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Doc Holiday & Friends - The Ultimate Ranch Dog

It was back in 1961 when someone, whose name I can no longer recall, gave us a big pup about four months old. I was a sophomore at Payson High School and was living with my mom and dad, Dorothy and Gene Pyle. Dad was running the Cross V Ranch, which at that time also took in the Myrtle Ranch. It was a pretty big cow outfit, at least in area, taking in all the country from Starr Valley north to Clear Creek, about ten miles over the top of the Mogollon Rim. The ranch averaged about eight to ten miles wide from east to west. We used dogs to help us find and drive cattle.

Somewhere along the line we started naming our cow dogs after Arizona gun fighters. We had a Johnny Ringo and a Curley Bill Brocius, so we tagged the pup “Doc,” short for Doc Holliday.

Doc was half-Catahoula and half-Australian Sheppard. The Catahoula breed is a mix of Australian Sheppard, Pit Bull and hound and they were bred for stock and wild pig dogs. We had shied away from the breed because most were hard-headed and generally too rough on cattle. Doc, though, was 5/8 Australian Sheppard.

For the first six months we had him, Doc was worthless as female fixtures on a boar hog. When we rode horseback after cattle, he just stayed behind and did nothing, good or bad. If a dog is going to amount to anything he has to bark at a cow, but Doc was just a pup so we didn’t expect much of him, and at least he was not causing any trouble.

My dad learned about dogs from my Granddad Floyd who was a better hand with dogs than anyone I have ever seen. One morning Dad told me, “Let’s try something.” We had a female hound named Jill that would find cattle, and trail lion or bear. Dad continued, “Let’s just take Doc and Jill today. I think Doc will go with her and maybe he will get interested enough to bark at a cow.

Sure enough, we found some cow sign in Al Thompkins Draw and Jill trailed them out on top of a ridge to the north of the draw. Doc followed her and when she held the cows up and barked he did, too. We didn’t need to do anything with the cattle other than look them over, so we just called the dogs and rode off in search of more cattle. The dogs found several more small bunches and held them up barking until we got to them. On each occasion we would tell them what good dogs they were. By the end of the day, Doc was getting to the cattle and holding them up before Jill got there. Jill would put her nose to the ground and trail cattle. Doc would throw his head up and catch the sent in the air. He was winding them and he was finding cattle as much as two miles away.

In the fall of 1961, Arizona was making a big push to become a Brucellosis-free state. For this to happen, every cow in the state had to be tested for the disease and disposed of if she had it. We had committed to the State to have all the Cross V cattle in Starr Valley ready to be tested on the 22 of October.

That fall we gathered all our cattle onto the Diamond Allotment which as Henry Farrell put it, “was bigger than some people’s ranch.” Roughly, it ran from Pyatt Draw, on the north to the rim of the Diamond and from Cold Springs in the west to Oak Springs Canyon on its east side. The Diamond Allotment took in about five square miles.

As it turned out, we had only one day to gather 340 head of cattle off the Diamond and drive them eight miles to Starr Valley. My Grandad Floyd always said, “Never work the herd the day you are going to drive them,” but in this case, we had no choice.

Charlie Henderson rode up onto the Diamond from Green Valley to help us the morning of the gather and he had a Mexican with him that was a good hand. That made four cowboys with Dad and me. In open country, this would have been sizable but doable chore. On the brushy, north face of the Diamond, it could be likened to charging hell with a bucket of water. Finding all of the cattle in a single day was our main concern.

We cowboys met in a corner of the Allotment near Cold Springs and Dad and I had our dogs, Curly Bill, Johnny Ringo, Doc Holliday, and Jill. Before Dad could shoot the pills, (give us our marching orders) Jill and Doc had a little bunch of cattle held up. The plan was that we would push the cattle from the higher country into Pyatt Draw. Dad and I took the outside circle into the Oak Springs country. Charlie worked the country between us and Cold Springs with his friend, but the dogs dictated the gather from the onset.

Doc and Jill would find a bunch of cattle and as soon as a cowboy would come to them, they would quit that bunch and go to more cattle. Soon, Doc and Jill were working separately, each finding and holding cattle. By mid-morning we cowboys were spread from one end of the allotment to the other. One of us would deliver a bunch of cattle into Pyatt Draw where Johnny Ringo and Curly Bill were holding the herd. As soon the drive dogs had them, the cowboy would head back up country until he heard one of the find dogs with another bunch and the process would repeat. At about three o’clock that afternoon, Doc and Jill came in to join the drive dogs. Dad called Doc to him and I called Jill. With the two find dogs along, we each made a cleanup circle, but found no more cattle.

With the help of all four dogs, we started the drive into Starr Valley. Again we were in brushy country, four cowboys with 340 head of cattle, sometimes strung out for over a mile. We were spread so thin around the cattle that I rode for two hours and saw no other cowboys, only a dog about every fifteen minutes. Without Doc, Jill, Johnny Ringo, and Curly Bill we would never have been able to keep the cattle together. They were constantly circling the herd and putting back strays. We had been riding and working in semi-darkness for two hours when we made Starr Valley and the holding pasture at the Cross V Headquarters. We cowboys couldn’t tell a cow from a bush, but the dogs could.

The next day, when we had a chance to get a tally on the cattle, we found that we had them all. Two dogs and four cowboys had cleaned the Diamond Allotment and driven the entire herd into Starr Valley without losing a cow!

Two years later, we gathered a neighbor’s steer on our winter allotment. He was a five-year-old ladino (outlaw, bunch-quitter of the caliber you usually have to rope to bring in). We had a little jag of cows with him and intended to corral them out at the Shoo Fly Corral on Houston Mesa. The ladino wanted no part of a corral and quit the bunch like a turkey out of a wolf pack. We left him to Doc who got in front of the steer and tried to turn him back. The steer paid no more attention to Doc than a locomotive would have to a lizard. Again Doc went to his head and tried to turn him to no avail. The third time the Pit Bull showed in Doc. He grabbed the steer by the lip and busted him from a full gallop into a cart-wheeling spill. When the steer got his feet under him again, Doc moved in like a crouched wolf showing his teeth. The steer decided that little herd of cows might be a good place to locate for a while.

Doc Holliday lived to the ripe old age of twelve years and spent eleven of them as the best cow dog I ever knew. Both Dad and I recognized that he was more help with cattle that two extra good cowboys would have been. Because he could do things that cowboys couldn’t do, he saved us thousands of dollars in time and work.

Perhaps the greatest complement Doc ever received was from C. A. “Bud” Jones, who didn’t use dogs to work his cattle. He once told me that Doc was the only dog he would allow on his ranch. His daughter, Peggy Randall Jones, told me that Bud used to say about Doc, “He don’t always have his rope down.” In cowboy terminology this meant that Doc was gentle with cattle. And, Doc was gentle – with gentle cattle.

Story told by Jayne and Jinx Pyle

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