Special to the QCS
On Sept. 21, Leroy Webb of Tucumcari was presented the Buck Ramsey Heritage Award at the Nara Visa Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Here is his story:
From Texas to Wyoming, and California to New York, few people have had the wide range of experiences in their lives, as Leroy Webb.
The family’s history of ranching and cowboying began when his great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side came to Taos, before 1810.
His grandmother’s sister married Kit Carson II, the son of Kit Carson. In 1864 Leroy’s paternal great-grandfather came to Trinidad, Colo., from Indiana in search of gold. His parents, Iola Cordova and Bud Webb, whose family came from Arkansas to La Junta, Colo., had four children. The second was Leroy, bom in 1933. Four years later the family moved to Cimarron.
In the depression years, jobs were scarce and the family moved to different ranches to find work.
Webb and his older brother, Don, started school in 1939. They were living at a camp on the WS Ranch and had to get from the camp to the ranch headquarters to catch a car that was going on to school in Cimarron. His dad got the ranch to give them a horse for the kids to ride, so they rode him double. The cold winter ride could be brutal for the two boys who were not yet eight years old.
Leroy, Don and his dad drifted from ranch to ranch, living in two-room shacks, sometimes with no conveniences – just a woodstove and a coal oil lamp. But this offered them the opportunity to become familiar with horses. Webb broke his first colt at age 10. This started a lifelong vocation, breaking, training and showing horses.
His father had instilled a strong work ethic, and his mentors were cowboys who were energetic, tough and honest. He had a lack of enthusiasm for school, wanting instead, to be a cowboy like his father, so at age 14, after finishing the eighth grade, he set out on his own.
His first job was at the WS Ranch at Raton (later apart of the Vermijo Ranch). He drew $75 a month plus room and board. His day started at 2 a.m., jingling horses in. After breakfast, the crew rode out to start working cattle, moving them to different pastures for fresh grass and water.
When jobs played out or when a better job offer came about, Webb moved on, becoming more experienced at being a good hand.
He lived in line camps, bunkhouses or slept under the stars, with a bedroll, few clothes, a saddle and blankets. Jobs were to gather cattle to brand calves, drive them into the hills for good summer grass or take them to a railhead to ship, wrangle wild mustangs for a remuda, break horses and shoe horses, for which he was paid 50 cents a shoe.
Some horses would try to kick your head off as soon as you would walk up to them, and had to be tied down, all four feet together, and have them on their back.
You couldn’t do a good job like that, so those horses would be most apt to lose shoes and you’d have to do it again. But all the while he was honing his skills with horses, and having a good time.
At 17, he heard of a job in Stony Brook, N.Y. They were looking for a cowboy who could teach dudes how to ride. He and a friend, Johnny Caldwell (who later became his brother-in-law) slung saddles over their shoulder, wrapped belongings in a bedroll and boarded a Greyhound bus for New York City.
This was 1949, when western movies were thriving, and every eastern dude (male or female) wanted to ride a horse. By the end of the summer the two country boys were ready to get back to the country!
The next endeavor for Don, Johnny and Leroy took them to the Matador Land and Cattle Company in Matador, Texas. Webb took the only position there, and the other two went next door the Pitchfork Ranch.
At the Matador, the wagon would leave the headquarters in August, stay out on the range, sleeping under the stars or in line camps and eating out of the wagon until the following June, caring for the mother cows and calves. When they returned they would break horses and make repairs to fences, windmills and whatever was necessary.
Webb got $10 more a month than the others for riding the bad horses. They would head out again in August or September.
It was during the Matador years that Leroy married Nora Caldwell. He had known her for sometime, through her brother, Johnny. They spent several months there before heading back to New Mexico. They took to the road, following the amateur rodeos. Leroy rode barebacks, saddle broncs and bulls, and roped calves and did heading and heeling.
He has won an incredible number of saddles, boots, buckles and trophies as an amateur and in the RCA. It was during one of these rodeos that Harp McFarland took note of his skills, and offered him a job at the San Cristobal Ranch at Lamy breaking horses and working cattle.
The next year he took a job on the Sawyer Bar S Ranch in Barnhart, Texas.
After a few years they headed back to New Mexico to work on the Driggers Ranch at Santa Rosa. It was there that he met Jack Kyle, a cowboy, horse trainer, breeder and member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame. They became fast friends and began team roping together. Kyle introduced him to Shelly Hays, who had a ranch near Clines Corner and Webb ran his ranch for some time.
Hays had a “plain ol’ country horse” he thought could show and wanted Webb to take him to the New Mexico State Fair. Webb had never seen a horse show, but Kyle showed him about patterns to run in the reining class and away they went.
WEbb won second in the State Fair and decided that might be something he wanted to do.
It was 1959, and one of the top breeders in the country, Hank Wiescamp, was at the fair. He and Kyle were acquainted and eventually Webb was offered a job to train about 100 show horses. He loved the Hays ranch and the ranch life, but decided to give this a try, so in the spring of 1960 he, Nora and their young son, Hurley, set out for Alamosa, Colo.
Wiescamp had been breeding and showing several breeds of horses, but his main focus was on quarter horses. Through a deal with Warren Shoemaker of the Bar O, horses, he purchased a stallion, Nick Shoemaker. One of his foals was Skipper W, which became an AQHA legend. During this time Harry Hopson had been training some young horses for Dot Burns of Nara Visa. Her daughter, Casey Burns, became interested in riding and showing and had seen some Skipper W performance horses.
Harry and Lindit’ got Webb and Burns acquainted and he introduced her to a palomino quarter horse named “Spanish Prince”. Webb trained both Burns and her horse. Burns Grand Champion at many quarter horse shows.
He broke, trained and showed horses there for about 10 years.
Look for the continuation of the story of Leroy Webb in the 1960s, as he and his wife Nora start out on thier own, in the next issue of the Quay County Sun.