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Cotton the Horse
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Cotton the Horse      by Bill Mooney

Cotton, The Horse (Original)
June 10, 2007

As you know, Aline and I have both retired. We weren’t smart enough to buy a motor home, so instead, we bought a commercial truck. It is an ‘03 Kenworth with a big Cat engine and an 18 speed transmission with a stand up sleeper, double bunks, and refrigerator. It pulls a 48’ drop deck trailer.

I just hauled some mine equipment to Omaha, NE, and I picked up a pivot wheel irrigation system in Hastings, NE, to deliver to Cherry Creek, NV. I’m 22 hours ahead of schedule so I am sitting in Wendover, NV, killing time. I quit drinking, and I don’t gamble, and there is a rain squall right now so I am sitting here daydreaming.

I was thinking of your article on Bill Kane and the Spanish Ranch, and I remembered a story Mitch Moiola loved to hear about a horse called Cotton.

Bronco manI’ll back up a little and give you some history before I get into the actual story. I was buckarooing on the Circle A wagon, I think it was in the summer of ‘71, when the Matador Cattle Co. out of Texas leased the Circle A from Nevada Garvey for 5 years. The going rate at the time was $250.00 a month. That fall we were camped at Wild Bill’s when the Matador guys came out and told us the news. We gathered the desert and then ran 22,000 noses thru the chute and finished just after the first of the year. Then they laid the buckaroos off and told us to come back in March to start turning out.

An old cowboy gave me a tip to head for Elko and get on with the Petan (YP) Ranch. I followed tradition and spent several days at the Commercial Hotel Bar as that was the hiring place for the big ranches. I had $80.00 in cash with a $54.00 car payment coming within 2 weeks so I had to get a job. I didn’t get hired there but I was told to head north to Independence Valley (Tuscarora) as Ellison Ranching (Spanish Ranch), Petan, and the Allied Land and Livestock were all right there. I went to the YP but Jerry Chapin said he didn’t need me until spring but to go see Bill Kane @ the Spanish Ranch as he was sure Kane could use a cowboy.

I was 23 years old at the time, and in those days I had hair to the bottom of my ears, and I wore shoes and short sleeved shirts. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Kane was at his house. (The next year Kane would laugh and tell the cowboys that his Carson City Hippie was AWOL, and he didn’t have a clue as to where I was; but that is a whole different story in itself in which half the people who would hear the tale did not see the humor in it.)

He asked me my name, and I said, “Bill Mooney.”

He said, “I thought your name was Moon, and you are an Indian.”

I replied that I was Irish Catholic.

We bickered around like that for about 5 minutes when DeLoyd, the ranch boss, showed up and asked me if I was a snaffle bit man.

I said, “Sure.”

Kane said, “I’ll try you in the morning.”

I took my stuff to the bunk house and, Mike, I’m not kidding you, I knew my future was going to get nothing but better as I had just hit rock bottom. What a dump!

About an hour later Kane showed up and said, “I see you have a car. If you take anyone off this ranch you are fired.”

So I asked, “Is it alright if I take the cowboys to Taylor Canyon for a beer?”

He said, “Yes, but if you don’t show up the next morning, pack your bedroll.” Like I said, my future is getting better and better.

Two weeks later I was starting colts. These “colts” were 5 and 6 year olds, and the proper term was to call them “broncos”. Starting broncos paid $25.00 a month extra.

It was Monday, and Kane told me to start 4 of them and the next Monday I would get 4 more. They were to be hobble broke on all fours, ridden outside 3 or 4 times, and have a rope taken down on them. He had 2 more that he wanted me to do the ground work on, but he would ride them as he had “show horse” designs for them.

Around the first of April I went to Reno and picked up my new Bill Maloy saddle. About the middle of April we traded our winter horses in for the spring wagon horses. About the 20th of May the wagon pulled out. We took about 90 horses with us and left around 40 at the ranch. The Spanish Ranch took the wagon out on Sunday mornings. That way we didn’t get Sunday afternoon off and go do whatever young and single buckaroos do.

Squaw Valley didn’t have a buckaroo crew that summer so the Spanish Ranch wagon went on that side, and it was at Scraper Springs that I met up with Cotton. Kane told me that Doug Evans was getting out of school for the summer, and he would come out on the wagon with us.

He said, “I haven’t seen you bucked out of your new saddle yet, so I want you to ride Cotton a time or two before Doug gets here.”

Cotton was a small white horse, maybe 15 hands with a stocky quarter horse build. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was in store for me, so instead of wearing my lace up US Army boots I put on my cowboy boots and spurs. Kane didn’t rope Cotton. He just held his right hand up in the air and after the cavvy made 4 or 5 loops around the corral and stirred up all the dust, Cotton just stopped, and Kane walked right up to him. It turned out this was a gathering of their two minds that they had worked out over the years, but I, of course, didn’t have a clue as to what was going on or just who is this Cotton anyway. I used a snaffle bit with a 22’ mecate, and sure enough Cotton fired me up. He handled really well so I could hold his head up and not get bucked off. Usually if they got their head down to the ground they would buck me off over the right shoulder. Kane was not at all happy that I did not hit the ground. We gathered the country and held a rodeer. Two guys on the ground and two guys roping. I heeled a great big calf, and while I was bringing him in Cotton fired. I lost my rope, my hat, a stirrup, grabbed everything but his tail, and luckily he just bucked in a straight line, and I finally pulled him out of it. Kane and I had a nice little talk later that afternoon about what had happened, and I still use the tip he gave me to this day.

The next time it was Cotton’s turn Kane told me that he would ride him himself. Obviously my performance the week before wasn’t too impressive. In those days Kane had a pair of spurs with small, but sharp, rowels. He did his right hand in the air trick and then hung a spade bit on Cotton and tied a small bridle horse mecate on his saddle and around Cotton’s neck. He told me Cotton was 14 years old, and he had ridden the horse a lot. Off we went at a high trot, and Cotton never even offered to buck! When we got to the gate to get us out of the Scraper Springs wrangle field, Kane saw some cows taking off at a high trot in the wrong direction. I jumped off and opened the gate real fast, and Kane put the spurs to Cotton, and all the cowboys went after him leaving me alone. I closed the gate and turned around, and here comes Cotton with his spade bit but no bridle reins and, of course, no rider. A cowboy came galloping up, and I said “What happened?”

“He bucked Bill Kane off,” was the reply, and then, “What are we going to do?”

Kane, photo courtesy of Bill Kane“We’ll take Kane’s horse to him, and is anybody getting those cows?” No answer.

There stood Kane at the bottom of the draw near the creek. He was wet, half mad, but half grinning too.

“I see you didn‘t get those cows,” I said. “What happened?”

He said, “I about had those cows turned when they took off galloping, so I put the spurs to Cotton, and he blew up. I pulled on him, and one rein broke, but I thought, no sweat, I still have one rein left. I’ll just ride him to the bottom of the creek, and then pull him up. The other rein broke, and he bucked me off in the creek, and I am cold.” He took Cotton from me and tied his bridle horse mecate into the spade bit for reins, took his quirt down, and he and Cotton went at it. When they got done Kane had his quirt in his left hand, and he whacked Cotton over the head and said, “Take that!”

It turned out that Kane and Cotton had been going at each other for years. One would get mad and then the other would get mad and off they’d go. Cotton had bucked Kane off 3 times over the years. I never rode Cotton again, and as far as I know Kane didn’t either. There was a horse called Daily Stranger that would get even madder than Cotton. Kane was riding him on the ranch one day, and he woke up in the hospital. No one knows how that wreck happened. Kane told me the last time he rode Daily Stranger the horse got mad and ran right smack into the side of a camp trailer with him. Tipped ‘em both over. Kane did a really good job making that horse, but the two of them just couldn’t get along, and so I had him. He was a nice horse, and I called him Mr. Cool. Just don’t get him mad as he would go suicidal.

In September I went to the C Ranch out of Jordan Valley with Brian Morris, and I returned to the Spanish Ranch that spring and calved the first calf heifers on the night shift. I would eat breakfast, take a little nap and then take a pickup to where Kane was branding, and I would rope as we were short of cowboys right then. I would then go back and sleep some more, eat, and then spend the night with 400 heifers.

A young handsome cowboy from Idaho named Craig Gillespie went on the spring wagon that summer, and he rode a horse called Black Jack. Whenever Craig got on him in the morning Black Jack would buck around a little, but he could never get Craig bucked off.

I went AWOL and spent the rest of the summer heading and heeling @ the Circle A. I wintered doing construction work in Reno and went to the Spanish Ranch that spring, and Kane made me the lead off man. I was making $350.00 a month! Wow, remember what I said about my future? There was a guy named Sid who had been on the fall wagon and stayed through the winter. Somehow or another the conversation turned to Cotton, and Sid said he rode him that last fall on the wagon, and Cotton was his favorite horse.

“Did he buck you off?” I asked.

“No, Cotton doesn’t buck. He’s too good of a horse,” he said.

I’m thinking that I only rode Cotton once, and he about tore my head off, and he nailed Kane 3 times. Either this guy is very, very good, or it is true that God helps those who can’t help themselves!
I ran it by Kane the next day, and he said Cotton just felt sorry for the guy and never bothered to get him like he did us.

Craig returned from Idaho that spring. Sid wouldn’t leave it alone. He kept pestering me about how I did something wrong to make Cotton blow up on me. I certainly did do something wrong; I climbed on him! I finally had enough, and I told him that soon we would turn our winter horses in for the spring wagon horses, and if he asked Kane for Cotton, I’m sure that he would get him.

He asked for Cotton, and sure enough he got him. It wasn’t even a contest. Cotton laid him out and cracked his ribs. He was on the ground screeching and hollering and flopping around like a gaffed tuna.

Just to be ignorant I went over and said, “How do you like Cotton now?”

We turned Cotton loose for him and went and branded some first-calf heifer calves in the Airport Field. A spring snow storm hit us about the time we finished, and Kane said we would leave the cattle in the branding trap and go to the ranch and eat. Craig and I would ride back, and hopefully those heifers would be mothered up and we could just open the gate and count them out. Our spring snow storm turned into one of those horizontal snow storms. Craig and I were going back to the barn when Sid walked up holding his ribs and said he sure wished Kane would give him another “pony” as he sure wanted to go with us.

Craig said, “Who does he think he’s kidding? I sure don’t want to ride back there in this storm, and I’m a lot healthier than he is.”

I said, “Yes, if it were up to me, we would turn our horses loose and drive down there. All we’re doing is opening a gate and counting about 80 head out”. But that, of course, was not the Spanish Ranch way.

We took the wagon out on a Sunday morning that last part of May and did our buckaroo thing. Kane said that was the best crew that he had ever had. When we came back to the Four Mile camp, Kane sent Craig and I to the ranch to gather the bulls. He would bring the wagon through the ranch, and then we would all drive the bulls down the river to Summer’s Flat and turn them out. Sid was healed up and waiting for us at the ranch, and there was a young cowboy, also from Idaho, named Danny Williams. Danny was a really nice kid, big, good looking with curly hair and a Tom Mix type of hat. Sid had been bossing him around, and when we got to the ranch, Sid was thinking out loud on what horses he would cut out for us in the morning.

Craig said, “He still hasn’t figured it out. He won’t be cutting a horse out for you tomorrow.”

The next morning I wrangled the horses myself, and was standing in the middle of the corral with my rope when Sid walked in. I roped his horse around the neck. Next came Craig, and I roped his horse around the neck with a figure 8 on one front leg. I asked Danny what kind of horse he would like, and he was very good about it by leaving it up to me. I gave him a horse called Coyotee that I had started 2 years ago and told him the horse had been ridden quite a bit, but use a snaffle bit on him and sit up straight. I roped him around the neck with a figure 8 on both front legs. Danny is just standing there staring at me. He can’t believe what he has just seen. He has heard about roping horses like this with figure 8’s, and now he has actually seen it. He caught his horse and just kind of hung around the gate to see what kind of loop I would catch my horse with. Danny didn’t know it, and I was not about to tell him, but those figure 8’s were completely by accident. I was just aiming at their heads! I quit while I was ahead. I coiled up my rope and just walked up to my horse and caught him.

Sagebrush cowboysWe gathered about 300 bulls. Of course we were short 3 or 4. Sid made it very clear to me that he rode every inch of his ground and was sure he didn’t miss any bulls so it must have been one of us that had missed them.

I just said, “These things happen, Sid, don’t worry about it.”

We had to take the bulls across the highway and then drive them about a mile down the lane and then turn them to the right 90 degrees right in the middle of the ranch yard.

I took Danny with me, and we turned the bulls. I told him I would go with the lead, and for him to stay there and make sure all the bulls went the right way. Coyotee bucked him off right in front of the cook house. He said he had never been so embarrassed in his life.

Kane and the cowboys trotted up the next morning, and we all drove the bulls down the river. Late that afternoon we were sitting in the shade of the big tent, and Craig asked Sid what “pony” Kane had in mind for him in the morning.

Sid said, “Black Jack. Kane said I will get along with that horse just fine.”

“I had Black Jack last summer,” Craig said, “and don’t worry, he’ll fire your ass up.”

Sid rolled it up the next morning. Ain’t seen him since.

      Well Mike--It’s dark now. I hope you enjoyed this. If you can find a use for it, by all means, go for it. If you don’t       think it is worthwhile, throw it away. See you soon. Bill



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