Tag Archives: Ranching

A Memorable Object At Our Ranch

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Hanging above the fireplace at Medicine Spirit Ranch is an object with special meaning for me- a Winchester Model 1873 Carbine. It is not that this model gun that is said to have won the West is so rare or valuable, but rather because it represents a tangible connection to my great grandfather, Thaddeus Septimis Hutton. The carbine is one of the few connections I have to this relative about whom I wish I knew more. The Winchester pictured below is better polished but otherwise looks like the Hutton Family rifle.

Thad Hutton, or Pappy as he was called later in life, bought the carbine for his use as a cowboy in Texas. The Hutton Family rifle was made in 1881 and is the second model of the 1873 Winchester. It weighs 7 3/8 pounds, has a short overall barrel length that is perfect for a saddle gun, and has a magazine that holds twelve rounds. This model of Winchester 1873 was manufactured in New Haven, Connecticut from 1879 to 1884. According to family lore, this Hutton carbine was one of the earliest of its type to enter the State of Texas.

This model 1873 was the rifle that put Winchester on the map of the West, trotting along with the equally formidable Colt revolver tucked into the belt of the frontiersman. The Winchester carbine is said to have killed more game, more Native Americans, and when the Native Americans awoke to its virtues, more US Soldiers than any other type of rifle. The development of powerful repeating rifles in the 1860s and 1870s of which the Winchester 1873 was the most popular, meant that hardy young Americans could penetrate the West, provide food, and exist in a hostile environment.

Thad Hutton left the Kansas City area around 1874 and struck out for Texas. He married Elizabeth Ragan in Palo Pinto County, Texas on November 1, 1876. Thad was a tall, affable cowboy while Betty was a diminutive Irish lass who reportedly possessed a sharp tongue. The wedding was performed by an itinerant preacher who came through the small town of Gordon near where they lived. Their first son, Thaddeus Leslie Hutton, was born two to three miles north of Gordon on May 11, 1878. Thad’s occupation on the birth certificate was listed as “cowboy.” He was at the time 29 years old and Betty was 24. The picture below was taken years after their marriage.

Not long after Leslie’s birth, Thad and Betty moved further west, relocating near Seymour, Texas. The reason for the move is  unknown, but a strong hint exists in that the Great Western Trail traversed Seymour, leading to Dodge City, Kansas. Dodge City was the major railroad terminus for Texas cattle and this booming western cow town developed quite a reputation. Did Thad ride the trail to Kansas as a drover, pushing large herds of Texas Longhorn cattle up the trail? Did he interact with any famous lawmen and gunfighters of the era including Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok? What were his recollections, if any, of Dodge City, called the wickedest city in the country and home to the Long Branch Saloon and China Doll brothel? Unfortunately this possible family history has all been lost to history. What is certain is that had Thad Hutton ridden the Great Western Trail, his 1873 Winchester carbine would have accompanied him on his long and arduous journey.

What is known for certain is that while in Seymour Thad worked on the P8 Ranch. Apparently this ranch no longer exists as no record of it can be found. While in Seymour three children were born to Thad and Betty including Emma Jane Hutton on March 9, 1880, Margaret Mary Hutton on October 5, 1881, and George Earl Hutton on August 30, 1885. My grandfather John Francis Hutton was not born until 1887 when by then Thad and Betty had left Texas and settled in Garden City, Missouri. Below are pictured Thad and his three sons.

One day while hunting wild cattle in Texas, Thad had a memorable experience. Thad and his friend, a Mr. Reid, found four head of wild cattle in a thicket. The hunters managed to separate one young bull from the remaining cattle. Thad at the time was carrying only an old shotgun but had exhausted his ammunition by shooting into the thicket in an attempt to scare the wild cattle out into the open. The men had gotten off their horses and the young bull, seeing the men on foot, got his fighting blood up. Thad reached into his pocket but found he had exhausted his supply of ammunition. By this time the bull had decided to charge Thad. Mr. Reid gave Thad some rifle balls that Thad put down the barrel of his shotgun following a load of gunpowder. He did not know if the shotgun would even fire loaded this way or would fire with any degree of accuracy. The infuriated beast snorting and galloping with head down drew near. Thad raised his gun and squeezed the trigger. The bull had drawn within ten yards of Thad when the shotgun fired, driving a rifle ball into the forehead of the bull. It fell mortally wounded. The meat from that wild bull fed the hunter’s families for a long time thereafter.

Another incident occurred in 1887 involving the Hutton 1873 Winchester when Thad and Betty had moved back to Missouri. The .44/40 saddle gun was loaned to a neighbor who needed a gun to kill a beef. Several days later the neighbor came to return the rifle and was asked how it had worked. The neighbor replied, “Sure it killed the beef all right, but that gun’s too dangerous to have around this country. The bullet went through his head and whistled on out across country. I’m wondering if I killed anything else besides the beef.”

Perhaps on hearing this story and learning of the power of the carbine Adele Hutton demanded of her husband, Howard, that the gun could only remain in the household if it were disabled. Apparently the firing pin was removed or damaged in such a way as to satisfy Mother as the gun remained in the house. Great Grandfather Thad’s gun was later passed on to me.

This 1873 Winchester saddle gun currently is encased above a fireplace at Medicine Spirit Ranch. It returned to our Texas ranch well over 100 years after it had departed Texas. It is a tangible tie to my great grandfather, Thad Hutton about whom I wish I knew more. I am proud to own this rifle of his and one day look forward to passing it on to my offspring.

Winter At The Ranch

Winter at Medicine Spirit Ranch moves at a slower pace than  the rest of the year. The fields no longer require fertilizing, cutting grass, baling, and hauling hay. Likewise major repairs of the barns, major fencing changes, and replacing gates or cattle guards await better weather.

A few jobs increase during the winter. The feeding of the stock requires range cubes be fed daily to the cattle rather than  only a couple of days a week when the grass is green. We also provide large bales of hay typically three times a week via a tractor that requires a little time.

Two Black Baldy cows with their calves

Otherwise cedar chopping increases during the winter as the green cedar is easier to spot among the brown grass, and fences always need a bit of mending.

Otherwise winter tasks are largely determined by what most needs to be addressed. Some items simply are stumbled upon during morning rounds. For example today I stumbled across the carcass of a dead Black Baldy cow located at an infrequently traveled portion of my ranch. I had missed her late last year but never found evidence of her. I have no idea how or why she died but am especially perplexed because of losing two other cows last year. Only once before have I lost a cow and that was when her hind legs became paralyzed while attempting to give birth to a particularly large calf. She unfortunately failed to respond to the passage of time and treatment. Three cows dying in a year made for a very bad year indeed.

Last year also saw dreaded ice storm Uri from which we are still recovering. It was amazing the number of downed limbs and trees that resulted and that continue to litter parts of my ranch. I had hoped we would have the freakish mess cleaned up within a year, but my hope will go unrealized. There simply remains too much damage for us to clean up anytime soon.

Ice storm Uri left downed trees and limbs across our ranch

I remain hopeful that 2022 will prove better than last year. Surely the problems encountered in 2021 won’t recur. Reasons for hope are abundant. I have some outstanding calves ready to go to market and prices are good. We also are making good progress clearing the new land purchased last May. Hopefully, we will replace the previous bad fence along the county road, will have re-seeded the land, and have sufficient rain to grow a nice stand of grass. I also remain hopeful that we may finally see Covid-19 in the rear view mirror. Here’s hoping for a better future!

In addition the Great Blue Heron greets me almost daily. As previously noted in several blog pieces, the Great Blue Heron promises good fortune, and its presence adds to my optimism about the coming year.

A Great Blue Heron. Not my heron but representative

I wish you a wonderful 2022

Tailwalking Buddy

Not that many years ago, a Border collie puppy named Buddy was born beneath a row of slacks that hung within my closet.

Alissa, our daughter in law, holding Buddy as a puppy

This puppy along with two other older Border collies would one day drive off a pack of marauding coyotes that, under cover of darkness, had stolen up behind Buddy’s human companions.This was the puppy who eventually would grow into an adept ranch dog capable of breaking up fights between huge bulls and of skillfully moving a cattle herd across our ranch.

A young Buddy

This was the patient dog who spent six weeks at my side while I, not so patiently, waited out a painful back injury. This was the puppy that would eventually grow into a wise old dog and who has now entered his dotage. In short, Buddy has now grown old.

Six months ago Buddy passed his 14th birthday. While his eyesight and hearing are not as keen as they once were, his major physical limitation relates to his mobility. You see, his rear end tends to give away, causing him to unceremoniously plop down. His collapse is usually followed by his soulful eyes pleading for a bit of help to regain his four footed stance. Trudy or I will then help him to his feet and allow him to get underway. We have found that by holding onto his tail and slightly elevating it, he is far more capable of walking without falling. This maneuver seems to aid Buddy’s balance and walking. We refer to this as tailwalking Buddy.

For a dog as independent-minded as a Border collie, it is surprising that Buddy accepts our tailwalking, but Buddy has a way of accepting gracefully his limitations that accompany his aging. I never thought acceptance would become one of his traits along with his intelligence, herding ability, and loyalty to his human companions.

Buddy also must now wear a belly band and incontinence pad. We suspect Buddy’s leakage also relates to his old spinal cord injury.

Notice the belly band around Buddy

Our method proves effective but requires us to buy large amounts of incontinence products at the grocery store and order his male belly belts online. Together this combination of items has saved spotting around the house. Again Buddy accepts the belly belt and pad without seeming to question. When he enters the house he waits patiently just inside the door for Trudy or me to fasten into place his padded doggie belt. (I worry as to what the store clerks must think about Trudy buying such large quantities of male incontinence pads! Fredericksburg is, after all, a fairly small town.)

Trudy and I have made other modifications around the house including elevating Buddy’s dog bowl to make it easier for him to eat, placing runners in our tiled bathroom to facilitate Buddy making it to his elevated dog bowl without falling down, and lifting Buddy into and out of the padded bed of my pickup.

We are unclear as to why Buddy shows progressive walking impairment. We do know that years ago Buddy suffered a spinal cord injury from a ruptured disc that briefly left him with paralyzed hind limbs. We suspect this is the likely cause, worsening now with his advancing age. With patience and rehab Buddy following his original injury gained a normal gait although never achieving full strength in his hind legs. Border collies also may develop hip dysplasia that could also be a contributing factor.

Trudy tailwalking Buddy

 

At times Buddy whimpers, yelps, and pants, all symptoms that suggest he is in pain. Learning this our veterinarian prescribed pain pills. These pills have helped. Nevertheless, nighttime is the worst time for Buddy. Trudy and I have spent many nights letting Buddy in and out of the house, requiring us to tailwalk him up and down the stairs to the yard, laying on the floor attempting to comfort him (he sleeps under the bed), and providing middle of the night snacks. Our list of interventions is short but repeatable. It is also exhausting.

A recent addition of a second pain medicine has provided further benefit. Nevertheless, on a daily basis we seem to see an overall worsening of Buddy’s mobility. His decline inevitably brings up the wracking question as to how long we should proceed with our Buddy routines in light of Buddy’s  discomfort. If Buddy stopped eating, lost his zeal to travel in the pickup, or no longer showed his love of life, the decision would become much easier. For now Trudy and I will help our aging Buddy dog to travel around the house and yard by holding his tail and dutifully trailing along behind him. Metaphorically speaking, is not this what Buddy has always done for us?

I’m here for you my human companions

Tom and Buddy

 

Winter At Medicine Spirit Ranch

The work changes with the seasons at Medicine Spirit Ranch. In many ways winter is the busiest time of year because we must keep the animals supplied with hay and supplemental protein.

Also we carry out tasks more suited for winter months. For example, the small evergreen juniper saplings, referred to locally as “cedar”, visually contrast better in winter from the tall brown grass. This makes it easier to find the cedar in winter and to apply a set of loppers to the task. The cedar is most unwelcome on ranches, because it demands huge amounts of water and competes with the various grasses needed for our grazing animals.

Also we repair fences during the winter. The fences become stretched from cows leaning over them and deer jumping through them. Also feral hogs have made their unwelcome appearance and will likely create still more fencing problems. Ugh!

We horses need our protein pellets every day. Now don’t be late!

We work on equipment during the winter that typically is in heavy use during the warmer parts of the year. We cut dead trees and clear drainage pipes under ranch roads. The daily cattle feeding is greater during the winter than during the remainder of the year as we keep them supplied with hay in the form of giant (900 pound) bales. We also feed the cattle range cubes on a daily basis to supplement their protein needs.

The horses on the other hand receove their protein containing feed every day year round whereas the cattle don’t during the non-winter months. Given the excitement and jousting for the range cubes by the cattle, we refer to it as “cow candy.”

So why do the horses get supplemental feed every day of the year and we don’t?

This past week we’ve been repairing a well in one of our pastures. This job proved arduous, as we had to dig up a 45-gallon container that was buried in the ground. The container stores water and moves it to a nearby water trough. We found a leek at the connection that fed into the bottom of the tank. Unfortunately after replacing the pump motor, replacing the water container and some  PVC connections,  and then reburying the tank, we sprung yet another leak. It seems the large water container sank deeper into the hole, re-breaking the PVC pipe. A second attempt at this fix hopefully has addressed the problem. We’ll see. So far, so good.

Curious how the cattle stood around the developing pond resulting from the leak and gawked at our inability to fix their water trough. I am pretty sure Number 36, a.k.a. “the Tongue” was chuckling. Cheeky cow! She is my nemesis.

We continue to vaccinate calves for black leg (a bacterial infection) and periodically take a load of yearlings to market. Six calves have been born within the last week or so. They are so cute at this age. See their pics below.

We never seem run out of tasks on the ranch despite the season. Nevertheless, I can hardly wait for Spring to arrive.

Wrong Way Tom and Trudy

In reflecting on 2018, I’ve concluded that Trudy and I must have gone the wrong way or must have taken the wrong path in our lives. Let me explain.

At the beginning of the 20th century 90% of the population of Texas lived in the rural areas and only 10% lived in the cities. By the end of the 20th century these percentages had reversed with 90% of the population of Texas living in urban areas and only 10% living in the country. This trend toward urbanization goes unchecked thus far in the 21st century.

Meanwhile Trudy and I left behind our former homes in the cities (Dallas-area, Lubbock, Houston, Minneapolis, even Moscow and London) where we had lived our entire lives. Instead we went the wrong way and adopted a rural lifestyle living in the countryside outside Fredericksburg ,Texas. Clearly we moved counter current to the usual demographics, but why.?

Moreover, we chose to live on a cattle ranch and raise cattle at a time when the cattle industry has  swooned from the greatness of earlier times when cattle allowed Texas to become a wealthy state. We certainly don’t claim the same lifestyle as the frontier ranchers in Texas who lived in fear of marauding Indians, struggled against nature using primitive tools, and made their ranch rounds via horseback rather in a pick up. No, our experiences don’t compare to the difficult frontier days that were depicted in the western movies, but that doesn’t mean our lives are without challenges as this blog has at times depicted.

Buddy and Bella: “No way is this the wrong way. This ranch life is what we were bred for.”          Photo by Ramsey

Little Jack: “Hey Pick Up Man, had you not gone the wrong way, I wouldn’t have lived out my story at Medicine Spirit Ranch”

 

And while some would argue the western myth with its exciting cattle drives and western heroes springs more from Hollywood fantasy than reality, it still fills a void, a yearning, if you will, for a simpler life of raising and moving stock, enjoying good neighbors, and experiencing a simpler, less hectic lifestyle. These are the activities we have enjoyed since moving to Medicine Spirit Ranch.

Perhaps springing from the innate narcissism common in writers, I’ve chosen to share our experiences on this blog. I’ve shared earlier stories of caring for remarkable people who developed neurological disorders, and, in so doing, shared extraordinary experiences that reveal much of what is good about human nature. These stories are in my book, Carrying The  Black Bag: A Neurologists Bedside Tales.  

Carrying the Black Bag book

available online or favorite bookstore

I am proud to say it has won several awards:

In a way writing books in the digital age also runs counter culture. Nevertheless, i can think of nothing more pleasing than sharing stories  in the hope my readers will gain a modicum of benefit from them.

I am working hard on a second book that time will tell whether it sees the light of day. I have tentatively titled it, Hitler: Prescription For Defeat. In it I’ve tried to bring my medical skills (retired though they may be) to bear on Adolf Hitler’s little known, but serious health issues. Too little attention has been devoted, in my opinion, to how his poor health impacted his leadership in World War II, inadvertently affected the great battles, and assisted the Allies in defeating Nazi Germany. Hopefully 2019 will see me finish the book and move forward toward publication. I’ll soon the manuscript to several wonderful folks willing to serve as my beta readers/ Any encouragement you might offer would be appreciated, or else any advice to move onto other subjects.

Looking forward to 2019, “wrong way Tom and Trudy” will continue to live our rural lifestyle. We’ll continue to enjoy our “wrong way” lifestyle” as well. Also Tom will continue to blog about his observations and experiences at the ranch and elsewhere. And in the meantime from Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch, I extend to you my fondest wishes for your personal successes in 2019. Happy New Year!

World’s Shortest Roads?

As Garrison Keilor was fond of saying on Prairie Home Companion, “it’s been a slow week” at the ranch, but then most weeks blissfully are. Recently we had concrete poured in two places at Hidden Falls Ranch. One wag on seeing the results of our concrete work harrumphed, “Looks to me like you have built two of the world’s shortest roads!”

Admittedly the concrete slabs measure only 36 and 55 feet in length, much too short certainly to qualify for roads. If you look carefully though you may be able to determine that these are really low water crossings.

World’s shortest road? No, actually a new low water crossing at Hidden Falls Ranch- Photos by Ramsey Hutton

 

 

   One of the slabs is where the outflow from our spring-fed stock tank (pond to those non-Texans reading this), and the other concrete slab allows traffic to pass unhindered over Sugar Creek. These low water crossings remain treacherous though if a flash flood occurs.

Generally these areas though are dry and easy to cross. Nevertheless, during a rainy spell, both can become muddy quagmires. Previously I’ve become stuck even when driving my four-wheel drive pickup or our John Deere utility vehicle. Thank goodness for a tractor and ranch hand to extract me from the muck.

Two 12-inch aluminum pipes traverse the concrete slab at Sugar Creek. This allows the water to flow under the slab and for the dogs and me to keep our paws (feet) dry.

Hopefully our efforts will prevent getting stuck in the mud and provide improvements at this our newest addition to the Hutton ranch.

Guess What We Found On Leaving Our Ranch Recently?

The other morning Trudy and I spotted something unrecognizable on the cattle guard at the edge of our ranch. Approaching closer I could tell it was a newborn calf, actually a Longhorn/Charolais cross. The poor little heifer had all four legs stuck between the pipes of the cattle guard and was totally helpless as she lay across the pipes.

The calf a week later doing well in the pasture

One surprising thing about a Longhorn calf is how quickly they stand up as opposed to other types of calves. This little heifer apparently stood up while its mother was down pasture grazing, wandered to a nearby cattle guard, and slipped and had ts legs plunge through it.

Trudy and I jumped out of the car and working together pulled the calf’s legs out from between the bars and carried it to the nearby grass. There we stood it up and encouraged it to move down the pasture to where its mother grazed. She saw us coming and raced to her calf. When last we saw the calf, it was chowing down at the milk bar.

The proud mother with calf by her side

The proud daddy, a Charolais bull

The calf has done well ever since. Let’s just hope it has good one trial learning when it comes to why cattle guards  are there in the first place. I did notice a few days later when we vaccinated her for blackleg that she didn’t seem at all afraid of me. Might she have been appreciative or at least remember me? I’ll never know. Turned out to be a pretty good excuse, though, as to why we were running late for Sunday School.

The Birds, The Birds… They’re Back

I recently viewed a dozen or so cattle egrets within and perched upon our cow herd. These white, long necked, and long legged birds have been absent from our ranch for about a year. Our cattle tolerate them well. I couldn’t get close enough to take a picture of them but have some images taken from the internet.

The relationship between the egrets and cattle is a symbiotic one, as the egrets eat flies and ticks off the cattle. Both egret and cow have mutual benefit from their relationship.

What I discovered yesterday was that the egrets also provide entertainment for our friskier Spring calves. The calves playfully run at them, scattering the birds for a short fly around. The egrets soon after land in the herd and the chase is on again. The calves appeared to be enjoying themselves, but I can’t speak for the egrets.

Several times recently I’ve spotted a Great Blue Heron hanging out in the pool below the waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch (our ranch across the county road). I can’t say for sure that it’s the same one about which I wrote the blog series last winter, but it looks the same. It’s dramatic to view it taking off from the pool, gaining altitude, and flying by me at eye level and not more than 20 feet away. According to Native American legend Great Blue Herons bring good luck. Bring it on!

Bulletin: Just viewed a Great Blue Heron in our stock tank below the house. It’s back! What wonderful news. Life is good in the Texas Hill Country.

I’m back

Bonus Calves

Woo hoo!!! Three bonus calves were born this week. That is, mama cows purchased in September with calves already by their side, and now have given birth to yet another unanticipated calf. The average price for the pair, now the trio, just went down. What a bargain!

Surprise, bet you weren’t expecting me!

The bonus calves have white faces with the remainder black or brown. Our Charolais bull does not throw this color calf with our Black Baldies, but instead throws smoky colored calves, light brown or gray. Also the cow gestation period of nine and a half months just doesn’t work for our Charolais bull. Sorry Curly you can’t claim parentage!

Curly, the bonus calves stepdaddy

These are small calves compared to our usual smoky calves. With an Angus daddy, the calves start  smaller than with a Charolais daddy.  All three of the bonus calves are heifers. Perhaps I will let them grow and given their different genetics, make them into new producers for the ranch. Now that is an additional bonus.

The first bonus heifer at one week of age. Note smoky calf on right and a longhorn/charlolais cross in foreground

Baby calves are so cute no matter their lineage. Must admit though when I saw the first I took a double take. You can imagine my surprise after the third. Life is sweet. Spring calves are one of the highlights of springtime on our cattle ranch. Hoping you too find bonuses in your lives during this lovely season.

Loose Livestock

The questionable county road sign on our ranch

The questionable county road sign on our ranch

The road sign above stands on the corner of our ranch. When first she spotted it, Trudy, my wife, became bothered, maintaining the county was demeaning the morals of our cattle. Now grant you, our bull is hardly monogamous nor will our cows necessarily shun the attention of an interloping bull, but Trudy claimed  no reason existed to impugn the morals of the Hutton’s cattle. Whether or not this was tongue-in-cheek or not, I’m not completely certain. She’s like that sometimes.

Quite possibly the sign referred to the unfenced ranch on the other side of the gate where, at times, drivers encounter livestock standing in the middle of the road. Just sayin’ this is a possibility, dear wife. The county commissioners might not be demeaning the morals of our herd at all.

What do you think?