Flashback: An Old Ranch Custom
In February 1951, Luis B. Ortega wrote about the old traditions ranches carried on for their hired hands.
By Luis B. Ortega, written February 1951
Some of the big ranches in early days had ways of treating their hired help that differed from the regular routine found on many spreads. Most of the ranches I worked for during my early years carried on the old tradition of consideration for their help. They showed it in different ways, such as on the table and in caring for family and personal needs. Although the working day was long, there were no holidays and wages were small, yet the buckaroo was a pretty contented sort of guy. He wasn't running into town every Saturday night or groaning for two or three days off every month. If he had a good supply of clothes and his Climax or Bull Durham tobacco he was a satisfied creature.
The Casmalia Land & Cattle Co. had a wide reputation for the table it set for its buckaroos in the early 20's when I was riding there. This company had many thousands of cattle and controlled a big territory in Mexico as well as in California. One of the delicacies the buckaroos looked forward to every few weeks was a fried chicken dinner.
The company would ship in about 500 baby chicks at a time to the ranch and, when big enough, these were fed to the help. This was varied with turkey feeds and quail that were raised in special pens right on the place. About three miles north of the home ranch there were some big lakes scattered through the sand dune country and during duck season the stable buck and roustabout would go after ducks and honkers. The job of cleaning the game often fell to them also and they didn't like that part too well. Our cook was a lady and was kept busy preparing other things for feeding the 14 to 16 regular hands. Of course, our regular fare was plenty of range beef.
The San Julian ranch would throw on big barbecues for the boys several times a year. This same custom was followed on the Spade S ranch where my father was foreman. However, they spent more time with that sort of affair than was usually done for a feed. I recall another ranch I worked on that raised squabs by the hundreds just for their own use, and we had many a squab feed and barbecued chicken dinner. These feeds mentioned were not anything elaborate but were changes from the everyday menu.