In 1990 I was presented with a beautiful certificate signed by Gil Snyder attesting I had completed the D.C. ride. I had it carefully matted and framed and hung it on my living room wall. I’m lying. It is thumb tacked to a wall in my tack room. However I’m not diminishing it’s importance to me. It represents the beginning of a trunk load of memories made with my Desert Caballero Brothers. When Rick Nulman recently asked me to write a piece for the D.C. News Letter I said “I would be honored.”
I could yack on about how special the D.C. is but those who have experienced it don’t need to hear what they already know. So this little piece is mostly for you newbies. You cowboys who are contemplating joining the D.C. next April. I am a long time member of three very special cowboy clubs. The Saddle and Sirloin Club, the Cowboy Lawyers and the Desert Caballeros. Of the three the D.C. takes the prize for the best RIDING CLUB. There is nothing one could add to the D.C. to make it better. The location, the time of year, and the festivities before during and at the conclusion of the ride are unequaled. One should know The Desert Caballeros are like a tribe of Indians. (strike that, I mean indigenous clan). And our clique is broken down into sub groups each with distinctive personalities. The Californios are a mostly collection of carefree guys many of whom are not from California. Thirty plus years ago, when I joined the Californios consisted mostly of lawyers and police officers. The other camps jokingly called us “the cops and robbers.” The Poor Boys? Quiet somewhat insulated bunch of rounders. That is until the Hawaiian Lua Party gets cooking. Then Mr. Man hide your girlie (I mean National Geographic) magazines or they will disappear into the night. Remuda? A wonderful Cesar Salad of personalities who love telling jokes, pouring margaritas and slapping each other on butt. . Los Cab? Known as the D.C. elite. They love to talk golf, investing in the Bahamas and wear full quill ostrich boots. Then there are the Honkers. They light up the trail with their duck calls and light up their guests with their generous bar, smiling faces and cheese crisp parties. I believe that mixing and mingling with all these very special men is looked forward to much like the mountain men of the 19th century looked forward to their Rendezvous.
Other than riding all day and partying every night what else do the D.C. Boys do you may be asking? Well, they have competitions where one can win a ribbon or buckle. They have trap shoots, horse races, gymkhana events and Duck Races. What are duck races? Show up and find out. I particularly love the nightly entertainment, listening to the bands and singers performing on a make shift stages with generator driven mikes and amplifiers. Sometimes feeling tired I wander over plop down on my spring bed lay there and listen to the music waft across the Camp under the stars. Pure magic!
“Do you get bored. Is it always the same year after year?” I was once asked. It is always fun, exciting and adventuresome year after year but IT IS NEVER THE SAME. The routes we ride and trails we travel, are changed yearly. I have attended rides where much of the day we rode the river. The following year we stuck to the mountain crests. Camp activities also get changed. I have been present when historians and archeologists have been invited in to give lectures to those interested in learning local history and lore. Attending a short lecture I learned where we camp at Cooper’s Ranch there was once a 2 mile long lake created by a dam on the Hassayampa River. On February 2, 1890 heavy rains and snow melt caused the dam to burst sending a 100 foot wall of water down the canyon killing over 30 people. The remnants of Walnut Grove dam are still very visible. One year, talking to Tommy Hamill, Mary Cooper’s ex husband, I learned there was a shoot out on the Cooper Ranch. A squatter was killed and one of the Coopers was wounded. Wow! On another occasion Mary Cooper told me her granddad got dragged to death by a bronc outside of a corral our D.C. guys routinely ride by when exiting Cooper’s headed south to Boyd’s Ranch. Western history in its purest form. On another ride I chatted with Angele Morales whose ranch we cross and once routinely stayed at. Angel told me his father was a local pioneer. He bought two ranches and ran goats. When he died the Morales started running cattle and breeding fine horses. They then started a dude operation. “But”, he said with a twinkle in his eye, “we make most of our money selling saguaro cacti and boulders for landscapers all over the state”. Saguaros are protected but Angel has a state nursery license whereby he can harvest them off his private land and market them. Angel is a heavy man but can sit a horse like he was born to it.
In the over thirty years I’ve been affiliated with the Desert Caballeros a bunch of the cowboys have died. Others have gotten too old or infirmed to come to Wickenburg anymore. It should be noted we have and have had some very prominent men on the ride. And when I say “prominent” I don’t just mean wealthy. I mean FAMOUS. I should throw in here no one compares the size of your wallet on the Ride. Among some of our most famous riders were Walley Schirra the astronaut. I know what you are thinking. “Nichols you star whore I bet you got his autograph.” Dang right I did and a signed Darby picture of him and me talking. Leo Carillo, actor/rancher was a D.Cer. Recall the Cisco Kid with Duncan Renaldo? His side kick was Pancho played by Leo Carillo who in real life owned an interest in the famous Alisol Ranch. In 1872 seven miners were ambushed and killed by Apaches in Walnut Grove south of todays Cooper Ranch. Their bodies were discovered by a search party and digging graves on a rocky hillside was extremely difficult. So the dead guys were wrapped in tarps and placed in shallow graves upon which mounds of rocks were place. There they lay undisturbed for 75 years until Leo Carillo and two other D.C. members got a Wickenburg priest to horseback out to the grave sites and perform a ceremony (memorial) for them. Then 7 metal crosses were placed at the head of each grave. I have ridden with the D.C. cowboys by those metal crosses more than once.
Yavapai County Sheriff Buck Buchannan was a member of the D.C. I sucked up to him and donated money to his reelection. That got me a courtesy Sheriff Deputy Badge, and a card stating I was a “Special Deputy.” Rather than use them for ticket evasion I framed them along with a signed poster of Buck. The late Sheriff hangs in my hall next to Wally Schirra.
I’m rambling so I’m wrapping this up. The D.C. is about establishing friendships and making memories which will keep you smiling. So be there. No excuses, just be there.