A look at ranching heritage
A big bus rolled through Union, Harding and Colfax counties a little more than a year ago when the New Mexico Beef Council brought its bi-annual Gate-to-Plate Beef Tour to northeast New Mexico. Seated on the bus were legislators, culinary professionals and members the agriculture community eager to learn all they could about the ranching industry and to meet those who keep it up and running.
Visits to three of the state’s historic ranches — the Tequesquite in Albert, near Mosquero, the Clavels’ Twin Creek Ranch 20 miles east of Roy, and the TO, about 14 miles east of Raton — highlighted the tour theme, “Ranching Along the Santa Fe Trail.”
Along the way, attendees received an immersion education on the ranching industry from many of the state’s most knowledgeable experts. Participants also visited New Mexico State University’s Livestock Experiment Station in Clayton; Five States Livestock Auction; and Clayton Cattle Feeders for some intensive learning about ranching fundamentals, including the impact of drought, rising prices, cattle markets, the ways ranches sustain rural communities, and most of all, the day-to-day workings of the multi-generational family ranch.
Ninety-seven percent of New Mexico ranchers have still considered family owned and operated. These family operations are conscious of being stewards of the land, water, and wildlife.
At each of the three historic ranches, the message was clear: the job of today’s rancher includes keeping the western legacy alive while adapting to change. The increasing use of state-of-the-art technology and the expanding body of knowledge about safety, nutrition, and conservation means today’s rancher wears many hats and innovates at an accelerating pace.
“We have found these tours to be a successful way of building support for New Mexico ranching and of providing accurate information about best practices,” says Dina Chacon-Reitzel, executive director of the New Mexico Beef Council. “There is no substitute for hands-on, face-to-face, one-on-one education. The tour has been transformative for many.”
The opening of the Santa Fe Trail was the historic event that birthed ranching in the American West. In 1821, William Becknell left Arrow Rock, Mo., with a cargo of freight bound for Santa Fe. The 800-mile trail he blazed across the plains opened what in 1846 was to become the Territory of New Mexico to goods, ideas and the outside world.
Until the coming of the railroad in 1880, the Santa Fe Trail saw caravans of ox-drawn Conestoga wagons carrying traders and pioneers who forged what was to become the American West.
Ranching has always been a mainstay of the region traversed by the Santa Fe Trail. The cattle industry got established in the West at Fort Union, just north of Las Vegas, N.M., where the branches of the Santa Fe Trail converged.
Established in 1896, the Mitchells’ Tequesquite Ranch in Harding County began the transition from conventional to holistic resource management in 1992. Through water development, intensive grazing rotation, and salt cedar control, the five-generation ranch continues a family tradition of living on the land while improving it.
Ranch founder Thomas Edward Mitchell came from Colorado to the Tequesquite Valley in 1881 in the days of the open range. He acquired holdings from the Bar T Cross and began a registered Hereford herd in 1896, believed to be the first registered Hereford herd in the New Mexico Territory. T.E. pioneered methods of managing his herd in Southwestern range conditions. During the 1920s, he ran for and won a seat in the New Mexico Senate. He was instrumental in founding what is known today as the New Mexico Cattle Growers. In 1925, he and his son Albert incorporated their outfit as T.E. Mitchell & Son Inc.
T.E.’s wife, Linda Knell Mitchell, was born in Kentucky in 1870. Later known as “Grandma Mitchell,” she was respected for her strong will and determination. Their oldest son, Albert Knell Mitchell returned to the ranch in 1919 following education at Cornell and military service. T.E. then turned management of the ranch over to him.
A.K. married Julia Sundt of Las Vegas, N.M. Their daughter Linda many people know today as Linda Davis of the CS Ranch. A.K. not only managed the Tequesquite, but he also became general manager of the Bell Ranch in 1933, managing it through the most severe conditions of the 1933-35 drought. He was instrumental in the organization of the American Quarter Horse Association and served two terms in the state Legislature.
Son Albert Julian Mitchell brought the ranch into the modern era with trucks, trailers, and feeders. He also served as president of the New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association. He and his wife Sherrie, in their pursuit of excellence in education, opened Albert Academy on the ranch. Al was killed in a plane crash in 1986.
The fourth generation of Mitchells took over ranch operations following Al’s death. Tom and his wife, Karen, who now also serves as a magistrate judge in Roy, live on the ranch where they raised their three children. Terry is primarily responsible for ranch improvements and manages the commercial cow herd. Lyn manages the registered horse herd while teaching in Mosquero. The crew size has gone from 40 full-time cowboys to two management families and three full-time employees.
The ranch still maintains a Hereford-base cow herd, and the cattle are run on an intensive rotational grazing system. Horses are still used for most cattle work. The ranch maintains a registered American Quarter Horse Breeding Program. Broodmares are traced back to 1932.
The family is seeing the benefits of holistic resource management with increased plant diversity and more ground cover. The children have grown up with an appreciation of the land and heritage of the ranch.
A highlight of the Gate-to-Plate Tour was an observation of cattle being worked in a corral designed with the assistance of famed animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin.
Twin Creek Ranch
Nestled among the piñon, juniper and cedar tree mesas and the short-grass plains of northeast New Mexico lie the Twin Creek Ranch, owned and operated by the Clavel family. Named for its location between the Carrizo and Alamocita creeks, the ranch was started in 1933 by Celestin Joseph Clavel II.
Joseph, who was known better as “Frenchie,” had immigrated to the country with his father Celestin Clavel from Busses, France, in 1889. They settled in Florence, Kan., and farmed for several years. Frenchie left Kansas at an early age and was employed by the railroad as it went west through New Mexico. It was on his travels through the state that he met his future wife, Bernice Lane, who had migrated with her family from Louisiana after the Civil War. They eventually made their home in Tucumcari where Joseph (Frenchie) continued to work for the railroad.
Frenchie acquired some land in the Norton area southeast of Tucumcari in the early 1920s and then through his trips from Tucumcari to Dawson on the railroad ended up acquiring a small homestead northeast of Roy in the Yates area. In 1923, Celestin Joseph Clavel III (Jodie) was born. In 1933, at the age of 10, Jodie was sent from Tucumcari with several loads of heifers to go find the property that would become the Clavel Ranch in Harding County. Frenchie died of pneumonia in 1940, so 17-year-old Jodie, his 9-year-old brother Calvin, and their mother Bernice took over the ranch.
From 1933 until today, the Clavel ranch has expanded and has always been a family operation. The fifth generation is now living and working on the ranch with hopes that five more generations will get the chance to continue this way of life. The Claves run a commercial cow-calf operation and also have a registered Hereford herd that provides bulls for their own use and also gives them a chance to sell bulls to other commercial producers.
Here Gate-to-Plate participants viewed a cattle-working demonstration including branding, vaccination and other animal care practices. In addition, they learned about pregnancy testing, genetic selection and the importance of reproductive efficiency to the bottom line.
The Clavel Ranch employs the only family. Jodie will be 89 in October and still holds his own. Son Joe, (Celestin Joseph IV) has taken the management reins of the ranch with his wife Tootie. Grandson Blair and his family live on the ranch and are there on weekends and after hours, as he is employed as Harding County extension agent. Joe’s two daughters and their families provide seasonal help during branding and weaning. Cattle work is done on horseback, and little ones learn to ride and earn responsibility at a young age.
The historic TO Ranch is owned by the Malone family. Homesteaded by Anthony J. Meloche of Quebec in 1864, the TO is one of the West’s most enduring ranches, where traditions of cowboys, cattle and chuck wagons blend with modern agriculture technology.
Known as Tony, Meloche named the ranch TO for the first two letters of his first name. The 200,000-acre TO began its recognized Hereford herd during the 1930s and went on to establish itself as a producer of prize-winning cattle.
Following the succession of owners and battling through drought cycles, current owners Mr. and Mrs. John C. Malone since 1999 have worked to restore the ranch to its original shape and beauty. Managed by the Long family, who take pride in their stewardship of the land, the TO puts into practice the growing knowledge of relationships between ecosystems.
Sharon Niederman (www. sharonniederman.com) is a writer, photographer, and publicist living in Raton. She is a consultant to the New Mexico Beef Council. This article originally appeared in May 2013 Enchantment, a publication of the New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Association. It is reprinted with permission.