H. Alan Day's Blog
In the desert, June is hotter than July or August. When I lived on Lazy B, we always started looking for clouds and rain around July 4th, and we were eager to have some by then after living through the heat of June.
There was one day that I recall being the hottest. We had a new BLM range conservationist, Frank Hayes, who worked out of the Safford office. Young and cocky, Frank didn’t have much experience, but loved the process of understanding grazing, grass, and land and was anxious to make a name for himself as a good range con.
One day Frank called. “Alan, I want you to round up the cattle and move them to High Lonesome Pasture,” he said. “We’ll rest the East Pasture for six months.”
I agreed the pasture needed resting. “But the calves are quite young,” I countered, “and still recovering from the shock of branding. They don’t have much energy right now. And it’s too hot. If we wait until rain starts, it’ll be a better time. “
“No, we have to do it now,” said Frank, flexing his authority.
I knew in theory he was correct; in practicality, however, it was the wrong time to make the move. But you only learn things like that through years of experience out on the range, not in your chair in the BLM office. After unsuccessfully trying to persuade Frank to postpone the move, I said, “Okay, I’ll move the cattle one condition. You need to come out and help.”
On the given day, we set out at 3:30 am. We had about eight cowboys including Jay O’Connor, my nephew and Sandra’s youngest son, who was quite interested in the ranch but had a pretty smart mouth. The East Pasture was quite large, so we spread out and started rounding up the cattle. By 11 am, we began the drive toward High Lonesome.
The temperature topped one hundred degrees. No clouds floated above us, no shade spread below us. The cattle plodded along, their pace growing slower and slower until finally they just quit. We could maybe prod a cow to move ten steps, but then she’d stop. We had reached Horseshoe Tank, which was bone dry. At least the cook had arrived in the pick up with our lunch.
We got off our horses and let them stand. They had no interest in moving. There wasn’t a tree in sight. After we guzzled some cold water, the eight of us crawled underneath the pickup. We were too hot to eat. For about an hour, everybody laid in any small scrap of shade they could claim. At least the sun wasn’t beating down on our faces. Had the pickup been parked there all day, the ground would’ve been cool, but it wasn’t. It was hot. We were hot. We just laid there as still as the cows, unable to move or speak.
Finally, Jay turned to Frank and said, “How does this feel, Frank? Do you feel pretty smart now?”
I was mortified. Was Jay repeating what I had said? Probably. At the same time, I was proud of Jay for saying the obvious.
Frank didn’t reply.
After an hour, I rallied the group to finish the last mile and half. We got the cows and calves moving and drove them to High Lonesome. They appreciated the fresh water and fresh feed.
It was one helluva a hot day to teach a lesson. Then again, the lesson couldn’t have been taught without the hot day.
When you grow up on ranch riding horses almost every day, you’re no stranger to rodeos, by they in your own backyard or on the official circuit.
When I was a junior in high school, the local Duncan rodeo was coming up. I decided that I was going to enter the bareback bronc riding. It would cost ten bucks.
I shared my plans with our foreman, Leroy.
“Oh boy, that’s a good idea,” said Leroy. “But I might have a better idea for you.”
“What would that be?” I asked.
Leroy said, “Well, we have six young horses at High Lonesome. If you want, I’ll go over there with you, and we’ll catch one or two or three or four. I’ll put you on as many as you want. They’ll all buck you off. It’ll be ten dollars cheaper and there won’t be anyone to laugh at you.”
For a day or two, I thought about Leroy’s offer and finally concluded that it was a good one. From that point on, I restricted my getting bucked off to ranch horses.
That was Leroy. He’d never come out and say something was a dumb idea. But whatever he told you, made you think, “That’s a dumb idea.”
I suspect we all need a Leroy in our life now and then.
As a third-generation cattleman, Alan’s upbringing branded him a cowboy from the day he was born. Growing up on his family’s historic 200,000-acre Lazy B Ranch, which straddled southern Arizona and New Mexico, cemented his love for the land and for horses.
Ranching and the cowboy life was in his blood, so after graduating from the University of Arizona, he returned to manage the family’s Lazy B cattle operations for the next 40 years… along with two other massive ranches – one in Nebraska and another in South Dakota.
Alan’s incredible adventures include a visit from actor Kevin Costner in his quest to find a great place to shoot “Dances with Wolves,” lobbying Congress to save 2,000 wild Mustangs, creating and operating the first wild horse sanctuary in the US, piloting his Cessna countless hours between his ranches to keep the cattle businesses thriving, writing several best-selling books (including one he co-authored with big-sister Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), and living the life of a modern-day cowboy and cattleman… without ever forgetting the traditions on which his family’s way of life was built.