Winners of the Best Remuda Award

Spade Ranch

Spade Ranch, Texas

Spade Ranches President and CEO John Welch grew up horseback but admits that as a teenager riding saddle broncs in rodeos, his main interest in horses was how hard one would buck. Finally, after listening to his uncle, American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame member Buster Welch, John started riding cutting horses.

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By Jim Jennings

In 1889, when Isaac Ellwood stepped down from the train in the West Texas town of Colorado (known today as Colorado City), he knew he had come to the right place. The railroad shipping pens were full of cattle, the dirt streets were bustling with activity and most of the town’s 28 saloons were busy, with their primary customers being cowboys who had brought cattle to town for shipment on the train. Colorado City was the end of the line for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and ranchers drove their cattle there from as far north as Amarillo, as far south as San Angelo and from the west as far as eastern New Mexico. For a man who had a product to market to cattlemen, it looked like paradise.

Isaac was a partner with Joseph Glidden, who – after some battles over patents – the courts deemed “the father of barbed wire.” Isaac and Joseph were from DeKalb, Illinois, and both had held patents on types of barbed wire. However, when Isaac realized that Joseph’s product was better, he bought into Joseph’s company. And that’s what brought him to Colorado City. Cattlemen needed barbed wire.

Isaac had become a relatively rich man due to his investment in the barbed wire company, and while he was in Colorado City, he heard of a ranch south of town that was for sale.

The Renderbrook Ranch, located about 20 miles south of Colorado City, was named for a Capt. Rendlebrock, who, along with a small group of soldiers, had a minor skirmish with the Comanche Indians in 1872 at a spring that would later become the headquarters of the ranch. “Rendlebrock,” through the years, was somehow distorted into Renderbrook. In 1889, the ranch was owned by two brothers named Snyder. Isaac struck a deal with the Snyder brothers and then assigned his son, W.L. Ellwood, to the task of stocking the ranch with cattle. W.L. found 800 head of good cows owned by W.L. “Spade” Evans of Clarendon, Texas, which was 200 miles to the north. Isaac bought the cows, along with the spade brand that they wore, hired a man to drive them south, and Spade Ranches was born.

Although the Renderbrook Spade remains the home ranch, through the years, five more ranches have been added to the Spade brand, all in Texas: the Borden Spade near Gail, the Wagon Creek Spade near Throckmorton, the North Spade near Turkey, the Panhandle Spade near Canadian and the Alpine Spade in far West Texas near Alpine, for a total of approximately 300,000 acres. All except the 120,000-acre Renderbrook are on leased land, but the Renderbrook is still owned by six great-great grandchildren of Isaac Ellwood.

The Horses

Isaac was known for breeding good horses even back in his home state of Illinois, and legend has it that when he bought the Renderbrook from the Snyder brothers, the brothers insisted the trade include a good stallion. Isaac later bought another ranch from the Snyder brothers – one the family has since sold – and included in the deal was a railroad carload of horses. Isaac delivered those horses to Brownwood, Texas, for the Snyders, but at the same time, shipped another carload to Colorado City for use on his ranches. A January 1, 1908, inventory showed 123 head of saddle horses on the Spade Ranches.

When AQHA was founded in 1940, Spade Ranches wasn’t long in getting involved. In 1942, the ranch registered its first horses and, through the years, has continued to upgrade the remuda. In the 1970s, the ranch purchased a number of mares by Freckles Smoke by Jewel’s Leo Bars – known throughout the industry as “Freckles” – and then in the mid- ’80s, purchased Poco Sassy Doc and Peppy Taito, both from the Waggoner Ranch at Vernon, Texas. Poco Sassy Doc is by Sassy Doc by Doc Bar and Peppy Taito is by Peppys Pavo by Mr San Peppy.

“Those two horses crossed on those Freckles Smoke mares gave the cowboys just what they were wanting,” says John Welch, president and CEO of Spade Ranches. “They were cowy, tough and athletic.”

Then, to continue the line, in 2003, the ranch bought Freckles Little Pep by Peppy San Badger – better known as “Little Peppy” – and out of a daughter of Jewel’s Leo Bars to cross on the Poco Sassy Doc daughters, and in 2005, added Rio Talks Money by Doc’s Hickory. Both of those stallions are gone now, but today the ranches have Whos Foolin by Peptoboonsmal – who, of course, is by Little Peppy – and Range Delivery by High Brow Cat out of a daughter of Doc O’Lena.

“The Mr San Peppy-bred mares are crossed on the daughters of the Doc Bar-bred studs and vice versa,” says John. “This is basically what we’ve been doing since the mid1970s, and it has worked really well for us. We are trying to breed cow horses with enough size and bone to hold up under heavy use. All of our cow work is done horseback, whether we’re prowling the pasture, roping and doctoring, or dragging calves to the fire. And the country on some of our ranches can get pretty rough and brushy.”

The mares and stallions are kept on the Renderbrook Spade, where all the mares are pasture bred and foal in the pasture. At weaning, each foal is halter broke and branded with the spade on its left shoulder and a year and mare brand on its hip. Then the foals are turned out and not handled again until the cowboys pick their mounts in the fall of their yearling year.

Each cowboy starts his own colts, and each colt gets 30-40 saddlings early in its 2-year-old year. Then they’re all turned out again for a few months, but in late summer they’re brought in and eased into full-time service. By late fall of that year, they have seen a little of about everything they will be expected to do, and the next year, they become pretty well full-time ranch horses.

The cowboys ride primarily geldings, although occasionally one of the stallions is called into service. Renderbrook Spade manager Steve White has used Whos Foolin both on the ranch and in Ranch Horse Association of America competition.

Although only geldings go into the remuda, all the fillies are broken and ridden at least 60 days to determine which ones will go into the broodmare band. Mares with the most cow sense and athletic ability are normally kept as broodmares, but John also looks at a mare’s conformation, what kind of mind she has and how she travels. Currently, the ranch has 24 broodmares.

On its six ranches, Spade has approximately 10,000 head of cattle, to include about 6,000 mother cows, with the balance being replacement heifers, herd bulls and stockers. To handle the cattle takes good horses, and that’s the kind Spade is raising. And it’s not just the ranch’s opinion. Although Spade primarily raises horses for its own use, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association all-around world champion Jimmie Cooper has bought two Spade-bred and -raised horses to rope on, and North Spade manager John Bland has ridden another one, a son of Poco Sassy Doc, to the top-horse title at several ranch rodeos. As a matter of fact, at the recent Texas Ranch Roundup in Wichita Falls, which Spade won to qualify to compete at the World Championship Ranch Rodeo in Amarillo in November, John Bland was named top hand, and the horse he was riding, Carols Sassy Doc, also by Poco Sassy Doc, was judged top horse of the rodeo.

Spade Ranches is one of the few large ranches working today that has existed in three centuries and is still owned by the original family. Considering that Isaac Ellwood was a horseman himself, he’ll probably be watching when his great great-grandchildren accept the Best Remuda Award.