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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

City Slicker Turned Cow-Child... Innocence Lost

Once upon a time around 1958, in the high desert grasslands between Bisbee and Sierra Vista, I was a budding cowboy on a sprawling ranch.  It was the definition of "the middle of nowhere." It seems God told my vagabond Dad and Mom to move to "the middle of nowhere" without first consulting me. But you know, kids are like Honda's... resilient. You just drag them along behind like an RV Toad and hope they'll still be there when you stop and look around. 

With the help of Punch, a crippled up bowlegged cowboy that didn't have a straight bone left in his body, I'd saddle up a Shetland Pony and ride herd on stray cows. I liked my cows to be all bunched up because the ranch bordered Old Mexico on it's south fence. Rumors of dark skinned cattle rustlers kept me on my toes and left an unsettled feeling in the pit of Mom's stomach, even though I was seldom out of sight of the stable. 

We lived in an little old eight by forty foot aluminum skinned trailer that seemed plenty large enough to me. Dad parked it under the shade of an old cottonwood tree, next to a windmill that creak-clunked us to sleep every night there was breeze enough to turn blades... which was often, down there. 

I came of age in a very short time while living in the middle of nowhere. I had only one friend outside of school... Marian Wooten, a fat mama's boy who cried and told if he didn't get his way. I avoided him in favor of playing by myself, where I had control of the games... the winners and losers.

Sitting on the top rail of a corral, I witnessed the horror of branding new calves. I watched a cherry red branding iron. pulled from the coals of a fire, get pressed into the rear end hide of a bawling, wild-eyed young'in. It took three cowhands to keep a squirming calf pinned to the ground during branding. I remember the struggle, the burned hair and hide smell, the sizzle sound it made as it melted into flesh. That's what it took in those days to become a member of the royal order of Miracle Valley Livestock, Double Bar M V. Talk about a "hazing." When the bawling stopped, Punch would doctor still raw brands with a heavy coating of salve, "to keep the flies out." It left an indelible impression on the mind of a former city slicker kid from Phoenix. 

A few years back, Bobbie and I retraced my childhood tracks in and around Miracle Valley, including the two room school house in Palominos, a mere crossroads with a gas pump and tiny store. We had only two teachers for a bunch of ranch ruffians, first through forth grade in one room, fifth through eighth in the other. I remember being assigned to fill out a mimeographed sheet of blue lined paper, numbers one to one hundred. It was intended to keep me busy while the teacher taught another grade level. I always put mimeographed paper to my nose... the blue ink smelled so good. 

Here are a few photos of southern Arizona from a more recent "digital age" trip.

San Xavier del Bac Mission... over 300 years old and still in use south of Tucson, Arizona.

Nearby Chiricahua Mountains

View of Miracle Valley from a hilltop Catholic Church south of Sierra Vista


  1. It's fun to return to those childhood memories.

    Love the wooden building under that huge tree.

  2. Don' t have your child hood memories of the area, but I do have many of the same photos from my exploring of this area of Arizona. The photo of the cottonwood and the log cabin (I have that photo) reminds me to do some hiking along the San Pedro Riparian area.

  3. Instantly recognized the large tree & small log cabin east of Sierra Vista near the San Pedro River. Cochise County will always be a favorite area of mine. You have some great treasured memories from an era long ago.....

  4. Your pictures brought back wonderful memories of our time spent in Cochise County. Looking forward to the day when we can go back there. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Let's meet up again in Chiricahua! I enjoy your reminiscings.

  6. Ooh, I remember everyone smelling the papers as the teacher handed them out as well as later filling up the mimeograph machine with fluid as a beginning teacher. Now our district is paperless and our students do everything on their laptops. They think we are crazy when we talk about "smelling the paper"! Another sign that it is time to retire. :)

  7. Gaelyn,
    As long as we don't stay there :))

    Wandrin Lloyd,
    Save that San Pedro River hike for January when we will be down there! We'll bring our naturalist friend Sandy along (remember her?) to tell us about all the birds.

    Bayfield Al,
    So both you and Lloyd know of that memorable tree... it is quite recognizable. Thanks for commenting!

    you are welcome. It is a wonderful area. thanks

    Two Scamps,
    Deal! We never tire of those trails that weave through balanced boulders and monoliths. Thanks!

    Chris and Mindy,
    You are dating yourself... :))
    It is time to retire, if you can get Chris off the tractor long enough to go somewhere :))

  8. A few years before you but similar childhood experience in the same area.
    I went to the 6th grade (1953-54) at a two room school house in Double Adobe, AZ. That is out in 'The Valley' north of Douglas. Our brand was a Rafter (upside down V) F Bar but we hat more hat that cows; only a milk cow and a steer to butcher every year.

  9. Ed,
    I remember Douglas back then... man has it changed demographically today!!! Was there recently and it seemed to be a strip mall of fast food places. I love the Bisbee area, tho... such a nice setting, even with the mine.
    Thanks for chiming in, Ed.


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