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Historically Speaking: Huntin’ season, cowboys and ole educated deer

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives This photo has the description, "Montana second from left, with a hunting party. Montana stated that when he finally got the old Moss Horn down, that 'I felt that I had lost one of the best friends and neighbors I ever had,' Clarence Adams photo," — date and location unknown.

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Growing up in Roswell this time of year in November was always known as huntin’ season. Back in the days, huntin’ season would usually last about two weeks. It was different then, too, in that a group of friends or family members would choose where they were going, and their huntin’ party would plan the trip ahead of time — starting a month or more before heading out. When the season finally rolled around, off they would go, setting up camp, and staying for the duration of hunting season — if needed — or until they all got their deer. Today, it’s more of a lottery, and depending if you and your friends were able to draw and win a hunting permit, you could consider yourself lucky. My dad, granddad, his brothers, maybe a brother-in-law or two, would go together, every year. My grandfather would always stay at camp and tend his mulligan stew and coffee that he kept on the campfire for who knows how long, maybe the duration of the hunt. Part of the fun for them was coming home with their hunting stories, which they enjoyed sharing, and — if they got a deer — being able to provide food for the family for at least part of the winter.

It was big a thing here in Roswell. Stores would advertise everything from camping supplies to groceries for the big hunt. The Air Force Base was open, the town was busy, and yes, the airmen would get parties together, too, to go huntin’. When the season finally opened — in my memory — it seemed like women and children were all that was left in town.

The story I’m going to share is a Clarence Adams “huntin story,” but also about a cowboy from the Block Ranch. Adams’ son brought all his books to the archives a couple of years ago for us to sell. I asked him at that time if I could use his dad’s stories. His answer was, “Absolutely, yes.” He said he would enjoy re-reading them in the newspaper. Late Elvis Fleming often referred to Adams’ works that were safely preserved in the archives.

“Block Cowboy Was A Top Hand

“By Clarence Adams, “Historical Roundup,” Volume 1, Numbers 3 and 4

“I’ll never forget Montana Clark, old time cowboy at the big Block cow outfit on the north side of the Capitan Mountain. The first time I saw the weather-worn cowpuncher was when I was a young teenager camped with my dad, Bud Taylor, Wesley Lee, and Hezie Miles at the Shield’s windmill in Five Mile Canyon some seven or eight miles west of the settlement of Spindle.

“It was my first deer hunt, and if I lived to be 100, I guess it will linger in my fondest memories longer than any other outdoor experience I have had.

“We had jumped two big bucks early on the second day of the season, and after pumping six or seven shots through the Winchester I had traded for, I finally brought down one of the moss horns, a 200-pound, 11 pointer.

“Dad and I and our partners got the deer into camp and then hung him up in an old juniper tree — a tree that had held many prime bucks in the past — and we laid around the camp during the afternoon, drank a black pot of coffee and rested.

“About mid afternoon, I heard a strange voice outside the tent. ‘Who shot that little ole spike hangin’ out there,’ a drawling voice called out.

“It made me mad — him calling my buck ‘a little ole spike.’ So I was ready to do battle with anyone so insulting. There I met Montana, a weatherbeaten,  bootlegged,  ‘stove up’ cowboy who, in spite of his rugged features, would be in his early 30s. He wore a dull red flannel shirt, a slouch Stetson hat, scarred bat-wind chaps, worn Levi’s, and a grin that seemed never to change. His star-roweled spurs jingled slightly as he strolled up to the tent, walking with a slight limp.

“‘Hello, kid,’ he drawled as I walked out. ‘Good lookin’ spike you got out there.’

“‘Ain’t no spike,’ I said defensively. ‘Eleven pointer – and a big ‘un, too!’

“But already I was likin’ the man, and I could soon tell that he was ‘feeling me out’ in a kidding sort of way. In a few minutes his humor had won me, as well as all the others. ‘Come on up to the house,’ he told my dad. ‘Me and the kid here will mosey on up the canyon. You fellers break camp, throw your bed rolls in your pickup, and we’ll meet you at the house. Plenty of room up there.’ He told them how to get to his place, and he and I were soon making our way west.

“All the way up the canyon I talked to Montana. The more we talked, the more I liked him. We passed a huge juniper tree and he stopped. He was leading his horse so he could walk with me. ‘This is where I almost rode my last bronc,’ he said looking around. ‘He was one mean rascal. Throwed me, and my boot heel got caught in the stirrup. Finally kicked myself out, but broke my leg doin’ it. I’d thought I’d never get back to the ranch.’

“We rested a minute and finally Montana spoke again. ‘Well kid, I guess we need a little camp meat.’ He pointed to a rugged canyon that had a promising header a quarter of a mile up. He pointed toward the head of the canyon. ‘Let’s work out that brushy patch up there. We might just bust out a fat yearling.’

“A few minutes later he stopped, and held up his hand and whispered, ‘Hold it kid!’ I couldn’t see a thing, but I learned several things about deer huntin’ that day. And Montana taught me. He raised the aged 30-30 saddle gun and fired one time. ‘Well, let’s skin ‘em out and get to camp,’ he said, never changing that ageless grin.

“Philosophies have changed in conservation practices in modern times, but in Depression days the code of the hills permitted, ‘camp meat’ — only when and if you needed it, but never unnecessarily. That day marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship with perhaps the best cowboy that ever rode over the huge spread that was the Block Land and Cattle Company.

Today, Montana’s name is legend among the old-timers over on the north side. It is said that upon numerous occasions when Montana rode up on a nester skinnin’ out a Block beef, he would say, ‘all right now fellers, you’n take this ‘un, but don’t let me catch you doin’ it ag’in.’

“Montana finally got too stove-up to ride, and left his Capitan Mountain job. For years he ran a small café in Corona. I figure if there’s a ‘cowboys’ Heaven somewhere out there, Montana is very likely to hold the foreman’s job; for they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Part 2

“‘Educated’ Buck Meets His Match

“I introduced you to an old cowboy by the name of Montana Clark in a previous issue. I’ve been thinking recently about another incident that happened about 50 years ago that involved Montana.

“You see we had a special challenge every time deer season rolled around each fall. There was this old ‘moss-horn’ buck over on the north side of the Capitans that had grown so smart that it became an obsession with us to get him. We were all a little bit sad however, when his time finally ran out.

Every fall during deer season we hunted this old buck with all sincerity, and there was always a group — usually the same fellows — who met at the Block Ranch Line Camp in Five-Mile Canyon to discuss our plans on how to kill him.

“Now this place was located west of Spindle on the north side not very far from the old Shield’s windmill. This is where Montana lived, as he was in charge of this part of the ranch that made up the sprawling piece of real estate that was the Block Cattle Company.

“As I recall the first time I ever saw what we eventually called the ‘Educated’ buck, was one day when I was working my way in and out of the shin oak brush where I had seen a huge buck track. Montana and I were hunting together this particular time on a brushy hill, commonly known then as Round Mountain. ‘There’s a big old buck running in there,’ Montana had told me some time before. ‘He’s so smart he nearly always sneaks out of there before I can see him — much less get a shot at him.’

“So year after year it was the heights of our ambition to get a shot at the big buck, and it became kind of a game. We would surround the hill, work it up and down, through the brush, systematically — and any other way you could think of — but could never get a shot at the elusive rascal. The smart old timer would even bed down sometimes and let us walk right by him. Later we’d hear him bounce off through the brush behind us.

“So as the years went by, we finally tagged the name on the old deer — ‘Ole Educated Buck,’ and he had another tag, too, in some manner one of his hind hooves had splayed out — perhaps at one time it had been grazed by a bullet so that when he ran, he left one unquestionable hoof mark, and when we jumped the old Moss Horn we could always identify him by this unusual track.

“The buck finally became a legend and eventually almost a ghost story. Hunters would come into camp telling of an awful crashing through the brush on Round Mountain. ‘But we couldn’t see him,’ they would say. One pokerface dude said he saw a buck that flittered away like a shadow. ‘But he had 40 points on that old rocking chair he was carrying,’ the excited gent’ said.

“Another hunter who came in shortly after dark one night swore he had seen the old buck just at dusk standing for an instant on the skyline. ‘That old buck gave a snort and just faded away,’ he said. ‘He must have had 20 points to a side.’ Later however, we figured that this particular fellow had taken a bottle along on his late hunt and had taken one snort too many.

“With the coming of each hunting season, our plans became more elaborate. We would get together in late summer and early fall and talk about how we would work Round Mountain and outsmart old Educated Buck. Then November would finally come and of course, with it came deer season.”

“Finally the day of reckoning came. This particular time as usual, we all met at Montana’s the day before the season opened, but Montana didn’t give us the usual good-natured greeting. As soon as the Block cowboy stepped out on the porch we knew something had happened — something terrible. And the somber look on Montana’s face — almost a look of sadness — told us that we would not be able to ‘play the game’ this year.

“‘Old Educated Buck is gone,’ Montana said in a quiet almost quivering voice, ‘I think he just finally gave up and let me do ‘im in.’

“Then Montana told us how he had been looking for brush steers up in the rough country and had just happened to ride to the top of Round Mountain. ‘I started down the other side and wasn’t even expecting that ole rascal to bust out of there. But he was bedded down in the head of the brushy draw and instead of doubling back on me, like I figured he would, he bounced right out in the open straight ahead of me.’

“Montana related how he had jumped off his horse, pulling his 30-30 out of the saddle boot as he got off, and had started working the old buck over. ‘I got lucky and planted one right between his ears as he jumped,’ he said.

But Montana wasn’t even smiling. His triumph at being the one to finally bring the old buck down was not too evident. Then he told how the big buck was. ‘He had what them big-shot game people call a non-typical head — ‘twenty-three points!’ he said. ‘I didn’t weigh the old boy, but I couldn’t no way get him on my horse. Had to quarter him up and haul him out in quarters. He was that big!’

The story of the Educated Buck has been told again and again. Every time a hunting party makes camp in the vicinity of the old Block Line Cabin in Five Mile Draw on the north side, someone is sure to tell-or-retell the story of the Educated Buck.

Old Montana, the wise old Block cowpuncher has long since passed from the scene, too, but those who hunted with him remember how he would laugh and talk about his strategy — how he would outsmart the old Moss Horn someday. But somehow I feel that with the passing of the old buck, life wasn’t the same anymore for Montana, because not too long after that, he left the Block outfit and retired from his cowpuncher’s life. For years however, the big buck’s head, which had been mounted, hung in the barbershop in Capitan — a reminder of the old days, to all those who had hunted him — a reminder of the big buck that had once roamed wild and free on Round Mountain on the north side of El Capitan, almost half a century ago. (Written in 1979.)

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.