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A lowly burro ‘brings in the outlaw’; New Mexico cowboy recounts how a seemingly gentle burro was used to tame a big, wild bronc

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The Block Ranch wagon No. 2 with Block cattle at the Spring River. The ranch reached to the Capitan Mountains. On Jan. 21, 1961, the ranch was 100 years old. Henry W. Walker, third from the left on horseback, was foreman until 1900. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

The following story is fun and lighthearted and could also be applied to many modern-day circumstances. Lowly little burros don’t often get the credit they deserve. The following story was written by Guy Crandall and was edited and published in 1989 in Clarence S. and Joan N. Adams’ book, “THE HISTORICAL ROUNDUP: A Collection of Stories of Old Timers of Long Ago in New Mexico.”

Back in the old days, there were a few bronc busters who made a little extra money breaking wild horses for the big cattle outfits. Usually they were paid a dollar a saddle for breaking a horse, and five saddles were supposed to turn out a horse ready for the cowboys to ride. I broke all of my stepfather’s horses and sometimes I teamed up with another bronc buster, usually one of the McFarland boys, and we would break horses together.

As far as I know, there is no easy way to break a horse, but another cowboy told me that one easy way to teach a young horse to lead and to rein was to “neck the bronc to a burro.”

With this in mind, I rode over into Block Ranch territory (located on northern slopes of the Capitan Mountains) where I knew there were several herds of burros, and finally located what I was looking for in the vicinity of Arroyo Saco Lake. I jerked my rope off my saddle and took off in a run, catching up with the herd of burros right away, and I roped in the first burro that I could swing a loop on. I noticed he didn’t fight the rope, and he seemed pretty gentle, leading right well, and following right on my heels.

Well, when I got to the ranch, I necked a big ol’ ornery bronc to that little gentle burro, wondering just how such a meek little animal could do anything with a mean old hunk of horse flesh like that.

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Thinking to give the burro an advantage over the wild one, I tied one end of a short rope around his neck and the other end to a Hackamore (animal headgear that does not have a bit) on the horse’s head. By this time, I could tell that the burro had had some experience with the neck rope by the manner in which he handled the big mean bronc, for it took only a few minutes for that little donkey to make a believer out of the horse.

I was patting myself on the back for having run into such good luck with my burro, as he was really helping me gentle the broncs — that is until about two weeks after I started working with them.

Then one day I happened to be riding over on the big Block spread again. I was minding my own business, when all of a sudden five Block cowboys rode up out of nowhere and surrounded me in a rather unkindly matter, and I could tell by the looks on their faces they were a little put out about something. I knew from past experience is that once you get a Block cowhand all riled up, there could be heck to pay.

My first thought was that they might be a little mad because Louis McInnis and I had been doing our roping practice on the Block calves, and I knew that Lloyd Taylor, the boss of the big outfit, was always complaining about it. Probably he had told his men to “work me over.”

But I was wrong. They were all up in the air about something else, and I soon knew what it was. “You got off with the old Charles A. Siringo!” one of the cowboys yelled. “He’s our best burro!”

Right now, I was beginning to get an idea of what they were riled up about, but I played dumb, acting innocent. “What the devil are you talking about?” I yelled back, trying to act like I was a little put out myself. Then they proceeded to enlighten me about old Charles A. Siringo, a burro that had been named after the famous cowboy detective, and that kind of gave me the impression that if I didn’t return him to where I found him in a hurry, they might just hang me to the nearest tree.

After they had cooled off somewhat, they explained that my newfound burro was the famous Charles A. Siringo, a favorite “necking” burro that the Block Ranch cowboys used to tame wild cattle. As it was explained to me that a cowboy would often find a wild renegade steer that had somehow evaded the riders during the round up in the rough, brushy foothills of the Capitans. They said that after roping the steer, the cowhand would snub him to a tree where each end of a short rope was circled around the tree and tied to the steer’s horns. This arrangement allowed the steer to stand and move around the tree. Then the tried and tested old Charles A. Siringo was brought up and necked to the steer and turned loose with him, in about the same manner I had used in tying in the burro to the wild horse.

The Block riders would then ride on about their business, leaving old Charles A. and the steer to fend for themselves. Surprisingly enough, that meek little burro, after slamming those deadly hooves against that old steer’s side a few times, would show up at the ranch house in a few days to get his share of the grain rations he had missed during his ordeal.

Clarence Adams, who wrote a story about Charlie Siringo, the longtime range detective and former Pinkerton agent, asked me why the cowboys named the burro after Siringo. I couldn’t answer his question, but it did bring to my mind a picture of a long-eared, mouse-colored mule who always brayed in a loud, raucous voice, and I thought of many reasons why the cowboys chose to call the little burro Charles A., but none of them were very complimentary, so to be charitable, I suggested that the burro, like the cowboy detective, was always one who could be depended upon to bring in an outlaw.

Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or by email at jdunna@hotmail.com.