Riding the Boss’s Horse

Culbertson Illustration

When he was loaned the boss’s best cuttin’ horse the author felt a sense of pride, but also worried about returning the horse safely.

By Bob Boyd, published April 1981. Illustration by Bill Culbertson.

Culbertson Illustration

BACK in the spring of 1924, I was riding for a big ranch in the extreme southwest corner of New Mexico-the Animas Mountains country. I was staying at a cowcamp and very rarely did I ever go to headquarters. In a lifetime of riding on ranches, I found that the less you see of the boss, the better off you are. Often the boss figures you need a lot of advice, and frequently he’ll think of other tasks for you.

I was generally up by 4 a.m. and on horseback by daybreak … that’s the best part of the day. Also, if problems do arise, you have a nice margin of time to handle said problems ere the sun goes down.

One day when I was riding, Bob Gardner rode over to my camp and left a note for me to come over and help brand some calves the next day. When I arrived early the next morning, the boss, Edgar Timberlake, was there. It was the first time I’d seen him since he’d hired me.

I knew that “Timber,” as he was called, was a frugal man from the slim list of groceries he allowed for the ranch. I remembered, too, that when I had made my first requisition for camp chuck, matches were on the list. Bob had told me that the boss had given orders that no company matches be furnished to cigarette smokers. So I had paid for my half-dozen boxes of kitchen matches.

When we had rounded up the pasture and were ready to start branding, the boss whittled some kindling and laid it in the fire hole. He felt in his pocket for a match.

He had none.

“Give me a match, kid!”

I just looked at him and shook my head in the negative.

“Heck fire!” he barked, “you have matches, don’t you?”

“Yes sir, I have a pocketful of ’em, but I don’t buy matches for a ranch to start their branding fires.”

For a long moment he looked at me, then he sort of grunted and dispatched Gardner to the kitchen for matches.

In that way our friendship (?) began.

When the calf branding was over, he asked me how the steers were doing.

“Fat,” I told him, “about as fat as they’ll get on grass.”

“Good! I’m selling ’em. In a couple of weeks some Kansas men will be out to receive em at Hachita. I figure to make two shipments, so tomorrow Alec and Zacarias will be over to help you start gathering the first trail herd. In a few days I’ll be back with a couple of extra men to help.”

With that he turned away and unsaddled his horse. He then curried and brushed the big bay. And what surprised me most, he petted the animal. Didn’t think he had it in him to pet anything. But it was a standout of a horse. Blood bay, beautifully proportioned, and an excellent cutting horse.

Next day we started gathering cattle in the lower foothills. Each day we’d throw our gather in a two-section holding pasture a mile or so from my camp. When we finally had about 1,500 head, a trainload, we drifted them over to headquarters; our saddle horses and the ones packing our bedrolls trailed along with the herd. Over such rough terrain, the 12-mile drive consumed the whole day.

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