My father Henry, and mother June, had two sons, Henry Gilbert and Robert Frank Sweeney, both named after relatives. My brother, later in life, became an engineer and attended MIT on a scholarship.
I trekked off to CSU to become a veterinarian, but instead chose a career in publishing, giving up the ranch life. Today, the ranches are owned by large firms and corporations. Peabody Coal owns our old ranch largely because of the historic water rights adjudicated to the property.
Ranch life swirls around caring for animals, primarily cattle and horses, maybe a few sheep, a milk cow, lots of cats and of course some wonderful stock dogs. I grew up with all of these animals and that led me to the vet inclination. I made a decision at Colorado A & M that if I wanted a career in medicine I would rather care for humans and I already had enough experience in caring for horses and cattle, like pulling calves from young heifers in the springtime struggling to give birth to their first calves. We watched them day and night to save their lives and calves.
By far the most enjoyable and thrilling experience was the early spring and early summer cattle drives taking the herds to high country pastures and breeding areas. We rode horses for almost a month in June putting the eager bulls with the cattle for another breeding season and branding the calves born in March and April. The gestation period for a cow is nine months, horses 12 months. If the calves came too early in winter they could die from the cold.
By Independence Day the cattle were pastured, the hay fields were irrigated, the hay fields were ripening, the horses were put out to pasture, and the haying equipment was readied. Ledger plates for the mowing machines, rake teeth replaced, and July and August were spent in the hot, mosquito infested hay fields. The hay was stacked looking like loaves of bread in fenced yards to open and feed the livestock through the long winter months.
The hardest physical job was performed by the “hay stackers” who stood on the rising piles of hay with pitchforks spreading the hay across the growing stack as it rose 30 or 40 feet in height. The top was rounded to deter the winter snow.
Very early in my life my first job at eight years old was to lead a horse back and forth dumping the hay from the hay stacker that would lift the hay onto the rising haystack. I would walk the horse back and forth pulling a cable, lifting the stacker contraption full of hay until it would dump the hay for the stackers. I would then slowly walk the horse backward to the starting point awaiting the horse-driven bullrake, gathering the mowed hay cut by a horse-driven mower, and raked by a single horse-drawn rake. There were some dangerous incidents with the teams running away.
Going way back into the 1800s, prior to the horse era, crews would come through the country with scythes cutting the hay into piles to be gathered on wagons and placed in a barn. After the end of World War ll, the Ford tractors arrived, and the horse era ended.
In very early days of the 1800s open range cattle were driven to desert areas west of Maybell where they survived the winter on brush and whatever wild feed existed. Many cattle perished and my ancestors spent days skinning dead cattle and drying the skins on the corral fences. They had a huge wolf hide hanging on the wall.
My ancestors always joined together for the Meeker rodeo and performed riding bucking horses and roping. They were masters of the old west traditions and lived hard lives that they cherished. I was very fortunate to just catch the tail end of the old west.
I have many stories to relate. I was a very curious boy.