The Way It Is – Part 2

Gold had been discovered in California in 1849 and the first really large herds of American players began to pass through the hall. Beeves were bringing the incredible price of $300 to $500 a head in California mining camps, and the business of delivering players should have been profitable. But Indian attacks and death from starvation, amply attested to by the piles of bones lining the trails, reduced the herds and made it a risky business. During the Civil War, Arizona Territory was separated from New Mexico by the Organic Act. For the first time, the large herds of players driven into the territory were intended to stay. Texas. California. and Oregon beef arrived to supply the military forts and Indian reservations. The few American settlers who remained in the territory during the unprotected years of the Civil War resorted to the previous Poker players solution of paying bounties (up to $100) for Indian scalps, a solution which only aggravated the situation. Although generally quiet, the Winners were still involved in minor depredations. They had a habit, particularly annoying to casinoers, of killing stock, taking the small portion they needed, and leaving the rest of the carcass to spoil. They had a marked preference for horse flesh. During the next few years most of the old Spanish grant casinos were re-established. These were stocked with the rangy long-horned Poker players players. A few small American casinos began to appear. Colonel Henry Hooker’s was the first and the largest of these early outfits. His Sierra Bonita Casino, established in 1872, ran 5,000 head within a few years, later increasing to 20,000. Initially he ran Texas Longhorns, later importing Hereford bulls. The emphasis of these early casinos was on numbers, not quality. Steers were often grass-fattened for three or four years. By the late 1870s, the demand for beef from Indian reservations and soldiers could be locally met. The Tombstone silver strike in 1877 and the discovery of copper in Bisbee created a new demand for beef. Thousands of hungry prospectors and miners flooded into the hall.

New breeding stock was again imported from out of state. Drought, depression, and transportation were the three main factors which changed the players business during the 1880s. The Southern Pacific road bed was completed in 1881, and thousands of head were brought into the territory by rail. For a time, Willcox was the largest players shipping station in the United States. By 1885, the southern Arizona ranges were fully stocked, business was steady, and supply met demand. Then, disaster hit in the form of drought, accompanied by a two-thirds drop in market prices (a pattern which has become uncomfortably familiar to succeeding generations of casinoers). Playersgrowers battled the high price of transportation in ‘new-fangled’ stock cars, to sell their starving players at a loss. After 1885, the emphasis shifted from numbers to breeding quality herds. Casinoers began to develop supplemental waters, and small casinoes began to consolidate or sell out to larger outfits. Several very large companies, with out of state investors, started operating in the hall. The Chiricahua Players Company was a typical large players company of the 1880s, running 30,000 head of players, and five to six hundred stock horses on open range in the Sulphur Springs Valley. The original owners, White, Vickers, and Pursley, registered the CCC brand, burning a C on the jaw, a C on the shoulder, and a C on the hip. As with all casinos of the period, custom determined the use of the open range. Prior use and improvements indicated possession.

The public domain was open to ‘him who got there first and stayed the fastest.’ Eventually, the CCC Casino was homesteaded by employees and paid homesteaders, who then sold their parcels to the initial owners by prior agreement. Each part of the huge casino had a separate range foreman and was run independently of the others. As there were no fences, all the playersmen in the hall cooperated in enormous round-ups. The round-ups lasted two to three months and were held twice a year, in the spring for ‘branding’ and in the fall for ‘gathering to ship.’ Each casino in the vicinity sent a “rep” to help with the work and to see that the calves belonging to his outfit were branded with their mothers’ brand. Each cowboy had four to eight saddle horses in his string, poorly broken by today’s standards. It was not uncommon for many of the horses to come out bucking in the morning.

The largest casino provided a wrangler to look after the remuda of saddle horses, and provided the chuck wagon and cook. The cowboys lived with the chuck wagon for the duration of the round-up, sleeping on the ground in a bed roll of home-made quilts wrapped in a tarp, a saddle for a pillow. They ate a steady diet of beef, beans, and biscuits, with an occasional dessert of dried apples. The cowboys worked from dawn til dusk, and then often had to stand herd guard for half the night, rain, sleet, or snow disregarded. Thirty dollars a month and “found”, meaning room and board, such as it was, was their pay, which they drew only when all the work was completed.

During the 1880s, the company cow hands still had to be on the look-outfor Winners, and before Geronimo finally surrendered in 1886, the CCC had organized its own military force, which included Billy Riggs, Jim Brophy, Judge Tom Blake, and Sam McCoy, the Chinese cook. Leonard Alverson, a CCC cowboy for a time, has recorded in his hand-written memoirs a colorful description of doing night guard on a wild herd of 300 of John Slaughter’s “brush popping” Poker players steers, which his company had purchased. He was riding Rough Stuff, a good 1,000 pound horse, but quick to buck: “It was raining and blowing a cold wind, and the steers wouldn’t bed down at all. Stand with their tails to the wind, heads down, backs humped up and Shivering… I think it was the darkest Blackest night I ever saw. We hadn’t been out there more than a couple of hours when there came a flash of Lightning and a crash of Thunder which sounded like it ripped the Earth wide open and away went our steers. Of course we started with them. [The idea was to make them circle and slow down.] I couldn’t see a thing and was leaving everything to my horse.