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Thoughts of My Days at the Triangle T Ranch

My name is Duncan McLeod; I was born in Atlanta Georgia in 1928 and was fortunate to spend my younger days at the Ranch. About eight years  My grand mother Metta J. Tutt acquired the ranch  about 1930,  Due to the deteriorating health of her daughter, Catherine, who had TB, she relocated in Arizona. Catherine died soon after the move. My father John McLeod and my mother Dorothy T. McLeod were asked to manage the ranch and moved there in 1930. I was two years old and my brother was four.

My father, a real estate developer in Florida, had lost a fortune when the economy crashed.  So there I was, a two year old kid in a strange land. Of course the whole world was strange and exciting to me at that age.  When I got my first cowboy hat, my grand mother said that I looked like a mouse under a collard leaf.  Always thought that was funny.

The ranch looked different from the flat country in Georgia and Florida, Tremendous rocks scattered all over the place. My brother and I were in hog heaven, so many places to discover and explore. It’s a wonder we didn’t get swallowed by rattle snakes which were everywhere.        

As I remember, the ranch used to be a fruit farm and there were fruit trees all over the place. Orange, Cherry, Peach, Apple, every thing you could think of including mulberry trees we loved to climb. You could walk around the ranch and get filled up picking and eating fruit.  They called ranches ‘DUDE RANCHES” then. Grandmother changed that to Guest ranch, sounds much better.  My grand mother and my father, being quite wealthy knew many influential people.

The Vanderbilts the Rockefellers, ----. Who were frequent guest at the ranch.  Soon the ranch got to be THE place to be seen.

It was isolated, private, quiet and peaceful. The only sounds you would hear at night were the mournful cries of wolves and coyotes and occasionally the midnight train passing through Dragoon, three miles away. Sunsets were an experience every night.

 

The Hollywood crowd found out about the ranch, probably from Will Rogers and many of the famous actors and actresses of the day became regular visitors. The movie makers

needing a  location to shoot ‘wild west’ cowboys and Indian scenes found the ranch ideal and were always making movies  My brother and I were recruited to hold mirrors to highlight the actors who got shaded by the large rocks. My mother was an expert horse rider and doubled for many actresses’ who were afraid of the ‘big beasts’.

 

Yes there were Navajo Indians, in the area and probably still are. They used to come by in their horse drawn carriages loaded with blankets and all manner of Indian artifacts, a real treat for our guest.  There was a small shop in the main ranch house that sold them. My mother had a valuable collection of rare Indian tapestries hanging on the walls in the main ranch house. Of course, the main ranch house was the center of attraction at the ranch. It was a large white, Spanish, stucco building with hand hewn beams in the ceiling, many arches, iron gates, and wide oak flooring. You could almost always hear a Spanish guitar in the background being played by one of our cowboys.

Everyone dressed for dinner which was served at a long wooden table in the dinning room. All of the guest ate at the same table, family style. Grandmother had hired a French chef to satisfy the taste of our special guest, and dinner was the highlight of the day for many.

I remember the enormous oak tree in the front yard. Me and my brother used to climb it and spend hours eating acorns. There was a large wet clay bowl hanging from the tree that satisfied the guest with cool water on a hot day.

 

Probably the worst memory I have was the night the main ranch house burned to the ground.

We were living in the ‘six room cottage’, right across from the main house.   In the middle of the night we heard the diesel electric generators cycling on and off Then we smelt smoke and saw flames on the roof. There wasn’t much we could do with a garden hose and we watched as it all was taken away from us.  My mother opened the front door and tried to grab a priceless tapestry off the wall next to the door. Somebody pulled her back just as the roof fell in. She looked to see who saved her and there was no one around. Strange?

 

Great lost to Arizona. I’ll never forget that night.

 

We had two clay tennis courts that got plenty of use because they were probable the only courts within a hundred miles.  We had a giant barbecue every few months. Everybody was invited if they helped. A large ditch was dug, a whole cow was suspended across a fire and barbecue happened. Music and dancing lasted late into the night. A polo field was almost always active on weekends. There were several teams that competed. Most of our entertainment for the guest centered around horses. The early morning sunrise breakfast over an open fire on a nearby hill.

Overnight ridding trips to Middle March mine, about a fifteen mile ride. A station wagon from the ranch would meet us at the mine with all the ingredients for a fire cooked supper. After a spell of singing to the strums of a guitar, every one was ready for sleep under an astonishing display of stars

On the ride to the mine, I always was at the rear of the column and I could see a mountain lion following us, he would peek out from behind a rock and watch from a distance. I guess he was just curious about the strangers that were invading his territory.

 

We had 23 horses and two cows and probably many chickens. The cowboys (there were about four) would size up the guest for a horse that would match their personality and ridding experience. It was fun to watch the horse sizing up the new rider. He would look the guest up and down from boots to hat. If he didn’t like the rider, there was no way that person was getting in the saddle. My father had a quarter horse named Tequila, mothers horse was a paint named Lady.  They were both excellent riders and it was a treat to see their professionalism.

 

Almost every morning there was a trail ride, usually about three hours. One cowboy was assigned to each trail ride. The cowboys were not very talkative. About the only thing they would say is “watch out for that gopher hole” A gopher hole can break a horses foot if he steps in one, and they were everywhere. Of course, most of our horses already knew about gopher holes.

Three miles down a dirt road was a town called Dragoon. It grew up in the eighteen hundreds next to the new railroad.   There were two stores and a railroad depot. A Mr. Peak owned one store and Mr. Schmitt  Owned the other one.  Almost all our guest arrived on the train. Many came by chauffeur driven limousine.   Since the train wouldn’t stop if it didn’t have passengers, the mail bag would be held out by the conductor on a bow shaped holder that the station master would snatch. Outgoing mail was sent the same way.

 

Imagine two little kids from the east and all these new things to explore. And explore we did, we checked out every rock in sight and found several Indian caves that nobody else knew about. We found that where a large rock (bolder) overhangs the ground is where the entrance to a cave will be. All you have to do is dig under that side of the rock and find that it opens into a large room. In here we found Indian pottery, arrow heads and the cone shaped holes that Indians ground corn in. We also found a snake or two which we chased out with a stick. Each cave had an opening on top that served as a chimney. We could tell where they had a fire for cooking. We could find arrow heads almost everywhere. Me and my brother quickly collected a cigar box full

 

We had a bad problem with “wet backs”, Mexicans that swam the Reo Grand River to get to the US illegally. They would kill you in a heartbeat for your boots or anything of value to them. Our cowboys were always armed when taking guest on a trail ride. The wet backs knew that they would be shot if they tried to stop a trail ride. No problem. When our neighboring guest ranches reported that some of their guest didn’t return from a ride, we suspected wet backs  One day while a cowboy was looking for a missing horse north of the Ranch he saw an adobe shack that shouldn’t be there. On closer inspection, he found the shack was vacant, but there were several boots, watches and pieces of clothing scattered about. He immediately suspected wet backs and came back to the ranch to report what he had found. My father and several cowboys rode out to investigate. As they approached the shack, a shot was heard from several hundred feet away and a bullet hit the ground in front of them. They saw a figure step out from a rock and raise a rifle to shoot. Dad dropped him with one shot. As they started to go in the shack, they were confronted by a large snarling dog, which quickly disappeared behind the shack. They collected the boots and other items and came back to the ranch to report it to the border patrol. Several nights later, a guest came in the main ranch house, where guest were playing bridge. She was scared and breathless.  While out for a stroll, she was confronted by a large snarling dog. She was frozen, not knowing what to do, and then in a flash, the dog was gone. this dog, now called Diablo by the cowboys, was seen several times near the guest cottages, and my father decided that it was time to get rid of him. The word was to shoot him on site. Later me and my father were driving our pickup truck around to the corral and there was Diablo standing in the road, about three hundred feet away, his feet apart and foam dripping from his mouth. Dad opened the door and got out. Resting his pistol on the door, he took one shot. The dog stood there several seconds starring at us, then fell over dead. This dog was enormous; he must have weighed over a hundred pounds. Dad’s shot went right between his eyes.

 

My job was to ‘ride the fences’ to make sure there were no breaks that would allow stray animals to get on our property. Several times a wild horse came on the ranch and bit one of our horses, requiring a call to the vet. Anything like a cut could really be bad if it were not treated.

We went to school in a one room school house, located at the entrance to the ranch. There was a wash nearby that we would tie our horses by so that they could drink. I remember that the building had arrowheads stuck in the walls. They were too high to reach which is why they were still there. The word was, the locals took refuge there to survive an Indian attack……  Something must have happened there. There were eight grades, eight rows of seats…and ONE teacher.

I have always thought that this was not a bad set up because all the students got a taste of all the teaching.  It’s interesting that when we moved east, we were skipped two grades ahead.

 

Above, I mentioned a wash. This is a stream. There was a wash right in back of the Ranch, we could find gold nuggets in the water. Since gold was only worth thirty two dollars an ounce, there was little interest in looking for it. There were several washes in our area and they could be treacherous. When it rained in the mountains and high country, the streams were filled with raging water that could overwhelm you and your horse is a minute. They were crossed with great care.

 

We were all happy living there, but Dad thought that this was not the best place to raise kids. He didn’t want two cowboys for sons. So we sold the Ranch and moved back east.

Somebody said that you can take the kid off the ranch, but you’ll never get the Ranch out of the kid.

Everybody has a story of good memories that last a lifetime.

This is my story.

 

Duncan McLeod       82