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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

The Pitchfork Kid
A cowboy’s cowboy

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
The Pitchfork Kid had plenty of friends, but he enjoyed his own company.

A cowboy’s cowboy, the Kid sat a horse well and had the reputation of being the best roper in the Panhandle. On the sprawling Matador Ranch, where he spent much of his career as a waddy, the foreman often worked him as an “outside man,” someone who didn’t mind saddling up and riding off by himself to hunt up a stray.

Considering the Kid’s background, that was fitting duty. He was something of a dogie himself.

Born in Ohio in 1873 (no one has found the day and month or place of birth), William E. Parlow became an orphan at an early age. By 1880, when census takers canvassed the small town of Chicaskia, Kansas, they listed him as living there with his maternal grandparents. Legend has two uncles in Kansas City taking him to raise, but their generous gesture didn’t atone for the fact that they were cattle thieves. When they got caught in the act and killed, young Billy once again was one his own.

Ridge Greathouse, a professional poisoner of wolves and other range predators, found the 12-year-old Partlow on the streets of Kansas City and learned that he wanted to be a cowboy. Greathouse had done work for D.B. Gardner, manager of the Pitchfork Ranch west of Guthrie. Knowing Gardner was in KC on business, Greathouse brought the boy to him.

Luckily for Partlow, Gardner loved children and took him back to Texas. The boy wanted to ride the range immediately, but Gardner said he was too young and wouldn’t let him stray too far from the ranch headquarters. Instead, he tried to see that the boy got some book-learning, but he didn’t take to that very well.

The way Gardner did that was to farm Billy out to neighboring rancher J.T. George and his wife, a school teacher. She encouraged him to read but to what extent she succeeded isn’t known.

After about a year with the Georges, the Billy went back to the Pitchfork, finally old enough to make a hand. And soon it became evident that cowboy life suited him well. He liked the work and he liked the grub, preferring an ample serving of onions with just about anything he ate around the chuckwagon. Somewhere along the way, folks started calling him the Pitchfork Kid.

The Kid worked for Gardner for a few years before moving on to an even larger operation, the giant Matador Ranch in Cottle, Dickens, Floyd and Motley counties. Beyond his skills as a cowboy, Parlow had grown up to be a well-groomed gentleman. His friends marveled that he shaved daily, even out on the range.

In 1892, a horse he’d been trying to gentle threw him against a fence. His fellow cowboys loaded their unconscious friend into a wagon and took him to ranch headquarters. From there, the ranch sent him by train to a hospital in Trinidad, CO. A doctor operated on his head to relieve pressure on his swollen brain and he came to after 19 days in a coma.

As soon as he recovered, the Kid swung back in the saddle again. He stayed with the Matador until 1907, when he decided to cut out on his own. When his business venture failed, Parlow came back to the Matador, cowboy hat in hand. But the foreman, still sore that he had left in the first place, refused to rehire him.

Despite that, the mustachioed, meerschaum pipe-smoking Kid enjoyed a good reputation. When longtime ranch manager Murdo McKenzie found him on the down-and-outs in the nearby town of Matador, McKenzie asked what had happened. When Partlow said the foreman wouldn’t give him a job, McKenzie wrote a letter countermanding that and the Kid once again rode for the Matador.

But the dream of many cowboys is having a spread of their own. In 1917, Partlow filed on a half-section of land south of Nara Visa, NM and left the Matador for the last time. Two years later, only 46, he died when he fell from a load of hay and hit his head on a rock.

As time passed, old cowboys began telling stories about the Pitchfork Kid. And one of his former pals began to wonder where he had been buried.

In 1954, 70-year-old Fred Hale of Amarillo, who had worked with the Kid on the Matador, set out to find his friend’s grave. He looked all around Glenrio and Nara Visa in New Mexico, finding no one who knew where Partlow had ended up. On a hunch, Hale checked Amarillo’s Llano Cemetery and discovered he had been buried there. Locating the plot shown in the cemetery’s records, he found the grave unmarked.

Hale collected money from some of the other still-living Matador cowboys and in 1959 had a flat granite marker placed over his grave. It reads:
* * *
A Cowboy

“Pitchfork Kid”

William E. Partlow

1874 1919

An Humble Man Who Achieved Greatness Through Humility And Loyalty To His Friends

Erected In 1959 By His Friends
* * *
Carved between Partlow’s year of birth and year of death is the distinctive Pitchfork brand.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" -
November 17, 2011 column

See Matador Ranch

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