Category Archives: Texas Hill Country

Hay’s In The Barn

How affirming those words, “hay is in the barn”.  Have you ever wondered how hay is cut and baled? We cut our hay fields this week and baled both round and square bales. Below I share the process of carrying out this important ranch activity.

Two months ago our fields were brown and dusty. After our lengthy drought the fact that we obtained a cutting at all is fortunate. The process began two months ago.The rains this year came at the right time, namely just after we had fertilized the fields and then subsequent rain was well spaced till harvesting.

Trudy in Klein grass field

Trudy in waist high Klein grass field

Being a small operator, we don’t own the cutting, raking, and baling equipment. Instead I hire someone with equipment and pay a per bale charge. The charge for cutting and baling our hay is substantially less than buying it, especially so during our recent drought years.

Yours truly with baling equipment

Yours truly with baling equipment

When the hay has grown and begun to head out, the tractor pulls the cutter through the fields and lays it down, much like a giant scythe. The hay then needs to dry for several days. Because of the threat of rain this year, we baled the Klein grass into bales before it had completely dried. Once the hay was cut and dried, the tractor pulled a giant rake through the fields, creating a large snake-like furrow of hay. Next the tractor pulled the baling machine through the field and picked up the rows of grass,  turning it into thousand pound round bales or sixty pound square bales. The machine amazingly ties the bale tightly with twine or wire to hold it in place.

Hay rake

Hay rake

Trudy with Hay bale

Trudy with Hay bale

Given the higher than normal moisture content of the grass this year, we will leave the bales in the field for a week or so to dry before moving them to the hay barn. This interval diminishes the chance for spontaneous combustion. Yes, instances have occurred where barns have burned down due to prematurely enclosed hay bales.

Hay bales and Hay Barn

Hay bales and Hay Barn in distance

Next week we will move the bales (both the large round ones for cattle and the smaller coastal square bales for horses) to the barn to store for the winter. Placing  the hay in the barn is a particularly satisfying time, knowing the animals will have ample hay during the non-growing season.

Prospective consumers of hay

Prospective consumers of our hay

Till The Cows Come Home

And the cattle did come home this morning, but not in a way I had ever before witnessed.

Let me set the stage. Our new ranch (Hidden Falls) is less than a mile from our main ranch (Medicine Spirit). Our herd of cattle has been on Hidden Falls just three times but based on today’s performance clearly the cattle know their way home.

Today I opened the gate at the new ranch and witnessed the cattle RUNNING, yes RUNNING through it. I had to speed by them in the pickup even to catch up with them and act like I was leading them. Fortunately I had opened the gates at Medicine Spirit leading to my preferred pastures.

The question in my mind is why the cattle were so anxious to return. They had water and salt at the new ranch. The grass was running out but they were getting enough to eat there. While I had a bag of ranch cubes in the bed of the pickup, they have never before run to hasten a feeding. In fact you rarely will see a mature cow run at all unless a dog is chasing her. I am unaware of any predators such as coyotes or feral hogs on the new place.

My theory is this: I think the cattle were homesick! Yes, maybe I am anthropomorphizing a bit, but what else explains their unusual behavior. The cattle drive proved so easy that the Border collies never even got out of the pickup. My ranch hand, Francisco, followed along but did not have to push the cattle. His job was limited to closing the gates.

When last seen, the cattle grazed contently at Medicine Spirit Ranch and, dare I say it, seemed over their homesickness. Life is good on the ranch.

Intruder

The major transition points in life, e.g. retirement, have similarities to the boundaries of a ranch. It is at these dividing lines in life or geography that  stressful but often memorable events occur. The story below happened shortly after I retired from medicine  at the boundary fence of our ranch. The players are two rookie Border Collies, Bandit and Mollie, and one rookie, newly minted rancher, me. There is also one VERY large intruder. I hope you enjoy the story.

Intruder

 

For no apparent reason, my dogs’ ears suddenly pricked up. Their muscles tensed.  Mollie began to quiver and emit plaintive moans.  Wet snouts pressed forward, panting moist and warm on my neck. Just moments before Bandit and Mollie had been sitting in the backseat, calmly peering through the windows at the passing Texas Hill Country landscape.

We were traveling along a wash-boarded caliche road. The pickup shimmied down a steep hill, passed by a stock tank, and galumphed across a rusty cattle guard. Aggressive treads on sixteen-inch tires made crunching sounds on the limestone roadbed.

Twenty minutes earlier Bandit, our six year-old male Border Collie, had been relentlessly pestering me. His impatience had taken the form of mournful whimpering and pleading golden brown eyes. From a brief glance in the pickup’s rear view mirror, I thought I could detect a smug look across his whiskered muzzle.

From years of experience, I realized Bandit’s insistence could not be resisted for long. He had a history of inexorably wearing people down with his limitless canine shenanigans.  Nevertheless, a show of male gumption had seemed necessary on my part. As the steam rose from my coffee cup, I muttered to no one in particular, “What nonsense, it’s my ranch, I’m in charge, not that house demolishing, canine nut case!” Finally, as was typical and of no surprise to Trudy, my wife, Bandit succeeded in mobilizing me out of my chair and out of the house.

As we rode along that morning, Mollie applied furtive, staccato-like licks to my neck.  Was this her expression of appreciation?  In contrast to the more languid licking Bandit, Mollie, our three year-old, blue-eyed Border Collie demanded less attention and was far less demonstrative. While Bandit would nudge, paw, and connive to make his wants known, Mollie would usually sit a few steps away, studying every nuanced human behavior– Yoda-like through half closed eyes. 

Mollie loved to ride in the pickup. Mere mention of a trip would provoke frenzied barking and a skittering of paws on hardwood floors. Her fondness was largely anticipatory, as Mollie’s greatest delight in life was herding.

We had previously lived in the city of Lubbock where Mollie and Bandit, lacking livestock, had herded whatever moved. At times this had included groups of neighborhood children who chose to play in our yard, largely unaware cocktail party guests who surprisingly would realize they had all been rounded up in a tight knot, and most especially slow to move, human family members. An insatiable instinct to herd had over the centuries been bred into Border Collies and, as a defining characteristic of the breed, proved second only to an amazing intelligence.  I sensed Mollie had permanently tasked Bandit with the rallying of family members, a job Bandit seemed to relish even more than a juicy steak bone.

            My doggy road crew and I meandered along in the “Old Gray Goat”- a nickname Trudy and our two grown children had given my aging Ram pickup. After the dogs had alerted, they remained fixated on whatever excitement it was that lay ahead. I could see in my rearview mirror how their eyes stared at a distant spot, as if their gazes like matter were drawn into a black hole.  Then Mollie gave an ear-splitting yelp and began climbing into the front seat. 

While forcing Mollie back and navigating the Gray Goat around a clump of Live Oak trees, our herd of cattle came into view.  My growing concern began to gnaw more deeply, but I lacked an explanation for my anxiety. The dogs then became still more agitated and began to race back and forth in the backseat.  A disquieting sensation arose in my gut that something was very much amiss. But what was it?  After several moments of visually searching, the answer gradually became clear, like finally achieving focus with a pair of binoculars. 

“Awwwww shit,” I yelled to no one except my already aware canine companions. With my fist, I pounded the steering wheel in frustration.

He would have been hard to miss. The white bull was huge and contrasted sharply with my herd of smaller black cows.  He possessed a massive, shaggy head accented with black ears, black nose, and curiously black-rimmed eyes. In excess of a ton, the bull’s size alone would have made him stand out from the others, as he was at least twice the size of my Black Baldy heifers.

I looked for the small Black Angus bull that was supposed to breed the heifers but found him nowhere in sight.  Almost immediately I realized the behemoth before me would produce large and undeliverable calves. This mammoth bull had to be removed and the heifers protected, but how? 

Panic began to flow over me like a cold, breaking surf. The unfortunate reality was that the welfare of these young cows depended on me– a recently retired city guy and newly minted but largely clueless rancher.

I swung hurriedly out of the pickup and forcefully shoved two intensely interested Border Collies back into the truck cab. Unmistakable disappointment appeared on their muzzles. These rookie dogs, if unleashed, I thought, might cause a stampede and in any event would only be in the way.

I glanced to my left and spotted a mangled section of downed fence.  Barbed wire dangled from broken cedar posts that had snapped like matchsticks.  The ground nearby was gouged and scraped, as if by spring tilling. This area, I realized, was the scene of an unsuccessful defense put up by the smaller Angus bull.

In an attempt to learn something about ranching, I had read several books on the subject. What else would you expect of an educated city guy? Bulls, I had learned, were intensely territorial. The resident bull would usually confront an interloper at the fence line and ferociously defend his domain.  The gouged ground before me spoke to how the smaller Angus had made such a vain attempt, but given the size difference, he would have had no more chance to repel the huge white interloper, than would a destroyer pitted against a giant battleship.

On impulse I picked up a small limb and proceeded to strip off its smaller branches. I then pressed ahead in the direction of the great white bull. My hand repeatedly gripped the stick’s rough bark, as if milking it of a plan for expelling the pale intruder.

My intense concentration distracted me so that I failed to see an exposed tree root. My body hit the ground violently. As I landed, a hot, searing pain exploded down my leg and into my lower back. My head next hit, smacking into an unfortunately placed cow patty. I felt dazed and momentarily disoriented. As I gathered myself and slowly pushed myself up from the ground, the pungent smell of dung assaulted my nostrils.  My initial embarrassment was replaced by a seething rage that rapidly welled up within me. I distractedly scraped cow dung from cheek and glasses and began to limp onward, my anger overcoming the pain. 

“I’m coming to get you!  Can’t sneak onto my ranch!”

What I expected to accomplish by making such a patently hollow threat was unclear, but lacking a plan, bravado was all I could summon– outrage having swallowed common sense. As I saw it, the bull threatened my kingdom and challenged my role as protector of the yearling heifers.  Bulls, to be sure, were not the only territorial animals on the ranch that day. 

The herd grazed lazily in a nearby paddock about two hundred yards from my abandoned pickup. When my limp-along advance had closed to within thirty yards of the herd, the bull raised his massive head from his grazing and slowly turned to stare in my direction.  His baleful eyes bored into me, halting further progress.  The bull’s unblinking black eyes projected what I perceived as surly defiance.  I was especially taken aback by the size of his massive neck. It was huge–thicker than a man’s chest.  Steeling my resolve, I foolishly crabbed forward, my eyes measuring the distance to what I hoped was a safe retreat to nearby cattle pens.

The four-stomached herbivore lowered his massive head and began to repeatedly scuff a huge cloven hoof along the ground, throwing dirt up and under his enormous belly. The intent of the bull’s aggressive display was unmistakable and once again stopped my forward movement.  I was close enough to him to observe how his dirt-caked nose dripped, and how drool streamed out of his maw. He began to make a rumbling, low-pitched sound, as if from a bass speaker. The sound was so granularly deep; it was hard to imagine it coming from an animal, but rather more fittingly from some sinister subterranean chasm.   Evolution had designed this menacing warning to frighten away other bulls, predators, and no doubt foolish, beginner ranchers like me.

The bull mercifully did not charge or I likely would not be writing this piece.  Perhaps startled at seeing a yelling, flailing, idiotic man, carrying only a small limb, he chose instead to relish the entirety of the scene by falling back.  The novelty of my hobbling charge might have given the creature pause. Alternatively he may not have even viewed me as a threat, but more of an inconvenience, like a pestering swarm of black flies. 

For the next twenty minutes, I gamely attempted to separate the bull from the herd. I ran at him yelling wildly. I threw rocks at the bull and verbally berated him. I threatened him with my unimpressive stick. All my efforts proved useless.  Despite the coolness of the morning, I soon found my shirt soaked with sweat and my legs aching. My lungs began to burn and demand more oxygen, forcing me to bend over and rest my hands on my knees.

On one brief occasion I separated the bull from the heifers, only to have him rapidly circle me and rejoin the herd. Irritation and humiliation settled over me like a morning fog.  Bulls, I learned, could move surprisingly fast to be such massive animals.

Defeated, exhausted, and still smarting from my fall, I stumbled back toward the pickup. The sun had by then climbed high above the eastern blue hills but provided no illumination as to how to evict the trespasser from my ranch.

I turned back toward the surly creature and, and just in case any nosey neighbors happened to be watching from over the fence, shook my fist in the air and yelled, “Just you wait, I’ll make you the biggest meatloaf in history, make the Guinness Book of Records, you will!” 

Despite my bluster, I felt thoroughly and unequivocally diminished. A roving ruminant had outsmarted me. Heading toward the pickup, I heard my boots scraping along the ground. I felt ashamed because with all my years of advanced education, I had been outwitted by a dumb bovine. I was exhausted, stank of dung, and ached from my unsuccessful, sophomoric effort.

As I neared the pickup, I began to hear frantic but muted howling.  When I looked up from the caliche-strewn ground, I was surprised to see the pickup rocking from side to side. I heard Bandit and Mollie’s muffled wailing, obviously demanding their release from the cab. 

I could see that Mollie had jumped into the front seat and was careening from side to side. She banged into the doors, using her body like a small battering ram.  In his frenzy, Bandit had shredded the back seat upholstery. Shredded white seat stuffing made the interior resemble a winter snowstorm. A piece of the padding still crowned his black and white head, like snow atop a mountain peak. I stood dumbfounded, looking at the swaying truck and the havoc ensuing within. I learned a valuable but expensive lesson– never leave a Border Collie in the pickup when near the cattle herd.

My dogs seemed to be demanding their chance with the bull. But realistically, how could small, inexperienced dogs from the city confront this mammoth creature? Bandit and Mollie could be hurt or even killed. The risk seemed too great to consider.  I felt anguish, torn between by fear for my dogs’ health, yet equally tormented by feelings of responsibility for the well being of my heifers. 

Many good reasons for not releasing the dogs flitted through my mind: they could be kicked, stomped, or butted.  They could stampede the herd or run off in fear and become lost. But what other possibility did I have to protect the young cows from their reproductive fate? The dogs’ frenzied desire to participate, in what seemed their Border Collie birthright, struck me as compelling. 

I grasped the door handle, but still I hesitated. Should I really open it? I had no real chance of removing the bull on my own, having already failed miserably. Certainly the dogs could do no worse than my misadventure, which had driven the intruder still farther from the breached fence line. 

Peering through the window of the pickup, I asked the collies, “You guys wanna help?”

Deeply emotive howls erupted.  Their tails beat a staccato against the seatbacks. Their eyes demonstrated a burning intensity, and their bodies quivered, as if racked by fever. I tentatively pushed the button on the door handle, cracked the truck door ever so slightly, only to have it blown open, as two yelping Border Collies erupted like demons streaming out the gates of hell. 

“Go get the bull!  Get him!” I screamed after them, my voice full of desperation.  The dogs, like low flying cruise missiles, immediately sped off in the direction of the herd.

The two dogs charged pell mell across the pasture. Mollie, the younger and more recently acquired dog, was first to reach the vicinity of the bull.  She cut her stride, dropped her head, and began cautiously to circle the herd.  When an opening arose, Mollie darted between the bull and the cows.   There she crouched, fixing an unwavering Border Collie “eye” on the giant white bull.  The bull immediately alerted to her presence and froze in place.  Mollie then hunkered down about ten yards away from him, as if awaiting Bandit’s arrival. 

And this was not long in coming and consisted of a headlong, yapping, suicidal charge straight at the gigantic bull. Bandit’s kamikaze onslaught caused the giant bovine to spin around to face his reckless attacker.  But at the last instant, Bandit veered off, barely escaping a fierce head butt. This diversion of the bull’s attention, as if by signal, prompted Mollie to surge forward and repeatedly bite the bull’s hind legs. 

The bull appeared at first startled by the nips and then perturbed by them.  He twisted his massive body around to determine the source and focused his malice on Mollie. The bull clattered a huge hoof over the rocky ground.  He bellowed a loud, deeply pitched warning, turned, and retaliated with several ferocious kicks that narrowly missed her.  My spirits sank.  Landing one of these kicks would crush a dog’s skull. 

To my surprise, my dogs, usually docile pets, had been transformed into snarling, vicious predators. They fixed wolf-like stares on the bull with lips pulled back revealing their gleaming white canines. My fear for the safety of the dogs was by then mixed with an awed incredulity at their agility.  They repeatedly darted at the bull and, at the last instant, dodged his enormous flying hooves.  I felt loathing for this unwelcome intruder, threatening the well being of my heifers and my rookie herding dogs. My heart pounded so hard in my chest, I felt it might burst.

The bull shifted his stare frequently between Bandit and Mollie, his fury-filled eyes never leaving the dogs. Lifting his massive head, the bull, to my amazement, took a few tentative steps, backward. The dogs, seeming to sense his hesitancy, stepped up their swirling, frenetic attack, an assault that left the bull uncertain and bewildered.  While the dogs appeared to be dodging and diving haphazardly, soon it became apparent to me that the dogs, working in concert, were having a wanted effect.

By then I had moved close enough to the mêlée to smell the musky aroma of the bull and to hear the growling of the dogs.  I briefly studied the situation and then hurried to station myself on the far side of the bull, opposite the downed fence.   I brandished my stick– a stick that in the presence of the dogs garnered renewed respect. Together the dogs and I, ever so slowly, edged the stubborn bull across the pasture, away from the herd, and in the direction of the breach. 

After several more minutes of the dogs lunging and my wielding the stick, the dogs and I managed to move the bull about a hundred yards in the desired direction. Then near disaster struck. Circling at full stride from opposite sides and intent on watching the bull, the dogs collided with one another full force, sending both sprawling. For an instant, my Border Collies laid on the ground, legs splayed out awkwardly.

After a moment to assess the changing situation, the bull recognized his opportunity and whirled around. He then rambled back in the direction of the herd. The giant bull swept by me, ignoring my wind milling arms, leaving me standing helplessly in his wake. He had passed by so close that, had I been foolish enough to reach out, I could have run my hand down his broad, muscular back. I began to taste not only the dust he had kicked up but also imminent defeat.

The dogs soon reacted by groggily regaining their feet. Bandit stretched a hind limb and Mollie shook her head, causing a jingling of her collar tags. Then both dogs turned, and sped off toward the retreating bull and back into the fight.

 Mollie soon closed the distance between her and the bull. She arrived directly behind the bull where she chomped full force down upon his tail.  In the next instant, I saw Mollie, attached Bulldog-style, rocketing along behind the bull, like a miniature black and white caboose behind a huffing steam locomotive.  When the bull eventually slowed, Bandit circled him and charged head-on. This time Bandit did not dodge, instead biting down on the bull’s thick, pink snout. His bite left behind a bloody gash. Bandit’s attack had momentarily distracted the bull from the tenacious, tail-riding Mollie. 

The bull, now bleeding from his nose, appeared progressively flummoxed by the two tenacious dogs.  He took a few steps away from Bandit and then proceeded to buck like a rodeo bull, tossing the still tethered Mollie high into the air. She became detached from the bull’s tail, fell to the ground, and laid motionless some twenty feet away; her back pressed awkwardly against the side of a water trough. 

My heart sank. Was she dead? Was she hurt?  Would she recover? As if to answer, Mollie sprang up, shook herself, and sprinted back across the paddock to re-engage the bull. 

The collies had been able to outrun the bull prior to his rejoining the herd.  Now the bull with collies in pursuit turned unhappily toward the breached fence. The dogs, arcing from side to side, tailed the trundling, ghost-like, massive beast, urging him always onward. The bull thundered by my parked pickup, wheeled around the corner of the dilapidated corrugated aluminum barn and hurried across the crushed limestone ranch road. Now in full gallop with an occasional desultory kick at the pursuing dogs, as if to save face, the bull headed straight for the downed fence line. From the rear of the chase, I watched the bull jump through the yawning breach and hasten off into the pasture of the neighboring ranch.

Shortly thereafter I arrived at the boundary fence. Like two sentries Bandit and Mollie paced back and forth in front of the opening, still gazing in the direction of the retreating marauder. I collapsed to my knees, and sucked in vast quantities of air. I threw my arms around the furry necks of the collies and hugged them fiercely. I buried my face in their silky coats. Bandit and Mollie had accomplished what only minutes before had seemed impossible.

From deep within these untrained collies had come an instinct to separate the foreign bull from the herd and drive him to the broken fence line. The dogs, ferocious only moments before, had abruptly reverted to their gentle mode. Their eyes shone brightly and their tongues dangled haphazardly. Bandit and Mollie seemed to comprehend the magnitude of their accomplishment, appearing alive in a way I had never before witnessed. 

Still too winded to speak, I continued to embrace my dogs.  I scratched their ears and hugged their necks, feeling the softness of their soft fur against my cheeks and the warmth of their bodies.  I felt raspy tongues licking my face.  Pride swelled within me. I felt exultant, as one whose burdens had been miraculously lifted. Bandit and Mollie, my two brave Border Collies, had provided a gift, no doubt as valued in the giving as in the receiving. 

Now looking back at this, the first herding effort of the dogs and me, I chuckle over my own incompetence. I am thankfully aware of improvements since then, especially in my own stock handling ability.

Our capacity to herd together, in a larger sense, mirrors the development of the interdependent relationship between human and dog. From the earliest times, dogs, with their keen sense of hearing and smell, warned their human companions of lurking predators. Still today dogs provide protection for their families. As mankind learned to domesticate animals, dogs provided the ability to drive them into pens and off high rocky slopes, tasks that man on his own could not accomplish. Human hunting benefitted from dogs capturing game and from retrieving felled animals from inaccessible places, such as from lakes and streams.

Mankind’s discovery of fire to cook his meat increased its nutritional value a well as its tastiness, with the leftover morsels going to the helpful dog. Whether the dog-human relationship is based on utilitarian purposes or solely on companionship, a special emotional bond has developed between human and dog unrivaled by other human-animal bonds— a special relationship well known to every dog lover. A dog’s empathy toward a human’s emotional needs and the constancy of his affection remain the principal reasons for having a dog.

Eventually my breathing on that eventful day became more normal, and I was able to speak to my dogs.  I cupped their warm, damp muzzles in my hands.  The dogs intently stared up at me with their eyes still gleaming. They seemed expectant, awaiting my voice. With my first words, I uttered the time honored, parsimonious Border Collie congratulation and stand down command.

”That’ll do Bandit.”

“That’ll do Mollie.”

Driving In Gillespie Co., Texas and In India

My posting has been nonexistent since our return from a prolonged trip from Singapore to Dubai. Most of our time was spent in India. I was for a time emotionally and intellectually spent. What a wonderful and ancient place India is. I lacked sufficient appreciation before our visit for its complexity and heterogeneity.

I will for now limit my comments about the trip to driving. Imagine driving among 1.3 billion people. Well, that’s India. It is the most chaotic, crazy traffic I have ever witnessed. Rome, Athens, and Beijing do not compare, believe me. The traffic in Gillespie County is mild by any comparison. We complain if we have to sit through one of its few stoplights.

Let me contrast driving in India to Gillespie County. First off folks in our county are rule followers. They do not stray across the center yellow stripe or change lanes without signaling. They are mindful of traffic signs. In India, best I can determine, the yellow lines are something to be ignored. No one pays any attention to them. Even the stop signs are largely ignored.

The traffic in India moves like a school of fish. It is an amazing process to witness. The “school” of cars, buses, pedicabs, and motorbikes move in harmony to the left or right. It allows for maximal passage of traffic and maximal gastric acidity.

In Gillespie County most horns on vehicles have not been used in years. It is  down right rude to honk at another driver even for doing something really stupid. In India by contrast the horn is in constant use. I dare say the horn would take priority over at least one or two of the gears and maybe even a tire. It is illegal there to overtake without giving a toot on the horn. Needless to say, with all that traffic, driving in India is a cacophony of sound.

In one strange way driving is similar in Gillespie County and India. Cattle roam the streets of India and are considered sacred. Cattle in places also roam across the county roads in Gillespie County although not  considered sacred. Gillespie County is considered an “Open Range County” which means that cattle have the right-of-way- you hit one and you pay for it. Cattle on the rural roads are only slightly less dangerous than deer.

I prefer driving in Gillespie County. Among other reasons, I can drive my full-sized pickup that would be an exceptionally large vehicle in India. Another reason is the constant vigilance required with the number of vehicles in India that constantly pass and swerve. The driver of our minivan certainly, in my eyes, earned his fee.

Does Size Really Make A Difference?

The other evening I viewed a thrilling clip of the beginning of a cattle drive. It was an exciting scene- the beginning of a long drive portending inevitable drama up the trail. The initiation of the drive was full of cowboy yelling, waving of hats, brandishing of ropes, and kicking up of dust as riders on their horses cut back and forth behind a slow to move herd.

Several days later I witnessed an interaction between my cows and horses that gave me a slightly different perspective on this seminal moment in a cattle drive and suggested the true motivation for the cattle to head out. It played out this way:

Because of diminishing pasture this time of year (late February), the cattle and our two horses share a pasture. This is something I try to avoid in deference to the horses,  because the cattle make such a mess.

I scooped horse pellets into the horse trough. Several cows and the bull, sensing an extra feeding opportunity, hurried to the trough and began to chow down. I was singularly unsuccessful in running them off or protecting the horses’ rations. I waved my arms and bellowed threateningly at the cattle but to no avail. They basically ignored me.

Not long thereafter the horses arrived. The horses quickly went to work intimidating the cows and bull and ran them away from the trough. The horses did this by prancing, snorting and throwing their heads. All this acting out seemed to frighten the cattle. Now keep in mind the bull weighs well over 2000 pounds and the horses in the 900-1100 range. Shouldn’t size make a difference here?

Our paint horse Fancy and Doc's nose

Our paint horse Fancy and Doc’s nose

The takeaway message for me is this; horses for whatever reason dominate cattle. I suppose it is a “pecking order” of long evolutionary standing.

Now I suspect the cowboys’ waving of hats and yelling in the film played a limited role in herding the cattle. The horses underneath the cowboys likely provided the major motivation for the cattle to stop grazing, turn around,

Curly, our Charolais bull

Curly, our Charolais bull

doc

Now does Doc really look that scary?

and begin moving toward the long, dusty cow trail.

San Saba Apache Mission and Presidio

I recently became aware of some eighteenth century Spanish ruins near Menard, Texas. After an initial visit and several phone calls, I had the good fortune to spend a day with Carleton Kothmann, a spry eighty-something year old historian and supporter of the San Saba Presidio and Mission. We toured the partially restored Presideo, visited the site of the recently re-discovered Apache Mission, and saw several other points of local historical interest. I am indebted to Carleton for his time and expertise.

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State of Texas Historical Site Marker for the Presidio

Below you will find what I gleaned from my visits and research. I have no doubt that one day the San Saba Presidio and Mission will attract legions of avid visitors. Here is a first peak at this partially restored and largely unknown historical site.

Dual purposes drove Spanish exploration of Texas in the eighteenth century: a search for riches such as Cortez in Mexico stole from the Aztecs and the saving of pagan souls. In 1757 Franciscan monks set out from Mexico City for Texas along with soldiers, prospectors, wives, children, and several Indian families. They embarked on the difficult trek to the San Saba River near present day Menard, Texas. The Franciscans accepted with pious enthusiasm their hardscrabble existence on the frontier in order to be the first to plant a Christian cross among the Lipan Apache.

The Spaniards began construction of their fort (the Presidio) and ill-fated Mission immediately on arrival in 1757. After the San Antonio mission complex, it would become the largest fortified Spanish mission in Texas but also would prove to be Spain’s last. When they built their timber and mud outposts on the winding, spring fed San Saba, their east Texas missions had already been active for over 50 years.

Drawing of Later Stone Presidio

Drawing of Later Stone Presidio

The east Texas Spanish fortifications had limited the growth of French settlements outward from Louisiana. It was hoped that the San Saba Presidio and Mission would similarly secure Spain’s valuable trade route from San Antonio to El Paso and prevent raids from the Native American Nations of the north (called the Norteños). Chief among these tribes were the fearsome Comanche, the finest light cavalry in the New World. The Comanche along with other Norteño tribes were the declared enemies of the Lipan Apache. The Spaniards by befriending the Lipan Apache then also became the avowed enemies of the Norteños.

Prospectors boasted of finding rich veins of silver along the nearby Llano River. Sightings of Lipan Apache wearing silver ornamentation fueled the prospectors’ already heady greed. An uncommon duality developed, consisting of idealistic padres zealous to transform Apache ways and avaricious exploiters, equally determined to steal their wealth.

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Spanish Conquistador as he would have dressed at the time

Visualize the scene in 1757 when a long train of pack animals, horses, three to four hundred people and thousands of head of livestock noisily departed Mexico City for San Antonio. The procession then trundled cross-country to the upper reaches of the San Saba River. The priests no doubt exuded hope over their lofty prospects of converting the Lipan Apache to Christianity. Miners tramped or rode; dreaming of soon-to-be realized fortunes. Ultimately both groups with their markedly divergent goals would fail in their efforts. Some would pay the ultimate price for their audacity and hubris.

Depiction of Padres Meeting Apache Chiefs and Mission Construction

Depiction of Padres Meeting Apache Chiefs and Mission Construction

Colonel Diego Ortiz Parrilla, commander of the military contingent, was less sanguine than the padres and prospectors. He knew full well the risks that lay ahead from hostile tribes. He suspected the Lipan Apache had embraced the idea of a Spanish Presidio and Mission as a defensive ploy against their Norteño enemies, rather than truly embracing an agrarian lifestyle and Christianity. Parrilla’s reservations would prove correct.

Immediately on reaching the San Saba River, an argument developed between Parrilla and the Franciscan priests. Parrilla urged constructing the Mission near the Presidio for easier defense. The monks countered that a fort close to the mission would intimidate the Lipan Apache and prevent them from entering.

Based on earlier experiences with unruly soldier behavior at the east Texas missions, the priests also worried that the soldiers would molest the Apache women. This grievous sin, they feared, would lead to irreconcilable animosity among the Lipan Apache and preclude Christianizing them.

Despite his profound reservations, Parrilla had little choice but accept the unbending convictions of the priests. The priests chose a building area on the southern bank of the San Saba River four miles downstream from the Presidio. This separation with its intervening expanse of open ground between the mission and the fort ultimately allowed for the sacking of the mission.

Shortly after their arrival, efforts began to build temporary structures to house the Presidio and Mission.  Stockades were thrown up. Huts were constructed. All were hurriedly erected by setting poles upright in a trench and chinking in sticks, mud, and stones to fill the cracks between the timbers. This building technique in Spanish is known as jacales and in English wattle-and-daub. The expectation of the builders was later to build more secure stone fortifications to replace the wooden enclosures.

Ten months later soldiers, civilians, and a few Lipan Apache huddled and fought from within the same wooden structure.  On the morning of March 16, 1858 some 2000 Norteño braves surrounded and attacked the San Saba Mission. A pitched battle ensued. The tribes from the north viewed the Spaniards as alien invaders invading their hunting range. Galvanizing the Norteño tribes together was their common hatred for the Lipan Apache and those who supported them.

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Picture of Restored Round Bastion of the Presidio

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Entrance to Stone Presidio

The Mission was burned to the ground. All but a few of those in the Mission were killed. The Presidio was shortly thereafter strengthed with rock walls. Ten years later with no mission to defend, the Presidio was abandoned. This proved to be the last mission to be built in Texas.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of good folks like Carleton Kothmann, Jim Goodall and his wife, the story of the San Saba Mission and Presidio will not be lost to future generations. With additional investment of money and time, this historical site will no doubt be visited by large numbers of persons wanting to better understand the unique history of Texas. Special thanks are also due Dr. Grant Hall, recently retired Chair of the Department of Archeology at Texas Tech University and to his faculty and students. Their archeological efforts have established the underpinnings for future exhibits and a fully restored historical site.

Meaning of Medicine Spirit

Bluebonnets & Paints

by Tom Hutton

 

My interests lay in humanistic medicine and life in the Texas Hill Country. Our ranch is named Medicine Spirit Ranch for the following reasons:

The beauty of the Texas Hill Country has always created strong bonds between the land and its people. Over the centuries, Native Americans, Europeans, and Americans have fought to occupy and harvest its bounties.

Native Americans believed this land possessed “strong medicine” that supported the body and enriched the spirit. The gentle breezes, fields of wild flowers, inspiring terrain, and plentiful wildlife  continue to heal the hurts of

A buck on a misty morning

mind and body.

The current stewards of this land, in recognition of these strong healing properties, respectfully name this ranch, Medicine
Spirit.