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
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
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