Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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Mike Maxwell

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Dick Chenault
Date of Interview - 1979
Interviewed by Elaine Baker

M.M: There weren't too many fences there then. It was about six weeks and I got three and a half a day for working, which was a good job then during the depression, 51 years ago.

E.B: What did the cowboy get?

M.M: I don't know what they'd would. They'd worked by the month for the rancher, I'd say 30-35 dollars a month and board. They rode for the rancher, year round. They didn't pay 'em no special wage, only me, the cook, they give me special, 3.50 a day is what I got. That was a lot of money then. When you work for a dollar a day you work for a dollar or six bits or a dollar a day you working for.

E.B: So you would go with, cook while the wagon's moving?

M.M: No, they'd move the wagon, maybe we'd camp two or three days in one place. And then oh, we were up on the divide, what they call the divide, between Westcliffe and Gardner. And one time they brought cattle from Westcliffe side this way and we met on top of the divide there. The people from the other side brought cattle up that had drifted up over in that area. We had a big day then. You know we had a lot of riders, I usually had one of the cowboys sort of help me cook, because there were too many people, and they drug down wood with ropes and things for me to build a fire. We'd cook out on a campfire, we'd cook in Dutch ovens, and on pots, I'd take a 5-gallon can, a big can, and we'd make what we called “slumgullion.” You put meat and potatoes, and everything mixed up in it. And for dessert we had what they called “spotted puck,” it was raisins and rice with sugar in it. We didn't have no bread, we had to make biscuits. So I'd make about 75 biscuits, a meal for them. We only had two meals a day, early morning, then we'd start about 3 o'clock they'd start driftin' in, the riders, then they'd come all the way in from then till dark. And a we had, I could name quite a few of the riders up there, Fred and Albert Dietz, and Joe Dietz, Billy Fowler and Bob McClain, Birch Addington, Lowell Addington, Jay Edmond and Johnny Myers, Fritz Myers, and the other Myers, that had the JM, was Gus Myers. Then we had a guy named Trujillo, he rode with us too. Then riders would come up with us too. When they had a bunch of cattle, they'd cut 'em out. Then a rancher would come up and drive 'em down to his place. We'd move from place to place, one time we turned a chuckwagon over. It was rough country back up there in the Greenhorn area.

E.B: How long did this go on, the roundup?

M.M: About 6 wks. The last place was down to Gardner, and we invited anybody who wanted to eat there to eat the evening meal, dinner. Anybody could come that wanted to, but they always had a couple of guys help me cook cuz there were so many people came the last day, the last day of the roundup.

E.B: So you started all the way up?

M.M: We started all the way up Westcliffe country and down the divide and went back all the way up the Greenhorn country; and came back down Williams Creek and Turkey Creek. We started around by JM ranch, what they call the JM Ranch, I don't know who owns it now. We start there and go back around up onto the divide and up all the way back around that country up on top and cpme back around sip onto the Greenhorn Mt. range. We'd take Williams Creek and Turkey Creek, all that area around there, come down and we'd wind up close to Gardner. We had to cook out on an open fire. The cowboys would drag down wood for me and I'd have two fires, one to burn coals on, and one burning to make coals all the time. You'd have to dig a pit. We had some big Dutch ovens, some of them you could see still up to the Round-up dinner we have year after year. They started to have a dinner up which now turned into quite a deal there. It's been going on for 38-40 years.

E.B: So that's how it started, by the last roundup?

M.M: Yes, that goes to that church up there, Alton, he kinda looks after the church, well he does look after it, and he puts that up and I help him. I sell tickets for this roundup every year.

E.B: So did the cowboys stay around the campfire?

M.M: No,we had tents, they live out there and slept out on the tents. We had some tents we slept in. I'd get up at four o'clock in the morning and usually we'd kill a beef , we eat beef right on the job in the Fall. You see, it's cold up there, so we'd kill what they call a Maverick. We'd find one didn't have a brand on it. One time we had a thousand head of cattle up there at one time. Before we'd cut out each one's lunch. Mavericks, no brand on them, a yearling or something. So we butchered it. We butchered it and hung it up and cut steaks and had steak for breakfast and lived good on steaks. Some like it rare some like it well done. Guss Myers usually get up in the morning, he couldn't sleep past 4, so he's usually waking me up and help me get breakfast, he cut steaks for me.

E.B: 10,000 head of cattle

M.M: We had 10,000 head of cattle there at one time. We had the Denver Post come down, they took a lot of pictures and there's quite a write up in the Denver Post. We was up on the divide. We had one pasture and 10,000 head at one time.

E.B: So who's cows were they?

M.M: They belong to the JM, the Dietz brothers, the Myers' and a lot of other people you know who had a few head of cattle in there too. Roundup everybody's cattle. Everything was branded then. There wasn't as many fences as there are now. They run where ever they want to I guess. And everybody would round everything up. Get together everybody's cattle because in the fall you have to get them out of there by the 15t of October. They had to be out of there. So that's the reason they'd round up everbody's. And some of the guys even if he didn't. It was what you call the Cuerno Verde Livestock Association, a community affair. I think they ran a couple of years after I was cook for 'em. I think they ran two year more, then they quit. Fenced everything up and everything was kinda divided up through the forest services. See they'd run on the reserves, a lot of that stuff was run on the forest.

E.B: So if you were a small ranch, would you send one rider? Would you be expected to send some?

M.M: If everybody knew who had cattle in there, but if they found somebody who didn't belong to us, the association, they'd still tell 'em he had cattle there and he'd come and get 'em.

E.B: I see

M.M: A lot of time people would sneak cattle on the reserve that didn't have a permit for them and a lot of them got out and got into the reserve. If the ranger didn't catch 'em. Some of those guys got caught and they had to pay the ranger for putting in too many cows in on the certain area. They'd just allowed so many head of cattle for certain permit. I know some of them, I won't name any names that put too many in there and got fined a time or two for it.

E.B: How was it different from today?

M.M: Well, they knew more about cattle than they do today. You see a lot of cowboys today, all they know is how to do is ride broncs. But back in them days, people knew cattle, they knew brands and you could read the brands, where a lot of guys these days don't know one brand from another. Then they didn't have jeeps, and they didn't have 4-wheel drive stuff like we have now. You had to do all your riding with horses, looking after your stock. A lot of people wonder why a cowboy wears chaps. Now in the rodeo you really don't need 'em, but if you go through this oak brush, that's real thick, it'll tear your clothes off of you. If you've ever been to the mountains, especially certain area where they have this scrub oak brush, it tears your clothes off of you. That's the reason you wear these leather chaps, keep from tearing your clothes or cutting your legs up. A lot of these places they have these thorn bushes. What they call them? But around La Veta and Cucharas there is a lot of them up in there. And I know them guys have problems up there in that oak brush and that's reason why chaps are worn by cowboys. If you had to ride up there, you would find out real quick why chaps are worn. I know, my uncle and I came one time from Lily Lake. We had a cow camp up there on the Huerfano. We camped up there and it got dark on us, and the trail, it got so thick, so dark we couldn't see and the trail was so small, through these trees that your knees would hit on the side of the trees. So my uncle said “Well these old cow horses know their way to camp.” You know, we were about 2 or 3 miles away from camp. He said “Just get off your horse, hang your reins up over there and catch him, by the tail and walk along behind him.” So that's what we did, and they took us into camp. We used to drive cattle from all that Redwing and Huerfano country down to Badito. We'd stay all night at Badito and bring them on down to Tioga, or Big Four. They had a big corral down there in that R.R. We'd ship cattle into Denver, and around there, we didn't have a truck like it is now. The railroad would come into Big Four there. We had a lot of corrals there. And we'd drive two days, we drive to Badito at Taylor Thorn's place and he'd cook supper for us and we'd feed the cattle. We'd lodge there one night, and we'd drive 'em on down to Big Four. We lived up by Redwing and one of them would always bring the cars down. When we got to load the cattle into the railroad cars, we just took the saddles off the horses and get in the car and go home and the horses would be back home the next morning. We'd turn them loose and we didn't have to ride 'em back 15 or 20 miles, you know. It was a lot different then, than it is now. It was pretty rugged. You ride thirty miles a day and ride all day and ride 15 miles home and you'd ride all day you'd be real sore. But when I was a young man, it didn't seem to bother me at all. I'd do it now, it would kill me I guess. I'd be sore I know.

E.B: Did you have your own place up there?

M.M: No, I didn't have my own place, I lived with the Tireys, they were ranchers Alton and Uncle Bruce Tirey. They had a fair sized ranch, they ran 2 to 300 head of cattle. Then they run sheep too. One time we had about 1500 head sheep.

E.B: So what is it being a cowboy? What do you think an old time cowboy was?

M.M: Well, he was a rugged damn guy, was tough, they didn't let the weather stop 'em or nothing else. I mean cold weather or stormy weather didn't interfere with them. They worked right on through it, I mean they were tough. A lot of guys wouldn't do it. They didn't have bales of hay then. You fed with a big old wagon with a hay rack on it. And the wind blowed and you pick up a bunch of that hay and it would blow it 50 yards away if you didn't have somebody hold it down. It wasn't bale hay, it was all loose.

E.B: Were they neighborly, good citizens?

M.M: I think a man's a good citizen if he pays his taxes and he's an honest man and try to do right, that's what I call a good citizen, you know, that's about all I have to say about that.

E.B: That's a pretty good statement there.

M.M: I'd like to live my life, I like to make my own living and not take nothing from nobody and then when I die, I don't owe nobody nothing.

E.B: Did people, did cowboys work for other people, could they ever get their own together or did they?

M.M: Yeah, a lot of those boys would take a lot of those cattle in stead of pay. He'd get quite a little head, he'd claim he found once in awhile, you know a maverick, he rode for JM Ranch. When I come to this country I was about 18 he was about 15 and he was riding for JM ranches you know as a cowboy and those cattle and a lot of those boys were jealous of him cuz he was a young fella that knew cattle you know, and he took care of the cows and he didn't have to do a lot of the fencing and feeding cattle in the winter, the other cowboys were jealous cuz all he had to do ride and look after the cattle, check his cows, cuz he knew cattle real well, he still does he but he was a young man and he was a good rider, he was a real cowboy, but the best cowboy up there I guess that ever was, was Jim Wilburn. He was a real cowboy. I mean he really was a cowboy, hear, every time we'd have rodeo, he done all the pickin up the boys after a ride, he'd pick 'em up, 'er bulls botherin' em he's always protecting the guy and help 'em you know, and he'd rope bronc. And I'd work for the forest there when I was a young man, and he packed all our stuff in and out with the horses. He worked on all over the country and Sand Dunes all around into Westcliffe and Brush Creek trail that goes into Greenhorn country and Rye all the way up to Buelah, in there and he'd pack all our stuff all the time he pack us when we'd move. He'd pack our stuff and he was a real cowboy. He had a bunch of horses and he could run out there in the bunches of horses and start swinging a rope and holler and they'd stop because if they didn't stop he'd front leg 'em and throw 'em down and they could really bust 'em open you know. He was a real good roper and a good bronc rider and everything he was a real -- cowboy. And so was Butch Addington, he was the same way, also Fred Archuleta and Dan Archuleta were good cowboys, still cowboys, I don't know, Fred's pretty we'll crippled up right now but he done a lot of cowboy up there in that country there. They're good cowboys, they worked for Mackie a lot gathering cattle too, but he's getting old he's about 73, now and he can't do too much ridin. He got both legs broken not long ago over a horse, he said he's kinda a slowin up a bit. But they're good guys, I mean I grew up with them guys, they were always nice to me. Good people I had a lot of fun up in there when I was a young man.

E.B: So, this Addington that you talk about, he got his own herd together by working hard?

M.M: Yeah he picked up, he'd take you know some cattle for his work. Some of the guys would say, we'll give you a couple of yearlings or something, a couple of calves or something. And a lot of them did that and that way they got a little herd of their own. And Butch, he got a big enough herd you know, it was hard for 'em to get a pasture or place to run 'em and so did Frank Sanders that's what he did. He worked and bought a few cows and traded around you know like that and he built up a herd and he bought a little ranch up there by you know where Frank Sanders used to live. And that's what he done, he finally built a herd up of his own. And then he sold out and I think he moved to Missouri. Frank and I were good friends too, he done all right. Him and his wife they saved and they built up a herd that way, bought a little place up there, and done pretty good. But he sold out too cheap. I think he moved to Missouri. I think he'd like to be back.

E.B: How come so many people failed in the ranches?

M.M: Failed?

E.B: Couldn't make a living on out of, was it market?

M.M: The market during depression, cattle went down to nothing you know, people had a lot of 'em, unless you had a lot of a money you couldn't last. Now the Dietz brothers, they had money and they bought hay, and when I was a kid they bought hay from anybody that wanted to sell it, maybe there'd be five years. They'd buy it with an option to feed down on your place, they'd say well we'll buy this, but we don't want to feed it out. Of course they had a lot of cattle and of course they had a lot of money and a lot of backin', and they'd maybe be three four years before they'd come down and feed, but they bought nearly everybody's hay that wanted to sell it. Well I remember one time we got a truck driver here, used to go to Gardner, he had to catch the mail truck. They had several stores, big stores up there. Josh Hudsons' store and Stacey and there's one in Redwing. There's a truck line, and if you got caught there in town, you would have to catch a truck or a mail truck. And there's one time there, I don't know how true it is, anyway Albert Dietz, it was said he was an od bastard, anyway he sold a bunch a cattle in Denver and be came back and caught the truck and he was getting' pretty old, and he' d talk to his self quite a bit. And it was Lee Sharp he was tellin' about. He run the truck line, he said old Albert said “I got 50,000 damn dollars, what I'm gonna do with it,” he sold a whole train load of cattle that's when 50,000 was worth a lot of money. He kept sayin' that to himself, he was coming back up on the truck. But they're good guys. I mean they were big, big men and they were strong and they was rough, rugged guys they're all gone but I still remember them guys, they were good men.

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