud.
“Ah, looks like “doggie treats” to me,” Jim admitted.
“Oh no,” I moaned, “The pups were probable born dead and the bitch ate them and swallowed them almost whole.”
“Do you suppose the pups were in her stomach all along?” Jim asked.
I threw my gloves down in self-disgust, “Get the wheel-barrow and we’ll take her to one of the horse stalls to recover.”
Jim wheeled her out to a clean horse stall and made her a bed of straw. When he came back into the clinic two hours later he had two chains with him.
“She didn’t die, did she?” I asked.
“Nah,” Jim smiled, “I stayed with her ‘till she woke up. She’s okay, but I think we’ll need a few more dog cookies.”
I called the owner and told her everything would be okay, but all the puppies were dead and she’d have to stay a while at the clinic to recover. A week later Jim took the sheep shears to her and gave her a bath in a water trough. I don’t know how he got it done without getting bitten.
I sent the owners a bill for $200 for our effort.
I got a note back that just said. “You can keep the dog.”
I sent the note to my banker and asked if he would take the dog for my loan payment. He didn’t think it was funny.
Jim took Bernese home to his wife, who had a goat herd. It lived another five years in their fenced goat yard, ….without chains. Saint Bernese got along well with the goats, not so well with Jim’s wife. But then, Jim didn’t get along very well with his wife either.
After three years I sold the small animal part of my practice to a real small animal practitioner. He made a gold mine out of it…
“It can be a circus” and “while you’re here and at it.”
By Isaac Jay DVM
I was a senior veterinary student almost a half century ago, and even then there weren’t many of us interested in making a career out of caring for large farm animals. I had been raised with horses, spent a lot of time with the Amish, and worked around racehorses from the time I was 11 years old. I was more comfortable around horses than most of my classmates, so everyone thought my forte would be in strictly equine practice.
But half way through my studies I got a taste of the wide open spaces of the southwest, and knew that was where I wanted to spend my life. So every chance I had to visit Arizona I spent my time riding along with the few veterinarians still traveling to care for the cattle and horses at remote ranches throughout the state. It didn’t take me long to learn that it was the ranchers who managed to make a living with livestock that were keeping the state from being overrun with developments. They were producing beef for dinner and maintaining the wide open spaces for dessert. Good food for our bellies, and our souls.
So when I got back to my studies and told my professors that I wanted as much experience with big farm animals as I could get in my senior year of clinics, they assigned me to every farm call available.
The top equine surgeon at the university had already picked me to be one of his graduate assistants after graduation, and tried to talk me out of “food animal medicine” as a career. But it seemed that every time he had an important surgery on a high-dollar racehorse or a project in Lexington, Kentucky that he needed his favorite team of “equine students” to help with, I was already scheduled to be out on a farm call working with cattle.
One day he admonished me loudly in front of the class, “You’ll never make a living out there tending to cattle. But you can make a fortune with racehorses…it’s in your blood. Travelling around Arizona, where your clients will be 80-100 miles apart, that’ll be a circus. Cattle work is a dirty, filthy job. And when you get to one of those old run-down ranches they’ll always have a dozen more things for you to do than what you planned. You won’t make it home very many nights.”
To humor him, and try to get a decent grade in his class, I volunteered for whenever he needed a crew to help with a weekend or night emergency surgery. It wasn’t long before he called on a Sunday morning. “All I know is that there is a large animal emergency coming in to the clinic. This might be right up your alley,” he said.
When I got to the university vet clinic barns there were four huge, brightly colored, semi-tractor trailers unloading some beautiful white dancing horses….but when I went to the equine surgery section there was nobody around. Finally a watchman told me they were outside behind the clinic, “Where there is a little more room.”
The hot-shot equine surgeon was standing there with his starched sterile scrubs on, surgeons cap and mask at the ready, with a frustrated look on his face. He was talking to an animal trainer, who was trying to hold up the trunk of an enormously tall African elephant to show the surgeon something in the elephant’s mouth. I had never seen a skinny elephant before. It was a walking skeleton, 12 feet tall, twisting its giant head in agony.
Three other vet students showed up, all of them planning careers in small animal medicine….it was all the help the surgeon could muster on a Sunday during spring break.
“What’s she weigh?” the surgeon asked. “Oh….I don’t know, she was way too fat and weighed about 12,000 pounds when we left home last month, before she got sick, but I’ll bet she’s lost a ton or two, maybe three since she quit eating….now she’s so weak she can’t travel, if she gets down in the truck again, we might not get her up, either you fix her here or we’ll have to leave her here to die. We haven’t been able to use her in the show in three weeks and don’t want her to be seen in public. It’s pathetic, I’ve tried to call all the zoo vets in the country, but nobody answers or wants to get involved. The only one that called back was at a sanctuary in Florida, but I doubt she’ll live long enough for us to get her there, and we’ve still got two more shows this trip. I just saw the sign for the university vet clinic while we were driving by, and thought I’d give it a try.”
Bimbo, the elephant had an impacted molar and her whole jaw and face was infected and abscessed. She hadn’t been able to eat in days, maybe weeks. She was forty years old. The trainer explained that elephants normally wear off their molars and a new one pushes through, one after another up to five times in a lifetime. Apparently an old tooth didn’t wear-off properly and drop out, and the new one coming in behind it was impacted.
“This isn’t exactly my cup of tea.” The surgeon complained. “And our ‘zoo animal’ specialist is on some damned safari somewhere trying to save Bimbo’s cousins from extinction. I can’t do this, I’m an EQUINE SURGEON!! I’m on call for emergencies only this weekend. If it’s been going on for a couple of weeks, why is it an emergency today?”
The trainer shot back, “She’ll starve to death if you can’t help her, at least give it a try, she’s real gentle, I can make her lay down while you give her a shot to put her asleep for a while, but do it quick, she doesn’t like needles. I know you can do it, a crotchety old cow vet twice your age operated on her foot about ten years ago, he didn’t know squat about elephants either, and he didn’t have much trouble …you can hit a vein on the back of her ear real easy.”
All of us starry-eyed students sympathized with the trainer. Embarrassed, the surgeon sighed, then angrily barked his orders to us students. We scampered to find everything he needed while he tried to calculate an appropriate dose of an injectable anesthetic.
He sent me to find a crowbar, sledge hammer, garden hose, forty feet of 1” cotton rope, and two dozen bales of straw to make her a bed. The rest of the students found all the normal surgery packs and materials a surgeon might need.
By the time we got everything ready a crowd of animal handlers from the rest of the truck convoy had gathered, along with the trapeze artists, other performers, and even clowns. When other trainers brought out two other elephants, Bimbo’s trainer scolded them and told them to take their pachyderms to the other side of the barn so they couldn’t watch the proceedings. Apparently elephants come to each other’s aid if they think a buddy is in trouble.
The trainer made Bimbo lay down and showed the surgeon a good ear vein and held it off. “Do it quickly,” he instructed. That was the first time I ever saw the surgeon’s hands shaking, but he got it done. About five minutes later Bimbo was fast asleep and the doctor was able to feed a big IV catheter in another ear vein and start an “IV drip”, well not really a drip, more of a constant flow, five liters every ten minutes or so, 50 liters in all. Then the trainer instructed us to tie her legs together in case she kicks or tries to get up. Looping one of the short ropes over her lower jaw, he pried Bimbos mouth open and the doc went to work on the offending upper molar….it didn’t take much. A few taps with the hammer and it loosened, then he hooked the nail puller end of the crowbar under it and three of us climbed on to pull. Out it came, followed by a gush of putrid puss that soaked us all. Then the doctor actually did some surgery, debriding necrotic tissue by the bucket load and making a good drain both inside her mouth and through her facial sinuses to the outside. Then we flushed it through and through with a garden hose. He thought the impacted new tooth was still viable, so left it, hoping it would grow in normally.
“Wow, that sure should do it!” the trainer cheered. “And while she’s still asleep, could we look in her ears? Maybe clean them too? And, she had mastitis or some kind of mammary tumor a few years ago, would you look at her bag?”
So, while the surgeon finished suturing and making sure the drains stayed open, the trainer and his compadres went to cleaning gobs of dirt out of Bimbo’s ears. And I took my fellow vet students to check her for mastitis. I’d seen plenty of cows with mastitis; I knew what to look for….
We untied her back legs and tried to lift one to be able to see between her back legs. But three of us couldn’t budge it, so we enlisted a half dozen on-lookers to help and finally got it off the ground enough for me to crawl between her hind legs. I probed and poked and felt around, but found nothing like an udder between her back legs. My helpers were weakening, they couldn’t hold up her leg much longer.
Finally a skinny little teen aged girl in a skimpy trapeze costume crawled under the elephant’s leg with me. She didn’t say a word but tapped on my shoulder to get my attention, and pointed at her own chest. I was confused. Then she pointed down her outfit to her own breasts. That scared the hell out of me for some reason. I jumped up and got away from the girl. Bimbo’s leg dropped like a ton of bricks and everyone started laughing at me.
The cute little girl grabbed my hand, jerked me toward the front to the elephant, and pointed down. And there they were, two perfectly formed breasts, cleavage, nipples and all, right where they should be, between Bimbo’s front legs! I’d have never guessed.
Bimbo survived the ordeal and started eating again the next day.
Forty five years of large animal veterinary practice, and a thousand “circuses” and “while you’re at its” later, I can attest; that equine surgeon was right. But then, that day he proved that any kind of veterinary practice can be a circus some days.
History of the Cobre Loma Ranch
The Cobre Loma Ranch goes back a long way in time, as such things are considered here in the New World - not back to Roman times, nor to the early Middle Ages, you understand, yet respectably far enough - as far as the history of the West goes…
Around the 12th century, the canyon was settled by an early culture which was similar to the Anasazi and the Hohokam, called The Dragoons Culture. These people were hunters and gatherers, lived in houses which they constructed of mud and rocks, and, if they didn’t actually invent the bed rock mortars (deep grinding holes made in the granite rocks of the mountains), they certainly used them to grind their corn and acorns. The University of Arizona has carried out several digs on the ranch, and unearthed the ruins of a fairly substantial settlement just inside the front gate of the headquarters, across the fence in the Horse Trap, and also identified a burial ground in the pasture outside the front gate.
These people were driven from here around the 14th century by the Apaches, who had gradually moved down from the north. The Apaches were Athabascan people, originating in northern Asia. They moved across to North America during one of the periodic Ice Ages, when the North Sea froze over and formed a land bridge.
They settled in the north-west and gradually made their way down here, displacing the Dragoons Culture people. The Apaches were warriors, but also hunters and gatherers, and they lived here peacefully until the arrival of the white man, late in the 19th century. Their most famous chief was Cochise, who, sadly, foresaw the loss of his country and the defeat of his tribe. Oddly enough, he formed a close friendship with a white man, Tom Jeffords, who became his great friend and blood brother. The story of their friendship is immortalized in a book by Elliot Arnold, called “Blood Brother”.
The white people who settled here next saw the potential of the country for the grazing of cattle, and fairly quickly vast ranches sprang up. It is recorded that in the late 1880’s there were over 100,000 head of cattle grazing in this valley – until a drought lasting several years killed most of them.
About this time several settlers built cabins on the ranch land. One of these was Irishman Mike Noonan, a veteran of the Civil War, who built a cabin on what we now call the West Cochise Pasture, in the lee of the rock cliff by the Noonan Gate. Knowing that he lived in a dangerous time in Apache territory, he contrived a useful method of defense. Down in the canyon he hand dug a well, some 8 ft. deep and several feet wide. Then, several feet below the water level, he dug a drift and formed a small hide-out, lined with wood, where he stored some provisions. Here he would hide whenever the Indians were “on the rampage”, as the phrase was at the time. Once the cattle came back to drink when the Apaches departed, he knew he was safe to climb out of the well. He ran his cattle over these mountains, all the way to the Stronghold. One day he rode there to check on his herd. and arrived just in time to see a couple of renegade Apaches wantonly shooting his cows. Before he could act, they had killed around 100 head. Noonan shot and killed one of the raiders, but from then on he was a marked man.
The Apaches were never hasty to act - they were content to wait for their revenge until the time was right. About 2 years later they were moving a herd of stolen horses across the valley, when, probably by the cloud of dust, they saw a troop of cavalry leave Ft. Bowie, about 20 miles to the east. Herded by several braves, they sent the horses via Grapevine Canyon to the Cochise Stronghold Canyon, and the rest of the tribe escaped to Mexico, where they had useful hidden camps in the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Nobody knows exactly why at this moment they chose to act against Mike Noonan, but a couple of the braves left the rest of the tribe, and attacked Mike, who was in his cabin, totally unprepared for what was to come. A gun battle followed, Mike Noonan was killed, and the Apaches badly mutilated his body. It was found by his friend Rockfellow, and was sent for burial to his sister in Kansas.
The ranch then came into the possession of the Coronado Land and Cattle Company, who had a vast holding in the valley, running many hundreds of head of cattle.
The Coronados made their headquarters across the canyon, south of Mike’s cabin, on a flat grassy mesa. They built a ranch-house with the traditional slit windows to ward off Indian attacks, and also built another small adobe house just west of it.
When we moved here, I was lucky enough to know an old rancher whose family had lived here since the Indian days, and he told me of this ranch house… He said that when he was a boy (which would have been in the late 1920’s) the house was still standing, though the whole headquarters had been abandoned and stood empty. He told me he used to ride his horse over from their ranch, and play at cowboys and Indians in the empty ranch house. He said that one time he got so carried away by his game that when he heard a noise outside the building, he shot through one of the narrow, slit windows – and grazed his own horse tied outside! He said he got one hell of a hiding from his old man when he got home!
The old ranch house is long gone – only a slight hump and a mesquite tree mark the spot - but the other house remains. When my brother-in-law, Ron, owned the ranch, it was used as quarters for his cowboy and his wife. When he sold the ranch, sadly the new owner allowed it to fall into disrepair, and, when we bought it and moved in in December of 1989, we spent some $15,000 in restoring the old building. It is first listed on the County tax rolls in the late 1800’s, and it remains a nostalgic reminder of times gone by. Nowadays I use it as a guest-house for visiting friends.
The Cowboy House
There are two other old buildings as well – the hay barn and the feed room probably date back to around the same time, and I was told by an old timer that the feed room had been a school house, which had been bought and moved here in one piece. I have had the whole head-quarters re-painted, but the old barn is left as it was –it remains unpainted and somewhat tattered, as a tribute to the past.
The main ranch house itself was built before 1914, as I have photographs of it dating back to 1915. In its original incarnation it was a small, square house with a porch on all four sides – which accounts for the fact that there is a lovely old stone barbeque outside my bedroom door! I thought and puzzled about this BBQ at length, and finally pieced the history of the house together enough to realize that originally, with the porch surrounding the house on all four sides, the barbeque was adjacent to the kitchen porch next to it – so, very logical! Subsequent owners of the ranch did away with the porch on the south and west side, using the space to enlarge the house but….. I have a BBQ outside my bedroom!
The garage is also an old, old building, barely holding together by dint of constant repairs. In the old days, there was a fairly large front yard between it and the porch then surrounding the house, but when Ron bought the ranch in the 70’s, he built a lovely big living room by joining the house to the garage, so now it appears as one construction.
The corrals and pastures have also changed over the years. Again, when Ron owned the ranch, the corrals were smaller, and of a more flimsy construction, as most ranch corrals are apt to be. However, he sold the ranch to a man who owned some sort of fabricating works in Tucson. This man was also a roping enthusiast, and so he rebuilt the corrals in steel pipe, and also built a long roping arena. He in turn sold the ranch to another well to do owner, who employed a cowboy who really gave some thought to the workings of a corral. This man rebuilt the corrals one more time, and I would say that there isn’t a more workable set of cattle corrals in the county! Wherever you need a gate, there is a gate. Wherever there should be a lane, there is a lane. Every time we work cattle, we bless this man and his incredible talent! In doing this, he also modified the roping arena, so that it is now a very large holding pen. I have further modified it by cutting a gate in its north fence, so making a gate into the adjoining West Cochise Pasture. As we didn’t want to weaken the structure of the metal top rail, we left it in place, merely putting a gate below it, a gate that is high enough for cattle to pass under, but which does not allow a man on a horse through. Accordingly, it is known at the “Headless Horseman Gate”.
Lanes and Gates
I love the ranch – and it has taken me many years of research and thought to piece together its history and evolution. Long may it stay this way!
I hope you enjoyed this short history of the Cobre Loma Ranch, and that you come and visit our page – and us - often!
Eve K. Searle
Photos of Angus+ and Brangus Bulls from the Cobre Loma Ranch, rock-footed and range reared in the Dragoon Mountains of s.e. Arizona.
Bulls 12-14 months of age, ready to go to work, for sale ex ranch by Private Treaty.
Call Steve at 520 507 1941.
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Brangus / Angus+ and Balancer x available ex Ranch preconditioned October / November
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