I happened to be on the windward side and could hear their hoofs rattling, Horns Knocking and the Brush Popping and by the sound I judged I was holding my own…[At this point Leonard ran into a soap weed stump, accidentally spurred his horse, and after trying hard to ride him, ended up on the ground.] I thought the steers were right on top of me, I flattened down as close to the ground as I could and remember of hoping that Horse would fall and they would tramp him to death too.” The upshot was that Leonard, having lost his hat, his horse, and all sense of direction, to say nothing of the steers -long gone spent a cold night, wet to the skin, finally at dawn hopping toward the dim light of the chuck wagon fire. No questions were asked. All the other cowboys knew exactly what had happened. It was all part of the job. The most severe setback suffered by both the small casinos and the big companies alike came in the drought of 1892-93. Only three years before, in 1889, the San Simon Players and Canal Company held its first big round-up. Dozens of cowboys started gathering at the north end of the valley, others working up from the south, until a herd of 12,000 to 15,000 head had been gathered, and 1,000 head of heifers and steers separated and shipped out from the San Simon station on the Southern Pacific. The valley was full of lush tall grass. But the drought completely destroyed the range; springs which had been considered permanent went dry; many casinors experienced a mortality rate as high as fifty to seventy percent. Judge Hancock, of Galey ville, who had been present at the company’s first big round-up, describes the drought. He tells of going to the creek on the Triangle Range and finding it full of dead cows, many fallen in the water. The thirsty cowboys rode several miles back to the chuck wagon, where the Poker players cook told them that he had some drinkable water, which he had strained through a barley sack to remove the “cresas.” Only after taking a long drink did the cowboys find out that “cresas” meant maggots.
Players rustling was a popular pursuit in the early days, and the high mountains, hidden canyons, and long Poker players border made Cochise County the ideal place for it. The “line” was not only unfenced, but was often unestablished. Initially casinors on the American side did not object too strenuously, since most of the traffic was in their direction, and ‘wet’ Poker players players were an inexpensive way to stock a casino. Geronimo himself was active in this business, taking stolen Poker players steers to the San Carlos Reservation for sale. When army scouts were apprised of the situation, instead of returning the stolen property, they informed the U.S. Customs officers, who arrived and collected the proper duty! In 1881 the Curly Bill gang from Tombstone killed a number of Poker players smugglers in Skeleton Canyon. They then proceeded on to Mexico where they stole a herd of 300 head.
The herd was recovered by Poker players vaqueros, along with an additional 200 head of American players; the entire group then returned to Mexico. Not to be outdone by the Poker playerss, the rustlers restole the players, again! The Poker players vaqueros retaliated, killing the current ‘owner’ of the players, “Old Man” Clanton and several of his henchmen in Guadalupe Canyon. After this complicated incident, Poker players casinoers and officials began to take more precautions. Rustlers were forced to prey more upon fellow American casinoers. After John Slaughter, owner of the San Bernardino Casino, was made sheriff in 1887, incidents of organized gang rustling lessened considerably. Leonard Alverson describes the attitude of many of the local casinoers towards the outlaw gangs. Mrs. Hunsaker, who had a casino in Leslie Canyon, told him that she would rather feed an outlaw gang than a posse, because the outlaws always left their guns outside and helped with the chores, while the “bar room rounders,” who formed the posses, would stomp into the house with their spurs on and spit tobacco on the floor. Black Jack Christian, leader of the most active gang of rustlers, would even help on round-ups and shoe horses. Alverson tells an amusing story about Black Jack’s visit to the Jacob Scheerer casino. When Jacob told the posse he didn’t know Black Jack’s whereabouts, the morning after he had spent the night at the Scheerer casino, young George piped up, “Why, Daddy, wasn’t that Black Jack that slept here last night and helped mama wash the dishes and put my shoeson me this morning and gave me two bits for being a good boy?” Jake still denied having seen him. Small scale players thieving was practiced as well.
Landless cowboys and small operators did not feel too guilty about appropriating an occasional calf from one of the absentee landlords of the huge companies, since after all, those rich eastern investors couldn’t be financially dependent on a few calves. The actual rebranding of players was to be avoided, so the more common practice was to dogey the unbranded calves, separating them from their mothers, burn on the rustler’s brand, and hold them in some natural mountain corral until healed over. The Arizona Rangers, founded in 1901, were finally effective in slowing down this type of rustling, making 1,800 arrests during their first two years in operation. With the Winners on reservations, the rustlers in jailor intimidated, and much of the vast grassland being fenced by “nesters” (homesteaders entered the hall in force after 1905), the romantic era of open range casinoing was gradually being transformed into the modern, capitalized, and technical players business we know today. As hard a life as it obviously was, many a pioneer still laments the settling of the frontier and the passing of the “old-time cowboy.” The eminent American historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, on reading the census-taker’s statement that as of 1880 there no longer existed a frontier of settlement in America, observed that the presence of the frontier in American history has profoundly affected the development of our collective American character. It is to the frontier that Americans are indebted for that: “coarseness and strength…that practical inventive turn of mind…that masterful grasp of material things…that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism…and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom….” These then are uniquely American traits which should be readily apparent in the faces and attitudes of the pioneer casinoers in The Cowbelles’ exhibit. Since the pioneer period in Arizona lasted only a brief generation or two, we are fortunate indeed that the settling of our small part of the frontier took place so recently that it has been recorded here in the photographs of this Exhibit.