For 50 years, family and friend have gathered at Colorado’s Tee Cross Ranches for its annual spring branding.
All is still and quiet in the morning on the Turkey Track division of Tee Cross Ranches, located on the plains of southeastern Colorado. The only sound and site is the faint whistling of the wind through old corrals and sagebrush, and the swaying of prairie grasses glowing in the rising sun. Then, in the distance, the sound of bellowing mama cows calling their babies becomes louder as the herd appears on the horizon. A crew of cowboys, led by Tee Cross General Manager Bobby Norris on a big gray horse, trail the cattle to a set of corrals nestled between hills where the calves will be sorted off their mamas and go through the spring works. It’s a tradition the Norris family has shared with family and friends on Mother’s Day weekend for 50 years, and Robert “Bob” Norris, the patriarch of Tee Cross Ranch and would
not miss it.
Bob founded Tee Cross Ranches in 1950 in northern Colorado and paid $50 for the T Cross brand, which was the first brand registered in Colorado. In the 1960s, he purchased 20,000 acres between Colorado Springs and Pueblo and began expanding his ranch and developing his horse and cattle programs. Through the years, he developed one of the largest Quarter Horse and Hereford cattle operations in Colorado, and became an active member of the horse industry and a philanthropist in his local community. He served as president of the American Quarter Horse Association in 1982 and in 2011 he received the AQHA Legacy Breeder Award for ranches that have bred Quarter Horses for 50 years or more. He also served as a director for the National Cutting Horse Association and on the board of directors for the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. In the 1960s and ’70s, he was the first face of the “Marlboro Man” and appeared in numerous advertisements for the tobacco company.
Now in his 90s, Bob has handed the reins of the ranching operation to his youngest son, Bobby, who splits his time between his cutting horse training operation in Burleson, Texas, and the family ranch in southern Colorado. Even though he’s no longer involved in the day-to-day operation of the ranch, Bob still expresses his opinion and takes pride in the ranching legacy he built.
“Who’s in charge of this operation?” he asks, jokingly, as cattle funnel around the chair he’s sitting in by the corral gate and into the pen. “The calves look pretty good and look at all of these people who came out [for the branding].”
In true ranching tradition, the Tee Cross crew doesn’t use a chute or calf table to work the calves. Instead, the cowboys take turns roping the calves and bringing them to the ground crew who quickly and efficiently vaccinate and brand the calves and castrate the bulls. Within minutes the calves are back on their feet and ready to go back out to pasture. In a half-day, 300 calves are branded and everyone who has come can take a turn at one of the many jobs.
“We encourage anyone who has a desire to learn about ranching to come out and see what branding is about and give it a try,” says Bobby.
The crew consists not only of experienced cowboys who work for the ranch or a neighboring outfit, but also local military families, friends from all over the United States and representatives from Roundup for Autism, a non-profit organization Bobby started in 1988.
“We have people that come from all over,” says Bobby’s wife, J.J. “I put them in the branding corral and show them how to use an inoculation gun, and it’s something they will never forget. This is a lost art, and the more we share it with people and teach them about it, the cowboy way will still be alive.”
Both avid horsemen, Bob and Bobby can’t help but point out some of the horses raised on the ranch and boasting cutting and cow horse bloodlines. The ranch currently stands three proven, money-earning stallions: Charmin Jose by Smokin Jose and out of Miss Tee Charm by the ranch’s legendary stallion Tee Cross; Cowtowns Cat is by High Brow Cat and out of Cute Little Magic; and Gallo Poco Cross is by Mr Gallo Del Cielo and Jose Poco Cross. All Tee Cross horses are under the management of head trainer J.D. Wing.
Riding one of the ranch horses, Bobby and J.J.’s 11-year-old son, Rhett, is keeping the Norris’ cowboy ways alive. After several attempts and a little coaching from Bobby, he ropes his first calf and proudly takes it to the fire.
“This is what’s it’s all about,” says Bobby. “Seeing these kids out here learning and doing it.”