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Hillery Barnes

Hillery Barnes
(1903-1996)

Hillery Barnes was born on June 7, 1903, in Rising Star, Texas to Charles and Dora Barnes. He was the fourth of seven children in a family of four boys and three girls. He was three years old when the family moved to Roswell, New Mexico, where he spent his childhood. Hillery’s father was a cattleman, and Hillery learned about ranch life early. He used to talk about learning how to swim in water troughs, working cattle with his Dad and brothers, and long days on the wagon.

As a teenager, Hillery worked for different cow outfits in the area during the summer. One summer, he worked for a fellow who did windmill repairs, which was a scary job as the old wooden windmills had propellers up to fifteen feet. If a malfunction occurred with the fins, one of his duties was to crawl up the towers and tie the two tails together to turn the fan away from the wind to stop it from spinning so fast. Too much speed would cause the wooden fans to fly away across the countryside. Hillery said he did not enjoy this job, but stayed until the season was over because he was not a quitter.

When Hillery’s mother passed away in March 1921, he left New Mexico. His older brother, Henry, who was working in California, came back for the funeral and Hillery went back with him and began working for the Tannahill Brothers in King City. It was a yearling operation and Hillery learned many valuable lessons. The steers were grazed and fed cottonseed cake and every week until June, carloads of fat steers were worked out and sent to San Francisco for slaughter.

He remained there for three years until the Marbles in Carmel Valley hired him. In addition to the ranch in Carmel, John and Robert Marble owned a large property in Deeth, Nevada called the 71. A large number of the livestock to stock the Nevada operation were purchased from Miller and Lux, and Hillery spent the winter putting the cattle together around Payette, Idaho. Early that March, the cattle were shipped by train to Deeth and Hillery went with them. Hillery said it was a miserable spring with the snow, wind, cold and very little hay. He figured he could tough it out for two months in this miserable place because eventually he’d go back to the ranch in Carmel. The story is told that the superintendent, William B. Wright, and Hillery were staying in a railroad section cabin in Deeth, and Mr. Wright spent all night convincing Hillery to stay on as the cattle foreman. As bad as Hillery had thought Nevada was, he took the job and made Nevada his home until his death.

The 71 operation included the 71 Ranch, Deeth, River Ranch, The Cross-Ranch and Mary’s River Ranch. It was all open range, encompassing the north central part of Elko County up to Charleston and south below Deeth. The 71 ran cattle with the O’Neil basin ranches, Charleston ranches and Bill Moffitt outfit. During the winter, the stock was divided between the various ranches and the spring; summer and falls were spent on the wagon. Breakfast was served at daylight and dinner was around three, with canned fruit or some sort of dessert before bed. The wagon consisted of a bed wagon and cook wagon, which were pulled by mule teams. A teepee tent, buckaroo bed and feather mattress was home. Not until years later did any of the camps have any type of permanent cabin. Hillery normally had a crew of only six other cowboys with occasional help from a ranch crew. He and his men had about 100 head of Morgan and Thoroughbred horses between them.

Hillery said in Mew Mexico, the horses were small and you could ride them tight and tie hard and fast. The bigger Nevada horses were wild at times and had to be ridden looser with a more balanced style and everyone dally roped. Hillery loved to rope. One of his favorite jobs as a young man was when he was hired by a ranch out of Roswell to rope and treat calves with screwworms. “I had a white horse that was really fast for at least 50 yards,” he said. “If you couldn’t catch them quick with the first loop, you were doing more harm than good”. When he was at Deeth, he used to enter the calf roping at the Garcia Rodeo in Elko. “I could never beat fellas like Ike Rude,” Hillery explained, “but once in a awhile, I got lucky and placed in the money.

Springtime at the 71 meant crossing the Humboldt and Mary’s River at flood stage many times. Lynn Anderson, a cowboy that worked for Hillery once, had a horse that would not swim the Mary’s River. Ensuring that this obstacle did not get in the way of business, Hillery made a circle in the brush and had Lynn and his horse jump into the river, wide open. Completely submerged horse, rider and hat all floated down the river. Lynn always carried a couple of biscuits from breakfast in a gunnysack behind his saddle for “lunch”. When they finally reached the other side, the only comment Lynn had was “Goddamn, my lunch got wet”.

Bill Wright I, during his eulogy at Hillery’s funeral, said that Hillery was his first boss. He said, “he expected you to be ready to ride first thing in the morning, keep your eyes open and mouth shut”. He also said he had a tolerance level of about two seconds for someone who started to fight their horse.

In addition to being a manager, Hillery learned other talents on the wagon. One skill that Hillery possessed was the ability to use sign language. The cook on the wagon for many years, Joe Black, was deaf and taught Hillery how to talk with his hands. Not many people knew this.

Hillery was the cattle foreman at the 71 for 19 years and owned 50 head of cattle by the time he left. During this time, Hillery married Althea Warner and had two sons, Charles and Warner. Althea died in 1943. He later married Fern Johnson on February 20, 1944 and they purchased the V7 Ranch in Lamoille. Hillery and Fern had a son, Harvey. They lived there for three years until they purchased the Carville Creek Ranch in Jiggs, Nevada in 1947, known as Barnes Ranches, Inc.

Beyond his life on the ranch, Hillery was a great leader in the Nevada cattle industry. He served as President of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association in 1960-61 and was a member of the N-1 State Grazing Board for 20 years. He was named Cattleman of the Year in 1963. He was also awarded the Silver Spur Award by the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association in 1981. This award is given to those who have ridden at least 100,000 miles in the saddle. Documented evidence given by the Wright family and Hillery’s own family, showed that he actually rode over 250,000 miles. He continued to ride into his early eighties.

He was a kind man most of the time, taught his grandchildren at the ranch to recognize cattle, identify those having trouble and to be sure that livestock had plenty of feed and water. He had some adages, a couple being, horses and cattle should always be in good shape (but not people), and never to trust anyone who wore his hat cocked.

Hillery Barnes lived a full life until his death on December 19, 1996. He loved everything about ranching, people, the lifestyle; it was evident until he died. He lived his life as a cowboy, businessman and family man, sharing his passion for cattle and the land with his sons and grandchildren.

Hillery Barnes was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in September of 2000.

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