|By Jody Hall The Fencepost
Published: May 25, 2018
|Every year the Norris family comprised of fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces and friends make their way to sage-filled ranchlands east of Fountain, Colo., for a very special annual event.
It’s not just any tradition; it’s a Norris family tradition. Steeped in history that includes the famous “Marlboro Man,” championship horses and cowboys and 68 years of ranching. It’s the 50th annual Tee Cross branding at one of the largest ranches in Colorado.
As the cattle slowly appear on the horizon the crowd gathered for this historic event become hushed. A slow engaging smile crosses Bob Norris’s face as he surveys his cattle being moved into segregated pens for the day’s branding. As ranch hands ride by they tip their hat to the patriarch of the Norris family and tell him how wonderful it is to see him. He chuckles and calls them by name. “Good to see you,” he says. His eyes have not lost their twinkle and are filled with kindness. “The weather is good today. Just like I was hoping the good Lord would give us,” he said quietly.
Bob Norris hasn’t missed a branding in 50 years. His family is here to honor him and their lives as ranchers and cattlemen; as cowboys performing a job that has been fulfilled for centuries. It is a way of life that he has loved all his life. From a young age he has been enamored with the cowboy iconic image. He has always been the “real deal.” His many achievements are testimony to his hard work and his love for his profession and the animals put into his charge.
The cowboys begin to sort the mamas from the calves and chaos in the pen erupts. The crowd pushes forward to observe the ranch hands skills as they handle their horses, expertly pushing the cattle into their appropriate pens. Someone yells out, “I didn’t know branding was a spectator sport.” And everyone laughs good-heartedly.
As the branding of the calves gets under way Carole Sondrup, Norris’s daughter, explains to some visitors from Mississippi that the brand holds the history of the ranch. A one-iron brand like the Tee Cross signifies that the ranch is older and has more history than a two or three iron brand. The first ranches had single iron brands but as more ranches appeared the number of symbols used for brands ran out. Ranches had to begin to add symbols to the brands. Brands are frequently sold, but the one iron brands are significantly more valuable than multiple iron brands.
The Tee Cross does not do their branding by machine. They are here to celebrate the ways of the cowboy of long ago, passed down from generation after generation. “I truly feel that because it is a lost art that the more we share and show people and teach people that this art and the cowboy way will still be here,” said JJ Norris, wife of Bobby Norris, the youngest son of Bob Norris. “It goes hand in hand.” JJ goes on to say, “We have a lot of people that come from all over. I put them in there.” she said. “I teach them how to use an inoculation gun. It’s something they will remember forever.”
With Bob Norris’s declining health and compromised management of the ranch, the herd number declined. Three years ago, Bobby Norris took over complete management of the ranch and horse operations. Bobby was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Fall of Fame in 2013 and has been on the board of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame for a decade.
“He loves it.” said Bobby’s sister Carole Sondrup. “Bobby’s built it up over the last couple of years. When he took over management it was down to 126 cows. He is doing a heck of a job building it back up. Thank God he came back.” said Carole’s husband Ron Sondrup.
Carole said that Bobby has a great team of hands and management teams. “Dusty out in Limon is a great hand. He does a great job. It makes it easy when you’ve got people you can trust and are good hard-working people.”
Today the Tee Cross herds numbers are 500 to 600 head. “In two years we’ll be at 1,000. We are holding back our first calf heifers every year (for replacements),” Bobby Norris said. When asked if his prediction could be quoted he replied, “You can quote that, and I’ll meet it. You can call me ‘Trump.'”
A cowboy is judged by the horses that he keeps, and Tee Cross horses are exceptional. In the past, it has been nominated for AQHA’s Best Remuda Award. This award recognizes ranching operations that have produced their own breeding program of outstanding Quarter Horses used in ranching and have produced quality horses used in competitions around the world. They have also earned the Ranching Heritage Breeders award. This award acknowledges those that breed and raise ranch-type horses, which remain at the core of the American Quarter Horse Association. All Tee Cross foals are eligible for nomination to the AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenge.
Their standing stallions are:
15.2 Hand, Sorrel
He is a very powerful, eye-catching horse. He has a lot of try and a lot of cow sense. He passes these traits to his foals.
Qualified for National Reined Cowhorse Association, Limited Open Bridle Finals. He is a money earner in NRCHA and Ranch Horse Association of America.
His awards include:
2012 Colorado Fut. Open and Limited Bridle Spectacular Champion.
2012 CRCA Year End Reserve Champion Limited Open Bridle.
He comes from cutting royalty. He is by NCHA all-time leading sire High Brow. His Dam, Cute Little Magic, is an NCHA money earner. He throws foals with big hips, good bone structure and good minds.
Gallo Poco Cross:
He has won numerous awards including:
2012 RMQHA Year End High Point Versatility Ranch Horse.
2011 NVRHA World’s Greatest Versatility Ranch Horse
2011 AQHA VRH World Show Working Ranch Horse Reserve World Champion
“So many people come back to Tee Cross because the horses we sell are so quiet. They are very gentle minded, and you can’t teach that.” JJ Norris said. “We are selling them as fast as we put them out.”
Rhett Norris, Bobby Norris’s son, roped and drug his first calf as the branding tradition continues with another generation to pass it down to. The Tee Cross continues to produce champion horses and quality beef on the dusty plains of Colorado. ❖
— Hall is a freelance writer from Platteville, Colo., when she’s not writing she is riding her horse in the mountains. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.