Since it was first established in 1883, The Pitchfork Ranch has been one of the outstanding ranches in northwest Texas. Its western atmosphere is genuine, with the ranch located north of Spur and south of Matador.
The Pitchfork raises top-quality Hereford cattle, Quarter Horses, and Thoroughbreds. At roundup time, many cattle are gathered; and there are some that elude the efforts of the cowboys and hide in the roughest terrain. The cowboys must keep up with their part of the roundup; then, after the main herd has been penned, they go to the pasture and prowl for the missing cattle.
The Herefords are not wild, but they have been raised in large pastures and are not domesticated. And, they can take advantage of the mesquite trees, brush, and the rugged geographic features to hide.
Some ranches bring in their saddle horses in the mornings; but at the Pitchfork, the horses are driven in late each evening. Buck Craft, in charge of all of the horses, catches most of the horses. Each rider tells Buck which horse that he plans to ride, and Buck ropes the horse from the herd. He passes the horse to the rider and catches another. Without disturbing the horses, Buck ropes the required number of horses in a few minutes, and the herd returns to the horse pasture. Every rider has a fresh horse for the next day’s riding.
When he decides to gather all of his strays and missing cattle, the foreman of the Pitchfork Ranch, B.C. Drennan, telephoned Tuck Blankenship. Tuck, foreman-pilot of the Masterson Ranch, uses a helicopter and he can locate missing cattle in a short time. In a few minutes, Tuck landed his Hughes-300 helicopter at headquarters to visit with B.C. Tuck learned which pasture the missing cattle were in, and he took off with B.C. aboard.
By this time, all of the riders had saddled their mounts and loaded them in stock trailers. I gathered my cameras, jumped in a pickup with Jim Fields and Steve Drennan, B.C.’s 16-year-old son. There were 12 saddled horses for 12 cowboys; one cowhand, Kelly Butler, had a gelding that was big enough to carry Kelly’s weight — all eight years of it. Out of school for the summer, Kelly was pretty happy that his father, Benny, was letting him “make a hand.”
While Tuck and B.C. were spotting the cattle, the cowboys drove about 11 miles to the Cowboy Mill pasture, just past Gage Corner. By the time that the horses were unloaded from the trailers, Tuck landed B.C. and returned to the air. Splitting in two bunches, Buck Craft and some cowboys headed around one way, and B.C. mounted his red dun gelding and struck out with the remaining cow-hands.
By the time that the cowboys had made their swing, Tuck had gathered and driven the missing cattle near the windmill trap. With the cattle flanked by the riders, Tuck “blew” the cattle into the pens. As much as possible, Tuck drives cattle from the helicopter as the cowboys drive them from their horses. Without the cowboys having to punish their horses with a lot of hot, fast work in the brush, the cattle were penned; and they were penned with a lot more weight on them than if they had been choused through the brush — for these were pretty spoiled cattle.
Tuck was finished for the day, but the Pitchfork men reloaded their mounts and drove about eight miles to the South Willow pasture. Cowboys Jay Blackford, Kenny Tungstall, Frank Martinez, and Jerry Morrison unloaded their horses first and made ready to gather some more cattle. With all of the cowboys mounted and working, the cattle were gathered and driven to the Wildcat pens. Foreman B.C. Drennan shaped up the gathered cattle, and another day’s work was nearly complete at the Pitchfork.
By the time that the crew arrived at headquarters, the ranch cook had a good meal waiting; and the iced-tea pitcher got a real workout from the thirsty cowboys. Immediately after eating, all cowhands went to the horse barn, and two riders wrangled in the horse herd. Fresh horses for the next day were caught and penned; and after all of the livestock had been tended to, the day’s work was in the past.
This article was originally published in the September 1970 issue of Western Horseman.