In 1913, my dad was three years old. His older brothers were seven and nine at the time, I believe. They were attempting to live on their own in Archer County after their mother had died. Their dad, my granddad, was a cowboy on the Waggoner Ranch some sixty miles from Archer County. He left the wagon on the Waggoner Ranch, came to Archer County and picked my dad up; then returned to the wagon. In those days, the wagon stayed out on a year around basis. How a three year old survives in that environment, I do not know; but he did.
He stayed there with the wagon until he was seven years of age. His dad then took him back to Archer County to go to school, once again living with his older brothers. By age seventeen, if not a little earlier, he was back at the Waggoner wagon as a working cowboy. It was during this timeframe over the next few years that this story occurred. He related that “The day before voting day, all the hands old enough to vote were carried into Vernon to vote. They spent the night in town before returning to the wagon the next day. During their absence, my friend and I, both too young to vote, fixed some breakfast. I must have gone through three dozen eggs to find a half dozen that were not spoiled.” He continued to say that when the other hands and the cook returned the following day, the cook used every egg he cracked for breakfast. Dad said that he and his friend laid off the eggs until the wagon was resupplied. That same year as a seventeen year old, he won the bronc riding at the Santa Rosa Roundup Rodeo in Vernon.
The love of my life has suggested that you need more clarification as to what a “wagon” really is, or was at the time. She’s usually right; and, is from ranching background herself. So, I add the following:
A wagon is put out on a seasonal basis (spring and fall) during that time of the year when localized (pasture by pasture) work intensifies. In the spring every pasture must be gathered (cattle placed into working pens or corrals) and worked (castration, dehorning, branding, and vaccinations). In the fall every pasture must again be gathered, and the calves collected and shipped (weaned from their mothers); allowing time for each of the cows to reestablish their own nutritional reservoirs, before being bred again and raising another calf.
During this very busy time (spring and fall), it behooved all involved to live at the wagon (eat and sleep), saving many hours of travel time, back and forth). Today’s ranches are not as large (except in this very unusual circumstance – this ranch still exists as it was then, the largest, contiguous ranch in Texas). Today, the wagon is put out (into service) for nostalgic purposes as much as efficiency purposes.
During the time of this story, the wagon, was out on a year around basis. These men ate, slept, and were nursed through periods of sickness, to accommodate cattle working efficiencies. A lot of work had to be done. There simply wasn’t enough time for the men to travel (horseback) to and from the ranch headquarters, or camp houses (scattered across the ranch where men with families lived), and still get a day’s work accomplished. These wagons were their home for extended periods of time. In my dad’s case, he spent almost four years at the wagon, until his dad, took him back to town to go to school.
That was life as it existed then on this very busy, large ranch. Conditions would be called rough. Sleeping out under the stars in canvas bedrolls in both good weather and bad. I apologize for forgetting that most people in today’s society are far removed from historical circumstance with no basis of knowledge for cowboy life, as it existed then. For many of you, I’m sure it stretches the imagination to believe that men lived this way – and liked it! Maybe not all the time, but it was what they wanted and knew how to do.
There is nothing easy nor quickly learned about cowboying. It takes a lifetime to fully acquire the necessary skills; and the next generation only gets a small jump of advantage, in acquiring those same skills. It takes strength of character, an iron fortitude, and a willingness to “make do”. All for a few, very few, dollars a month.
These cowboys and, if married, their families suffered economic hardships. It simply came with the job. A new saddle was a very big thing. Possession of a special “bit” (for the horse) was a very big thing. A new pair of leggings (chaps) was a pretty big thing; as was a new hat. It took long and dedicated hours to acquire these things. This was not a life for the weak of heart. Yet, it was absolutely cherished by those who stayed with it. It took dire circumstances to get them to move to town for a real job; and most of them found a way to go back to cowboying.
So, yes, staying at the “wagon” long term was arduous. Yet, for the most part, they would not have traded their time at the wagon. It simply put them into a class of their own among their peers; and that was about all any one of them hoped to accomplish. It was, and is, the best and worst option a young man could choose–then and now.