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A lesson in endurance for the future

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 24 February 2013

0313pc cooper 1Listening to Linda Davis talk to a room full of cattle producers at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattlemen’s College, you easily get the impression there’s no crisis that cannot be conquered.

Whether it be drought, high prices, sick cattle, political opposition, the Depression, world war or the heavy loss of loved ones, Davis has seen most of it in her 83 years on the New Mexico range. Now her wisdom is as telling as ever.

Davis, owner and matriarch of the CS Cattle Company in Cimarron, New Mexico, was raised on the Tequesquite and Bell ranches, where her father managed both operations in the ’30s and ’40s.

The oldest of three children, when Davis was 4, her mother died in childbirth. By that age she was already tagging along with the ranch hands on horseback, learning how to cook from the wagon crew and how to read from the cowboys, who shared ranch romance comic books.

That same year ushered in the epic drought of 1934, opening the Dust Bowl that seared the heartland of agriculture into a sandy wasteland.

Those times required bold innovation at the Bell and Tequesquite, where wells were drying up and feed was in short supply. So Davis’ father, the legendary Albert Mitchell, hired two proven cowboys and a team to haul 5,000 head – including 275 bulls and 46 horses – nearly 700 miles, by train to Nogales, Mexico, then unloaded them and drove them another 170 miles over narrow grades into the hills of Sonora in November of 1934.

Exactly one year later, the crew returned to New Mexico with a healthy herd intact, having lost only about 50 cattle and just two horses.

It’s now 2013, and Davis and her children still wrestle with the same daunting challenges as those 80 years ago.

The New Mexico range water table has drawn down 10 feet each decade for the past 60 years, Davis said. This year the east slope of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the source of water to the Arkansas and Canadian rivers, are running bare.

Feed and cattle prices have whittled a herd at the CS that was in the thousands down to about 400 mama cows.

Yet even in the face of those struggles, there’s reason for Davis to smile.

“You realize that you’re always going to be challenged by nature,” she said of a life in ranching. “Part of being in agriculture is the fact that we have to get along with what’s doled out to us. We’re innovative and resilient to a lot of the (challenges). We’re not used to a real easy life.

“If you’ve lived it as long as I have, you learn to cope with it and be positive about it.”   end mark

PHOTO
Linda Davis chatting at NCBA. Photo courtesy of Progressive Cattleman staff.

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David Cooper
Editor
Progressive Cattleman magazine

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