Women of the West

Linda Davis: First Woman of the West

Linda Davis leaning in barn doorway

A lifelong rancher, Linda manages the famous CS Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. At age 76, she not only runs her family’s ranch but also works as an emergency medical technician.

Photo by Ross Hecox

MY DAD WAS THE GREATEST INFLUENCE on my life. My mother died when I was 4 years old, and my dad raised his three children on his Tequesquite Ranch in a pretty isolated part of northeastern New Mexico. We spent a great deal of time with him growing up.

I FEEL THE MAJOR TURNING POINT of my life was the death of my mother. I was the oldest of the three children, and I had to assume a lot of responsibility on the ranch at an early age. Had my mother lived, I probably would have had more of what people consider a normal childhood. She died three days after giving birth to my youngest brother. I remember when he eventually came home from the hospital, my grandmother said to me, “Now you’ve got a baby brother that you’ve got to take care of.”

BEFORE AND DURING WORLD WAR II, my dad also managed the Bell Ranch. He took me with him there a lot because my grandmother often had her hands full at the Tequesquite. The first year, I went out with the wagon and brought my favorite book, Peter Rabbit. When we rode in in the evening, the cowboys would sit and read it with me, but pretty soon they got tired of it, so they started reading to me from their copies of Ranch Romances. That’s how I learned to read. I liked the stories in Ranch Romances because they had good pictures, and the good cowboys always won.

GROWING UP ON A RANCH in the Dust Bowl era, we saw first-hand what was happening to the land. We learned that we had to take care of it or we wouldn’t have a ranch or a livelihood.

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED IN RURAL HEALTH, having grown up on an isolated ranch, and have tried over the years to improve conditions. One time, one of my dad’s top hands, Eusebio Montano, cut his hand while he was out with the cattle. He came to the house with a handkerchief wrapped around his hand and asked me to sew him up. So, I got my grandmother’s needle and thread and did it. His hand functioned just fine after it healed. I think I was 7 or 8 years old at the time.

WHEN I FlRST LOOK AT A NEW HORSE, I look at his eyes. I look to see if he’s alert, and if he looks at me. Then I see what the rest of him is like. I want a horse that moves well and has good legs and feet. I like horses with dark feet. On the Tequesquite, we ran our mares in the rocks so they had hard feet. Their colts did, too, so we hardly ever had to shoe our saddle horses.

ONE OF MY FIRST HORSES was a wonderful little chestnut that had a blaze face. I called him Blaze, not only because of his marking, but because of C.W. Anderson’s story about a horse by the same name. He was out of a pony mare.

ONE DAY, A HORSE BUYER for the military came to the ranch. I jingled the horses on Blaze and happened to overhear the buyer tell my dad that my horse would be just the right size for a Philippine general he was trying to find a mount for. When they weren’t looking, I eased out of the corral and rode up the river and stayed until I saw the military man leave. When I got back, my dad asked what happened to me, and I told him I knew the man wanted my horse, so I left to keep him from getting him.

WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL, I rode a leggy sorrel horse that we called Doughboy. I was really fond of him. He was one of the most athletic and intelligent horses I’ve ever ridden. I could cut cattle on him using only my knees.

WHEN THE BELL RANCH SOLD in 1947, a man who bought one of the divisions saw me on doughboy and wanted him. I’d seen the man ride, and even though I was only 17, I told him directly that couldn’t ride the horse. He said, “Girly, if you can ride him, I can ride him.” Well, he bought him, the first time he worked cows on him, Doughboy turned out from under him, and he fell off and his shoulder. I knew he couldn’t ride him.

In 2013 the CS Cattle Company won AQHA’s Best Remuda Award, honoring a ranch with outstanding ranch horses. Learn more about the Linda Davis, her family ties and their strong ranching history in this video showcasing the CS Cattle Company. 

This article was originally published in the March 2007 issue of Western Horseman

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