Lest we forget our West Texas ranching heritage, Sam Dalmont has written Once Upon a Texas Cattle Ranch. This is no Rhinestone Cowboy tale. It’s the real thing.
Dalmont tells the story of how he and his sisters were raised on the A Bar ranch, 36 sections between Lamesa and Hobbs, in the first half of the 20th century. Sam Paul Dalmont, the author’s father, was the no-holds-barred foreman running the ranch, doing whatever it took to make the operation of the A Bars (the collective pastures, farms, and segregated acres) efficient and profitable.
The ranch was headquartered near Lamesa and covered portions of Dawson and Gaines counties. In the book, chapters such as “The A Bars,” “The Ranch House,” “The Bunkhouse,” “The Outhouse” are peppered with interesting pictures of the Dalmont family, ranchhands, cowboys, and ranch structures, as well as fascinating tales of those times in West Texas. The picture of a sandstorm approaching Lamesa in 1922 shows just how hard life in this dry land had to have been.
Two of my favorite stories, taking me back to memories of my own grandparents who ranched between Big Spring and Stanton during this time, was of the outhouse, and the pecking order of the type of pocketknife you owned.
“The outhouse was equipped with whatever catalogs and newspapers that came to the A Bars. It was used almost exclusively by the women-folks, the rest of the A Bars was for the men.”
If you were an A Bar cowboy, you had a Case pocketknife with a leather punch and two blades that cost a dollar fifty. If you were a ranchhand, you owned a two-bladed Barlow pocketknife that cost a quarter. You either smoked Bull Durham, chewed tobacco, or if you were “The Boss,” Sam Paul Dalmont, you might smoke a corncob pipe.
The workday began at four a.m., as the cowboys in the bunkhouse were summoned to breakfast by the bell on top the smokehouse; then to dinner at noon for plenty of red beans and “greasy stuff,” and when there was no more daylight they were called to supper, again with plenty of red beans and possibly chicken fried steak. In the dining room in the ranch house, employees, hands, and the family ate together at every meal.
It was a different time. You worked seven days a week but got Thanksgiving Day and Christmas off. There were no employment contracts, insurance or retirement plans. When you came to work on the A Bars, you were promised two things: hard work and good grub, nothing else. There were no other promises and when you left, no matter how long you worked on the A Bars, you left with what you brought, a handshake, and a day’s pay.
For many West Texans, this book takes us back to our childhood. For those too young to have seen this period of time in our West Texas heritage, it is a delightful opportunity to visit what it was like. Once Upon a Texas Cattle Ranch can be purchased on Amazon. The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.