San Diego's last vaquero – his dad drove cattle from Pendleton to Cuyamaca

"We had the best o’ meat and the worst o’ everthing else"

Granville Martin. "I could tell time by the sun, and my belly told me when it was time to eat."
  • Granville Martin. "I could tell time by the sun, and my belly told me when it was time to eat."
  • Image by Robert Burroughs

My father was born in 1863, when the war was still goin’. My grandfather and grandmother were both in the Civil War, on the northern side. My grandmother was a nurse. She told me many times how she'd stand in those trenches, and she got good enough, her hand was just the right size, she'd take that ol’ powder horn and pour about eighty grains of powder into those ol' muskets, load 'em, have six or eight muskets there, and when they’d fire one she’d have another waiting.

My dad told me that when they left Ioway, they left with teams and started to go to Oregon. And when they got into Wyoming, the teams and wagons were so valuable my grandfather sold 'em. The railroad was already through, that was about '78 or '79, so they took what they called immigrant passage, loaded all their stuff on the train, and went that way to Oregon. But they didn’t like Oregon too well.

At the Stonewall Hotel, Cuyamaca, 1895: E.G. Martin (grandfather), Wilda Hackleman, Mrs. E.G. Martin (grandmother), Josephine Martin (mother), W.T. Martin (father)

At the Stonewall Hotel, Cuyamaca, 1895: E.G. Martin (grandfather), Wilda Hackleman, Mrs. E.G. Martin (grandmother), Josephine Martin (mother), W.T. Martin (father)

San Diego Historical Society

That big ol' lilac bush outside the house here? They brought it down from Oregon to San Diego in March, 1881. But they got it first in Ioway.

I was born December 30, 1895 in San Diego, at my grandmother’s house at Eleventh and I. I was named after my grandfather, Elihu Granville Martin. I was really never well as a kid. When I went to school in San Diego, my other cousins down there, we used to play with this bamboo cane, cut little strips of that, and those berries that grow on the pepper trees, you know? We used those for blow guns. And so one of my cousins, he said, “Let me whisper to you somethin'.” So he stuck that long tube in my ear, and instead of whisperin ', he shot that seed, that berry, in at my ear. From that time I had earache and ear trouble, and kept try in’ to tell mama and papa that he shot me in the ear with that thing. I had earaches for years. That seed was in there for I don't know, we were livin' in Viejas when I finally got to that damn doctor. I told him there was a pepper seed in there, he's lookin' for a little black pepper. But he looked in there and saw that thing and finally pulled it out.

Construction crew, San Diego flume, 1888. "The flume was how they piped the water out from Boulder Crick that run from Cuyamaca."

Construction crew, San Diego flume, 1888. "The flume was how they piped the water out from Boulder Crick that run from Cuyamaca."

San Diego Historical Society

I’ve wore glasses since nineteen-six. When I was a kid, why, I sure hated that, because all the kids: “Ol’ granny four eyes, ol’ granny four eyes!” And then they got lazy like everybody else and just called me Granny, and I’m called Granny today. Lotsa times I sign my name Granny.

In 1880 my dad and grandfather went to work for the Benson Lumber Company, which shipped those great big rafts of logs from Oregon down to here. And when they landed here my father was an apprentice carpenter, and my grandfather and him worked on the building of the Hotel del Coronado. Benson had a great big mill in San Diego. My grandfather told me that those log rafts used 150 tons of chains to tie them logs together. The mill was right about where the old wharf used to be, near where the ferry crossed.

Mr. and Mrs. George McCain, 1895. "At one time they didn’t know whether the McCains or the red ants was gonna take this country."

Mr. and Mrs. George McCain, 1895. "At one time they didn’t know whether the McCains or the red ants was gonna take this country."

San Diego Historical Society

In those days the fastest way to get around was on horseback, and my father liked that horse business. So he worked at the hotel awhile, and when things slowed down a little bit he bought him a horse and ended up taking a job as vaquero there on the Warner’s Ranch.

Yeah, I have pictures of him helping me with my cattle, he was pretty good, what they called a pretty good bronc rider in those days. He allus liked horses. Like all vaqueros then, he worked this end or that end of the range. Then he worked for Jim Kelley, who was one of the fellas that found gold in Julian in 1870. When the gold kinda played out, ol’ Jim Kelley took up quite a chunk o' country southwest of Julian, and had him quite a cattle outfit in there. My father broke horses and worked for him for I guess several years, around 1885.

Granny's boots. "I’m called Granny today. Lotsa times I sign my name Granny."

Granny's boots. "I’m called Granny today. Lotsa times I sign my name Granny."

Times were rough. They didn't pay much, twenty to twenty-five dollars a month. But he liked it because he didn't like to be bothered with bosses and that kind o’ stuff. Cow bosses was different. You had some freedom. They sent you to do anything, you just went and done it or you didn’t have a job.

My mother and father met in El Cajon and were married in '93, I think. When I was born, my mother was runnin’ the Stonewall Hotel up at Cuyamaca City, next to the ol ’ Stonewall mine. Cookin’ for the miners. The mines had closed, but there was an outfit called Strauss and Shin that reworked the tailings. They run the hotel there.

"It was just me and my wife Mollie, we handled more than a thousand head alone."

"It was just me and my wife Mollie, we handled more than a thousand head alone."

My father was a vaquero then, he and Alonzo Warren. And Mary Warren and Momma run the hotel. But Alonzo Warren was another crazy cowboy, as they call 'em nowadays, and my father and him was takin’ care of 1500 head of spayed heifers for the O’Neills up there at Santa Margarita [now Camp Pendleton]. They drove those cattle down here into Cuyamaca Valley, prob’ly a little over a hundred miles.

Papa worked different ranches and things, and he didn’t settle down till he started homesteadin’ in 1898 or '99 up at Boulder Crick, about twelve miles southwest of Julian. A hundred and sixty acres there, I still have the deed signed by ol’ Teddy Roosevelt. Homesteads really, the goviment made a bet with you that you couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t big enough [to farm or ranch). Times had gotten kinda hard, first I can remember of my father, he was at home try in’ to do somethin’ on the ranch but he couldn’t, so he went to work in the mines on Boulder Crick. Gold mines. For a fella named George Moyer. We were camped under some trees, two tents camped under those trees. That's really the first of anything I can remember. Nineteen-two. I was seven.

Granny and Mollie, now. " I’d tell Mollie where I was gonna camp, and she’d pack the ol’ mule and drag him around till I got to that camp."

Granny and Mollie, now. " I’d tell Mollie where I was gonna camp, and she’d pack the ol’ mule and drag him around till I got to that camp."

The only thing I remember much about the mines was, my mother took lunches up to the mines, in the Devil’s Punchbowl area, and one time my father took me down in that shaft, quite a deep shaft, on that ladder, and when we were down to the forty-foot level he told me to look up. Look up and see the stars. And it was daytime! So I looked up and you could look out that shaft and see the stars in the daytime just like you could at night!

In 1902 they sent me to live with the Kelley family one year, to go school, and the teacher and I were the only two white Injuns in school. The other kids was all Injuns. Fourteen Injuns and one ngger we called him, but he was a half-breed Indian and ngger. Anahuac, where the school was. But these parasites call it something different now. Right along Cedar Creek.

Archie Chillwell, George Cameron, Manuel Taylor, 1904. "The Chilwells had lived down in the Tijuana Valley, and the border was allus kinda fuzzy."

Archie Chillwell, George Cameron, Manuel Taylor, 1904. "The Chilwells had lived down in the Tijuana Valley, and the border was allus kinda fuzzy."

The teacher and I, Bernice McDevitt, walked to school. Just a young Irish gal, but she was quite a get-up. In September, when school started, they was gatherin’ the cows and calves in these grain fields, and those cattle in those days didn’t know what people were on foot, and we d have to roll under them fences to keep them cattle from goin’ for us. They’d chase you just the way they’d chase a dog. They woulda killed a person.

Went to that school one year, then we moved. Papa took a job at the diverting dam, on the upper end of the Capitan reservation there, where the El Capitan dam is now. There was a diverting dam in there and it had a flume line, and he took a job as flume walker. The flume was how they piped the water out from Boulder Crick that run from Cuyamaca and down into that reservation there where it joined the San Diego River. The flume was six feet wide and three feet deep, and they run that thing pert near full o' water around and through El Cajon, and dumped it into the canyon there below Murray dam. Musta been twenty-six, -seven, -eight miles long. That's a lotta lumber. All made of redwood.

Granny in his home. "Salvaged just enough for a down payment on this 110 acres I got along Japatul Road. In the Forties."

Granny in his home. "Salvaged just enough for a down payment on this 110 acres I got along Japatul Road. In the Forties."

The stringers that the flume set on were twelve feet wide, and they had braces to hold up the sides. Those stringers were four feet apart. My corral up here is made of those timbers. That was beautiful redwood; you wouldn’t find any knots and stuff in that, boy.

Lived right at the diverting dam, they had a nice house right there. They had two two-by-twelves running alongside that flume, ’cause they’re going across big canyons, through tunnels, and whatnot. The flume was flat-bottomed, and it was all lined with tarpaper and tarred too, to keep leaks from goin’, and it had settlin’ boxes along the way to catch everthing, trash that fell offa trees and everthing; and it had great big ol’ sumps in the thing, four or six feet deep, to catch what’d fall in there. My dad would ride a bicycle along them planks to do his repairin'. He didn't like to walk. No one that ever rode a horse likes to walk much.

Granny and his tools. "I heard on the idiot box the other day that it’s already fire season once again. Well that’s a bunch o' crap."

Granny and his tools. "I heard on the idiot box the other day that it’s already fire season once again. Well that’s a bunch o' crap."

We lived right there mostly among the Injuns. My father had a big ol’ white cow, and I used to go with him from the house to the corrals, where he’d milk that ol’ cow and bring the milk back. And I'd take my tin cup and go up there and he’d milk that for me and I’d just drink that milk. The reason it's so clear in my mind is that I guess that that ol’ cow was goin’ dry or somethin', so papa bought another cow from an old Indian squaw' that lived above us there. Her husband had been a white man, a Swede named Wilson. Then he died and the squaw had some stock, so papa bought this black cow from the Injun, and when we went up there one mornin’, man, I was so doggone surprised to see that that black cow give white milk!

"Did pretty good, up until that big fire in 1970. I had to go up and set backfires to save most of my own property."

"Did pretty good, up until that big fire in 1970. I had to go up and set backfires to save most of my own property."

Moved from there back to the ranch on Boulder Crick, then up to North Mountain [North Peak] in Cuyamaca, where my dad cut timber, and then in nineteen-three we went back down to San Diego. My dad sold the ranch to my uncle and bought two houses in San Diego. He’d decided the foolishness had to quit and he was goin’ into the carpenter business and raise a family. He’d sold his teams and stuff to a fella in Lakeside, and we moved down in a snowstorm, covered in a big ol’ four-horse wagon. The two houses were on Sixteenth between E and F, but there was no street there then. He went to carpenterin'. Eighteen ninety-nine to nineteen-four was drought — bad, dry years. That’s the reason he quit the flume, ’cause the flume water had dried up. Then in nineteen-six when the earthquake hit Frisco, everybody left San Diego to go rebuild up there. There wasn’t much goin ’ on in San Diego, so we moved to Lakeside and papa worked for John Gay, who owned the Lakeside Inn. We lived in a tent under a big ol ’ sycamore tree. I see that sycamore every time we go that road yet. Still waitin’ there. No tent under it, though.

It wasn’t long ’fore he went to work for Jim McCain, who had the stage line, to drive stage. From Lakeside to Descanso, and once in a while on to Cuyamaca. We moved to Alpine and took the stage line there in nineteen-eight. The fall of nineteen-eight.

He drove extry, drove stage extry [as a spare driver], but we had the station, you know, took care of the stock and the barns and the teams and the wagons. You see, they had a load when they'd come with the four-horse stage from the east, and when they got to Alpine, if they didn’t have too many passengers or too much load, then they'd take a lighter outfit and come on up to Lakeside. The horses and the corrals and stuff, and the harnesses and coaches, was really taken care of. Us kids used to wash them harnesses and wash them stages and chamois ’em down all the time; that stuff was taken care of better than you'd ever think of takin’ care of a Cadillac now.

We moved from there to Viejas [just east of Alpine], where Papa drove stage. Viejas had a barn and a house. The freighters, the big teams, six-, eight-, ten-, and twelve-horse teams, always stopped at the stations too. They was buildin’ Morena dam over here at the time. They towed two and three wagons together sometimes, just a driver and sometimes a swamper. It took teamsters those days, it took good men to handle ’em. I used to ride with those fellas a little bit.

Viejas is where I got most of my schoolin’. This is what I carried to school. A .4440 pistol. Trapped coyotes on the way to school to make a little money in the wintertime. Coyotes and wildcat, for the hides. Right near the reservation we’d catch a lot of them Injun dogs, and gee, they were fierce and starved and everthing, you know. In those days we called it hydrophobia, but I guess it was rabies like we got now. A lotta times I’d shoot ’em, but mostly I’d just whap 'em on the side of the head, and let ’em go. I carried this gun in my britches. The teacher knew I had it. I’d put my saddle there at the school, and slide my six-shooter under it. It was mostly for those goddang dogs.

I never was really a good six-shooter, a good shot. But my brother'd take that doggone gun and them birds would come out there in them trees and he’d knock 'em off like that. I killed a lotta quail and stuff like that, and I allus got a rabbit or two, and we ate ’em. And I killed a lotta rattlesnakes. I’ll tell you, many of ’em.

I carried my six-shooter down in my chaps while I was vaqueroin’. You gotta have protection, you don’t want to be alone. You allus buckled your cartridge belt in the back, so you could get to your cartridges if you had to. Nowadays these cowboys buckle ’em in front like these jokers they see on TV. I still carry a gun wherever I go, for protection.

In 1913 Jim McCain bought a Model T Ford, he called it the Rocky Ford, for a stage. We moved to Descanso cause there was work goin’ on there.

I’ve owned cattle since nineteen-nine. The first money I got, I put it in cows. Money from pickin' fruit and packin’, helpin’ people with different things. A cow didn’t cost anything. Fourteen dollars for a good cow. And of course the longer you hang on to ’em, the calves and everthing, it don’t take long to build a bunch o’ cattle. I’ll tell you.

I had about forty head in 1917. And then when I was in the army in World War I, Papa took a job runnin ’ the mail stage, and he sold those cattle and bought a Ford to haul the mail. When I got out in 1918 all I had was a fifty-dollar Liberty Bond, and I gave it to a fella for a good heifer, and I was back in the cow business.

How I started vaqueroin’? I allus laughed and kidded my boss about it. I think quite a lot of that ’ol boy; he was a good man. Archie Chilwell.

I was try in’ to farm over here at Descanso. At the end o’ the week one time, I went to help a friend o’ mine, ol' George Benton, and his son, Elmer Benton, they were old settlers. I went over to help 'em with some cattle or somethin’, and stayed all night. The next momin’, Sunday, we worked pretty late the night before, so I was still in bed at seven o’clock. Ol’ George Benton, he was a funny ol’ guy, he opened the door and said, “Hey! Get up! There’s a man here wants to arrest you!” I said, “Well that’s good, what have I done?” George says to Archie, “Well, here he is.”

Ol’ Archie come in and he said, “What are ya doin’?” I said, “Well, just about nothin', but I’m tryin’ to farm.” He said, “You like that, huh?” “Well, not so’s you could notice it, but I'm a-tryin’ to make a dollar.”

“Well,” he said, “we’re in a kind of a bad fix. This meat market is shot to pieces, and a lot of them fellas in the valley who were shippin’ to Chicago have went bust.” (Beef prices really fell after the war, you know.) He said, “Well, if you want to go to work I’ll put you down on the desert at the Vallecitos camp. Ol’ Amos is down there, the only fella we got. We already got a thousand head down in that country, gonna be puttin’ in about 1200, and Amos is gonna have to have help. The pay is seventy dollars a month, with the best o’ meat and the worst o’ everthing else.”

I said, “Sure I’m ready, but I think you’re the goddamndest boss I ever saw, come and hire a man outta bed.” He said, “Take my outfit and go get your gear.” He had an ol’ Buick touring car. I went and got my saddle, a coupla pairs o’ overalls, a jumper, a shirt, bridle, spurs, chaps, and that ol’ six-shooter, and a reata [lariat]. I throwed it in his ol' car, told my mother to tell my brother to go get my teams and turn 'em loose, the farmin’ was over. This is the fifth o’ March, 1921. And I was with the company till the Depression put ’em out of business.

The Campo Cattle Company, which Archie partly owned, had their cattle down at the winter range at Vallecitos, seven miles from the base of the Lagunas. They had all the land from there to the Mexican border. There was a couple other big outfits too — the Dukeys owned the San Felipe [the huge desert ranch to the north], and Sawday leased Warner’s Ranch. The McCain Brothers had lots o’ cattle. At one time they didn’t know whether the McCains or the red ants was gonna take this country. They owned from Boulevard and everthing east to Imperial Valley. And George McCain leased Cuyamaca. They didn’t know how much land they had, they just had it all from Vallecitos to the Mexican border. They had three to four thousand head o’ quality cattle, heifers mostly, scattered from Hell to breakfast.

I call myself a vaquero and not a cowboy. You see, there's very few people that really understand it. Texicans — everbody talks Texas, what a great thing Texas is. Well, they was vaqueros here that had those Texicans skinned so far . . . When the Americans took this country away from these Mexicans, man, they was Mexicans here that was artists with that stuff, the cattle and the horses and the reatas and the music and the women, that's all they lived for. Man, no matter where you go, there’s nobody that can compare with what the early Californians were. And of course they were here long before Texas, they were really accomplished men before they had that Mexican War and all that monkey business in 1846 to conquer that country. These fellas were peaceful men. Nowadays, cowboys are just clock punchers. You just belonged to the outfit you worked for in those days, you know. You just were there and that's all.

The Chilwells had lived down in the Tijuana Valley, and the border was allus kinda fuzzy, and all the kids, Archie and them, were born in Mexico and they didn't know it. They were Mexicans and they didn’t know it! The company was formed in about nineteen-seven. Before that the Chilwells and the Campbells and the Clarkes were the main cattle people, and they worked together. But in nineteen-six the New River broke into the Imperial Valley and went on into the Salton Sea, and it killed the cattle boss. Tommy Gray was his name, he drowned in the New River. You see, this country dried out here in '99 to nineteen-one, -two, -three, and -four. So they drove lots o’ cattle from here to Ehrenberg, across the Colorado River into Arizona. They'd had some rain and some good feed over there. And while they was out in the Imperial Valley, Tommy Gray got killed.

Archie was seventeen or eighteen then, and the cattle was a family operation. The Chilwells, Clarkes, and Campbells were all partners in the sheep business first, and then they went into the cattle business when the sheep got so bunglesome. When Gray died they was worried about gettin’ a manager to manage the outfit for ’em, and Archie was a good man, so ol’ George McCain, who managed the country over here to the east — they were all together in some kind of meeting or something — he said, “Well I don't know why you're lookin’ for a man to ramrod this thing, that boy Archie right there knows more about cattle, and more about how to handle 'em, than any man you could locate in this whole country."

But Archie hadn’t had much schoolin’, so they decided they'd send him down to Kelsey-Jennings Business School in San Diego for a coupla years, and he got a pretty good business education, and he come back and run the outfit. They were an upset outfit for a while there, until he came back and got in partnership with Ralph Benton.

Anyways, that first year I went down to the winter range in March and lived in that little of sod shack about a quarter mile south of the Vallecitos stage station [on what is now county road S-2]. But we allus tried to start movin’ ’em up on April tenth, so we weren’t down there long. You see, in the wintertime we drove all those cattle down to the desert, to be away from the snows, and in the summer we had 'em up in the Lagunas and all over down toward Campo, the company headquarters. You know, the old-timers that have been all over the world, like Robert Benton — Ralph's dad — who was a horse buyer for the goviment durin' the Civil War, he told me this strip o’ country, from about fifty miles down in lower California to San Bernardino, was the best piece of cow country that he ever knew. ’Course now they move these cattle around in big trucks, from everwhere, and mix ’em all up, so now, when I go to help these fellas around here with their cattle, gosh, I wonder what the heck we'da done if we had to drag around that much junk. They got three or four vaccine guns, and all kinds of different stuff to fool with.

So we just camped there at that sod house at Vallecitos, but sometimes we'd take a pack mule and go off into that country. That first year it was just me and Amos, but then he left to work in the mines for better pay — four dollars a day — and then it was just me and my wife Mollie, we handled more than a thousand head alone. When we brought them big cows down offa them green alfalfa fields and into that brush country, their mouths was tender and they wanted to go back and eat that easy stuff. So it was quite a chore. We’d take that pack outfit and go way out there and cut tracks [track the cattle], ’cause there was no fences. You’d just go. And o’ course it’s not too hard to tell a steer track from a cow track; the shape of the foot, a steer is a little blunter on the toe, and they stepped heavier.

You see, part of bein’ a vaquero is, you’ll find ten or twelve, or six or seven, or three or four cattle lived together. Stayed in groups kinda like people do. And as soon as you see one of them cows, you start lookin’ for the others, that’s how you learn. You had to know ’em. Archie was ... I never saw' a man, that son of a gun, he’d be ridin ’ along and see a little bit of a calf lay in’ there fresh bom, he’d look at it, and by gosh if he didn't see that calf again till it was ten years old, why, he'd know that cow and know where he saw it the first time. Oh man, he had a head on him. Archie was a wonderful man, I sure thought lots of him. But he didn't have much control over his women, he had lots of women trouble.

His first wife and them were all raised together over there and they knew each other too dang well. He had a daughter, and they tried to do ever-thing in the world for her, and that didn't do too good. And then his sisters didn’t like his wife, because she was an Elliot, and the Elliots came to this country while it was still Mexican country, they moved here in 1845 and tried to live in this country among these Injuns and everthing. And it ended up so now all the Elliots are Indians. But she wasn't Indian, she was among the earlier bunch, but they were fighters, they were go-getters.

In September of 1912 I went to Imperial Valley with some cattle, went to the stables out there and put my horse up. I come back and a fella says, “Looky there." (There was a little of house by the stable.) He says, "See that bullet hole? That's where ol' Walter Elliot’s wife told him, ‘Don't you come through that door, by God, Walter, you've just beat me enough. I'm not gonna take it. Don’t come through that door, or I'm a-gonna kill you.’ But he wasn’t afraid o' nuthin', he opened that screen door like that and paw! Right between the eyes, and he hit the sidewalk. ’’ Walter Elliot was Archie's wife’s brother. Dang right she killed him. He needed it, too.

Yeah, I worked cattle in 1912, 1913. After we moved from Viejas to Descanso in 1913, my brother and I used to fool around with all these ranchers. Whoever was workin’ cattle, we tried to be there, to get to wrassle them cattle. You dam right it was fun. And to be with those fellas that was so darn good! That Archie was one of the best men I ever saw with a reata. I’ll tell you, he sure knew how to make it talk. An animal would try to break out and get away, and if Archie happened to start after him, somebody would yell what they wanted him to do, somebody 'd holler los manos!, which means rope him by the front legs. And he'd just make a big ol’ loop, and he'd shoot it out there and that loop would just reach right around and grab that animal by the front feet. He’d just jerk it tight and take a turn on his saddle horn and that animal would just stand way in the air like that, and Archie'd pull his turns off and the animal's feet would just go everwhere, and by that time he’d be out there with his reata coiled up, and when the animal got on his feet Archie’d just give him a good whippin' and head him back, and he didn’t leave very quick the next time.

We used leather reatas ’cause they didn't cost nothin’. Just pull the hide off an animal, and cure it, cut it, stretch it, shape the strands, braid it. Leather reatas were lots better ’cause they got life and they’ll do somethin’. These grass ropes, and nylon, that stuff, there’s just nothin' to ’em. The shape seems to be the same, but when it hits somethin’ it just falls dead, it don’t want to kink. If you try to catch somethin', like these cowboys these days and the rodeos and stuff, that's all just ... I don’t see nothin' to ’em. 'Cause it's all rules now, and I don't like rules. I don't like goviment stuff, I don’t like that kind o' junk, where everthing, it’s like bein’ in the army. I don't like it where everbody’s gotta step where they tell you and ever-body's gotta step as far as they tell you and as often as they tell you and you gotta stop when they tell you and you gotta turn when they tell you. What the heck 's to that? You don't need no head, you just gotta be broke to drive, that's all.

One time we took a bunch o’ cattle in 1915 when the [Panama-California] Exposition was on at Balboa Park, took a bunch o’ cattle to San Diego for 'em to have for the big show down there. And they had some of the world’s champion rodeo fellas, and some of 'em come up to help drive the cattle down. When we got down below Santee, by the old adobe dam there, somethin' scared those cattle, some dogs, and they broke back. We had a lotta touchy big ol’ steers, we wanted to show 'em a good deal. Those cattle broke back there, and not a one of them contest men ever caught an animal!

Mollie and I got married in 1922. It was sixty-two years in March. We were married on the twenty-fifth of March, and by the time we got down to Vallecitos it was almost the first of April, so we just had a few days before we had to gather ’em and come on back up. The first few summers we lived at that ol’ house in Laguna Valley. Old, old house the company owned, built in 1871. Alternated between that place and the one down at Vallecitos, and sometimes we'd go on to La Posta, and sometimes down to Campo when we were shippin’ ’em to the Cudahy packing plant at False Bay in San Diego, and later we lived on Kitchen Crick. Durin’ the winter and summer we was at home a lot except when the weather would change and we'd think we had to get out and see [where the cattle were]. When that wind’s a-blowin’ like a son of a gun on the desert, the cattle would work their way back against the hills. But when it isn’t a-blowin’, why those cattle would try to work out towards Imperial Valley. I'd take out and go cut tracks a long ways out and try to see everthing I could see, and I’d tell Mollie where I was gonna camp, and she’d pack the ol’ mule and drag him around till I got to that camp, and she’d have it all set up. The camps were at different springs where you knew the water was good and there was a little bit o’ feed for your horse. We'd sleep there under just a few blankets and quilts. It was really some beautiful country, and Mollie liked it. One time my Aunt Mae came out to the sod house at Vallecitos and said, “My, what a godforsaken, forlorn place this is.” But Mollie liked it as much as anywhere.

What'd we eat? The company supplied most o’ the grub. They bought bacon in the sides. We'd have two or three sides o’ bacon all the time. Bacon used to keep in those days, but this fast-cured stuff don't keep now like that of smoked bacon. You could keep it forever, till you eat it. That floor today is prob'ly still greezy below where we hung that bacon. And there was lots o’ canned stuff, like tomatoes and corn, that’s about all the canned vegetables we had. And then o’ course we had coffee, green coffee.

The company allus bought its green coffee in Mexico in one-hundred-pound sacks, and we’d roast it ourselves, you know. I wanted to get some the other day to show the grand-kids how it was done, but I couldn't get any. The company'd have a hundred pounds there at the headquarters and they’d give you a twenty-pound sack of it. But the Chinamen down there handled the coffee mostly, at Tecate, in those Chinamen’s stores. And you’d buy a hundred-pound sack of it, come and open it, and the first time I knew of it Archie come in there and said, “Well we got coffee; let me show you somethin’.” And he just ripped that string out of the top, opened that thing, and dipped quite a lot of coffee out into a big ol ’ pan, and when he got probbly ten, fifteen pounds of it out, then he just reached down in there and come out with a whole bunch o’ panoche, that of Mexican brown sugar cooked hard as flint. Those Chinamen would put ten or twelve pounds of that Mexican sugar down there, because coffee was thirty-five cents a pound, and the sugar was only about five or six cents a pound. So they get that much coffee free for themselves. Oh, them Chinamen, you don’t outdeal a Chinaman!

Beef? All the time. Like Archie said, we had the best o’ meat and the worst o’ everthing else. You see, we'd butcher and use it fresh as long as we could, but we’d cut up a lot of it and make jerky. We allus had that jerky, no matter where we were. The nicest jerky, you take a great big of round steak and you just cut it in a string, three-fourths or five-eighths inch, into a great big ol ’ long string, and you take it up and hang it on the rafters. They talk about sun drying, but the sun will take a lot of the good out of it. Hang it up in the roof there, where it’s hot and dry — I had lines up in the little ol’ shack down in the desert. Yeah, we’d cut it and put it in a tub, salt and pepper it by layers, because it forms its own juice. Then at night, after the flies had gone to bed, we'd hang it up, and by mornin’ it’d be seared over and dried up, and the flies wouldn’t bother it because they didn’t like that pepper. Down there, in those good warm, dry days, it’d cure in a week, but it’d only be three or four days till we’d be usin’ it. Everbody packed a little jerky. Evertime you’d leave the house you’d take three or four little chunks o’jerky, stick ’em in your jumper pocket or your chaps pocket. Made many a meal outta just jerky and acorns.

Horses? We raised our own horses, broke our own, too. Probbly went through thirty horse while I was with the company, I can see ’em all. Had one that Ralph Benton wanted for a special horse. They were a Shilo breed, a really good horse, but kinda buckin’ horses. Anyway, one o' those rodeo champions that came here, Ralph Benton got him to break that horse. I ’ve taken those wild horses and bitted them for four, five, ten days if I had to. Whatever animal you’re workin’ with, you gotta know what he’s thinkin’ about or you’re outta luck. You gotta outthink that animal, or think with him all the time. There’s no sense in lettin’ these horses learn how to buck, that’s why I preferred to bit ’em. ’Cause if you’re workin’ and get into a bad, tight fix, and that horse goes to buckin’, it gets kinda bungle-some, I’ll tell you. Anyway, Benton had that fella ride him, and he bucked that professional off every time.

I asked Archie, “What'll Ralph do if I ride that horse?” And he said he’d buck me off. They called him Frosty, and he was, too. Ol’ Bill Flynn said, “You ride him and I’ll whip him, and we’ll conquer him.” So I got on him and, boy, right now he started to buck, and ol' Bill Flynn pulled out that reata, and gosh he had me scared, he was a-whippin’ that ol' horse and I thought sure he was gonna hit me, but he just whipped that ol’ horse right from behind till he quit that buckin’ and wanted to run. And as soon as he started to run he quit that buckin’. So I took him down into the desert and rode him quite a lot. And when we come outta the desert Mollie was ridin' him and Ralph Benton liked to fainted! He didn’t have nerve enough to ride him, and here Mollie was ridin’ that horse and he couldn’t see how. He was a wonderful ol’ horse, you could gallop him and it was just like ridin' in a buggy, just as easy and smooth.

We named horses anything we wanted. Sometimes we’d name ’em for the fella we got ’em from. Like one good ol’ horse I called Charlie. And another was bald-faced and I called him Baldy, and another horse, a good son of a gun, I called him Will Do. Another we called Chilli, and Frosty, and Stranger, and any ol’ name. And everbody knew ’em.

Along about the tenth of April we’d try to get some of the cattle up into Laguna. We’d gather ’em overnight in a big pasture we had down there, seven, eight hundred head. And o’ course we had to guard 'em all night too, each man takin’ turns. We had lots o’ help because there was allus other people who had mixed in their cows to drive ’em up, allus lots o’ people, twelve or fourteen of us. The McCain fellas was allus helpin' too. And some people come just for the fun of it.

A lot of those ol’ native cows, as ' soon as they saw a bunch o’ men comin’, they’d start up, they knew it was time, and they’d go when you didn’t want 'em to. Later we put in some drift fence to hold ’em. We’d start at daybreak and head up what the fire stampers now call Storm Canyon, which dives down just below the Shrine camp on Laguna. But we called it the Shaw Trail. Took us all day and sometimes it was dark by the time we made it to the Laguna Valley. We had it all divided up there: kept the steers in a certain country, and the cows that needed tender feed to make more milk, had them in different places. Laguna’s got some beautiful meadows in it.

We used to keep it burnt, you know. Well, burnin’ was get-tin’ pretty outlawed when I went with the company, but before about 1912, in the fall o’ the year when they’d move them cattle off there, they'd just set all that ol’ grass and stuff afire that was left there. And it’d go and bum among the pine trees and timber and bum that ol’ trash, and the next year there'd be lots o' grass. Now with that ol’ layer of pine needles and stuff, and the brush got goin’ ’cause they stopped the burnin', now when they get a fire it just takes the trees and all. Those days it didn’t, but you didn’t have a lot of young trees; now they've got growths of young trees thick enough that you can hardly get through. I don't know.

I heard on the idiot box the other day that it’s already fire season once again. Well that’s a bunch o' crap, that’s all. What the heck, they’re not burnin’ that dry grass, but they won’t let nobody use it, what the heck’s the difference, why not burn it? If they’d burn it systematically, why they wouldn't have that fire problem. But that wouldn't keep that bureau and that bunch o’ parasites on the taxpayers all the time.

I get so dang mad. I allus thought ol' Teddy Roosevelt was one of our greatest presidents. But I’ve always been really puzzled at what kind of grudge he had agin’ ol’ Grover Cleveland, to name this goddam brush patch here as a forest after him. I think he said farce and they misunderstood him, they thought he said forest.

The forest service, those fellas have boogabooed everbody on earth about fire, and how dangerous fire is. Sure, fire is dangerous, but who'd be alive today if it hadn’t been for fire? The forest service come here in 1911, to make believe that they were somethin’. And look at the parasites, look at the grief that they've caused. They’ve made this place a fire trap. I can take you anyplace, I don’t give a darn where it is, I can take you where you can’t go, and show you where those Indian people lived. They had sense enough, and they didn’t know there was even an alphabet, and they still kept this country burnt clean and safe so that they could go anyplace, live, stop wherever there was a place they could live that day, or go on to another place, and it was safe everwhere. The forest service has encouraged that brush to grow and crowd out the grass. They was a great stand of grass they called California brome that grew here. And the forest service claimed that sheep men killed that grass out. Well the sheep men didn’t kill it out, the forest service shaded the ground till they killed it out with that brush. And it takes lotsa good water to raise that doggone brush. And that brush is just like me, it’s old, and I ain't worth a damn anymore 'cause I've done it all, it's over with. But that young brush is really valuable, and there ain't enough room and water for it.

Anyways, we spread them cattle over from Laguna to the Mexican border. And the ones in Laguna, where most of the herd was, was my responsibility. I was in the saddle seven days a week and never thought much about it; I was as satisfied as if I'd had good sense. See, I’d a whole lot rather visit with that bunch o' cows and calves than I would a lotta people. They was one year, I think in 1923, I kept track of it that year, and I think it was three days when it was so mean and windy that I didn't saddle up and go someplace.

I never collected my pay, I never bothered with it. Didn't need it. No place to spend it. I didn't collect anything till the company went broke, and then I come darn near close to losin' it all in the Depression. Salvaged just enough for a down payment on this 110 acres I got along Japatul Road. In the Forties, when I was doin’ pretty good in the cattle business myself, I added those other two pieces up above to make it about 480 acres. But when I was vaqueroin' they'd just give us a check whenever we needed to buy somethin'. We’d usually send away and get stuff through the mail. Didn't do much with the stores. I never had a four-bit piece in my pocket for years at a time. Not even a watch. I could tell time by the sun, and my belly told me when it was time to eat.

We made the main shipment to San Diego in the fall. The company leased that big ol' pasture, owned by Ed Aiken, beside the rail line here at Campo. Had a bunch o' cattle up there one time in the corral above the load in' chute, and about two o’clock in the mornin ’ this goddam freight train went through here, and he didn't have time to stop, so he just pulled that whistle a coupla three times and the next mornin’ we didn’t have no corrals and no cows! That big ol’ rocky mountain there, they were back in there.

To the north here was the Campo headquarters, they call this Cameron Corners now; the building and the corrals was out by those boulders over there, and next to that land they owned another 640 acres called the Morris Place. Right over there on that knoll is the ol’ Campo cemetery. Willie McCain is one of the boys that’s buried there that was killed when they had that fight with them Indians out at Jacumba. See, here’s his grave. Killed by Indians at Jacumba, February 27, 1880. Seventeen years old. These clumps o’ grass here are sacara mareara grass. We worked the cattle over in here when the lower pastures to the west got mushy. I crippled a good horse right there, running him over one of the old picket fences, and stuck a square nail in his leg. Crippled him forever.

Sometimes we’d be in here for two weeks in the fall, waitin’ to ship ’em out, ’cause that goddam boss we had was out party in’ and actin’ bigshot. Ralph Benton.

Archie allus told me, “Whenever you need meat, that’s all we got in this thing. The mortgage is gonna take ’em anyhow, the way this thing’s a-goin’.’’

'Cause he could tell the way Ralph was a-livin’ at these different hotels and one thing or another. That wasn't good. And Ralph said, “Archie, you know, we oughta take up golf and do this and that.’’ And Archie said, “By God, we oughta take up them ol' horses’ feet and shoe 'em and get out here and see to these cattle, that’s what we oughta do.” Ralph, he liked the name of bein’ big in the cattle business, but he wasn’t a vaquero. He was a miserable-lookin’ guy on a horse, and not too good on those things.

Archie finally got mad at him and quit and went to Arizona, and that’s why I used to go to Arizona. He quit in 1924 and went over there and worked for that Henry Boyce outfit that had that Apache reservation above Globe [in eastern Arizona]. I used to go out during vacations, for six weeks sometimes. That was quite interesting to go over there ’cause that’s a greezy-sack outfit, you just lived with a pack outfit everwhere. There’s a country they call Black River, off that big of Nentac Mountain, cattle was worked down in there. And those fellas didn’t like Californians, but if you could produce the goods. ... I used to be pretty good then, and Archie was foreman over there. He got their goat, too. He had something like 125 horse and pack mules, and eighteen to thirty men in that outfit.

They didn't like the California style. Ol' dally-wally men, they used to call us. Because those fellas used a short rope and tied it solid to the horn and let the horse do all the work, and they was rough on their cattle. We used a longer reata, sixty, seventy, eighty feet sometimes. In that country, each man would have five or eight horses ’cause they rode the heck out of ’em. You’d leave breakfast there just as soon as you could see in the mornin’, and you go make a big circle out there, you’d gather a chunk o' country that was as big as from here [JapatuI Road] to Alpine and around that way. Send a bunch o’ men out for ten miles, and you just kept movin’ in, and lots of 'em would get away, and lots of wild horses would bother you. You didn't dare do anything about the wild horses unless you knew you was pretty well alone and the Injuns didn’t see you, because they barred Boyce's brother off of the reservation for killin' a bunch o' them wild horses. The Injuns claimed ’em, but they weren't worth a plug nickel — just no-count, they destroyed the waters and stuff.

You changed horses in the middle of the day, too. You worked ’em, and you had to catch somethin'. Sometimes you’d jump a bunch o' cattle and they'd go every way and everbody would just take to 'em and catch whatever they could and tie 'em down with a little piggin' string you carried on you. Tied their feet. Then you go around and try to bunch ’em together. Boy, it was work. But it was lotsa fun. I went out there and helped for several years, but Archie never came back. He died of pneumonia in '48. I sure liked that ol ’ boy.

The company went bust in '29, and I helped 'em get rid of all their stock. They sold all their land. I went to work for Bert Moore on the Cuyamaca grant, and then later started runnin' my own cattle. Did pretty good, up until that big fire in 1970. I had to go up and set backfires to save most of my own property, but that fire wiped out all the feed on my leased land, so I sold all my stock. Now I’m sellin' these 360 acres to the grandkids. I can’t take it with me. Where'm I goin'? I'm goin ’ down to help that ol' Satan shovel coal on these goddam politicians, if I have my way!

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader

Comments

Log in to comment

Skip Ad