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This is the third in a three-part series. Sweet Talkin’s Over Part 1 is the first article and Sweet Talkin’s Over Part 2 is the second.


As I returned to camp, I thought of all the different things that had happened during the past year. There was a long list of circumstances on how the cattle developed such conviction in their escape routines and to what extent they would go in order to hide and get away. I’d never seen cattle this mentally and physically strong.

They didn’t get this way in just a couple of years. It had been a practice going on for nearly ten years. Most of these cattle didn’t know any other way and changing their minds was time consuming. It was a project that lasted two or three years and was not a full time consideration but it was on my mind most of the time.

I was always ready to take advantage of an easy situation and I always had a trap set or in the making somewhere. As I drove along I was thinking of all the possibilities that might work on Madam Motley cow and her little bunch of illusive bovine. All I could come up with was to return the next day and be ready to go with the flow, whatever that might be.

I got all my big tools: best horse, top dogs, longest rope and returned the next day. The cattle were consistent, the flow was moving to a new piece of country; they’d pulled out. I followed their tracks all day from the south end of the ranch to the north end. At dark I was going through our boundary fence onto the neighbors. They knew about a water gap fence down and could walk right down the draw to the next ranch.

I had a wonderful ride home in the dark with enough moon to make it pleasant. Sleeping was no problem but I sure was anxious to get back on their trail the next day. I headed out early to the neighbor’s country. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into this time around but I felt I needed to keep the pressure on them as they were bound to be getting sore after all the tracks they made yesterday.

I barely knew the country I was riding in. The cattle I was encountering along the way were all gentle enough but I had to do some extra riding checking the different bunches to see if my cattle might be mixed up with some of them but no such luck. It took me the better part of the day to locate my little darlings.

They were on high ground and spotted me right away. They weren’t close enough to count but I could tell it was them and Madam Motley was in the lead. They blasted off that hill like I was shooting at them. They left as soon as they saw me and had a good vantage point to make their get-away. Nothing I could do except fall in behind and follow their tracks.

I followed them all day and never caught sight until late in the afternoon. There were still other cattle left on the ranch that I hadn’t gathered but they never went to any of these other bunches nor crossed any country where other cattle were running. When I found them, all were laying down; huddled together like a bunch of quail.

I’d managed to catch site of them before they spooked. They were sure trying to hide in a brushy thicket of pinon and cedar. I stopped and watched them a long while to see what their condition might be after going so hard for two days.

They had made a full circle of all of the country on top and were within a mile of where I had fed them from the truck two days prior. None of the cattle seemed even to know I was close except the black motley-faced cow. She was the only one standing and watching me like a hawk, waiting to see what my next move might be.

As I stood watching and considering the possibilities, I knew I was short on daylight, long on miles to any pens and not in a good place to try to get any dog schooling done. It was steep, rocky, brushy; sure not conditions in my favor. It looked like the best plan might be to reward them for stopping so I turned and started for the house.

The puppies didn’t even see them. I don’t think any of the bunch saw us except Madam Motley and she watched me every step leaving. I turned to see her still watching as I rode over the last ridge headed to camp. I just knew they would be there when we returned the next morning; wrong!

Plenty of deep tracks and thin guacamole, but no cattle. They had pulled out soon after I left from the looks of the sign. I followed their trail, heading east along a very high ridge that I had never been on and didn’t know any cow had ever been on before either.

I found several bed grounds that were very new to me but from the looks of the sign my cows hadn’t stopped all night. They’d spread out a little and done some grazing but on a high spot and not close to a water. I hadn’t found where they’d watered in two days but soon I was to follow them to Seep Tank where they watered but didn’t tarry any.

They were still headed east making another complete circle of all the country on top but not on the same tracks as the first circle. I just knew I was about to find them ready to be subdued; wrong again!!

All I could do was follow their tracks and see if I could learn all their habits and hidey holes. This bunch could cover the country and never do much climbing. They always stopped on a high vantage point where they could see in all directions and have a long decent down a ridge in order to get a good head start on getting away.

I continued to follow them for a week, keeping them in sight when possible but never working them with the dogs or causing any undue harm that might cause them to split up or leave the ranch again.

I had several small branding U’s and small portable pens that I had set up throughout the countryside. I made it a point to leave a couple sacks of cake scattered inside these areas. Different cattle would come in and eat the cake and leave so I continued to be as regular as possible putting more out. I wasn’t sure if Madam Motley ever went into any of these corrals and got any of the cake. If she and her bunch ever did, I didn’t see it.

There weren’t many cattle left on the ranch except a good gentle bunch that I’d put together in a small pasture right in the middle of the country on top. I was getting close to completing the project except for Mrs. Motley’s bunch and they sure were taking more of their fare share of the time I had allotted for such a small bunch.

I wasn’t showing much sign of gaining ground either but I wasn’t about to show any weakness to MS M. I wanted her to think that I’d moved in to stay and she might as well get used to me and my horse and my dogs. Like I was saying, all I could do was to just make my presence known without causing any more alarm than possible.

It was never easy to follow their tracks because very seldom did they choose the same trails or any areas that were easy tracking; always high ridges and rough rocky hillsides. I was following their trail one day across a big open grassy flat with no place to hide and lost their sign.

I’d been following them for so long that the dogs were beginning to learn to trail these cattle. I had close to a dozen dogs nearly all the time now and none were purebred anything. Just dogs of all kinds that could get the job done but most had some border collie in their background somewhere.
One of these individuals stood out in the crowd more than the others; I called him Carmen. He had more border collie in that he had perfect black and white markings but the other half was basset hound. He had a basset hound’s extra long body with the shortest legs ever put on a dog.

Now Carmen the basset hound/border collie cross had a very definite place in the order of things on this mountain. First he was a cow dog, not one to lead the charge but always sounding the bugle and keeping the troops properly motivated. He was good at trailing the cattle and I could keep up with him while he was trailing.

Sometimes I could trail faster than he could. I would always honor his bark. I could tell when I was off course and he was on the trail except every now and then he had to chase a fresh deer sign. As far as looks, he wasn’t very scary or efficient looking but Carmen never underestimated himself.

He didn’t know his short legs couldn’t possibly keep up. All the cattle wanted to pick a fight with Carmen but he figured he could whip them all. He looked like a mascot for the pack, when in fact he was the leader. Everyone of the dogs loved Carmen.

I’d stopped in the middle of a big grassy flat wondering where our elusive prey had gone but not Carmen. He was hard at it with his nose to the ground snuffling and shuffling as if he was right on top of them.

Me and the rest of the dogs were lost for an answer as we could see for miles and no cattle could hide here. Carmen was on a trail but I thought it must be a deer trail. He went a ways and stopped, turned around and looked back as if to say, “Well, aren’t you coming? We nearly have them now !”

Well, I didn’t have any other ideas so me and the pack fell in following Carmen. We hadn’t gone a hundred yards when Carmen stopped and threw up his head and barked treed. I thought he must have gone crazy. I couldn’t see cattle or anywhere for them to have a place to hide.

I rode up to where Carmen was and right below him not twenty feet under a hidden rock ledge in a steep draw were our cattle. You could have blowed me over with a feather. There I was face to face with all of them but no way to get any closer unless I rode down the draw or back up the draw to find a place to get in the draw.
There was a steep rock ledge on both sides with no way in or out for as far as I could see. I sat there for a good long while looking and studying our challenges. Carmen sat there looking at me as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to go get them, after all the work I did to find them for you?”

The cattle weren’t nervous or the least bit anxious. All were waiting to see what I was going to do next and then waiting to see what Madam Motley was going to do. All I could do was go find a trail down into the draw and flush them out as easy as possible hoping they were ready to walk to the corrals some five miles away. You’re right, just a dream!

I flushed them all right, not easy though. They left there like it was the first time we’d ever seen each other. As soon as I made a move up the draw to find a trail, they went down at a high run. I wasn’t far behind but no way to get around them or to do anything except follow them to the next move.

They were full of gas and ready to roll, running as hard as I’d ever seen them go like they were running from death itself. All I’d done was get in the draw and trot along behind them because that was all I could do until we got out of this rough, narrow, little slice of ground.

When the draw widened out, they left it and started climbing some hills going up the steepest trail I had ever seen them take. I thought for sure I was about to find a finale to this fiasco! I was strong and fresh and just waiting for a place to make my move knowing these super-girls were about out of steam; Wrong again!!

I hadn’t even began to pluck their reserve. They were off to show me how to run a race. I followed close and hard to keep in sight. They were pouring on the coal and going places I had never seen a cow match. I tried to stay in sight but at times they would disappear even though I knew they weren’t looking for a place to hide.

Their escape strategy was miles and distance; the more the better. At least the trail was easy to follow, It looked like a Caterpillar D8K with his ripper down. I stayed after them just trying to make a show, never hoping to get control now.

I was sure that my patience would pay off by not trying to do anything until the “ladies” were ready. Now I admit my confidence was shaken and I wasn’t sure of anything by this point. It was nearly dark and another day of solid red ribbons. All I could do was head to the house and start again in the morning.

I got in late and then got a late start the next day as I had some necessities to take care of including baiting all my traps with cow feed. So I didn’t gain much on the super-girls and they got some time off. I didn’t find them until late and naturally they were fresh as ever.

I’d decided to really bear down on them over the next couple of days and see if I could find a breaking point and maybe some give-up. I followed them hard the next three days staying as close as I could without splitting them up. I lost the dogs several places we were going so hard and they hadn’t had a chance to get any time off.

I was pushing my luck, but I was ready for a showdown. I probably just should have gone and roped the leader; Mrs Motley. Maybe that would have caused the rest to act reasonable. But I just knew if I was cool that it would pay off with the whole bunch instead of risking a split and having to catch them in singles.

Many things ran through my mind while I was following these masters of deceit. Nothing made sense except just to stay hooked-on and wait for my chance. Surely they would make a mistake sooner or later. I made several more rounds around the ranch, and was surprised they stayed so calm in their madness.

It seemed they always had a plan and never once split or thought of any other alternative. Big rough country was their comfort zone. It had always worked before and they still had faith in it now. It was hard for me to be as tough as they were. I had to split the dogs into two packs in order to give the puppies some time off. I couldn’t believe ol’ Carmen was still with me. That collie-basset-mutt never weakened, never made a foolish move and was always right. He stayed as cool as the cattle did; we were Pards.

By now I had certainly learned a lot more about cattle movements and how they utilized rough country. I’d settled into a routine of a big question mark. What are they going to do next? I was enjoying the ride and getting lots of miles on some of my young horses. The ponies were sure seeing some rough going and learning how to travel under some extreme conditions.

So I was pleased with the good time and getting something accomplished. I still had a few cattle left on the ranch but they were always separate and getting used to me traveling around horseback, so I was also settling them as I was putting pressure on Madam Motley and her bunch.

I had left her and all the others close to the rim on the west side late one evening and returned to camp which was another long ride in the dark. I got up in the dark and returned to where I left them the evening before. Carmen and I picked up their trail and were trotting along following it while I tried to keep an eye on the country ahead of me. I always tried to not spook them.

I would ride in a circle around them and let them have a little time to accept me but it never lasted long before they would blast off to their new get-away.

It was a beautiful Indian Summer morning, Carmen and the boys felt good. I was sure busy trying to second guess the next move. They were headed right down a trail that went to a watering at West Tank and a branding U where I tried to keep some cake scattered on the ground. As I approached the watering I slowed up as it was in a big clearing and I wanted time to watch them in case they were on water.

I gave them every opportunity to be good, mostly because I hadn’t had any other choice. I stopped just below the watering out of sight in the brush. I couldn’t see any cattle at the watering so I eased forward not expecting anything to be lurking around this close to where I started the trail earlier. I was walking slowly in order to give everybody a chance to water.

Just before I cleared the brush I saw some cattle in the branding U eating cake. I couldn’t tell much about how many or what kind, just cattle. I wanted to take advantage of the situation and needed to figure out how to get to the open gate and close it before the cattle saw me and tried to make an escape.

I had left the gates set so the cattle had only one way in or out and the opening was less than half way. So the closer I got without them seeing me the better chance I had of getting to the gate before they got out. I continued to ease up to the gate in hopes of getting it closed before the cattle saw me. I was walking in a zig zag pattern like a sail boat tacking in the wind, trying to confuse the cattle and not give my intentions completely away.

I was also not looking at the cattle, always keeping my head down and not putting any visual pressure on them. It worked, I had closed the gap and was making the final approach. I got to the U without a rush and got off and closed the gate.

As I got back on and looked to see what my catch was, I nearly fell off trying to rub my eyes with disbelief! It was Madam Motley’s herd but I couldn’t see Madam Motley. She wasn’t there!!

All the rest were but where was she? I was full of mixed emotion and not sure of what was going on. It was like winning a roping and you were the only one who showed up. I looked around the surrounding area for any clue as to what went on. It appeared as if the cattle had just watered and walked into the pen and got some cake with no fuss or even much pondering over the decision but no sign of any other cattle or tracks in the area.

Sometime during the night Madam Motley had left the group. She was the only one missing and all the rest were accounted for and in good shape and in a very relaxed nature. They looked just like a herd of dairy cattle eating their morning feed.

I rode off with the gates closed, headed to the camp to get my small trailer and start hauling them to the shipping pens on top. I was hoping that Mrs. Motley was waiting just outside the pens when I returned, just dying to get in the pen with her buddies. Of course she wasn’t.

Everyone loaded easy enough but I was always looking over my shoulder for her. It took me two days to haul them all out and I never saw any other cow sign close to this area. This was the biggest let down/victory I had ever had.

I went back looking over the same trail I had followed to the water and branding U that they had captured themselves in but no sign of where Madam Motley went. I continued to gather the rest of the cattle and always looked for Her but never any clue or sign. I checked with all the neighbors and none had seen her but would be on the look out for Her. I never figured out where she went but I always kept an eye out hoping she would turn up somewhere. I felt like I had lost a good Friend.

Mike Capron is a featured columnist for High Minded Horseman. He’s a veteran rancher, award winning western artist and professional cowboy. You can usually find him horseback somewhere out in the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas; working his livestock, painting and living a life we all dream of.

Comments for Sweet Talkin’s Over Part 3

  1. Linda Kirkpatrick on June 07, 2011 Old Mrs. Motley is in the brush laughing at all of you!! She is enjoying the life as an elusive tormentor of cowboys!! lol Great story!
  2. Jill Miller on June 13, 2011 Enjoyed the story! Took me back several years!!