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Last Roundup: On the Trail

On Sunday morning, April 11, 2004, Shep and I threw our gear in a pickup and trailer, loaded our horses and left for Guthrie. We had no idea where we would be camping; no idea whether we would have access to our pickup and trailer while we helped work cattle; no idea whether we would be throwing our bedrolls miles from the chuckwagon.  No matter, we had it covered. Spend one or more nights out in the brush country without access to our stuff? We could carry all the necessities horseback.

Famous 6666 Ranch in Guthrie

We were about an hour away from home when Shep got a call from wife Pat saying he forgot some pills he needed. Not sure what kind they were, but they were necessary. No problem. We just sat in a small café, told old stories, and waited for Shep’s daughter Trish and husband Tommy (I think it was them) to bring them. The horses were fine. We weren’t in a hurry.

We collected the pills and headed along the same trail we had traveled horseback in 1998. In Stoney, we stopped to visit with Morgan Hull, named one of the fifty best chefs in America. We had met Morgan and his parents during our Brazos trip. He wanted to cook for us, but we had stayed too long at the small café and had to be on our way.

We pulled up in Dan and Jennie Pickering’s yard in Guthrie about five that afternoon.  Danny had left word for us to put our horses in a small corral just across the street from his house. We also learned that we were a day early for the Moorhouse roundup.

When we unloaded the horses, I examined Shep’s gelding closely for the first time. TT was a very light sorrel, almost blond, with four white stocking feet and a blaze face—a horse that stood out in a remuda. But the thing I noticed most was his feminine features. He had long eyelashes and looked as if he might be wearing makeup. The prettiest horse face I had ever seen. A mare’s face, not a gelding’s.

Mare and colt on the 6666 Ranch

Rowdy, my red sorrel, dwarfed his trailer companion and seemed to have taken a proprietary interest in TT during their six hours together in the trailer. I figure they really talked a lot when we were waiting for the pills. When Rowdy put aside his hunger and thirst to let pretty TT have the first serving of feed and water, I started to wonder if my gelding was suffering from a little gender confusion. I figured he would know better by morning.

Gary Garrett, stud manager for the four sixes (6666) and the Pickering’s neighbor, came over to introduce himself. He invited us to watch semen collection at the stallion barn the following morning on the historical ranch.

As I recall, both Jennie and Dan were attending a rodeo event to watch son Welton and had asked Sandy Burkett, their neighbor, to play host until their return. Either Jennie or Sandy (not sure which) had fixed wonderful chicken enchiladas.  Now that’s hospitality.

After the meal, we rode out to the Moorhouse Ranch to get our bearings and to see if we could find Tom. No luck. My recollection is that the Pickerings were trusting and hospitable enough to let us spend the night in their house alone. We flipped a coin for guest room or couch and I got the couch. Slept like a baby.

Next morning, we drove out to the Sixes and Gary allowed us to take a self-directed tour of ranch headquarters. Describing this ranch and its history would take another whole article (make that a book). I recalled looking at a pictorial display of ranch scenes in a magazine article a few years earlier.

Meeting Skeeter Hagler, who won a Pulitzer for those photos, was on my bucket list. Little did I know he would show up about three miles from my front door a short time later. But that’s another story.

Gary found us a place to stand where we would not be in the way and we watched as veterinary students (all women) from A&M handled teaser mares and studs during the semen collection process.

I had witnessed controlled horse breeding in Kentucky a few years earlier and semen collection on a ranch near Commerce, but this was indescribably different and even more remarkable. We marveled at the efficiency and cool composure of the young female college students engaged in what can be a very dangerous procedure. Guess further description of the process is best left to the imagination.

We drove out to the 6666 Supply Store and wandered through the little no-frills store full of tack and basics. We stopped at the small museum at Pitchfork headquarters and Shep bought one of Bob Moorhouse’s photography books. We also visited the Tongue River Ranch headquarters (Tom now runs that ranch) before going on to Aspermont to buy horse feed, some trail snacks and some ice.

We spent another night with the Pickerings, then back out to the Moorhouse early Tuesday morning. Not a soul in sight. Just as we were starting to believe that Bob was only a legend, we saw a few horses headed for headquarters, leaving behind a cloud of dust. Tom and his horse emerged from the cloud as the horses ran across the headquarters yard into a waiting catch pen. Skeeter Hagler could have made the scene into another magazine cover.

As Tom stepped off to greet us, I couldn’t help but put myself in his boots and wonder why he had offered hospitality to two complete strangers who had the audacity to actually show up and get in his way. But he was gracious. “First, let’s go inside and get some coffee.”

Next week: The Chuckwagon arrives.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    The rest of us would love to play cowboy. You’ve done it, and I admire you for the trails West you’ve ridden and will ride again.