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(Shared by Daniel Bybee in February, 2015)
French Cowboys in New Mexico
Nevada poet and horseman Daniel Bybee shares photos, background, and a poem about his family's lively Western history. He writes:
My mother's father Leon Pitts grew up in western New Mexico in the late 1800s with his brother Fred. Their step-father and all their uncles were cowboys. Their grandparents were French and their real father was French. My grandfather passed away in 1943 before I was born. Uncle Fred lived until 1980 and saw his 95th birthday.
Fred Pitts the cowboy
Before Fred died, he was persuaded to record all of his memories of his life. What a life he led. He was a cowboy and a freight wagon driver in New Mexico, worked at a sawmill, worked the docks in San Francisco, and drove a cab there. When he was 11, he helped his parents and my grandfather drive 100 head of cattle and a remuda of horses from New Mexico to Oklahoma. He took a turn riding night hawk every night along with my grandfather who was 13. One of his uncles was killed in a gun fight when Fred was 5. After his family moved to Oklahoma, he returned to New Mexico to cowboy for a few years with his uncles.
In the recordings, which I found two years ago, he detailed the lives of his grandparents, parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. He told of life in New Mexico in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I've tried to summarize over 9 hours of recordings into poems and short stories.
My great, great grandparents, Auguste Grossetete and Chlothilde Ringulet, both sailed to America from France around 1853. They met and got married around 1856. They first settled in Pennsylvania and had two children, Alexis and Mary Ann in 1856 and 1859. By 1864, they were living in Lawrence, Kansas where my great grandmother Marie Josephine was born. They called her Jo. Five more children were born in Kansas; Frederic, Alfred, Augustus, Eulalie, and Adelle. Auguste Grossetete died by drowning in Kansas in 1876. Around 1880, Alexis left for Colorado and after a couple of years there, he moved again to New Mexico. He homesteaded a piece of land in the Western mountains close to the Arizona border at a place called Gallo Springs. He had a partner named Robert Elsinger. Sometime in 1882, Chlothilde took her other sons and moved to Alexis' homestead. She left her two youngest daughters with her oldest daughter Mary in Missouri.
In 1883, my great, great uncle Alexis and his partner wanted to start farming their homestead in Gallo Springs. They were neighbors to a large ranch called the American Valley Ranch. The owners had been trying to buy Alexis' homestead because they needed the natural spring located on his land. They had an offer for their ranch at the time from some very rich politicians but the offer was contingent upon them gaining ownership of the land with the spring. Somehow, great Uncle Alexis found time to court and marry a girl who lived down the mountain in Socorro.
Nine days after they were married, on May 6th, 1883 things reached a boiling point with the cowboys from the American Valley Ranch. Alexis and Robert were kidnapped by the owners and some ranch hands. They took them up into a box canyon and shot them both in the back. Unknown to the killers, an Indian sheepherder named Hank was witness to the killings.
Chlothilde and her other sons searched for Alexis for a week before finally finding his body and the body of his partner Robert. Indian Hank came forward with his testimony and later on, one of the ranch hands agreed to testify against the two ranch owners who actually did the killings. It would have seemed that with two witnesses, the killers would have been convicted. However, at least one of the jurors was bribed by the politicians who wanted the land, and a mistrial was declared. Before a second trial could take place, Indian Hank was lynched and the other witness disappeared. No one was ever convicted of the murder of my great uncle. Because Alexis had gotten married just before he was murdered, his homestead was transferred to his widow and the killers never got the spring they were after.
In 1882, my great grandmother Jo was married to a Frenchman named Ed Michel and living in Missouri close by to her older sister Mary Ann. My grandfather Leon Michel was born there in 1883. Sometime in 1884, Ed and Jo Michel moved to New Mexico and brought her two younger sisters with them. They settled near Apache Creek, a few miles from Alexis' homestead. By 1885, they were homesteading in Luna, NM and my great uncle Fred was born there. Within a few months after Fred was born, Ed Michel left my great grandma Jo and went back to Kansas City. He hated New Mexico and hated the life there. He never returned.
Michel and Pitts boys, circa 1900; L-R, seated, Leo and Fred
Within a year, a Texas cowboy named Jesse Pitts rode in and swept Jo off her feet. They were married in November 1886. He adopted her sons and became a father to grandpa Leon and great uncle Fred. Jesse and Jo had three more boys in Luna before they pulled up roots in 1896 and trailed a herd of cattle to Oklahoma. Before they left they were witness to another tragedy in the Grossetete family.
Jesse and Josephine Pitts
In 1890, my great, great uncle Frederic (the second oldest boy after Alexis) got involved in a gun fight at a cow camp. A friend of his had been trying to court his youngest sister Della, who was 15 at the time. She rejected his advances, and he started telling other cowboys that she was pregnant.
At the time there were three outfits all running cattle in the same general area. My great grandfather Jesse Pitts worked for one, his brother-in-law Frederic worked for another one, and Frederic's friend worked for a third cow outfit. When Frederic heard what was being said about his little sister, he went over and challenged his "friend" to a fist fight. They were both wearing side arms at the time and the other man refused to remove his gun and instead drew his gun and shot Frederic. Frederic returned fire and killed his friend. His friend's brother was also working there and ran over, picked up his brother's gun and started shooting at Frederic. Frederic, hit three times, returned fire and killed the other man.
My great grandpa Jesse had heard about the possible trouble and had ridden to the cow camp, but got there after the shooting. Frederic was still alive when he got there, but died within the hour. Uncle Fred remembered his father Jesse coming home to deliver the bad news to his wife Jo and mother-in-law Chlothilde.
Fred's other memories included helping his father take cattle from Luna down the mountain the the stockyards in Magdalena and driving a freight wagon hauling lumber from a sawmill down to the railroad in Magdalena. He eventually moved to San Francisco only a few years after the big earthquake. There he worked on the docks, frequented the Barbary Coast district, got married and then drove cabs for 20 years.
Jo was the only Grossetete to leave New Mexico. Her surviving brothers and her sisters all stayed and raised families there. Chlothilde died in Albuquerque in 1920. Jo died in Oklahoma in 1944. My grandfather Leon had 10 children, including my mother and they all settled in the central valley of California. Two of my mom's brothers were cattle ranchers.
Chasing Ghosts of Cowboys Past
I used to think that maybe in a former life of mine
That I lived about a hundred years ago
I must ‘a been a cowboy driftin’ cross the open range
Ridin’ for the brand and singin’ bout “Wrangler Joe”
Mom’s brother was a rancher and I loved to be with him
He was bigger, he was braver, he was bolder
They never told me much about their family history
And I put off searching till I got much older
At ninety five mom’s uncle Fred sat down and was recorded
Reminiscing ‘bout the old days of his youth
For thirty years the tapes lie hidden in a plastic bag
Till I listened to them, searching for the truth
Fred Pitts had told these stories in the year before his death
Bout his dad and uncles —cowboys through and through
He talked about New Mexico, his sorrows and his joys
And these tapes revealed history I never knew
His grand-parents sailed from France and headed west to Kansas
Where his mom was born with the North and South at war
In ’83 they moved west to the high New Mexico mountains
Where two uncles entered old New Mexico lore
Fred was born in ’85 on a homestead in the pines
In Luna that was near Apache Creek
His step-dad was a cowboy and his uncles all were too
He was horseback just as soon as he could speak
His real dad left the family and had headed back to Kansas
He was just a man that Fred had never known
A Texas cowboy rode in, swept great grandma off her feet
And raised my grandpa Leo and Fred as his own
The oldest of Fred’s uncles had been killed two years before
He was murdered by a rancher’s hired hands
The rancher ran the county and a witness was found hung
And the killers were released on his demands
Fred’s grandma had to bury him, his bones remain there still
And he wasn’t the last son she’d have to mourn
Her daughter’s honor sullied, one brash son rushed to a fight
And was killed just five years after Fred was born.
Fred remembered that his father had rushed home that fateful day
That his horse was dripping wet and foamy white
That he ran and hugged Fred’s ma and she let out a long wail
When she heard her brother had died in a fight
His challenge at a cow camp met —three young men now lie dead
from a gunfight with two men who’d been his friends
She had to tell her mother that a second son was gone
And they both lived life with pain that never ends
In 1896 great grand-pa Jesse moved his family
Cross the Texas panhandle to the Sooner State
Fred and grandpa Leo helped their father drive the herd
When they got there a harsh winter laid in wait
They’d gone 900 miles in 90 days with a hundred head
Crossed the Rio Grande and Pecos on that trip
Great grandma drove the covered wagon with three younger boys
And their night time fires were fueled with dried cow chips
An old abandoned sod house was their shelter that cold winter
With a canvas wall to keep out wind and snow
Fred thought that they would die before the Spring sun warmed the earth
And with them stories that the world would never know.
They left as boys but when they brought the herd in they were men
They’d been tested and they’d learned the cowboy way
The more I learned about them it became real clear to me
That my blood contains some cowboy DNA
The tapes started me searching for more clues to who I was
A tattered diary twelve decades old showed life was hard
French cowboys and their families, men and women tough as nails
Scratching life out from a land so dry and scarred
I feel like all my life I’ve been chasing ghosts of cowboys
And my dreams were filled with horses, cows, and guns
I loved my uncle’s ranch and I knew the cowboy code
But never knew how deep that cowboy bloodline runs
© 2014, Daniel Bybee
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission
Read more about Daniel Bybee and more
of his poetry here.
(Shared by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns in November, 2014)
Horses Are My HeritageImagine the prairies of northeastern Wyoming in the summer of 1928, dust rising into the sky backed by the thunder of racing hoofbeats. Here’s the scoop: “The plan was to round up an area north of the Cheyenne River and take the gather into Dewey, South Dakota . . . As I was the kid of the outfit I was detailed to keep any horses from going south in the area we had gathered until the drive showed up from the west and north; then start the horses in that area to go with them . . . Ernie Young started a bunch of horses through the water gap and then motioned for me to come up and go through the lane behind the horses with a small group of riders so we could keep control of them when they came out of the lane. I went to the north and helped drive the horses out of the jackpines and on toward the stockyards. I topped a high hill, and looking down over all of those horses galloping and trotting toward Pass Creek and the Dewey stockyard was a sight I’ll never forget! There were nearly 1,000 head in the bunch.”
That was my Daddy, Francis Sedgwick—recalling after more than 60 years the awe an 11-year-old boy experienced during the high-speed, neck-risking, adrenaline-spurred horseback task of gathering and controlling those thousand free-ranging equines from a 30-40 mile circle of rugged, sagebrush- and greasewood-covered, rattlesnake-infested terrain near the Wyoming/South Dakota border.
Part of a group of some 60 riders, he was warned by his father to “stay with the lead” because those snakey old range mares would duck off and escape at the least chance. He rode hell-bent-for-leather . . . wondering if he was hand enough to hold up his end, and if the horse he rode could stay upright during the risky chase.
Now, picture a similar region some 45 miles from there in the hot summer of 1910 or ’11. Listen, as Violet Coy Sedgwick says, “Sometimes three of us rode one horse the five miles to and from school. Once, when my eldest sister Fern used the poor judgment to ride too fast down a steep, rocky hill, our horse fell, end over end. I was riding in the middle, between Fern and Sam, and was thrown completely through the barbed wire fence that paralleled the trail we were following….”
That was my Mom, recalling after more than seven decades the challenges of getting to and from school each day, starting when she was five.
She further remembered, “Even in summer, Wyoming weather could be violent. Heavy rains almost always brought the creeks up. We lived across a little tributary called Dugout Creek. One day when a storm was coming the teacher let school out early and we headed for home. Luckily we made it across Dugout before it was running too high to cross, but right after we crossed a hailstorm hit. Our horse, refusing to face the driving wind, rain and hail, turned around and went right back across Dugout. The hail was the size of hen eggs and beat us almost unconscious. We wore summer clothes and we girls had thin sunbonnets on our heads. We headed for the Schmidt homestead, but a barbed wire fence kept us from riding clear to the house. Fern and Sam had to leave the horse and carry me in.”
Those stories prove that horses are my heritage. My parents grew up on them – and they reared me the same way. Mom continued helping with horseback ranch work into the 6th and even 7th months of her pregnancy with me. She then carried me on a pillow in front of her, from early babyhood until I was able to sit up on a horse and control it enough to ride alone.
My most cherished award is a blue ribbon won in the “Child’s Pony Class” at our Weston County Fair a few months before I turned two. In my little blue baby book (blue because my Daddy absolutely refused to even consider the remote possibility of being cursed with female get) my Mom wrote: “The summer before her fourth birthday [October 20] she made long rides with us horseback, a few times 15 to 20 miles. Had a few blisters but did not complain and never wanted to stop riding.”
What a blessing of God—to be born in the West, with a cowboy and cowgirl for parents, and welcomed by my cowboy half-brother with the gift of his 20-year-old pinto pony. He wrote Mom from a Navy ship in the war-ravaged Pacific theatre, “Tony taught me to ride, and I’m sure he’ll live long enough to teach my baby sister.” He did….
When I was old enough to marvel at the story, Mom told me about Tony’s arrival in Wyoming. “It was foggy that morning,” she said. “So quiet and so dense you couldn’t see your hand before your face. But we knew our mare Daisy was due to foal, so we were anxious to find her and see if it had arrived overnight.”
Occasionally, across the nearly half century I knew her, Mom would reminisce about that day and say those words. From the time I was old enough to notice such things I marveled at the change in her countenance, about the second sentence. Lines softened, wrinkles seemed to fade, and she was a little girl again. She’d been a young woman then, really; yet still infused with the childish awe of the moment. Her eyes would light anew, sparkling with remembrance of that dawn of excitement and pending discovery alongside her younger siblings.
Fog is not prevalent on Wyoming’s arid prairies. The way it cocooned the Coy kids as they ventured from their modest log home to search the twisting maze of freshly-greening creek banks for a newborn horse was somehow magical. The wispy shawl enfolding them enhanced the joyful mystery of the entire experience – the essences and fragrances of Spring, of new life, of anticipation. Even the familiarity of their hard-edged everyday world morphed into a strange frontier of uncharted pathways, unexplored places….
And then, rounding a bend, they suddenly beheld a mare emerging from the mist. Sure enough, at her side (and usually hidden behind her as she turned and whinnied nervously) was a tiny spotted colt!
Everything I am, everything I have accomplished, everything I ever hope for is about and because of horses. Horses are my heritage….
I thank God daily that I was born in America, and especially that I was born in the West, in ranching country, where I developed in intimate relationship with the outdoors, the land, and animals – both wild and domestic.
When I was very young, old pinto Tony was my babysitter, standing companionably for hours with his head drooping over me and my dolls and dishes in the front yard, or around the old sheepwagon that stood nearby. Whenever the folks had to ride, I was in the saddle on his back . . . and he was still my babysitter.
The summer I was two, galloping along behind Mom to take care of cows a gust of wind loosened my hat and I threw up an arm to catch it. Between the wind and upset balance I hit the dirt, and Tony stopped in his tracks. I tearfully grasped his front leg to stand up, and he wrapped his head and neck protectively around me, hugging me there until Mom arrived to help me back on.
Our two ranches were separated by 35 miles of prairie and “roughs”, country we traversed with the cattle each fall and spring. From the time I was 3-years-old Tony and I brought the drags, while Daddy rode in the lead to push other people’s cattle back so the herds didn’t mix. We were often separated by a mile or more of plodding cattle. I wouldn’t see him for hours at a time . . . but Tony and I knew to keep the cattle moving, following the leaders. Mom would meet us along the way with a vehicle and something to eat and drink.
She no doubt chaffed at being relegated to that duty. This was a woman who recalled two experiences of “riding all day when it was 50 below”. Zero, that is.
The first would’ve been the winter of 1924/’25, when she was pregnant with my brother, born May 24th in ’25. She rode with her first husband Cecil Donaldson, looking for cattle that had strayed; choosing that option in preference to staying home alone all day.
She told me how he stopped—after hours of traversing rough, snow-covered country in that deep cold – and told her he thought they might get something hot to drink if they’d ride to a nearby homestead, where a couple lived in a dugout. Did she want to go there?
Expecting conditions to be primitive, maybe even unclean; she still grasped at the chance of something warm and said “Yes, let’s go.”
Some half century later she recalled to me, “Cecil opened a door and we entered what looked like a tunnel, sloping downward like a beaverslide. Saddles, bridles and harness hung on pegs lining the rough wood walls. At Cecil’s knock, the homesteader opened the small door at the bottom of the slope to reveal one of the most welcoming scenes I can recall,” she said.
“The warmth and fragrance that met us, along with the light of a kerosene lamp and smiling faces of the man and his wife were like heaven,” Mom told me. “They eagerly insisted we come on in, and were no doubt amazed when a pregnant woman emerged from the big coats and ice-crusted wool scarf that covered my face. We enjoyed hot tea and some kind of baked goods and thawed the chill from our bones before leaving to continue on our way so we could reach home before dark.”
Mom’s other “50-below” day was with Dad, probably 25 years later. At the time they lived on the Cheyenne River near the mouth of Black Thunder Creek, not far from Weston County’s southern boundary. For some reason they had to sort cattle with “Kits” Grieves the first part of the day . . . possibly winter storms had drifted cattle over fences and mixed them up . . . at any rate after they had ridden big pastures and worked cattle, separating different brands, Mom and Dad trailed their cattle on to one of my Grandfather Sedgwick’s ranches in the Morrisey vicinity near Alkali Butte, where Dad’s sister and husband, Pauline and Jim Marchant, resided.
I remember her telling me that Grieves was astounded when he discovered she was out there riding with them because he “was about froze to death” and couldn’t imagine how a woman could stand it. I also remember her saying Dad had to help her down off the horse when they finally reached Aunt Pauline’s, just after dark, because her limbs were just too stiff to bend after sitting for hours in one position in the deep, bitter cold.
© 2014, Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
These accompanying photos are a part of Picture the West:
My grandfather Anthony Wilkinson Sedgwick raised Shetlands over the years. His wife, Lena Sedgwick, stepped on a rusty nail and died of blood poisoning when daddy was three, about the age he's shown here on one of the Shetland foals, with his eldest sister Ida.
Dad, Francis Sedgwick, just about grew up on a horse.
Dad on Grey Girl.
Dad had a bunch of mares and bought a registered Thoroughbred stallion from Eph Hogg who came to Wyoming from Kentucky. His head and neck are shown in this photo, they called him "Little Eph"; Dad's at far right.
My Mom, Violet Sedgwick, with a horse in the round corral at one of the ranches they owned when I was born, on the Cheyenne River.
Dad's mares were range horse/Shetland crossbreds and when he infused the Thoroughbred blood from Little Eph they got a superbly quick, athletic, small horse. Mom's son, my brother, said "Tryin' to stay on one of those horses was just like tryin' to ride an antelope!"
Mom in a racing saddle on Little Eph. She said dad had to hold him for her to get on and even then she had to catch the saddle on the fly.
Mom and Dad ran coyotes with hounds, it was great sport and there was a bounty on the sheep killers. An x marks the dead coyote at Mom's feet; one is slung behind the saddle on Dad's paint horse.
image by Trace Frost, www.tracefrost.com
Find more about Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns in our feature here and see also her Rodeo Roots series.
Visit her web site, DoubleSpearRanch.com.
(Shared by Jacqueline Marie Applewhite in February, 2012)
Land Without FencesOnce upon a time, in this land so very old,
The Medina picked up speed as its creeks did overflow.
Beyond the hills and valleys, I heard the windmill sing,
“This is a Land Without Fences to separate wild things.”
Neither stirrups nor a saddle needed girding underneath,
The gallop of her ride had a rhythm quite replete.
A fist full of black mane tangled in her yellow hair,
Her dad gave her a race horse that flew right through the air!
Steer pulled down porches from the pressure of their horns,
Scratching ticks and insects, using studs as emery boards.
Cowgirl built from bailing wire a great big Bovine Swatter
To “shoo” the steer away lest her farmhouse turn to fodder!
In nineteen-twenty-one on a sun drenched August day,
Her father and her uncles set the windmill in deep clay,
It sang a country tune and this is what it said,
“Black charged the steer while she smacked it in the head!”
As I look out of my window I can hear the windmill croon,
Singing of a Detroit daughter and her Texan wed in June.
In a little country church they vowed as man and wife,
The secret to their marriage was to always kiss goodnight!
"Ma" plucked a dozen eggs and then sold them for a dime,
Kept birthdays on the books when a Jersey had her time.
Windmill spun with glee as each screw was greased in milk,
Three daughters and a brother now kept fences tied with silk!
My dad became an oilman and he always loved his wife,
He kissed her twice a day and again before goodnight!
One day on the Medina, dad told me to take note,
“Swim on your back, my child, and you will always float!”
The cowgirl went to college and taught a music class,
Thirty-five years later, she moved back at home, at last.
Replaced the rusted windmill, turned clapboards into stone,
And refurbished the old farmhouse into a cozy, country home.
Another rusty windmill keeps a watch on those therein,
Since Texan and the cowgirl have passed on their land to kin.
A silver chain link fence now surrounds the little ranch,
Grandkids play there freely where steer didn’t have a chance!
© 2012, Jacqueline Applewhite
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
Jacqueline Applewhite comments:
"Land Without Fences" is about a piece of paradise that my granddad carved out of nothing less than a wilderness where wild animals roamed from neighbor to neighbor in open fields because there were no real fences to separate one farm from another, back then. There might have been short stone walls if you could find the stones and put them together yourself.
Barbed wire didn't come to central Texas until thirties and wood fences were built only for very wealthy families who could afford the expense. Cougars, all kind of snakes, Jack rabbits, wild hogs and longhorn steer ran wild and threatened the farmers very existence until barbed wire came to the region. When it came to putting windmills up, the entire family or their communities would have something similar to a barn raising and get that windmill up and running before nightfall!
Repairing the windmill usually meant my Aunt Bebe climbing up to the top of the windmill and dangling like a ballerina from it to tighten screws and follow instructions from down below. But, like my grandmother used to say, "If you can't find one way to fix something, then there must be another way to fix it," because they improvised constantly, using what their dad could remember in his college days, what he read about it from the Department of Agriculture pamphlets, or what Grandmother would figure out on her own with such "tenacity of purpose" that she never let anything stop her. They put a life together where there used to be nothing but wild animals and a wild and open range and that that caused challenges, solutions never thought of before and witty inventions, grandmother's Detroit sisters and cousins to smile "with tongue in cheek" at their "country" sister, and taught the children to become self-sufficient leaders as adults.
From 1921 until the girls went off to college in the 1930s and '40s, Frank Applewhite, Sr. operated the 7AL Ranch in San Antonio, Texas with just his children and wife. My dad, Frank Jr., was delivered on my grandparent's double bed by a country doctor on a rainy April afternoon in 1928, and became his father's namesake.
Granddad majored in agriculture at Texas A&M and went there for three years. When a typhoid outbreak closed the school down for six months in 1915, he married my grandmother and they had a baby girl, my Aunt Bebe, that next year. He never did graduate but was an avid reader and read everything he could get his hands on to teach him about dairy farms, peach orchards, and even rental houses off a little country road known as Farm to Market 1518. His mother gave him his land before she died as a sort of bribe to get him to move back home where she could see her grandchildren grow up close to her. It worked and my grandparents loved the country and farming.
In 2003 I lived on this ranch with my Aunt Bebe, a retired music teacher and family historian, was given the edict to tell me the stories, thus giving me my roots. The stories came alive to me in the same way her blue eyes lit up like candles as she sat in her baby blue Lazy Boy recliner and told me, day after day, a volume of rich family history. I typed them up that night and gave them to her for review the next day. She would sometimes tell me, "No that's not the way it happened..." and proceeded to tell me all over again until I "got it right." This was indeed the most formative year of my life, and I was forty six years old at the time. I was a late bloomer!
Aunt Bebe's stories made me aware of the country they grew up in and the cloth that they were cut from. Bebe, Josephine and Jane rose at 4:00 A.M. sharp every morning to feed and milk the cows, and then at 4:00 each afternoon, seven days a week. Eight cows a piece would be assigned by my grandfather to his three daughters and he would switch off with Grandmother with the other three. My dad was born toward the end of this era and he was always referred to as "the baby" of the family because he was twelve years younger than the youngest daughter, Jane. The longhorn steer story and her "great big Bovine Swatter" and all her "yeeeooooowwwwwsss!" just stuck with me and five years later I wrote this poem She's in heaven now, but I think I got this one right!
Find more about Jacqueline Applewhite and her poetry here.
You can email Jacqueline Marie Applewhite.
(The following was posted as part of Picture the West in February, 2010, and is repeated here as apart of American ranch history.)
Popular Colorado singer, songwriter and poet Peggy Malone shares her story of "The Ol' Gully Ranch" and its rodeo history, with photos courtesy of descendant Betty Sala:
Thomas and Temperance Gully, along with their four children, left their beloved Tipperary, Ireland, back in 1862, bound for the land of promise, America! The potato famine that had devastated their country had driven young and old alike to find a new life in a new world. They came on a sailing vessel, which took about one month to cross the Atlantic. They rode below deck with many other families, not knowing what lay ahead. They arrived in New York, but their hearts were set on going to the open space of the West.
Thomas, along with other relatives, joined the many Irish immigrants that worked the Leadville mines. But, after doing this kind of work for about four years, Thomas hankered to have his own ranch, and heard that the rich high plains grassland were perfect, in what is now known as Aurora.
(Colorado was still a Territory back then, and folks could "claim" land that they could take care of as their own land. Thomas, along with his two brothers, had claimed about 11,000 acres from Toll Gate Creek west to Havana. Later, when Colorado became a state, families were only allowed 160 acres per family.)
They settled on their ranch, located at what now is known as Mississippi and Chambers Roads. They built themselves a dugout home on the side of a hill, and later added a barn right by the dugout for their livestock. They lived there for quite a while. They later built a small log home nearby Toll Gate Creek.
The Old Gully Ranch in the 1940s
John Gully grew up and married the local schoolmarm Elizabeth Clifford. When they married, John built "The Ol' Gully Ranch Homestead," where they raised five children. Mary (called Mamie) the oldest, James (Jim), John, William (Bill), and then came Elizabeth Gully, the youngest. Later, Mamie would also become a school teacher and marry John O'Brien, who had come to work for her dad at the ranch. Yes, he married the rancher's daughter!
I'd like to share an important story that Betty told me of when Mary (Mamie) was a little girl, and religious sisters/nuns came to their ranch and the neighboring ranches to beg for food and donations for "The Queen of Heaven Orphanage in Denver." Their grandma said, "Mamie, go with the sisters and show them the easiest way to get to the Kennedy's Ranch."
As they were traveling in the buggy and were crossing the dry ditch of Toll Gate Creek, Mother Cabrini put her arms around Mamie so she wouldn't bounce out of the buggy. Mamie told Mother Cabrini that they all wished that Toll Gate would become a "live water" (one that is fed by an underground spring), as it only ran good in wet weather. Mother Cabrini said that she would pray for it to become a "live water."
Soon after Mother Cabrini's visit, a true miracle happened, as Toll Gate Creek became "live water" and has run ever since. The family was always grateful to Mother Cabrini for this miracle.
Folks today who cross the Toll Gate bridge, would never know about this if we didn't share it with them. Maybe they should rename the bridge in honor of Mother Cabrini? (Mother Cabrini was later canonized a Saint in the Catholic Church).
After her great-grandparents died of natural causes, her grandfather John Gully took over the ranch. John raised mostly Morgan horses for team work, because everything back in those days (late 1800s) had to be delivered by horse and wagon. It was at that time that their brand, The Diamond Bar, was secured and is still used today. They prospered and did well ... and then the Great Depression hit in the late 1920s and early '30s. Actually folks were having hard times up until the '40s until the war hit.
Elizabeth Gully married Ed Mann in 1933. He was a friend of her uncles. He worked at City Park Dairy delivering milk. Betty was born in 1934. Her parents separated early, but Betty remained on the ranch and was raised by her mom and her three bachelor uncles.
It was Betty's Uncle Bill who had the idea to have rodeos start up in the early 1940s at the Gully Ranch. Uncle Bill spearheaded it, and his brother's, Uncle John and Uncle Jim helped run it. They'd advertise the rodeo by having colorful flyers made up at a print shop which gave location and admission charge of one or two dollars. Eight-year-old Betty, along with her mother and uncle, would go to the outlying towns, like Littleton. She definitely remembers going around Colorado Boulevard and Alameda, where they would let her out at one end of town, and she'd go to all the shops, and put up flyers.
Some folks rode in on their horses and tied them to the fence, while others trailered them in. The events they had at the rodeo were saddle broncs, bareback, bull riding and calf roping. Bull doggin' came later on. Barrel racing wasn't even done back in those days. There were always other family fun events, like sack races. They'd have a horse tank filled with pop and beer, and hot dogs and hamburgers were most popular.
The Jolly Family also had The Deer Trail Rodeo during that same period of time, and the Gullys and the Jollys would make sure their rodeos were on different dates. They shared each other's rough stock for both rodeos. It was a nice working relationship.
Buckley Field was located just north and east of the ranch and all the fields were open then, so the soldiers would walk across the open fields to get to the rodeo where they would enter as contestants. This was a good outlet for them during wartime (WW II).
There was an older man that lived just west of the Gully Ranch, and he had a team and wagon. He talked to her uncle before the rodeo one summer, saying "I think I have a buckin' hoss. Now I really believe, cuz ... I tried to break this hoss for another team ... and all he'd do was buck and couldn't do anything with him! If you just put a halter on him, he was fine. Can I bring him out the day of the rodeo and we'll see if he can buck?"
Well, he drove his wagon out with the horse tied to the back of the wagon, and sure enough, they bucked him out, and he turned out to be a real good buckin' hoss. The ol' guy went home without him, and he stayed on as a buckin' hoss. Steiner Contractors from Weatherford, Texas, would come to see local buckin' hosses, and they bought two or three horses from our rodeo stock, and I think he was one of them.
When Casey Tibbs was just a young cowpoke, he rode both saddle bronc and bareback broncs at the Gully Ranch Rodeo. Dick Locks, who won a lot of money back in those days, also rode rough stock, mostly saddle broncs. The Ken Myers family lived about six or seven miles west of the Gully Ranch, and they'd always bring their families. Butch Myers was one of Kenny's sons. Butch wasn't old enough to be a contestant, but they all watched their dad calf roping. Betty says, "His dad Ken was a good roper." (It's sure 'nuf in the blood, as the grandkids, Rope, Tie, and Cash Myers have gone on and done quite well, and are well known in the PRCA.) There were also local cowboys that were contestants. When Betty's Uncle Bill passed away in 1952 or '53, and her Uncle Jim was getting up in years, that ended the Gully Ranch Rodeo.
Soldier from Buckley Field, walked cross field to Rodeo. Aurora, Colorado, 1940s
Uncle Jim was still living on the ranch in 1956, when John Sala came looking for some pasture for his rope mare Denver Snyder. After they got acquainted, John wanted to have some calves to rope of his own, so then Uncle Jim and John had an agreement to bring calves there to rope. It had been a few years that there weren't any cattle on the ranch, so Uncle Jim thought it was a great idea. That is how the present herd got started.
Betty's uncles are in this photo of the old Stockyard Stadium in 1926. Notice that old "clown" is on both ends of the photo. In those days...if you ran fast enough you could do that! Some kinda camera! The 4th person is: Diamond Jack Alterias; 13th person is: Uncle John O'Brien (by marriage); 19th person is: Uncle Bill Gully (Betty Mann/Gully Mom's side); 25th person is: Uncle John Gully; 11th person is: Uncle Tom O'Brien (brothers).
Uncle Jim passed away around 1962. John had hoped to buy the ranch but then John's wife Ruth passed away after a long illness, so John never did live on the ranch. John kept the Diamond Bar brand alive and well, and raised some nice herefords, and black baldies.
My husband Billy and I had become real good friends with John, after buying a top notch quarterhorse brood mare, Bella Sundown from him in the 1960s. We'd go out to the ranch where our kids would love to run and play and chase rabbits. John would always have some nice cold orange sodas for them in an old fridge. He would later marry Betty, and they both became like family to us.
So, when I heard the ranch was being sold because of modern day pressures, and the old homestead would be demolished, my heart sank. So, I sat down and wrote the poem "Old Gully Ranch House" about the old branding days. We all wanted to share it, and sent it into the Aurora Historical Society, along with an old photo of the horses tied to its fence. They printed it in their news flyer. When they realized it was the oldest homestead in the Toll Gate area, they also wanted to save it. With Aurora growing so rapidly in the 1970s , they wanted to save this historical site.
The O'Briens and Betty, the great-grandchildren of Thomas and Temperance, granted approval to move the old homestead to the Aurora Historical Park. It was finally moved to its present site around 1975.
Folks may go visit the Aurora Historical Park (off of Alameda and Chambers Roads) and go into the Gully Ranch Homestead, that is exactly preserved the way Betty remembers it as a kid. "The only thing that is different," Betty says, "growing up, it was a natural wood color, and not white." The sign at the park reads "DeLaney/Gully Homesteads." The Historical Society wanted a natural setting. The DeLaneys were actually about six miles from the GullyRanch. The DeLaneys' huge round barn is also part of the site. [See a photo of the ranch house here at the Aurora, Colorado web site.]
Mississippi and Chambers Roads are quite different today, and no one would ever imagine the history this land beholds. Thanks to Betty Sala (Gully-Mann) for sharing her stories with us, and Mary O'Brien-Ulmer for gathering up the photos. We can treasure the memories that this patch of Colorado Soil holds for us, that was once ranched by Irish immigrants, of days gone by.
When John and Betty married, they moved their cattle to their new ranch in Elizabeth, Colo. After John passed away, well into his 90s, in 2005, Betty continues the ranching tradition, and still has some fine cattle that wear the Diamond Bar Brand. She's grateful to her nephew Joe O'Brien who helps her out whenever possible. She will always have cattle and is proud to say "It's in her blood."
We thank the Aurora Historical Society for saving the Gully Homestead. Never underestimate the power of the written word.
Old Gully Ranch House
Old gully ranch house,
you're soon to die.
Prairie storms weathered
in years gone by.
The roar of campfires
from dawn til dusk.
Range cows a circlin'
in clouds of dust.
The cry of calves could
be heard from afar.
As they were put to the iron
of the diamond bar.
I've heard stories of
rodeos held there.
On Sundays they'd ride in
Children's voices echoed
inside your walls.
Horses tied to your fence,
hot coffee for all.
But, new times and progress
must take its toll
And you must go,
for they'll be a new road.
But when you finally
are no more
Who will know ...
You ever were?
Just in our hearts,
your mem'ry will live
And tales of good times ...
You still can give.
© 1974, Peggy Malone
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
© story copyright 2009 by Peggy Malone
This story also appeared, with some different photos, here in The Fence Post.
Read about Peggy Malone and some her lyrics and poetry here.
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