Ben’s Trail

Foreword:

“I’m over 81 now and have spent most of them years ahorseback on central Arizona ranges – — – since about 1949. So I reckon I’ll be pesterin’ you all for awhile now with the little I can remember about some interesting and exciting times . . .I left The DK Ranch when they closed the books on that historic 1800’s ranch that covered about 190 sections including the Sycamore Canyon that Zane Grey wrote about in his book, “Thirty Thousand On The Hoof. ” Now that I am getting so ancient I have turned to only writing about my true adventures there.

The DK brand finally became registered along about 1897. It was derived from the names of the two men who were involved in starting up the ranch. Drew and Kelsey.. The real interesting part of this story is that the brand was DK (their initials) including a Slash down from the tail of the K …… The slash represented the wild and crooked narrow trail that took the cattle from the winter country up to the Flagstaff mountainous area for summer grass. It always was a rough dangerous trip going from elevations of 2500 feet up to almost 7,000 feet. Driving about a thousand head of wild steers to their summer grazing grounds. Even more cattle in the early 1900s because then the ranch ran over twenty thousand head. So when branding the new steers in the spring, with the DK slash – – – -sometimes ornery cowhands would let the hot branding iron slide idly down the steers hip ….. finishing the slash a little too long and with a crooked line to look like this trail called the Mooney Trail.

I’ve known many old timers and like to write about my days riding with them. Like Ben, Charlie Dye, Joe Beeler, Joe Robinson, Cleve Cox. . . .I could go on . . Altho I’m writing a memoir about my 60+ yrs cowboyin’ around Arizona, I am obliged to give some of these old punchers some credit too!”

THE LAST DK COWBOY (George Fischer)

Can’t say exactly when I met old Ben. He’d been around Arizona for a long time before I came to the range he finally called home. To say he was different would be an understatement. He belonged to a time long ago. A survivor of the 1800s you might say, old Ben was now as time worn and rickety as his cabin, his clothes, his gear, and his livestock. Still, he carried on, impervious to the now changing fifties. Rumors whirled around him, like the dust devils that frequently made small tornados in this high chaparral.  Stories painted him as an outlaw trying to elude his past. It was said that he was once a horse thief, trailing stolen Arizona horses down to Mexico to sell, then stealing Arizona cowboyhorses across the border to bring back up into Arizona, working always alone except for his mean mongrel of a dog, and a horse or two. This outlaw rep was only enhanced by the ancient .44 caliber pistol he always wore on his hip, tied down, gunfighter style. This was not all that uncommon around 1950 on Arizona rangelands. It was also said that someone might be pursuing Ben. An old score to be settled, or a wrong to be righted, with that .44 in play! The biggest tale about him was that he must have some cash, and gold hid out somewhere near his little cabin at the pass since he never was known to spend much money. Always living like the hermit he was, without any hint of modern conveniences.

After I became a cowhand friend of his, I dismissed all the rumors. Time passed as we frequently met out on the range and rode together. I helped him often with his cattle and fences so he came to like and trust me. One day our friendship must have prompted him to show me something else he always carried. Like his holstered pistol, Ben was never without this good luck charm, as he called it. To my surprise, out of his bib-overall pocket he produced a shiny twenty dollar gold coin!

I quickly dismissed my thoughts of any of those past rumors … Still …His cattle, a mere 60 head, had a permit to run with the hundreds of ours on the Windmill Ranch winter range. I say, “ours” because cowboys really ride and work for a ranch like it was their own. “Ridin’ for the Brand” we called it. A boss was only a tolerated foreman in charge of making plans while we all worked together. Disagreements of the fightin’ sort were always handled at a    ”Kangaroo Court”. Any outcome was settled with a vote, and if a punishment was necessary it was “Chapping”. The offending culprit was obliged to “take his chapping like a man”. Be it four or more swats, by each of us, with our chaps.  As a footnote here, Chaps are those leather leggings we wore to protect us from the brush. Much needed while charging hell-bent after cattle thru the needle, and spike like growth of Mesquite, Cat-claw, Manzanita, other cactus like obstructions. Chaps, from the Spanish word Chapperos meaning leather pants, pronounced just “shhaps”.

Ben had an ingenious habit of visiting us at the Windmill Ranch, just at mealtimes. Mostly right before lunch. Many times cowboys would return from a long morning ride that started about daylight, to have a late 3:00 PM meal. Ben must have watched from a nearby hillside, and would ride up about the same time we were unsaddling. He would always have the same comical greeting to all of us… “Howdy! How are all of you Cow-Disturbers doing today?”

Of course we would invite him to dine with us, and he always politely accepted. We’d eat at the main house, but we all slept in the bunkhouse. This dilapidated bunkhouse was located out past the barn about fifty yards. That durn shack kept us busy eradicating the scorpions, and centipedes that always visited us there and the outhouse behind it.

This story is continued in George’s Books

Contact George Fischer to buy his books!

lastdkslashcowboy@gmail.com          830-955-7281

 

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