Fall Gathering by Kathy Gibson Boatman.
A day at the ranch is like a step back in time. The far-reaching pastures are from the Mollogon Rim to the Dry Lake region, just a few miles outside Holbrook. These pastures have been raising cattle to feed America for over 100 years. Some areas are only accessible by horse, and sinkholes are scattered among the tumbleweeds. There are rattlesnakes to contend with in the summer, and in winter, it is not unusual to have below-zero temperatures and freezing conditions. The fall season is a unique time because you can smell the autumn breeze, and the crisp air is a welcome relief compared to the hot, dry summers and the freezing winters of Northern Arizona. The 2023 cold season has resulted in no recordable snow yet. It’s a perfect example of the life of a real Arizona cowboy.
When my dad, Richard Gibson, and Dobby Porter would gather the pastures at Dry Lake in the mid-1950s, they would stop each day for lunch at the little homestead cabin. The cabin is part of the original Shelley homestead from the early 1900s. Time has taken its toll on the cabin and has suffered significant damage over the years. But it’s a welcome shelter if you need respite from a bitter cold day and are willing to fight off the mice.
They truly enjoyed this little luxury and a chance to escape the cold weather. One day that changed; as they poured the last little drop of syrup out of the can, they noticed it felt a little heavy, so naturally, they shook the can. That’s when they discovered a field mouse had managed to sneak into the can and come to an unfortunate demise. They never knew how long the mouse had been in that can and were only left to wonder how long they had been “enjoying” mouse-enhanced syrup.
The cowboy’s lunch mainly consisted of a can of tuna or pork and beans topped off with a slice of bread, crackers, and maple syrup poured out of a metal log cabin-shaped container.
In my teenage years, my friends and I loved to help with the ranch work at the Dry Lake pastures. One day stands out in my mind. It was a grey, cold, blustery day, and we were huddled around a campfire at lunch, trying to get warm. As teenage girls often do, we stayed up too late the night before.
When my brother Larry Gibson and the other Cowboys went to the corrals to separate the cows from the calves, we napped on the ground by that campfire. We were glad when the work was done, and we unsaddled our horses, fed them, and headed for home. That night, I noticed my face was sunburned, and it was starting to blister. By the next morning, my chin was one big blister, and my whole face was burned like never before. I learned to be wary of the Arizona sunshine even in the fall season, especially on an overcast day, a lesson I will never forget.
We have fond memories of the tailgate picnics during the fall gatherings on the range. The food tastes better with a crisp Autumn breeze blowing across the open pastures. We bring back memories of days gone by. Memories made teaching our little Cowboys and Cowgirls how to make the old-fashioned Molasses cookies we have carried in our pockets while out riding for generations. There are bittersweet memories of our Cowboys and Cowgirls, who have gone too soon. The pictures we have from those bygone days are real treasures now.
My Dad and grandpa told me many stories about “the Good Old Days” when they were still alive; I am sharing those stories told to me through my writings and my future book. I wish I could ask them so many more questions. I can only imagine the stories they took to their graves with them. It is important to record these family stories and memories about our family ranching foundation and heritage. There are so many lessons to be learned and shared with the future generations of our Arizona ranching families.
We recently celebrated my mom, Bonnie Gibson’s 90th birthday. She is one of the few people left in our community who can say she rode down Route 66 in her grandfather’s horse-drawn wagon. She can recall when most of the roads between our various communities were still dirt and pavement, which was a luxury.
During fall gatherings, I hope you will take some time to ask your elderly family members and friends questions about their childhood. Take family pictures and cherish every moment. You may never know when one of your Cowboys or Cowgirls, young or old, will be called to the great pasture in the sky. Bake some molasses cookies, savor the sunset, and buy that silly toy the Grandkids are almost too old for. Take time to create memories and enjoy the Christmas Season.
Kathy Gibson Boatman Journalist for the Mountain Daily Star.