Oral Histories

David Baker



Q: When did you come to Moab?

A: April 19, 1949. I’d quit the ranch the next day after Christmas; snow was about waist deep. That was a really bad winter, 1948-1949. I went to work for another old boy I knew, he was a cowman running in the “Books” back of Grand Junction, between there and DeBeque. After the first of the year, my dad and I went out there riding for strays or cattle that might have stayed up in the high country and pushed them down in the canyons. We were out there more than a month, camped in a sheepherder tent. Riding. I worked for him then until up in April; quit and came down here to work for Shirley’s brother-in-law, Swanny Kerby. He was in the rodeo business and wanted me here in Moab. He was born and raised here.

Q: Were you doing cowboying things for him?

A: Yes, some of that, and driving a lot of truck, hauling stock all over the country. That’s what he mainly wanted me for – to drive the truck. I worked all summer for him. Right after September, he didn’t have any more rodeos so he laid me off.

Q: Did you compete in rodeos?

A: No. Just helped. Never did enter or participate that way. You had to haul those horses and bulls all over the country. Help load the chutes. He owned his own bulls.

Q: He had Ferdinand, which we have a picture of.
A: He owned all his own stock, all his own horses and bulls. Q: When did you get involved with the Park Service?

A: It was quite a while after that. He laid me off in September and I kind of hung around and helped him put his stock down on the river. We had to go down the Shafer Trail in those days and it wasn’t much of a trail. There was no road.

Q: Was the Shafer Trail first made by cattlemen?

A: Oh yes, that was just a stock trail.

Q: Afterwards, the uranium people used it?

A: The Murphys put the first road down there. Nick Murphy and old Felix. It was a pretty nasty road. Just barely get up and down with a four-wheel drive.

Q: The Murphys were involved with the Thornberg Mine.

A: They were prospecting the White Rim. They built the road all the way around to the Green River, all the way around to Mineral Canyon. It hasn’t changed too much since they pioneered it.

Q: Did you help build the road?

A: Oh, no. I had nothing to do with that.

Q: In reading your interview with the Park Service, they needed a grader and nobody could run the grader and you said …..

A: Well, you know the government. But then after that fall, he kept talking to me. Swanny said, “I hear there is going to be a movie come in, and maybe we can make big money on it.” Things were pretty tight around here then, there wasn’t much work. So I stuck around and helped him get his stock situated and drove truck some. People were shipping cattle that fall and taking calves out to Thompson. That’s where they weighed them and settled up on the stock, the buyers. One trip I made almost all the way pretty near to Glenwood Springs with a truckload of them. The movie came in, “Wagonmaster”. That was the first movie they ever made here, you know. When he sent me up to Silt, Colorado with that truckload of calves, he had the contract to furnish the oats for the horses in the movie. So these guys who gave him the job of hauling the calves promised him they would look for some oats up there. We couldn’t find any, so I had to pick them up in the Junction. I picked up 15 ton there in Grand Junction, loaded them on the semi. When the movies came in, I went down and signed up, but where I wasn’t a native, I didn’t have much of a chance. The old boy who was the advance man said, “I’m going to try to give everybody a job. Some people can put horses on and some will be extras. I’ll try to split the work up.” Most of the people didn’t know what the deal was, they didn’t know there was a lot more money in wrangling. They paid just so much for horses, but not that much.

Q: Did you go on as a wrangler?

A: Well, I put in for that, but you had to join the union to get work. The union came in and took over. They had a steward and he didn’t know me and I didn’t have a chance of getting on. All the local people did.

Q: So it wasn’t Native American “natives,” it was just the people who lived here that had priority.

A: Oh yes, sure. And I never did get on. Swanny wasn’t picked up right away either. He loaded up 3 or 4 head of horses and he went up to the set where they were shooting one day and he got on and they gave him a job. They hired his horses, too. I never did get a job.

Q: That was in the 40s?

A: Yes, that was 1949.

Q: What about the uranium boom that was about to happen?

A: That winter I finally got a job at the Old Ranch House, the old Skakle place out here right after Christmas or a few days before Christmas.

Q: What were you doing out there?

A: Just ranch work. Taking cows and whatever there was to do on the ranch there. He just hired me for a few days and then he got sick and went to the hospital. I ended up getting to work all the rest of the winter. When spring came, the old fellow who had been working there for a couple, three years, he was a drinking guy. He got on a drunk and I don’t know if he got canned or just quit.

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