When I was a kid in the 1950s, my mom and dad and I lived on the R Bar C Ranch and neighbored with Lewis, Bill, and Barbara Bowman. At that time, they owned the 13 Ranch, located about ten miles to the east of us.
We had only been at the R Bar C for a couple of months and I had been lion hunting with my dad, Gene Pyle, and granddad, Floyd Pyle. We were returning to the R Bar C horseback, riding west along the crest of Christopher Mountain. Looking down off the mountain to the north we could see smoke curling from the chimney of the 13 Ranch. Grandad told Dad and I the following story as we rode along through six inches of snow toward the R Bar C and home.
“One of my first jobs was working for Hook Larson down there at the old 13 Ranch. Hook was a sure-nuff cowboy. His favorite horse was a little short-legged paint he called Winzer. Hook was a long-legged sort of man and his stirrups almost dragged the ground. Old Hook couldn’t cross a log without helping his horse jump it, but he could damn sure drag calves to the fire.”
Floyd went on to tell how Hook Larson had heeled sixty-one calves and dragged them to the branding fire without a single missed loop.
“He always had both hind feet, too,” Floyd added. “Hook would just quarter up along side a calf and pitch a loop under it. He never looked back, just turned off, dallied, and headed for the fire.”
Grandad turned to me and said “The 13 brand goes on with the 1 under the 3 and could be called the lazy 13, but no one calls it lazy.
That was my introduction the 13 Ranch and brand. It was maybe a year after that and Dad and I had made the same circle hunting lion. The dogs had been trailing an old lion track all day. They started it in Bull Tank Canyon south of Christopher Mountain and had taken it almost to Turkey Peak, east of the 13 Ranch. It was approaching dark when Dad decided to pull the dogs off and head for camp.
The day was one of those bitter, frozen, clear days. The sun never warmed the snow enough to soften it so Dad and I were both suffering from the cold.
“Cowboy, we are going to be after dark getting home anyway. What say we slide off into the 13 Ranch? We can see the Bowman’s, get a cup of coffee, and warm up before we start home.”
That sure sounded good to me. I had met Bill and Barbara Bowman down at Kohl’s Ranch one Saturday when Dad and I had gone there to eat. I recalled that Normand Winters was there, too. Lee Seims and Billy Hayes were drinking and talking about what good shots they were. Of course, the more they drank, the better they could shoot. They had a .22 pistol and Lee was determined to shoot a beer bottle off Billy’s head. They were both so drunk they couldn’t have spit and hit the floor. Billy broke a couple of bottles because he couldn’t stand still long enough to keep them on his head and they fell off and smashed.
Lee’s attention span was a little numbed by spirits and he lost his focus long enough for Dad to take the gun and give it to the bartender to keep until Lee sobered up. My thoughts turned back to coffee and a warm house as we led our horses into Bowman’s barn.
I can remember that big pot-bellied stove at the 13 Ranch. Dad and I couldn’t get enough of it. Bill Bowman stoked that stove up until it glowed like a cherry in the dim light of the room while Barbara brought in a couple more coffee cups. A big, blue-granite coffee pot simmered away on the stove.
“You fellers git yourselves wrapped around some of that hot coffee and you’ll feel human again,” Lewis Bowman suggested. Lewis was a real old-timer in the Rim Country. He lived in the same house with his son, Bill, and Bill’s wife Barbara Ashby Bowman. The house had a kitchen on one end and bedrooms on the other with a dogtrot (open ended porch) between.
I got a hold of that two-and-a-half-gallon coffee pot and poured Dad a cup of coffee. The pot was heavy and brim full, so I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get more coffee out of it when I started to fill my cup. I flipped the lid open and found the pot was chuck full of grounds.
Lewis looked in and bellowed, “Barbara, get some water in this pot and make this boy some more coffee. The damn thing has biled dry again.”
I watched in amazement as Barbara added a dipper of water and more grounds to the pot. They boiled the stuff for awhile then bid me pour it again.
Dad and I drank the coffee and it warmed us up enough to make it back to the R Bar C, but I reckoned they could have varnished the barn or tarred a water tank with a gallon of that stuff.
During another winter visit to the 13 Ranch, Bill had his arm in a cast and someone mentioned something about skis. It seems that someone had given Bill a set for Christmas. Bill had taken them up on a little hill east of the house and as Lewis said, “He made a hell of a ride till he come to that log. I saw right then them skis was gonna get the best of son.”
When we left the 13 Ranch that day, I was the proud owner of a pair of skis. At the first opportunity, I caught a horse and rode up close to the top of Christopher Mountain carrying the skis with me. I didn’t know spit about skis then or now, but found out later they were for cross-country and not the down-hill variety. At ten years-old I couldn’t have cared less anyway. I hung my bridle on my saddle horn and turned my horse back down the trail toward home. I mounted the skis which had a clamp-on riggin’ for your feet, something like the old roller skates used to have.
I was unfortunate enough to ride those skis off the slope of Christopher until I had enough speed to scorch my dew claws. What I knew about turning and stopping, you could have written in long-hand on the back of a postage stamp, so I went sailing off a ten-foot bluff shortly after ripping through a cat-claw thicket. I was riding horizontal as I passed over the bluff and managed to slide across a couple of prickly pair cactuses before I forked a jack pine and came to rest. I made it back to the ranch carrying a busted ski and looking like I had spent thirty minutes in a cotton sack with a bob-cat. Bill and I both should have taken Lewis’s advice about those skis.
I have many fond memories of the Bowmans and the 13 Ranch. Bill could play a guitar and I can still hear him recite the real cowboy poetry of Bruce Kiskaddon, “He was just a Spanish pony, a sort of old outlaw; he fed upon the mountain side and watered in the draw.”
I also remember when Lewis was sick and they brought him into Payson to see Doctor Cartmell. The old doctor told him, “Lewis, I am going to have to put you in the hospital.”
Lewis replied that he wasn’t goin’ to no hospital.
The doctor said, “Lewis, what I am trying to tell you is that you are a sick man and if you don’t go to the hospital, you are going to die.”
Lewis countered, “Well, by hell, people die ever’ day don’t they?” Lewis didn’t go to no hospital. Bill and Barbara took him home to the 13 Ranch where he died soon after.
Hook Larson, John and Kate Bowman (parents of Lewis), Lewis Bowman, and Bill and Barbara Bowman are all gone now, and it has been many years since they burned the brand on a calf’s hide at the old 13 Ranch, but I still remember what my granddad told me about Hook Larson. I can still recall the Bowmans like it was yesterday The 13 was a good brand owned by good Rim Country pioneer folks.
Town Historians Jayne Peace and Jinx Pyle, owners of Git A Rope! Publishing, Inc. have the following books available: Looking Through the Smoke, Blue Fox, History of Gisela, Mountain Cowboys, Rodeo 101 History of the Payson Rodeo, and Calf Fries and Cow Pies. Look for them at Sue Malinski’s Art and Antique Corral, the Payson Chamber of Commerce, the Rim Country Museum, and Mountain Air Gifts in Payson, and Lorraine Cline in Tonto Basin.