By Tom Kollenborn
A national holiday that recollects the “Day of the Cowboy” is somewhat interesting and unique. The cattle industry was a wild and rough business to be involved with in the early days, 1850 thru 1930. These eighty years of cattle ranching, roundups, trail drives, rodeos and even motion pictures played a role in shaping our image of the American cowboy. All these roles helped form that cowboy image so personified by many of us. When we think of cowboys, we think of cattle, horses, the open range, a ranch house, corrals, windmills, Stetson hats, bandannas, chaps, spurs, boots, lariats, saddles and etc. Today we mill around within an imaginary world of the “Old West.” Many of us believe this world still exists to some degree today. There are movies, dude ranches and gunfights to enrich our beliefs of what the “Old West” was like.
I can only speak from my experiences as to what cowboys are really like.
When I was a young man, I dreamed of being a cowboy, based on the images portrayed on the silver screen at the old Rex Theater in Hayden, Arizona. I knew cowboys were good, honest and respectable men. They always defeated the bad guy, defended the good guy and won the heart of the ladies. Hollywood had created the perfect image of the American Cowboy on the movie screen in my mind. This cowboy persona accompanied me throughout my life.
My image of the American cowboy was shattered when I accepted a job on the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the mid 1950’s. I expected the cowboys to be heros in all aspects; however, I soon found out this was not case. Real cowboys were only human; they were not the men I thought they were. The real cowboys I met around Apache Junction, Globe, San Carlos, Tonto Basin and Winkleman were of a different breed. Many of the cowboys I met were what I had expected. However, some were rowdy, wild and often careless. They drank far too much alcohol, cussed too much and were often not too dependable. Some of the best cowboys I ever saw were Apaches on the San Carlos Reservation, east of Globe. Floyd Stone, owner and operator of the Tortilla Allotment, hired Apache cowboys to work his ranch. Most were really good cowboys and knew how to work wild cattle. Elmer Pope, an Apache cowboy, could rope a wild cow on the run in the roughest country east of Superstition Mountain. But Stone always had a problem keeping his San Carlos cowboys sober.
Cowboys such as John A. Bacon, Bernard Hughes, Charlie Weeks, George Cline, Billy Garlinghouse, Slim Ellison, William A. Barkley, Billy Martin Sr., Billy Martin Jr., Jimmy Heron, Frank Herron, Duane Reese, Wheeler Reece, Bill Bohme, Royce Johnson, Jack Reeder and many more were real cowboys in our area that have left the legacy of the cowboy and cattle ranching in central Arizona. They were all good men.
First and most important, a good cowboy has to be honest and responsible. These are the star attributes of a cowboy’s character, because they were often left in charge of corralled animals that needed to be fed and watered daily. By all means, not all cowboys are good cowboys. Any rancher can testify to that statement. Most cowboys are hard workers, and they also play hard. Most of them love cowboy or country music. They would rather talk about cattle, horses, saddles, horse trailers or pickup trucks. Now your old time cowboys wouldn’t be caught dead listening to some music we call Country-Western today.
As a young man, I dreamed of someday owning my own cattle spread. Of course, it was nothing but a dream. However, I did work on one of the true legendary cattle outfits. The old Quarter Circle U Ranch belonged to William A. Barkley and William Thomas Barkley. I worked for the Barkleys in the twilight years of this legendary Arizona cattle ranch. This was during the late 1950’s.
To this day, I cherish those couple of years I spent becoming what I am today. Life on that ranch certainly shaped my character, but also strengthened the values I had learned from my mother, father and silver screen heroes.
More than fifty years ago, I sat astride a wild ranch pony and chased wild cattle across the mountains and desert east of Apache Junction. In those early days, there was not much in Apache Junction but a filling station, and some permanent residents and a few desert dwellers who lived in mobile homes. To find the old Quarter Circle U Ranch you had to drive out Highway 60 some nine miles and turn east toward Don’s Camp. After driving another eight miles, you arrived at the Quarter Circle U Ranch.
This ranch was really isolated and had no communications with the outside world. The old ranch had no electricity and little running water. Conditions were very primitive, but I learned to cope with my new environment. My parents thought I was insane working in such an isolated place, making little or no money. I could never convince them I had found my calling. I wanted nothing more than to be a cowboy. My dad had wanted me to go to college and make a career for myself. I suppose I was a disappointment when all I could talk about was the Quarter Circle U Ranch and the cattle I cared for.
Like all good things, my cowboy career ended one day when I was severely injured by a large Brahma-mixed bull. I lay in a hospital bed for several weeks. I found a new direction in life. I realized my father and mother were correct, and I eventually returned to college and embarked upon a new career with the life of a cowboy always in the back of my mind.
Now friends, that is why I continue to this day wearing my cowboy hat, western shirts and jeans. Deep down in my soul, I am still that young cowboy who worked on the Quarter U Ranch so many decades ago. The “Day of Cowboy” honors this magnificent persona of the American West.
Also, I would like to dedicate this column to all the cowboys for believing and following this philosophy in life. An old friend, Everett “Arkie” Johnston, recently passed away and left a cowboy legacy. He had four sons who are some of the best cowboys in the Southwest.
Those of you who would really like to read about another real cowboy, I recommend the book titled, Cowboy Sign, by Duane Reece. Duane was a cowboy all his life and also spent twenty years as a rodeo hand. His book should be on every cowboy and cowman’s shelf or in his or her saddlebags. You can find information about Duane’s book by calling 928-812-0300 or dropping a card to Kaycee Reece-Stratton, 4840 Longhorn Lane, Winkelman, AZ 85192
Photo by Krista Paffrath at 2016 Lost Dutchman Days.