CARRYING ON THE TRADITION — THE TAYLOR FAMILIES OF LIVESTOCK
story and photos by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor
On a high mountain range in Utah, Joe Taylor grinned at me and offered this sage advice: The time to gather wild horses is when you see them –and then galloped off after a small remuda. If that sounds like a scene in a movie, it could be. Joe Taylor’s Ranch is one of the Moab area locations where Hollywood has filmed many westerns through the years, including the 1996 Riders of the Purple Sage , starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.
Joe Taylor was Ed Harris’s riding coach for the movie, and all the mares the male actors rode were Taylor ‘s horses. While the capital T brand may have been camouflaged off the horses’ left hips for the production, the long-established Taylor Creek Ranch type was clearly recognizable.
For over a hundred years, the Taylor Ranch has grazed livestock on the lush, green grass of the rugged La Sal Mountains. Each fall they’ve trailed droves of cattle and sheep from the mountain pastures to the winter ranges, on a long-established path down Onion Creek Canyon, along a one-lane dirt road to the base of the Fisher Towers, then along the Colorado River to Dewey Bridge and on to the desert near what is now Arches National Park in Utah.
Taylor Ranch started out as a sheep outfit. But after WWII, it was increasingly more difficult to get sheepherders, so Lester Taylor, Joe’s father, began running cattle in addition to the sheep. Over the years, though they ran some sheep, cattle became the main business.
As Bob Silbernagel from the (Colorado) Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, described his encounter during a fall roundup, The low cries of the herd echo eerily off the steep sandstone walls in Onion Creek, announcing the impeding arrival of the cattle herd, still a quarter a mile away.
When Joe came home from Colorado State University (CSU) in 1966 he took over managing the cattle on the ranch. He used linebred bulls on their crossbred cows to build hybrid vigor, and over the next twenty years increased average weight on weanling calves from 450 pounds to 600 pounds. Worthy of note is that the cattle were range raised; they were not supplemented with hay. The survival of the herd depended on his management skills which included being able to read snowfall as a water supply on the desert, as Joe explained.
While cattle were their main business; horses were their most valuable asset. Without them, the Taylors could never have managed the enormous herds of cattle, sheep and horses. Joe was methodical in his development of the famous Taylor Creek Ranch Quarter horse. I used line breeding, tracing almost all to the Old Fred family of horses, using only those that were pretty to look at and athletic enough to get any job done. For over forty years, we have culled vigorously for disposition to complement their abilities. Today, Taylor ‘s horses are known as people horses.’
If horses were their most indispensable asset, Australian Shepherds were their greatest advantage. I reminded Joe that he had once told us, I never realized how helpful the dogs were until one day I went out to gather cows without them. He responded, Without dogs you have to have better cow horses because they have to go get cattle back into a group. With good dogs, the horses pretty much watch.
Australian Shepherds on the Taylor Ranch go back to 1930 when Lester bought a blue merle female out of Provo , Utah and appropriately named her Provo . When Joe was in the sixth grade, he first saw Jay Sisler’s dogs perform, at the National Western Stock Show. They had the same blue eyes as their own dog, and his father observed, They looked just like Provo .
Joe fell in love with the breed, but it wasn’t until the early 1962 when he was attending CSU that he acquired the dogs that he is so well-known for. He got Buena from the sister of a college friend, Joe Petramala, who had a roman riding team that performed in rodeos. They had gotten a blue merle bitch named Tate, much like Buena, from Jay Sisler, said Joe. I don’t remember Tate ever having any more pups. The rest of the litter went to the sheepherders on that ranch. It was a large sheep operation, both range and feedlot.
He also met Steve Mansker at CSU. A classmate told me (someone) had a red merle male to sell. That man turned out to be Steve, Taylor remembered. I went to his house that very night, and met Rusty. He was really beautiful. Joe smiled, Steve made a BIG marketing mistake: he priced him for fifty dollars . . . which was a lot in those days. He laughed. I’d have given five hundred.
Joe had Taylor ‘s Rusty about two years when he was sadly killed by a cow one day. Joe and his mother, Helen, were driving a bunch of cattle back to the Bar A, their summer camp high on the east face of the La Sals. He went to the right after a cow. As he heeled her, she kicked with the other leg. I could tell he was hurt. Joe ran over to him and jumped off his horse into the mud and snow. Joe tried CPR, but Rusty slowly faded out of life. It was one of the most terrible days of Joe’s life. Not only was Rusty an outstanding stockdog, he was a friend.
A little while later, he got Taylor ‘s Whiskey, also from Mansker. Whiskey had uncanny stock savvy. Once when Joe’s brother D. L. was in the hospital from a horseback riding accident, Joe and Lester needed to move about three hundred head of cattle, including cows with calves, and seventy head of bulls. It was late in the year, and heavy snowfall threatened.
They contemplated going to town to see if they could get an extra hand, because normally they wouldn’t try to handle that many head of cattle in such rough country with just two riders. Help was hard to come by and inexperienced help is usually more trouble than it’s worth. Joe and Lester decided to go ahead and move the herd from the Bar A down to the Fisher Valley by themselves. We were headed north across a big open draw, described Joe. Whiskey’s natural instinct was to go ahead of me. He worked the sides. He would go up the right side of the herd and then come back around behind me and then head up the left side. Joe noticed Whiskey went back up the left side a second time. He was half a mile away. He would disappear for
ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Then I could see him leave the herd and go straight west and run with his nose to the ground. I really needed some help in the rear. The calves were trying to cut back on me, but he was so far away from me he couldn’t hear me yell at him. I was pretty mad. A little while later, I saw Whiskey bringing a 2,000 pound horned Hereford bull back to the herd at a dead run. Not long after that, he brought back a huge polled Hereford bull.
Only when Taylor came upon a rise was he able to see what was happening, It’s a bull’s instinct to go off by themselves, he explained, and how Whiskey knew to keep those bulls from escaping is not something you can train (a dog) to do. It is instinct pure and mysterious. It is a perfect example of how farm and ranch dogs bred for the real world need to be able to think for themselves and take action accordingly. It is also one of the reasons they are so highly valued.
Taylor ‘s Whiskey and Taylor ‘s Buena became the foundation of Joe’s family of Australian Shepherds. They were a golden cross and can be found in numerous pedigrees today. They were an excellent team and they worked hard for Joe. They epitomized what Elsie Cotton, one of ASCA’s early Presidents wrote: Some years ago, our Australian Shepherds HAD to work hard, day after day, month in and month out, and had to be sound and easy keepers’ or they were not kept around. The ones that could do this were the ones that were bred: the others were buried. Any hip dysplasia that would have cropped up during this period would show up under this brutally hard work and these unsound dogs would not have been retained on the place, much less bred.
Joe used similar breeding practices in propagating Australian Shepherds as he did in his horse program. The dogs and their progeny were put to the test by continuous hard work day in and day out. They either proved themselves or they were culled. Athletic ability was proven in all types of terrain. Dogs that weren’t sound didn’t make it.
This wasn’t a fifteen minute work out in the trial arena or a sixty minute training session. We’re talking about starting out at sunrise, going all day and again the next day and the next. One time in 1972, Joe dropped Whiskey off at our place in Boulder, Colorado, to stay with my family while he went to Australia . It was just after a fall roundup. Whiskey slept on the soft carpet for three days. His pads were worn thin, but he never quit as long as there was work to do.
Another fall while I was at the Taylor Ranch, we were getting ready to move a band of at least 1500 head of sheep off the mountains of Utah over to Colorado into the winter grazing lands. I was going to help move sheep while Joe went to take care of some cattle business. We loaded the dogs up. I hadn’t noticed, but Eph (Taylor’s Escalante) wasn’t in the truck and as we headed down the old mountain road I looked out the rear view mirror and saw Eph running behind. I told Joe to stop, because Eph wasn’t in the truck. Joe responded nonchalantly, Oh, he’ll be OK. We drove for almost five miles. When we arrived, Eph was not far behind.
As true as the saying pretty is as pretty does’ is, nonetheless Joe D. Taylor didn’t feel it was necessary to breed plain or unattractive animals just because they worked. He has always had an eye for beauty and selected for it. Beauty has always been very important to me. We have a saying, Don’t trust a man who rides an ugly horse, joked the man who was born with a passion for quality livestock.
The very classy Ch Las Rocosa Leslie CD OTDs CWDg, a granddaughter of Whiskey and Buena, spent her first years working cattle on the ranch. Once during a clean-up ride (gathering stray cattle), I was riding alongside Lester Taylor and he commented about all the bear droppings full of choke cherries. It reminded him of the time a bear wandered into summer camp. He recalled that Leslie never hesitated. She went right after that bear and treed him. The bear’s marks are still embedded in that tree as evidence.
As rough as she had to be with that bear, she was every bit as gentle with lambs, handling them with the greatest kindness. She never hesitated to work rank range bulls or ornery cows with whatever force was necessary at the head or heels. On top of that, Leslie worked with style, as anyone can attest who ever saw her in the trial arena. Most importantly, she was tested as all the dogs were, by the yardstick of performance in the real world.
The bloodline passed those traits: endurance, soundness, athletic ability, plus intelligence, trainability, unusual stock savvy and beauty to their offspring. Although, most of their progeny ended up on ranches where very few people ever saw them, their contribution to the breed is still significant through the descendents of Hartnagle’s Hud, Fritzie Taylor, Hosmer’s Jill and Las Rocosa Sydney, among many other top-quality dogs.
When asked about his favorite dogs, Joe is quick to mention Taylor’s Lola, Oscar and Anna. We would be moving large groups of cows and calves. The dogs worked hard. They were used up. They needed a break, remembers Joe. Carla, his wife would come in a different vehicle and bring Anna (a Whiskey daughter) with her litter of puppies to help out for two or three hours at a time, so Joe’s dogs could take a break and rest. Anna would work for an hour or so before she got heavy with milk and then we would put her back with the pups so they could nurse. Even though she was wet she would still work. Those dogs were a critical part of the operation. We didn’t have a choice; we relied on them.
Taylor ‘s Lola was a gentle spirit, but she could handle any situation Joe put her in. Lola was also special to us because Joe allowed us to have her, later on in life. She became a regular fixture at the Western Wear store I worked at in the 1970’s. She wouldn’t come out of the office, however until she was asked. Customers frequently inquired of her whereabouts which was her invitation to come and say hello.
Once an acquaintance of the family came to the house and asked Mom if he could borrow some dogs to help him move his herd of cows. Mom refused to let him take any dogs, but offered that Dad and I would go out and help him. Oddly, that same night Lola came up missing. We searched everywhere for her. About four in the morning Lola came trotting down the dirt road that led to our place. The undergrowth entangled in her britches wasn’t from around our place, but grew in abundance at this particular person’s ranch over twelve miles away.
To make a long story short, Lola got away from him and trotted through the night to get back. The rancher, who had been a frequent visitor over the years, never came back again. Lola’s intelligence and experience on the ranch enabled her to travel back home from an unfamiliar place.
Taylor’s Oscar was yet another truly exceptional dog. He handled bulls on the range as well as any dog ever born. Although he never made it to the trial arena, and is unknown to most Aussie fanciers, Oscar is a Working Trial Champion of the real world,’ where his actions sometimes made the difference between life and death.
One winter, D.L. and Joe were tracking a couple of wild young bulls through about eight inches of snow on the ground and followed them into the junipers and thickets. We had been chasing them long enough they were pretty tired. Normally, I would have never gotten off my horse, but I had just won the Working Cow Hose class that spring and I didn’t want my mare to get hurt. Wild cattle are usually afraid of you when you are on foot, so I got off and tied her up, but the next thing I knew, I was being charged by one of the bulls. He was about 1500 to 1600 pounds. I had no warning. I grabbed the horns. As he hit me, my hand slipped off the near horn. He knocked me down and started mauling me. All of a sudden I felt the pressure released, so I started crawling back towards my horse.
When I looked back, I saw Whiskey had grabbed him by the nose and Oscar had grabbed him by the ham and put him on the ground. When Joe was safely on his horse, his brother told the dogs to let the bull go. I was all covered in snow. I don’t remember it, but D.L. told me he knew something was wrong because he heard me scream like a Comanche and came a riding. While Joe had been butted, hooked and knocked down by cows running by, that was the only time he had ever been pinned down and mauled. The Taylors felt confident that if an angry bull or mad mother cow came after them, their Aussies would be right there in the middle of the situation protecting them–and they did!
I think to be a great dog, they must work far away from the handler and have the same amount of control far away as close up. Many dogs can work close their handler but go wild when they get away, commented Taylor . This ranch is unique in that most of the cattle work is done in vast pastures, that’s why if a dog is under control at a far distance; it greatly enhances their work feasibility. I want mine to go as far as I can see and still respond to the whistle.
Today, although Joe is no longer breeding Aussies, he is working a red tri named Trich, who goes back to descendants of his original dogs.
Joe’s contribution to the breed is monumental. Time after time, the Taylors demanded constant hard work from their dogs and used only the best of the best. The Taylor Ranch was a very important testing ground for generations of Australian Shepherds to come.
© Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor October 2006