100 Best Books
Bell Ranch, Cattle Ranching in the Southwest, 1824-1947
Wesley Hardin, Dark Angel of Texas
New Mexico Mining Towns
Ranch, Cattle Ranching in the Southwest,
Guest Review by Tom Savage
Bell Ranch, Cattle Ranching in the Southwest,
1824-1947, by David Remley, University
of New Mexico Press, 1993.
This is a history of people. The Silver City
author names his chapters for people. Bell
Ranch allows readers to experience the iconic
tradition of cattlemen, and provides excellent
archival photos. The book needs only the smell
of leather and smoke of the branding iron to
put us on the ranch.
Bell Ranch is the product of extensive research,
as well as an understanding of the land and
its people. There are places where detail becomes
thick, but the story offers ample rewards for
reading on. There are two types of people in
this story and you will recognize both. One
is the promoter, to whom the land is a commodity,
good only for the accumulation of quick wealth.
The other has a sense of place, recognizes
the land as home, and seeks a sustainable return,
both monetary and spiritual, for work invested
in the land.
Once comprised of nearly a million acres,
the Bell was carved from two large Spanish
land grants, the Pablo Montoya and the Baca
Number Two. A promoter named Wilson Waddingham,
and New Mexico lawyer, later U. S. Senator,
Thomas B. Catron, did the carving. Waddingham
raised the capital, mostly from eastern investors;
Catron, displaying both legal and political
skill, orchestrated the process of patenting
the land, bringing it into the ownership of
the syndicate. It is likely Catron received
as his fee half the lands he patented. He became
Here is a ranch so large it once contained
villages of squatters; so large that some of
the cowboys ran small herds of their own, in
addition to working Bell cattle. The Bell supported
a commercial herd, producing calves for finishing
or sale, and a breeding herd managed exclusively
to improve the commercial herd. There was a
horse breeding operation, a large farm and,
eventually, a then- unwanted federal dam and
large lake on the Canadian River.
The ranch enjoyed numerous associations with
outside organizations, including stock buyers,
beef packers, cattle feeders and breeders,
the railroads, and even the U. S. Army Remount
Service. The Remount Service was the Army's
effort to build a pool of sound horses from
which it could obtain reliable mounts in time
of emergency. It supplied horse breeders, including
the Bell's, with quality stallions for stud
service. Langley, the Remount Service stallion
on the Bell, must have been some horse!
Ranch managers, Arthur Tisdall (1893-98),
Charles M. O'donel (1898-1933), and Albert
Mitchell (1933-46) are the subjects of the
most colorful chapters of Bell Ranch. All three
were uncommon men, cattlemen to the core, able
to assess problems and make critical decisions.
They were visionaries, dealing with events
that were still in the future. The droughts
and depression of the thirties, for instance,
made it necessary to ship large herds from
the Bell into leased pastures in places as
disparate as California, Oklahoma, and old
Mexico. The managers had to visit and select
reliable lessors, and attend to customs issues
in moving thousands of head to Mexico and returning
them to the U. S. In one case, an act of both
houses of Congress was required to complete
the deal. The success of these operations attests
to expert and courageous management.
The story of Albert Mitchell's tenure is particularly
impressive. During his stay at the Bell, Mitchell
was simultaneously managing his family's large
cattle ranch, the Tequesquite, also in northeast
New Mexico. As if that were not enough, he
mounted campaigns for the governorship of New
Mexico and the U. S. Senate, and held the chair
of several beef producers associations. One
gets the impression that Mitchell could have
managed an automobile company, an arctic exploration,
or an army with equal facility. The story shows
the effect of access to money. Under the ownership
of the Red River Valley Company (headquarters,
New Haven, Conn., ranch managers O'donel and
Mitchell enjoyed unqualified confidence and
support from principals Julius Day and E. G.
Stoddard. When there were crises, cash was
forthcoming. Day and Stoddard were obviously
exceptional, honest men.
How the contemporary family ranch, without
such support, survives has always been a mystery
to me. Ranching toughens one against the storms,
I guess, and the inexplicable feeling of being "on
the land" covers a heap of disappointments.
In the last chapter, the Epilogue, Remley
talks about the Bell's fate after 1947. In
1946, the owners began to contemplate selling
the Bell. By 1947, it became obvious that the
ranch could not easily be sold in its entirety.
It was broken into seven pieces totaling nearly
470,000 acres and sold to seven buyers. Interestingly,
three of the buyers were women. Today media
mogul John Malone owns the original Bell, reassembled
to about 300,000 acres.
Bell Ranch will long stand as an important
contribution to the written history of New
Mexico and the West.
Outlaws Still Draw Readers
Guest REview by Marc Simmons
Recently I was re-reading Leon Metz's John
Wesley Hardin, Dark Angel of Texas. It is as
gripping and bloody a tale of the old West
as you are apt to find.
Metz is best known for his classic life of
Sherrif Pat Garrett, slayer of Billy the Kid.
His specialty, in fact, is law-and-order books.
John Wesley Hardin was a high profile desperado,
ranking with the likes of Jesse James, Billy
the Kid, the Daltons, and Butch Cassidy.
A Texas Ranger once declared that "Hardin
kills men just to see them kick. He is said
to have killed 30 men and is a dead shot." Actually,
the exact number of Hardin's victims is unknown.
He claimed never to have gunned down "anyone
who didn't deerve it."
His own number came up on the night of August
19, 1895 in El Paso's Acme Saloon. While Hardin
was rolling dice, Constable John Selman entered
behind and shot him in the back of the head.
A curious thing is that less than a year later,
Selman got into an argument with U. S. Deputy
Marshal George Scarborough. The matter ended
in gunplay and Constable Selman died.
Scarborough resigned his marshall's post and
moved to southern New Mexico. There he took
a lawman's job and went to chasing rustlers.
In a shoot-out on the range, he was hit in
the leg and had to be carried to Lordsburg
by wagon. From there he was sent by train to
Deming for medical treatment, where he died
on the operating table on April 5, 1900.
Scarborough's story appears to confirm the
old saying that he who lives by the gun will
die by the gun. Examples are plentiful.
Sheriff Garrett, after putting the Kid in
his grave, was himself slain by Wayne Brazel.
Fleeing to South America, Brazel is reported
to have died at the hands of the fugitive Butch
Cassidy. In 1911, Butch fell in a battle with
In its day, the New Mexico Territory was considered
the most lawless place on the American frontier.
As Gov. Miguel Otero explained it, this corner
of the Southwest had become a refuge and catch
basin for rogues and desperados from elsewhere.
Whenever I read a new book on the subject,
I'm led to speculate on our national fascination
with outlawry. Hollywood films and western
novelists have long taken advantage of that
theme for purposes of public entertainment.
Unusual romance is attached to desperados
and bandits because, I suppose, the frontier
furnished such a theatrical backdrop for their
We may be attracted as well because the majority
of gunfighters, or shootists, came to a tragic
and pointless end. It is nice to know that
a higher justice can be counted on.
* * * * * * *
One of the best known and most highly respected
New Mexico historians, Marc Simmons is the
author of Massacre on the Lordsburg Road: a
Tragedy of the Apache Wars (1997).