As I have said, after the ranch was fenced in 1883 Uncle Robert bought up quite a number of cattle, and with those we had on the ranch and the natural increase the ranch was soon well stocked.

We boys did all the riding and looking after the cattle. In fact one or two of us were riding the range every day.


We raised a good many horses, and were kept pretty busy breaking young horses to ride or drive. It seemed to me that I was always riding half-broken horses. As soon as we would get a horse well broken some one would buy him and then it would be time to break another in.


Of course with as much riding as we had to do, we changed horses quite often anyway. For we were not like Owen Wister’s famous character, “The Virginian”, who could ride one horse every day, for year after year, on a big cattle range – Monte surely must have been a wonderful horse. Neither did we ride like the characters in the modern “movies”, who always ride on a run.


In riding after stock a man who really understands his work never rides a horse fast, unless it is necessary to do so. If he did his horse would probably be so tired and so nearly exhausted when an emergency really did arise that he would not be equal to the occasion.


Ordinary range riding is done at a walk or a jog trot. That is, when you are just riding among the stock and are not moving them from place to place, or doing any special work with them. At that gait a horse can keep going all day and still be able to get in and do some really hard work at the last. But if a man rode as we see them in the “movies” it would surely take a lot of horses to keep him going. I have come in at night, riding a very tired horse a good many times, but never had a horse give out with me. That was one of the things we learned from the old “Spanish Californians”. They never rode a horse hard unnecessarily, at least, not when they were riding after stock. For they well knew that they might, at any time, have to put him to his very utmost. And of course if he had been ridden at a gallop for an hour or two he would be so winded and exhausted that he could do very little when an emergency arose where it would be necessary for him to do his very best.


In riding after stock on a well-broken horse a rider should take an easy gait (and especially while climbing hills) and not ride with a tightly cinched saddle. Of course if he were riding a wild or only slightly broken horse he would keep his saddle tight. For he would never know just when his horse might take a notion to buck or do some funny business. And in that case, if he were riding with a loose saddle, he might have to walk home. We were taught to always save our horses’ strength for a possible emergency, but when an emergency arose, to put him to his very utmost, and not spare him in the least until the emergency was past.


You should take the bridle off, slack the saddle, and let your horse drink, when you came to water. And do this a number of times in a day if possible. And not let a horse go without water so long that when you do water him he will drink so much that he is a misery to himself for an hour or so afterwards from having drunk too much.


Also when feed is plentiful it is a wise plan to remove the bridle and let him eat, if only for a few minutes. And do this, if possible, several times a day. If you have never tried it before, you will be surprised how ten minutes’ grazing will revive a horse on a hard day’s ride. Take ten minutes several times a day, if you are not specially rushed, and let your horse eat, with his bridle removed and the saddle slacked. You will be rested yourself, and your horse will be almost like a fresh one. There is nothing tires a man like riding a tired horse.


I have had people who were not familiar with such work ask me why on a fenced range it was necessary to ride among stock so much. There are a great many reasons why it is necessary to keep close watch of this stock. Cattle and horses, like people, are subject to many troubles and difficulties. Various things hurt them, and they have a way of hurting one another.


Probably the commonest difficulty among cattle is for one to hook or horn the other. A slight wound of any kind, especially in hot weather, will cause blood to start. Then flies will “blow’ the wound and an ugly sore will soon result. That animal must be lassoed and thrown, and the wound cleaned out, and some disinfectant applied. In the hot weather we usually carry a bottle of strong disinfectant of some kind with us while riding among cattle, and wherever we find an animal with trouble of this kind we throw him and attend to the wound, and turn him loose again right on whatever part of the range he happens to be.


Then cattle or horses will sometimes get “chollas” (a species of ball-like cactus) stuck on their nose while feeding. These cause a good deal of suffering and prevent the animal from grazing in comfort. Of course these cases must be lassoed, thrown, and the “chollas” removed.


Then there are of course a thousand other things that may happen, that will require attention. We once found a young mare out on the range fastened by the hair of her tail to an old snag, or broken shrub. She had been held in that way for four or five days (judging from her condition) when found, and would have died from want of food and water if my brother Charley had not happened to find her. Once I rode up to a big water trough at a spring over in the Agua Hedionda valley. We had a home-made windmill that pumped water into this trough. The stock would usually drink the trough dry in the afternoon, and the windmill seldom started pumping again until the sea breeze started up the following morning, at about ten o’clock, so the trough would be empty all night and until the mill began pumping in the morning. The morning I am referring to was at a time of year when the weather was quite warm, and the stock had come to water some time before there was enough wind to cause the mill to pump. There were a number of horses gathered about the trough, and the sea breeze had just begun to blow strong enough to start the windmill. The mill had probably been pumping a few strokes and then stopping and waiting for the breeze to get stronger, then pumping another few minutes and waiting again. But at about the time I arrived there, the old mill was just beginning to get a fair wind, and was beginning to pour a steady stream into the big trough. This trough was made of three big redwood planks, sixteen feet long and twenty-four inches wide, and was flared out so that it was about three and one-half feet wide on the top. As I drew near I was surprised to see the legs of an animal sticking up, out of the trough, and galloping up quickly to see what was wrong, found a big fat four-year old mare on her back in the trough, and the old windmill pumping a solid two-inch stream in onto her. In less than another hour the trough would have been full and the mare drowned. I happened that day to be riding a well broken saddle horse, and hurriedly putting my riata around the mare’s neck, and to the horn of the saddle, I reined my horse back and turned the mare over and out onto the ground. She was none the worse for her experience, but a few minutes more would have ended her life. The horses had come in thirsty and found the trough dry or nearly so and had been biting and kicking each other, as each one wanted to get to the part of the trough where a little water was coming spasmodically from the pump. And in trying to get out of the way of the heels of some vicious old mare this one had fallen against and then into the trough.


Of course these two incidents that I have just described are things that would rarely happen to animals running on a range, but I have mentioned them just to show those who are not familiar with this kind of work what unexpected conditions we do come up against at times.


When cattle are poor as in time of drouth the most common difficulty they get into is getting mired down in some mudhole. It always seemed to me as if the poorer and weaker an old cow was the surer she was to get into some place where a strong fat animal would have no trouble in getting out. We used to try to keep the worst mudholes fenced so the cattle could not get into them and mire down, but in dry seasons late in the fall the stock would be very thin and weak and then it kept us on the lookout all the time trying to see that those animals that became mired were gotten out as soon after they had gotten in as possible. For if they are left very long in the cold mud they will not be able to stand on their feet after being pulled out, and so are nearly sure to die. They will not only get stuck in the mud, when they are thin and poor, but will fall into dry gullies and all sorts of places. We usually managed to pull them out of their difficulties with our saddle horses, pulling by the horn of the saddle, but some times when we found one stuck in a very difficult place we had to pull with several horses to get them out. While I am writing along this line I am going to relate a rather amusing case that comes to my mind.


My brother Charley had an Indian working for him whose name was Frank. He was a splendid hand with horses, either at riding or driving them. One morning I was riding among the cattle when I saw Frank coming down from the direction of Charley’s place, with a span of large young horses hitched to a strong farm wagon. The horses were trotting as fast as they could, and trying to run every now and then.


When he got to where I was sitting on my horse by the roadside he pulled up the team and set his brake. I said, “Where are you going in such a hurry, Frank?” “Oh, Mr. Charley sent me down to pull a dead cow out of the mud at the “Macario Spring,” said he. I said I would go down there and help him. “Oh, I guess these two small horses can pull her out,” said Frank and he started on as fast as ever. I followed him at a fairly good gait, but he got to the spring quite a little time before I did. The cow was stuck in the middle of a patch of mud that was probably two or three rods in diameter, and she was already dead. But Charley had sent Frank down to pull her out and take the skin from her. I sat on my horse and watched to see how he would go about getting her out of such a place. He drove the wagon around the mudhole and stopped with the back end of it as near to the edge of the mudhole as he could get it. Then he tied his lines fast to the brake, which was set on hard. He then climbed down from the seat, and took a big coil of strong “derrick rope” from the wagon. Going around to the rear end he tied one end of the rope to the rear axle, and taking the other end began wading out into the mud. He wore heavy cowhide boots with his trouser legs stuffed inside the tops of them. As he waded in, the mud got deeper and deeper, until by the time he had reached the cow, the mud was almost up to the tops of his boots. Then he tied the end of the rope securely to the dead cow’s neck. At about this stage of the game the team, which had been doing some great snorting and pawing the earth, suddenly made a lunge and started on the run. I was on the opposite side of a big gulch and could not get to them in time to do any good, and Frank was out in the middle of this mudhole which was so deep and sticky that he could not run through it to catch the team. But as the rope was long, there was quite a lot of slack, and in the time it took the team to run far enough to take up the slack, Frank had gotten probably half way from where the cow lay to the edge of the mud. He evidently saw that it would be impossible for him to get to the team in time to prevent their running away, but his head was never known to fail him in any sort of emergency where the behavior of horses was concerned. As the rope suddenly came taut, the old cow came loose from where she had been mired, and started after the flying team at a terrible rate. Frank shot a glance at the running team, and another back at the now fast moving cow, and as she came by him, fairly making the mud fly, he suddenly leaped upon her back and grabbing her horns, went flying out of the mud and off down the canyon in a cloud of dust.


I think it was the most comical sight I have ever seen. A team running away with a big wagon, with a dead cow hitched behind and an Indian riding on the cow’s back. I, of course, thought the team would surely be badly injured, and the wagon probably broken to pieces. As for the Indian, I had seen him in so many scrapes with wild horses where he had come out safely that I felt he would come out of this without injury. Well, after running quite a ways the team found that they had run down between the forks of a deep dry gully, with banks that were straight up and down and some six or eight feet deep. They had been running along the edge of one deep gully which was just to their left, and coming suddenly to another deep gully coming in from the right and so deep that they could not cross, they suddenly turned sharply around to the right and started to run back out of this pocket they had run into. The Indian was, as I have said, on the dead cow, at the end of the rope, which was probably sixty or seventy feet behind the wagon. As he saw the team turn he suddenly sprang from the cow’s back, ran out to the right, and as the team passed him he grabbed the side of the wagon and nimbly climbed into it, and up onto the high wagon seat. Reaching down, he unwound the lines from the brake, and with a few hard yanks soon had the team at a standstill and headed up against an old elder tree. Tying the lines back tightly, he sprang nimbly down from the wagon, went around to their heads, and soon had the team securely tied to the tree. He then went over to where the cow lay, untied the rope, and when I arrived at his new location he was starting to skin the cow, just as if everything had worked out in the way he had originally intended it should. As I rode up to him he grinned and said, “Well, Don Juan, how do you like that way of pulling a cow out of the mud?” Frank was a very peculiar Indian. He was at that time probably a little past twenty years of age, and had been raised by or rather had worked for white folks all his life, and could talk English as well as the ordinary white boy. There are many people who will tell you that the American Indian has no sense of humor. But Frank certainly was an exception to the rule, for he had as keen a sense of humor as any young fellow I ever saw. He could not read, but we used to read the funny items and stories to him from the magazines and papers, and he would laugh and enjoy them to the utmost. If any funny story particularly amused him he would enjoy it for weeks, and would quote the parts of it that had interested him most while about his work, and upon all other occasions. But poor Frank went the way of many Indians. He became dissipated, and finally had to leave this country and skip into Lower California, to keep out of the clutches of the law. It was afterwards reported that he had been killed by some members of a tough gang with whom he had been running. If he had only seen fit to lead a sober, honest life, it would have been hard to find a better all-round ranch hand than he was. But drink and bad company ruined him, as they have ruined many white men.


I have described some of the routine work on a stock ranch, and of course some of it is pleasant work, and some is very much the other way. In the spring of the year, when all the stock are fat and strong, there is nothing, in my opinion, prettier than a big “roundup” of either cattle or horses. The calves on a cattle ranch must be “branded” and “marked” while the weather is cool. For in hot weather, if this sort of work is done, there will be no end of trouble from flies “blowing” the wounds, which makes a lot of work, we always tried to have this part of the work over with by the first of May, if possible.

On our spring round ups, we always had it understood beforehand just what part of the range each man was to cover, in gathering the stock. Each man would drive in all the cows with calves (if it was a round up of cattle) and the same with the mares with colts, if it was a horse round up. We would try and have them all rounded up in the valley near the old ranch house at as early an hour as possible – which would usually be by about nine thirty or ten o’clock in the morning. Then all hands would have to work hard to get them into the big corral. Cattle brought from the various parts of the range where they are in the habit of running will try their best to break away from the round up and go back to their old feeding grounds. So by the time the herd is in the corral every horse on the job is apt to be wet with sweat. And as the cows and their calves frequently get separated from each other in the rushing in of the herd to the corral, there is always a perfect din of bellowing and bawling so that by the time the big gate is closed on them, you can hardly hear yourself think for noise. Then there is a rush to get a fire started and the branding irons ready.


With us everyone usually had his regular work on such occasions. My job was always to work in the corral on horseback lassoing and throwing calves, or colts, as the case might be. This was not because I was a better hand on horseback than the other brothers, but rather, I think, because I was not as good as the other boys on foot. It was a case of putting each man where he could accomplish the most. And by the time the day was done everybody would be tired and so covered with dust and grime that is was really laughable to look at each other. When the cattle are turned out of the corral in the evening it is interesting to see how those that have been brought in from the various parts of the range will separate themselves from the others and start back to their own feeding grounds. It seems to be a sort of an “unwritten law” with them to stay on their own particular part of the range.


But a round up of horses is much harder work then one of cattle. True, they are much easier gathered in from the range, and gotten into the corral, but then the real work begins. After a day’s work lassoing and throwing horses, everybody’s hands will be so sore and blistered that he can hardly hold a rope at all. The usual course of procedure is for one man on horseback to lasso the colt or horse by the neck and hold him out from the other horses (usually over near the corral gate). Then another man lassoes his two front feet, or legs, and he is soon down on his side. But a big strong wild colt is very swift, and the man lassoing either his head or feet is likely to get his hand badly burned or blistered before he can get his “turns” on the horn of the saddle. Lassoing grown horses that are wild is a far better test of good horsemanship than lassoing wild cattle. Of course with wild cattle the principal danger is that the animal will horn or gore your horse. And it surely does require considerable skill to keep out of the way of a vicious cow or steer. But with a wild horse, the main danger is of his taking the horse you are riding off his feet. He will run past you at the top of his speed, and it surely takes an awful jar to stop him. The rider must always keep his horse headed in the direction that the pull is going to come, for if he does not, but lets the horse get a side pull on him, his horse will surely be taken off his feet. Then to this is added the danger of the riata breaking. That might seem to one not accustomed to such work as of little consequence – merely letting the horse get away. But I can testify, from experience, that the breaking of a riata is sometimes a very serious matter. We were once catching some horses over in the corral at the ranch and I was in the corral on horseback doing the lassoing. A big wild young horse suddenly jumped over the bars and got out. The other boys let the bars down, and I rode out to try and drive him back into the corral. Just as I got him up to the gate, he broke back past me, and I whirled my horse around and lassoed him as he came by me. He was going down grade, and at the very top of his speed. I got my turns on the saddle when he had taken out about three-fourths of the length of my riata, and in order to avoid having my riata broken, I let the turns run on the horn of the saddle until he had taken all but about a foot of it, and even then I stopped him so suddenly that he fell at full length. One of the boys was quite near him when he fell (for he had been out there trying to head him back into the corral) and ran up to scare him up onto his feet, and drive him back in. I shouted for him to let the horse lay where he was until I could ride up and get my turns at about the half length of the riata (which was nearly sixty feet long) but before I could do anything the horse was on his feet, and coming by me at terrible speed. I just had time to wheel my horse around, so as to take the pull, or jerk, head on, and when he came to the end of it, the riata broke (as I knew it would) and the end came back like a whiplash, and struck me in the right eye with such force that it almost knocked me from my horse. I thought then I should have to go through the rest of my life with one eye. But after several weeks in a dark room under the care of an oculist my sight was saved. But for a long time after that it was hard for me to keep from ducking my head when lassoing a horse or steer that was on the run.


I have used the word “riata” so many times in this narrative that it has occurred to me that some people who are not familiar with the Spanish language might not understand just what it meant, or how it was made.


Most writers speak of it as a “lariat”. But that is really putting two words together to make one. “La riata” would be the same as “the riata”. If you should ask a Spanish American what he called such a thing, “la riata” or “esa la riata”, which in English would be “the riata” or “that is the riata”. It is made of rawhide. Usually four strands braided together, though sometimes they are of six strands. To make a good “riata” is a lot of work. In the first place the skin must be taken from the animal very carefully so there will be no cuts in it. Then as soon as it is taken from the animal it must be stretched out smoothly on the ground, or still better on a floor, and staked or nailed around the edges to keep it from wrinkling. Then, when it has dried enough to be firm, the man who is going to make it into a “riata” will begin, with a very sharp knife and cut out a circle about a foot in diameter right in the middle of the hide.


 Then he will commence cutting the strand, around and around this circle, working from the center of the hide towards the outside. He will cut the strand much wider then he intends to have them when they are ready to be braided in the “riata”. He usually cuts them something like an inch wide. He will not be very particular about cutting them true and even at this time, for they much be soaked in water until they are quite soft and then they must be stretched until they will stretch no farther. To do this the old time “riataros” or riata makers used to tie one end of the strands to a strong low-hanging limb of a tree, and then taking the other end of the strands to another long low-hanging limb, that was quite a little farther from the first limb than the length of the strands, and by drawing the two limbs towards each other until the strands would reach, tie them fast, while the raw hide strands were very soft and wet. Then, as the strands stretched, the two strong limbs being at a strong tension, would keep the strands tight, no matter how much they stretched. After they had been kept tight as fiddle strings for a couple of days, they would have all the stretch taken out of them. Then they are taken down and pulled through a “gauge block” that has a sharp knife set in it, and this trims them down to one width for their entire length. Both edges of the strands are trimmed in this gauge block and the knife is set on a slant so that the edges of the strands are beveled. That is so the grain side of the strands will be a little narrower than the flesh side. As the hide is thicker in some places than in others the strands must be trimmed all to one thickness the flat way, too. This is also done with a knife set in a block of wood, but before this last gauging flatwise the hair must be scraped from the strands with a knife. When they are all nicely gauged to one width and one thickness, and the edges nicely beveled, they are ready for braiding. As they will now be hard and dry, they must be moistened enough to make them soft, and then after putting a knot that sailors call a “Matthew Walker” on the end, they are coiled up in balls in a way that, as the braiding progresses, the strands can be drawn out from the center of the balls. (I have coiled these balls up many times myself, but could not write a description of how it is done so that another could understand me). The knotted end is now made fast to something and the strands being kept moist, the braiding can begin. This braiding must be done just as tightly as possible if you want to have a nice even “riata”. And it is important to have all four of the strands as near the same tension as possible so that one will not break from being tighter than the others when put to the test. The riata when finished is usually from forty-five to sixty-five feet long. The strands must be about one-fifth longer than you want the finished riata to be. A nice “hondo” must now be made from rawhide and put on (some vaqueros prefer a brass hondo) and you are ready for business. The riata will be hard and stiff at first but use will soften it. I do not think a riata is any stronger than a good new manila rope, of the same diameter, but it is heavier and better to throw from a running horse and will also last longer.

I still have my old riata – that is, the last one I had while I was in the stock business. I did not make it but it is one of the best made ones I ever saw. I also have my old silver mounted spurs and my riding bridle. My saddle got burned in a fire since I moved to town.


The kind of riding bridles used by stockmen is another matter I want to take up. We always ride with what would be called a “severe bit”. Most people not accustomed to a well-reined horse will say, “What a cruel bit to put in a horse’s mouth”. But when you understand the whole situation you will not think it so bad. In the first place, as I have described in a previous chapter, a well broken horse is ridden with a hackamore until he is gentle, and then he is ridden with both hackamore and the severe bit, called a Spanish bit. While being thus ridden with the two at once the rider teaches him to stop short by lifting the reins of the bridle gently and at the same time pulling him up hard on the reins of the hackamore. The same with teaching him to turn quickly. The bridle rein is merely pressed against his neck, and he is pulled around sharply with the rein of the hackamore. It is a slow process but after a horse is thoroughly broken in that way, the mere weight of the rein will cause him to stop short, or the mere touch of the rein against his neck will cause him to turn to the right or left, or if held against his neck steadily, to turn completely around as quickly as it is possible for him to do so.


In lassoing on horseback this is absolutely necessary, for you must have your horse at all times under perfect control – to stop, turn to the right or left, or completely around a second’s notice. And as you must hold the rein and coils of your riata in your left hand, while you handle the turns on the horn of the saddle with the other, if your horse has to be pulled around by one rein or both hands are needed to control him, you are going to get hurt. And the horse too will be badly hurt if he is not al all times under perfect control.


Now I am well aware that the average person who sees an expert horseman lassoing horses or cattle thinks the horse is so trained that he requires no attention from his rider. I have heard many people both men and women remark on such an occasion, “Did you notice how his horse was trained? So that he knew just when to turn, stop or go ahead at the top of his speed, without any attention whatever from the rider?” Now any man who has really done this kind of work knows that the horse was at all times completely under the control of his rider. If you do not think I am right, just put a man on that same horse’s back who does not attempt to control him and you will see how quickly they are all tangled up, or the rider is pulled off his horse. I can testify from actual experience (and I have ridden many horses that were as well trained as good vaquero horses ordinarily are) that the horse is always controlled by the rider. But a well broken horse is controlled so easily that an onlooker, who was not himself used to doing such work, would not notice the movements of the rider’s hand. A horse that is “hard in the mouth” is an unsafe one to use in work of this kind. And he is not only unsafe and dangerous to the rider, but to himself as well, for he might easily be badly hurt by not being in the proper position when a hard jerk came. And I have seen many eastern horses whose owners called them fine saddle horses that would be as useless as a wooden horse in the stock business. This was simply for the reason that they were hard in the mouth from not being broken in the way good vaquero horses are. So I hope I have made it clear why stockmen ride with severe bits.


Another thing that is criticized by many people is the wearing of spurs. There may be some merit in their criticism. And I can understand how, what they call a gentleman’s riding horse or saddler, could and probably should be ridden along roads or streets or across country without spurs. In that kind of riding, the rider has one hand to guide his horse, and the other to use a riding whip, if necessary. And in his case if the horse does not start from a walk to a run at the instant he wants him to there is no particular harm done. But for the vaquero who is holding a big steer on the end of his rope it is very different. Both his life and the horse’s safety depend on the horse acting instantly at the will of the rider. The rider has both hands thoroughly occupied, and he must govern the speed of his horse with his feet.


And the kind of spurs cattlemen use are not the miserable little sharp-toothed thinks that “jockey’s” and “Kentucky gentlemen” do. The rowels in a pair of vaquero’s spurs are ordinarily from the size of a half dollar to the size of a dollar. (The larger the rowel is the less easily they will draw blood from a horse). And the points on the rowels are not filed to sharp, needle-like points, like those of the little “jockey” spurs are. In conclusion, I will say that it is not necessary to hurt a horse any more when you are riding him with spurs than it is when you ride with a whip. But if a rider loses his temper he can be cruel with either. And many a horse has been saved from being horned by a vicious cow or steer by a quick touch with the spurs, when the rider’s hands were both occupied so that he could not have used a whip if he had wanted to ever so much.


The old Spanish blacksmiths used to inlay both their bridles and spurs with genuine coin silver in a most elaborate manner. And some of their work was very handsome as well as expensive. They also used the very best “Norway iron” for making their wares, so there was no such thing as a bridle or spur breaking. They simply wore or rusted out after long years of service.


The old “Spanish Californians” never went about on foot with their spurs on. And to enter a house with spurs on was a sign of the greatest disrespect to the house owner. As soon as they dismounted from their horse, they removed their spurs, and either hung them on the saddle, or carried them carefully in their hand. They might enter a saloon or store, wearing their spurs, but a private house never. I personally think that many of our modern cowboys and would-be cowboys could well learn something from those old “Spanish Dons”. How often we now see the gaily bedecked heroes (?) going about, indoors and out, with their leather chaps, leather vests, wide and fancily ornamented leather belts, “ten-gallon” hats and jingly spurs. To me it is disgusting. Fancy bridle reins of braided calf or deer skin are not so common as they used to be, though they are occasionally seen even yet. I have seen many pairs of bridle reins that were real works of art. And they must have represented weeks and weeks of patient work to make them. Of eight, twelve, or fourteen strands, beautifully braided and ornamented with all sorts of beautifully braided-on buttons. And attached to the reins was a beautifully braided “ramal” or whip. Some of the old-time Spanish vaqueros, as well as some of the old Mission Indians were certainly experts at fancy work of this kind. I remember one old Mission Indian who lived for years and years at the Guajome Ranch used to do beautiful work of this kind. Old “Nalberto” was certainly an artist in that line. I wish now I had put away a pair of reins of his handiwork. They would certainly be a relic worth keeping. Whenever I needed a pair of reins, or a new riata, I used to go to “Old Nalberto” and ask him if he had any for sale. He would probably be working on a pair at the time. Upon my inquiring if he had any already made he would gaze off into space for a time, as if trying to remember whether he had any or not. Then he would slowly rise from the box on which he had been sitting, and go to his room in the old adobe house. Soon he would return, bringing a most beautiful pair of reins, and quietly hand them to me for inspection. After I had looked them over I would say, “Bueno, Nalberto, cuanto vale las riendas:” (Well, Nalberto, how much are the reins worth?) The answer he would make was invariably the same “Dejame pensar.” (Let me think). And then he would sit and “pensar” for a time. There was no use trying to hurry the old fellow. But after he had spent quite a time thinking the matter over, he would name a price which would represent about ten cents per day for the time he had been making the reins. The Indians now charge full price for their wares. They have learned that many of the tourists who come to California have money, and will bid highly for their work.


The Indian baskets, so much sought after by tourists, now bring high prices. But years ago, the Indians would bring a bundle of baskets from the mountains to the coast, and sell them for one dollar each.

I was once at the old store run by Henry Wilson on the “Warner Ranch”. While I was there a couple of men drove up to the store in a buggy and stopped for something. The store was in an old adobe building. Overhead, it was partly floored over, and the proprietor used to throw those things that were in little demand up on those boards overhead. While one of the gentlemen was attending to some business matter with Mr. Wilson, the other was looking about the store at the various wares offered for sale. Finally he looked up and saw some Indian baskets on the boards above.


After walking about and gazing at things a while longer he casually asked Mr. Wilson how he sold the baskets. Mr. Wilson said, “Oh, I have to take them in trade from the Indians and I try to get a dollar each for them”. The stranger said, “I would like to get some baskets”. “All right”, said Mr. Wilson, “how many do you want?” “Oh, I will take whatever number of them you have at that price,” said the man. The old gentleman got up on the counter and began throwing the baskets down and when they had counted them there were thirty-six in the lot. The gentleman made out his check for thirty-six dollars, and he and his partner drove away with baskets tied all over the buggy. And as they drove away Old Henry Wilson looked after them and remarked to me that “Every once in a while some _____ ______ crazy fool like that comes along here”. And then he took another look after them and said, “Now what do you suppose the ____ _____ fool is going to put in them baskets?” As I could not enlighten him, he shook his head, as if the problem was entirely too deep for him, and walked back in to the store. Each one of those thirty–six baskets represented from one to several weeks’ patient toil of some poor old squaw. Basket making is an art that is fast dying out among the Indians. The old squaws that did such beautiful work in that line have many of them died, and the younger ones have not taken it up. So, within only a few more years, it will be hard to get any of the really nice baskets. And those who have collections made when they could be gotten easily have something that is becoming more valuable every year. Many of the designs worked out in colors in these old baskets are very pretty indeed. It is said that each squaw had a few special designs for her baskets. So anyone who was familiar with these points could tell as soon as they saw a basket who had made it. Some made the “rattlesnake” design on the basket; some a “shooting star” or “meteor”. These were worked in beautifully and made very pretty designs. There is a story of one poor old squaw, who used to make baskets with the “rattlesnake” design on them. Finally her boy was bitten by a rattlesnake and died. After that she made her baskets with the same design, but she always had the snake cut into several pieces. Mrs. Ambler of Mesa Grande, has a basket with his snakeship in sections on it.


It is really wonderful how those old basket-makers could imitate the colors of the “diamond rattler” in their work. Either the “black diamond” or the red and larger variety of Diamond rattlesnake was worked into the basketwork in colors that were very true to life.