Freedom an Whisky
By Nikolyn Williams
The Matador Ranch as we all know it has been an icon for pretty much our whole lives. None of us ever really believed, that it would ever have come to this. The piece milling of one Texas’s last large ranches. Vast parcels of land measured in sections not acres. Great Ranches that stretched from Texas all the way to Montana.
I usually work pretty much off of feeling when I write, and I’m sure there are those that know way more about the history of all this than I do. However, I was there that day, and I did see history unfold right before my very eyes.
As watched them ride out for what would be the last time for the Matador Ranch Cowboys to gather the cattle from the Tee Pee City Ranch pasture, they were somber, they never said it, but we all felt it. At this point no one knew what the future would hold. It looked like the end of something very historic, something greater than all of us. Something that held a meaning that was older than time itself. I could feel it and I could see it in the looks on their faces. I couldn’t help but feel this place in another time had witnessed a similar end before. Brought about by the vanishing of the Buffalo, similar to the Cattle that grazed so peacefully here now.
Tee Pee City and Lucky Knob were two of the last Ranches in a string of Ranches that made up the “The Matador Ranch” or “Matador Cattle Company” they were amongst of the last to be sold.
When Woodrow got the call that they needed him to preg. Check the cattle, that were to be sold off of the infamous Tee Pee City Ranch. I’d heard many stories about, the historic, notorious, wild Buffalo trading Camp that used to be there. I was not about to miss any part of that. I knew what I’d be witnessing would be hard, but it could possibly be the last chance I’d have to see it with my own two eyes and it was, it was incredible. For years I’d heard stories about Tee Pee City and the Buffalo trading camp that had been there. Located in Eastern Motley County along Tee Pee Creek and the middle pease river. How wild it was, graves that had resulted in dead cowboys from gun fights, Saloon equipment had been brought in along with “Saloon Girls.” An actual functioning Saloon and Brothel had been constructed out of a dug out. The Historical Marker says there was actually a store, Post Office, and School there at one time. In 1904 the Matador Land and Cattle Company had to purchase Tee Pee City and shut it all down they couldn’t keep the cowboys out of the saloon, gambling, halls, and brothel. The story goes that you could find Tee Pee Poles for miles up and down Tee Pee creek left from the Tee Pees that made up the community of “Tee Pee City.”
As they were working the cattle I walked down below the pens and sat under a big Cotton Wood tree along the banks of Tee Pee Creek and imagined what it must have been like. I was sitting in the actual spot Tee Pee City was in.
It was a beautiful fall day, everything was still green from the blessed rains of spring we had been so fortunate to receive. Cottonwoods leaves still green and twinkling in the sun light. I was the luckiest girl on earth to be sitting in that spot that day. If I closed my eyes I could almost feel their ghosts. Life was once there. Sounds were once there. I imagined what it all must have looked and sounded like, although by looking at it today, you’d never know anything at all existed there. If it weren’t for a historical marker, and some generational cowboys and stories that had been passed down. You wouldn’t even know those lives or Tee Pee City sprang up along the banks of the Tee Pee Creek. Sometimes it can seem like everything comes to an end.
“They don’t work here anymore and neither do a lot of us," said Gilbert long time employee of The Matador Ranch, as we watched the last truck loaded with cattle that had lived on the Tee Pee City Ranch their entire lives leave. I think these men were somber because, they had given 30 or more years of their lives to The Matador Ranch, they’d watched those cows Grandmothers and some cases Great Grandmothers bring them into existence. They fought the elements, to ensure those cows and calves had a fighting chance. I think it is a hard pill to swallow when you give that much of your heart and soul to something. Then in one corporate decision, these cowboys were not even included in, their entire lives work was being ripped out from under them. I think it probably would have been and easier pill to swallow if these men could have left or retired on their own terms.
What JD Russel and Tim Washington, do now they do for the cattle and horses they have cared for all of their lives. I could see the Struggle in Tim’s face as he like the veteran father he is, holds his head up and puts on a smile for the younger Cowboys. He’s got a job to finish and he will, come hell or high water. Like all them these two were raised by an unwritten code. They will finish it. They will not abandon those cattle or horses until it’s done.
What a catch 22 to be tasked with, holding something together that is being ripped out from under you and tearing your heart out at the same time. It’s beyond tuff. It’s why I admire the Cowboy his tuff exterior, but most of all it’s his heart I admire most.
It is tradition in these parts, when cattle are being worked, the crew is fed lunch by whatever ranch they working at. Usually it is prepared by the female counterparts or “Ranch Wives.” A lot of pride is taken in this tradition. We left the corals at Tee Pee City and had what would be one of the last meals at the Matador Headquarters. This is usually one of my favorite parts of branding or cattle working, it is usually filled with so much laughter, and story telling. However it was very somber and quiet that day as we were eating surrounded by all the history in the photos on the lodge wall. I couldn’t help but wonder what would become of all that history? I think everyone was wondering the same thing.
Before we left the corals Woodrow Pregged one particular Black Baldy Cow very heavy bred. “Like she may calve any minute” he said. So they sorted her off, by herself, “She probably wouldn’t make the journey on the semi,” said Woodrow.
When we returned, she had given birth to what would be the last two “Matador Ranch” Calves born at Tee Pee City. Both Bull Calves one solid black and one white face the spitting image of his mother. They were a breath of fresh air for what had been mostly a pretty hard and somber day. The two young new born calves were clumsily up and nursing and brought the first smile of the day to a lot of Cowboys faces. I looked at Woodrow, he looked at me I knew he was already thinking the same thing I was. I said buy them, they have to stay with us. So he did, that day over 200 cows left their ancestral canyon home. But one Motley face cow now named Maddie and her two bull calves Tee and Pee just moved down the road a piece.
A part of the Matador Ranch history is now a part of us. Tee and Pee are growing and thriving. Maddie had been through a lot that day, she was pretty snorty when got the three of them back here, but after a few days I think she understood she was home. I would tell you Maddie, Tee and Pee got lucky that day, but I know we are actually the lucky ones.