Tag Archives: Earl McKee

Earl McKee RIP


Trudy Johnson Photography



Robert Frost never built a fence
between a neighbor as fine as mine,
who shared more than his cow sense
on both sides of the line.

He helped a shaggy-headed kid
whose ignorance could fill a book
and kept his impatience mostly hid
‘less I took a second look—

and then he knew, I knew the pain
and like a son, he worked with me
and tell a joke to keep me sane,
so frustrated I couldn’t see.

In time, I’d be working the gate,
he damn-sure had me looking sharp,
working ’round my each mistake—
the cattle easy to part.

Whenever I call, he’ll be there,
saving most of his work for last.
He helped me ship ’em on Easter,
a drought year gone past.

A slick calf could cause discussion,
he’d always argue it was mine.
I debate for his possession,
losing most of the time.

And when he’d weigh out justice,
you’d find his thumb upon the scale,
but on your side of the balance,
your logic to no avail.

So before you go building fences
and stretching brand-new barbed wire,
there’s one gone beyond common senses
and made Bobby Frost a liar.

If you ever find a pattern cut
that’d be suitable for me,
reckon you’d be hard-pressed put
using other than Earl Mckee.

            – John Dofflemyer (Dry Creek Rhymes, 1989)


Greasy Branding 1



Though we weaned our calves last spring in these pipe pens, we branded our first bunch of calves here yesterday. Earl McKee began construction nearly 20 years ago, and only with my sister’s help could we finish the job. In the upper pen, it feels as if we’re working on top of the world. With the camera on the table, multiple photo credits go to Audrey Maze, Allie Fry, Terri Blanke, Maggie Loverin and Robbin.





To make the handling process easier on the calves, we incorporated a head pen.







Earl McKee Photos: Greasy Branding III


February 10, 2016, 75°, big calves, great crew. Thank you, Earl!


Earl McKee Photos: Greasy Creek Branding II


February 10, 2016, 75°, big calves, great crew. Thank you, Earl!


Earl McKee Photos: Greasy Creek Branding I


February 10, 2016, 75°, big calves, great crew. Thank you, Earl!


Good Day @ Ragle Springs



To complete our documentation of last week’s efforts to improve the availability of water for cattle, Terri Blanke stands beside the upper concrete box last Wednesday, one of many constructed by Earl McKee, Sr. and Lee Maloy in the 1930s when they packed cement and sand on mules from the Kaweah River, five miles and 2,500 feet in elevation away.

From the bottom, the upper box was plumbed to the lower box with 1½“ steel pipe too rusty and leaky to repair, rendering the lower box useless. In the 1990s, Earl McKee, Jr. and Chuck Fry constructed the pond below with dozers to collect all the leaks plus seasonal runoff. Dirt tank dry by the end of June for past two years, I installed the little galvanized trough last year to provide clean water by utilizing a hole in the side of the upper box.

While David Langton was mucking out the pond at Grapevine last Saturday, I plumbed the second concrete tank to the overflow of the little galvanized trough with 1 ¼“ PVC and galvanized riser. On Monday, while David was covering the PVC, he bumped the rock beside the galvanized trough with his backhoe’s outrigger, which moved the empty trough and snapped my PVC fill pipe. We plugged the flow from the upper box with a plastic bag and I went for hose at the corrals a mile below to syphon water into the galvanized trough rather than lose it, giving me time (2½ hours) to get to town for galvanized pipe replacements.

There wasn’t enough water stored in the little galvanized trough for the fourteen head of cows living at Ragle Springs, yet the little trough filled and overflowed at night. Assuming the lower box doesn’t leak as it fills, we will have enough water stored for the fourteen cows—a good day for all.


Drinking At Ragle Springs



Yesterday, I finished reclaiming our water resources at Ragle Springs, after cementing a galvanized pipe in one of the holes of the concrete tank, constructed, I believe, by Earl Mckee and Lee Maloy who packed cement and sand by mule from the Kaweah River in the 1940s, some 2,500 feet and four miles below. The stock water pond constructed by Earl McKee, Jr. in the 1980s collected the overflow, but has been dry for several weeks and the leaky tank has been running into a quagmire where our cattle have had to drink, hock high, from cow tracks. Fortunately, they have had access to other springs and troughs elsewhere in the pasture.


When Terri and I fed last Wednesday, she asked about the yellow birds flying out of the tank that I missed seeing. But when I looked into the tank, a pair of Pine Siskins (Goldfinches in camouflage) flew off a floating board. With the board removed Saturday, the birds have had to improvise. The first and last photos are Goldfinches in winter plumage, Pine Siskins and an unknown in between, but I defer to Avian 101 or other authority to verify the identity of both species.


Whether domestic or wild, every drop counts.


In response to this link sent to Earl McKee, Jr. for verification, he sent this additional information:

Hello again John,
My father Earl A McKee Sr. started packing the material to build a series of concrete water storage tanks and troughs up into Greasy Cove in 1938, to this old “Greasy Ranch” he had purchased in 1937. At that time he had been in the mule packing business since 1910 and had quite a herd of mules and horses to pack dudes and gear into the Sierras.

Lee Maloy, Jim Kindred, Loren Finch and my Dad did the work moving all the sand material, form lumber and the sacks of cement to each site. There were 5 different sites. The first was Sulphur Spring at the old “Huntley House”. 2 more in the Sulphur Mountain pasture, Ragle Spring and one other up on the south west side of Sulphur Creek Section. The next one was built up on the Oat Ridge field’s North West corner, about a quarter mile North of the Eagle Rock. The last one was built on the East side of Section 9. This watershed was Manikin Creek falling off to the North Fork of the Kaweah River.

When packing the material, sand was the biggest item, because of the volume needed. And because my Dad owned the numbers of mules and outfits, he would use about 20 to 25 head of mules each trip. Most of these spring improvement jobs would load up the mules in a sand bar at Belle Point above Terminus Beach on the Kaweah River. And used the old Greasy Creek to Manikin Flat wagon Road that passed by Spoon Rock.

An interesting side of loading each mule with sand was, as the mules were saddled, first came the mule blanket and pad. Next came a mantie that covered the mule’s body, then came the pack saddle and after he was cinched up the kayaks or rag ends or leather ends were hung on the saddle with card board or wood boxes inside. The mule was then led down into the sand bar and a man on each side tossed sand into the boxes while counting the shovel loads to balance the load till it weighed about 90 lbs. on each side and was tied off and turned loose to wait till they were all loaded. As you can imagine the mantie being placed above the mule blankets allowed for misjudged shovel loads of sand could roll off the mule without getting sand under the saddle blanket and keep it from sore backing the mule.

As the form lumber was packed in, a mortar box with handles on each end and tapered ends to pour, was packed on top of one of the loads to mix the concrete with shovels and a hoe and water buckets. The spring box on the east side of Section 9 was packed in from a sand bar at Ken (Skinny) Savages Ranch on the North Fork of the Kaweah River. And packed by trail up through the Old Craig Thorn Sr. Ranch.

The date of each of these should still have the date of completion marked in the concrete with the three brands of the three registered brands at that time. The year, 1938 the brands were LEE (Lee Maloy); T Triangle (Jim Kindred): Bar O (Earl McKee Sr).

This is about the way it all happened, a long time ago.

All The Best, Earl


How sweet the supposition placed
in another time on this landscape:
the touch and swirl of old fantasies
that would have made good stories
when we could get along with our mounts.

Just beneath the surface, this ground
rich for vivid video, Earl brings
his book and tells of the hex, the cauldron
boiling along the ditch, witches’ flesh
in a naked circle dancing, he left out

to protect the living—yet grinning
as he shares it. There were few secrets
among the oaks, and space enough
for strong notions, odd ways, unholy
characters lurking in the grainy shadows

of black and white photos, blown up.
How we sweet the supposition
that we fell with grace—acorns close
to imperfect oaks to quell our sermons
summoned from self-righteousness.

Sulphur Branding 2010

Photos by Earl McKee

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We branded last Friday and were lucky enough to have Earl bring his camera to his corrals in Greasy – a beautiful day! In the slideshow are Kenny & Virginia McKee, Tony Rabb, Doug Thomason, Brent Huntington, Zach Shaver, Chad Lawerence, Chuck Fry, Clarence & Frances Holdbrooks, Robbin, Bob & I.  Thanks all!