by Curtis Fort
Park Springs Ranch
I got word from my friend Myles Culbertson at the Park Springs Ranch, south of Las Vegas, New Mexico, to bring my saddle because they needed to gather and work a bunch of heifer yearlings they had wintered for someone. When I pulled in, Myles had told me to go on to the headquarters at Park Springs. His folks, W.O. and Marie, lived there. The house reminded me of the Bell Ranch headquarters house, with thick adobe walls, and room after room, with the little Spanish-style fire places. There is a spring on the south side of the house where some huge and very old cottonwood trees still stand. About a month ago I went with Jarrod Johnson to the headquarters, as my friend Dale Lasater has leased the ranch, and we picked up five nice Beefmaster bulls that Jarrod had purchased. Dale’s Father, Tom, developed the Beefmaster breed and had their first bull sale at the Colorado ranch in 1949. When Jarrod and I were there the springs were still flowing, even through this present drought we’re all so aware of. This spring is on the old stage and mail route that ran from Las Vegas, New Mexico, to Fort Bascom on the Bell Ranch. One of the many stops was Gallinas Springs, the name of the springs at that time. Long before that the Spaniards called it Ojo de La Gallina. The Park Springs Ranch comes from two Spanish land grants, the Antonio Ortiz, and the Don Juan Estevan Pino Grant. The Gallinas River, which starts in the mountains above Las Vegas, flows through town and then south through the Park Springs Ranch, missing the headquarters by a mile to the east. The Gallinas name more than likely refers to the mountain grouse where the river starts.
That evening after supper, Kiko Padilla wrangled the remuda into the big corrals. Then Myles roped out the mounts for the next morning’s works, and we retired to the bunkhouse. Kiko had come to the outfit as a young man and sure enough made a good cowpuncher and he was fun to work with. The Culbertsons raised their own horses and they were well bred. Cary Culbertson started all those colts each year. The horses I rode for the works were all good, and one of my favorites was a well-made coal black horse named Ebony. He had lots of cow in him and when one of those yearlings ran off, he could sure get you there pronto! Once, when spending the night at Chupainas Camp, where Myles, Georgia and their two girls Meredith and Avery lived, they showed me a picture of Cary when Ebony was a three-year old. He’d thrown Cary head first into a big cholla cactus, and Cary looked like a porcupine. Working the next few days, we’d hit a high trot at daylight and gather the lower and upper River Pastures, and one called the Pamilla, which refers to all the yucca blooms. We gathered a set of yearlings out of each pasture and looked them over, sorting off any cripples or anything not doing well. We also weighed several each day just to check their gain since coming in the fall, and we gave them all a good spraying with the old red John Bean sprayer, as some of them had some of those lice that really pull them down in the winter.
North of headquarters a few miles is old Fort Hatch on the Gallinas River. Mr. Hatch started a ranch there in the 1850s. He must have been pretty tough because the Indians were always on the war trail! In fact, around 1859, the Army at Fort Union leased his place and established a fort there. Hatch sold them beef and grain that he raised along the Gallinas River. The rock walls of the fort were still standing and we used them for corrals when working that range. There were still the gun ports in the walls . . . I wish those old walls could talk!
About the fourth day, we had just finished working a herd at the Chaparito Pens, and we hit a trot towards the house. As we came through the horse pasture we gathered the remuda to the corrals. Mrs. Culbertson and Myles’ wife Georgia, had a big lunch for us that sure hit the spot. We rolled our beds and loaded them on a flat bed truck, along with grain for the horses, our war bags, some groceries and everything needed by a cow crew. W.O. Culbertson was a good cowboy and fun to be around. He worked with us each day on horseback, but when we were loading our beds and all to go to the camp, he told Myles to rope out Seneca for him and he’d come up early in the morning. Cary and Joe Gomez caught fresh horses and pulled out with all the horses for Aguilar Camp, which was about fourteen miles north, with lots of brush and rough country. The rest of us loaded our saddles and all on the truck, and we headed north. About half-way there the road climbs several hundred feet to a big valley with Aguilar Creek coming through the middle and lots of side canyons. The whole valley is surrounded by a high rim. There was a neat rock camp that even had running water in the kitchen and a big Home Comfort wood stove for cooking. There was a large, old oak dining table, where many cowboys had eaten, as told by the spur marks on the chairs. There were two or three big bedrooms, where we were happy to roll our beds, as it was March and still cool weather in that higher country. We all fell to work, sweeping out the camp and saddle house and unloading the groceries and grain. About the time we were starting to build a fire in the wood stove for supper, Cary and Joe showed up with the horses. Myles and Joe roped out the mounts for tomorrow’s circle, we poured out some grain and hay for them and turned the rest into the horse trap. The coffee was bubbling, and the wood stove felt good as we fixed supper. That’s good living . . . good horses, rough country with a good camp, and no TV.
Besides the horse trap there were two big brushy pastures in that country called La Liendre and the Mujeres. Each morning we’d leave the camp at a trot with the horse shoes making those rocks ring. Joe Gomez or Myles would scatter the drive and we’d gather about half of one of those pastures and throw them to camp and spray them. One evening when we were unsaddling our second tired horse for the day, after back prowling and hemping a runaway or two, up drove a car. I don’t know how he made it up that rim, but no oil was leaking and the car wasn’t overheated. A cowboy stepped out and walked over to the corrals. Myles recognized him and called him by name. He was from Canada, about 25 years old and had worked for Culbertsons a year or two before. They had told him at headquarters we were camped at the Aguilar and he was just drifting through the country. They invited him to get his bed out and spend the night. We didn’t have a cook there so we all helped cook and do dishes. A little before noon each day we’d take turns making some coffee, peeling some spuds, cutting some beef up to fry and making that stuff that coats your stomach and keeps you going, GRAVY! We all pitched in, had a good supper, did the dishes, had another cup of coffee and a Bull Durham, then headed for bed.
Canada had rolled out his bed in the big room with Myles and I, and there was plenty of room. The sun had dropped behind the big rim to the west while we had supper, and the night was plenty dark, with no moon. We had an old kerosene lamp and when Canada got in bed he leaned over and blew out the light, then laid back. With a deep, forlorn sigh, he said, “Guess we might as well lay down and let this dark spell pass!” After a few more days of good cow works and getting to rope a few that thought they were too good for a spraying, we loaded the truck and some of the crew took it back to Park Springs. I elected to go with Myles and Kiko to help drift the horses back to Park Springs so I could enjoy that rim rock country, and the last day. It is always kind of sad when a good works on a ranch like Park Springs is over!