Family works to preserve cowboy ways

By William Thompson: Quay County Sun

– Family reunion includes annual branding of local ranch’s calves.

Lee and Debbie Tillman, and their son Jason Tillman, had a few extra ranch hands Memorial Day weekend. More than 30 family members and friends converged on their property just south of San Jon.

Some came from as far away as Houston for an annual family reunion and the opportunity to join in on the branding of the ranch’s calves.

The branding didn’t get started until after noon on Sunday as everyone was content to spend Saturday catching up with family news and visiting an abandoned homestead of their ancestors who built a small dugout home on the property in 1906.

Lee Tillman said the extended families’ participation in the branding process is a way to keep the ranching tradition alive.

“There is only a small percentage of the population left in the U.S. committed to the production of agriculture,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to keep the traditions alive and this honors the homesteaders, all of my grandparents and great-grandparents. These people here today have used their vacation time to come here.”

The wood fire for the branding irons was started around 10 a.m. Sunday, but some uncooperative calves delayed the branding process.

Lee Tillman, Jason Tillman and other family members had to move cows and calves into one pen, move them again into a second pen and then separate the cows from their calves by urging the cows back into the original pen. Once the calves were in a pen by themselves the branding process proceeded.

The calves voiced their displeasure when the hot irons were pressed into their hides but as soon as they were freed they showed no ill effects and went looking for some greenery to munch on.

Debbie Tillman spent a good part of the weekend urging everyone to fill up their plates from a variety of dishes spread out on a table in the ranch house kitchen.

“I remember when I was about 10 years old and seeing the old-school cowboys out here on the ranch,” she said. “We were all so impressed with their spurs and their cowboy garb.”

The Tillman clan found it easier to ride ATVs Sunday to move the cattle toward the pens, but plenty of old-time traditions remain. One can still hear the old cowboys in the voices of the men calling out to the cattle to run this way or that.

Jason Tillman decided to make ranching his life’s work. He has studied breeding and has developed a cross breed of Black Angus and Hereford for the ranch.
“You have to keep these traditions alive,” he said. “My grandfather, W.E. Porter, taught me everything about ranching. It’s a family tradition.”