Tennessee is the home of country and western music—the kind of music that most cowboys like to listen to. Tennessee is also home to many thousands of cattle—roaming over endless waves of timbered hills and hollows. But Tennesseans in general are not much interested in cowboy hats or rawhide bosals, and most of them prefer three-wheelers to horses when it comes to working cattle. Any sure-’nuff puncher who happens to find himself wandering over the brushchoked, limestone ridges of this part of the country is likely to feel about as comfortable as a coyote in church. Tennessee is not buckaroo country.
But, all is not darkness. There is an oasis in this unsettling environment—a place where a cowboy can go to find solace and comfort. No, it is not the Jack Daniels distillery, though that might seem a pretty good choice. Rather, it is a ranch about 30 miles east of Nashville, near the tiny town of Mt. Juliet. Here, a small crew of out-west-minded cowboys keep the dream alive. This bunch of die-hards insists on living, looking, and acting like cowboys. They are the hands of the Twin Pines Ranch.
The owner of this outfit is a man named Charlie Daniels, a large, bearded fellow with an honest, friendly smile. Daniels makes a living as a musician-writing, singing, and fiddling songs that appeal mostly to the hardliving, hard-working, blue-collar types of America. He is a man of the people, and for roughly three-fourths of every year he is on the road, carrying his musical message to hundreds of thousands of loyal fans.
But when Charlie comes off the road, he comes back to Tennessee and to Twin Pines Ranch. Here, he has built his refuge-his place in the world where he can relax and enjoy the rewards of success and the simple pleasures of being alive. Twin Pines Ranch is, in Charlie’s words, his “labor of love,” and it is a place where the spirit of Charlie Daniels can be seen and felt and appreciated.
“This place is my home,” explains Charlie. “It is where I live. It is the kind of place I choose to surround myself with. I love what I do for a living, but, when I’m on the road, I live in a pressure cooker. Out there I’m under constant pressure to produce. I have to write the stuff myself, arrange it, rehearse it, perform it, record it. I am at the mercy of the public. It is a constant challenge.
“But when I come off the road and come through that gate, I try to leave that part of my life out there. I come home, get on a horse, rope a few steers, clean a few stalls, and get totally away from that high-pressure world.”
Daniels is working to make Twin Pines Ranch more than just a retreat. His goal ever since he bought the property ten years ago has been to build a viable, self-supporting operation. “I want to see this place happen,” says Charlie. “If the day ever comes when I start to make a significant amount of money off the place, that would be fantastic, but that isn’t the reason I do this. I do it because I like it. I like having good people around, and I like being in the horse business. I like being in the cattle business. I like getting out and chasing them around and trying to rope them. This ranch is a source of pure pleasure for me. Just put me on a good horse and give me some cows to work.”
Little by little, Daniels has increased the Twin Pines acreage, and he has established a sound horse and cattle business. In an area where Tennessee Walking Horses can be had for a song, Twin Pines Ranch is doing well selling Quarter Horses and Paints—for cutting, team roping, and pleasure. Further, they have concentrated their cattle raising on Corrientes and have been instrumental in establishing a good local interest in team roping and a demand for the cattle.
Thurman Mullins has been the ranch manager for seven years. He explains the situation: “We are very interested in cutting horses. Our primary goal is to breed horses that would be suitable to go into cutting. Almost all of our broodmares have a cutting horse record or are the own daughters of horses like Mr San Peppy, Peppy San Badger, Peponita, Doc Holiday—all line-bred cutting horses. When our trainers start our young horses here, they get them ready just as if they were all going to be finished as cutting horses. Now, many of them won’t end up that way, but that is how we start them. Then, we begin to train them as roping horses, heading or heeling. We do very little calf roping in this area.”
Thurman says that they are aiming most of their horses toward the general public, because that is where the demand seems to be. “In the horses that we purchase for resale, or horses that are taken in on trade that we try to make into something for someone, all of them are trained as if they were going to someone in the working public. We do have show horses from time to time. We recently sold a world champion Paint mare, but the bread and butter of this operation are horses that will neck rein, back up, work a cow, brush pop, and make a good solid heading or heeling horse.”
One thing Thurman has recently discovered is that there is a strong local interest in Paints. In order to meet the demand, the ranch has acquired a Paint stallion and some Paint mares, and they have begun to breed some of their Quarter Horse mares to produce Paint foals. “We have found that we can tum over a lot of horses in a year’s time,” continues Thurman. “We get calls here every day about horses we would not be remotely interested in. A lot of people think I am buying horses for Charlie to keep forever and ever. This is a working operation. Every horse on this place has a price tag, and they are priced to where they will sell . . . I hope.”
A unique feature of the Twin Pines horse business is the money-back guarantee. Several years ago, when Charlie wanted to buy a horse for his wife, Hazel, he found that horse traders aren’t always honest. He got burned on a purchase. Now, if Charlie Daniels believes in anything, it is in living by the golden rule-Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Thurman recalls that when Charlie hired him, he gave him strict rules about how the business would be run. “He told me he wanted a serious, working operation, and he said, ‘The most important thing to me is that I don’t ever want anybody to say that we took him on a horse trade. I want you to put a 30-day, money-back guarantee on every horse.’ Everybody dealing in horses knows that is almost suicidal, because horses and riders don’t always match up, but from day one that has been our policy. Every horse we sell has that moneyback guarantee.”
Their reputation for honesty has been good for business at Twin Pines. They have sold horses throughout the South, including Arkansas, Texas, and Alabama, and they have a good market in the Nashville area. Says Thurman, “We have so many people buying farmettes of five to ten acres. They don’t want to go through five or six horse traders trying to find the right horse. They’ll buy the one they need from us.”
Prices range from $500 to $7,500 or more, but most of their horses that have begun to do a little roping go for around $1,200. “If l get a horse on trade that is going to take six months to make something out of, and I don’t feel he’ll ever be a good horse, I tear up his papers and run him through a weight sale. We don’t have time to fool with bad horses. There are too many good ones out there.”
Twin Pines horses don’t just stand in a stall and get trained in an arena. They get plenty of pasture work, too. “Here,” says Thurman, “with the cow work and the roping clinics, these horses get the opportunity to get out, in the arena or out in the hills, and think fast and do something. People trust us to turn out a horse that will do a good job for them.”
One way the ranch has been able to stimulate business is to take in outside horses for breaking, training, and boarding. Not only do they make money by providing those services, but they encourage local riders to be more active. Twin Pines Ranch holds team roping clinics for raw beginners, and they also hold a rope-off (jackpot) almost every weekend, complete with their own belt buckles as prizes. Many newcomers to the horse world are learning, thanks to Twin Pines Ranch, how to get more enjoyment out of their horses. The ranch hosts as many as 200 teams on some weekends, and it is especially fun for ropers to come and have a chance to compete against Charlie, himself. When he’s home, Charlie loves to jump right in and try to win his own prize buckles. He’s done it, too!
Besides helping their horse business, the team roping clinics and rope-offs have also provided Twin Pines with a basis for their cattle business. “This ranch started out with a few Herefords,” says Thurman, “and later on some Angus, but that business wasn’t doing real well and Charlie expressed an interest in learning to rope. So we started buying up homed cattle, local domestics for roping purposes. But they soured on us quick and were more prone to get sick.
“Charlie sent me all over the country to locate a Corriente bull, and I finally bought a bull and some cows from some breeders in New Mexico and Arizona. Their cattle came from the Sioux, who have been raising Corrientes for a number of years, in Canada. We have started our own breeding program. We get a lot of flak as to whether they are true Corrientes or not, because they are bred and raised here in the states, but they are doing for us what Corrientes are supposed to do, and they are making us money, besides.”
Corrientes appear to be just the right cattle for the Twin Pines operation. The ranch is only a few hundred acres in size, and the country is rough, rocky, heavily timbered, and brushy. “These cattle are tough,” says Thurman. “They live on pasture and water, and we supplement them with some grass hay and salt. That is all we do for them. We want to keep them full and healthy, but we aren’t shooting for fast weight gain. During the summer, these cattle will get roped at least 18 days a month, and roped pretty hard, so most of them don’t get too big because they get a lot of exercise. They eat vines and thistles and whatever else we have around here, and they thrive. And out of the three years that we have owned them, we’ve only lost two head of cattle—one to dogs and one that drowned.”
Presently, the ranch is running 106 head of cattle, of which 59 are mama cows and two are bulls. The best cattle are used during the rope-offs and the slower ones are used by the new ropers, in the clinics. Then, when the cattle get too large or start to slow down, the ranch has been able to sell them to new ropers in the area as practice cattle. The ranch is also able to make money selling registered breeding stock and Corriente semen. Finally, thanks to Charlie’s good reputation, other Corriente owners and breeders are using Twin Pines Ranch to help them sell their own stock.
So far, Twin Pines is working out the way Charlie wants it to. The horses and cattle are paying their own way, and the ranch has been able to make money in other ways. Says Thurman, “We rent the arena to any of the guys who have gone through our clinic. We put on fairs or full-scale rodeos, we pick up and deliver horses and cattle, we can break and train a man’s horse, lease him cattle for a rope-off, breed his mares for him, or sell him a T-shirt, a set of spurs, or a headstall. We’re just a working operation. It has taken us a while to build credibility, but I feel like we are achieving it more and more as we go along.”
Well, simply having a successful ranch operation does not really explain why Twin Pines is so cowboy oriented. They could just as easily wear ball caps and use three-wheelers and handle livestock just like the neighbors. But the boss of this outfit is Charlie Daniels, and Charlie is very enthusiastic about the cowboy way of life.
“I think every male child born in my generation in the United States is interested in cowboys. Cowboys are our Knights of the Round Table. The English have King Arthur, the Danes have the Vikings, and the Chinese have their warlords. Our romantic figures were western people, like the cowboys. When I was a kid, I went to the movies and watched the horse operas, but those aren’t the kind of people I think of when I think of cowboys. The guys I think about don’t even carry a gun. They are good horsemen who know cows. And the really good hands can handle a rope or a pitchfork or a shovel. They can do whatever needs to be done.”
When Daniels takes a vacation away from his home and family, he heads for Nevada or Texas and does some riding with the people he respects, professional working cowboys. He has ridden with the crew of the 06 Ranch, near Alpine, Tex., and he has been out with the hands on Nevada’s Warm Springs Ranch. The way of life on those ranches means a lot to Charlie, and he has carried those feelings back to his Tennessee ranch.
“My hope is that I can eventually acquire more land and more cattle and get more heavily into the cattle business. We like doing things the old-fashioned way. I would like to bring those open-country cowboys back here with me someday and show them what cowboying is like in this country. We have thick woods, treacherous limestone rock, and a lot of brush. It takes a special type of cowboy to ride in this stuff. Our guys were raised working in this country: Out west, where you can see forever, you can find a cow, but here those cows can hide and sneak around and be very hard to work.”
Daniels isn’t just blowing smoke when he says, “We like doing things the old-fashioned way.” Leroy Crawford and Steve Parker are the ranch cowboys. Both of them grew up ahorseback, running cattle in the heavily timbered country of the South. Crawford got his education in Mississippi, and Parker is a born-and-bred Tennessean. Both men know cattle, both break and train the Twin Pines horses, both are good at anticipating and doing whatever jobs need to be done on the ranch—horseback or not—and both men dearly love to rope. They are as cowboy as they can get, and they didn’t have to live out west to get that way.
“These guys look forward to getting out and doing the work,” says Charlie, “and I do, too. If we’re doctoring, we push the cattle in a corner and head and heel them. We rope when we do our branding. We don’t jerk around our cows that are heavy with calves; we put them in a squeeze pen. But, I’ve threatened to sell the squeeze pen!”
One thing that is very clear on the Twin Pines Ranch is that the people who are there are content. Daniels is well-known for being an employer who cares about his people. Of the 28 people who make up his road crew, the one who has been with him the least amount of time has been on the job for nine years. Says Charlie, “I take great pride in employing people. I thoroughly enjoy giving the people who work with me a job they can do well and enjoy doing. I like surrounding myself with good people. I have good people with the band, and I have good people on this ranch.”
Charlie Daniels is a happy man. He has been able to make a good living from his own “God-given talents,” and he has been able to surround himself with a lifestyle he can enjoy. Though he knows he will never be a professional cowboy, he has a great appreciation for the breed, and he feels strongly about the cowboy’s place in America.
“I do hope that, somehow, the big traditional outfits out west will be preserved. I know that every time a generation passes, a place gets handed down to the kids, and it has a good chance of being split up. But I hope that at least a few of the outfits can survive and keep the old traditional ways going. It would be a real shame to wake up one morning and discover that there won’t be any more cowboys. I know things have to change-economics, modernization, fencing, range management-but I feel that if people love it enough, it will somehow survive.”
This article was originally published in the August 1987 issue of Western Horseman magazine.