As a young boy, at six or seven years and not quite yet in school, David Antone remembers his sister helping him saddle up and get onto a horse. And it was riding a horse where he learned a lifestyle that he lives today.
“My father had been a cowboy all his life and he always had a horse,” said Antone as he remembered how and why he got into riding. “When I was growing up, you always had to ride a horse or it would become rank or it would learn to buck.”
Although Antone rode a horse as a young boy, there was a time when that changed.
“They used to have rodeos [on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community] all the time, and I used to go to the rodeos and play with my friends, but my dad (the late Miles Antone) would always hunt me down and tell me to ride the horse home,” said Antone. “I knew I would have to stay home by myself after that, it got to the point where I hated it.”
When he got to junior high, he become involved in sports and just wanted to hang out with his friends, like any other teenager. But as he got older, he gained a better understanding what riding meant to him and his father.
In the 1980s, his father would ask Antone to go riding, but Antone was a police officer with the Salt River Police Department at the time and was always working different shifts, which made spending time riding horses with his father difficult.
In 1992 Antone started working in the prosecutor’s office, which was a 9-to-5 job.
It was during this time he had time to start riding horses with his father once again.
David said his father was born and raised in Blackwater, Arizona. He grew up with his grandfather learning about horses and cattle; he rode a lot with his friends. His dad would tell him stories about the early days when they were out riding. “He told me how one time he and his friends rode all the way from Blackwater to Salt River for a rodeo. They camped at the intersection at McDowell and Longmore roads,” said Antone. “He said they camped out at an old abandoned adobe building at that intersection.” His dad competed in the rodeo and won a black hat.
“Another time he told me the story of when he and his cousins were riding around one day and they rode up to the mountains near Blackwater. They found a cave and they went in and found some artifacts; they were young at the time,” Antone continued. “He remembered his grandfather telling him that the spirits would get him if he ever bothered ancestral possessions of others.” He said in the cave they saw stuff lying around, and they picked up [some of it]; when they walked out [of the cave] they walked into a ring of rattlesnakes. So they turned around and took the stuff back and left it.
Antone recalled the story of how his dad ran away from a boarding school when he was young and worked in northern Arizona for a time until his family found him and brought him back home. Then there was the time his dad was a student at St. Mary’s High School; when World War II broke out, he wanted to enlist, but he was too young. He got his mother and one of the priests to sign for him to go into the service. Later, Antone’s dad met his mother, Alfretta (Juan) Antone, and moved with her to Salt River, where he later worked as a butcher in Phoenix.
After retiring, he would work for a Papago family near Sells, Arizona that had a large herd of cattle.
“That’s all he did, staying there months at a time,” said Antone. “When he came back to Salt River, he started working with the late Theron Andreas and Theron gave my father some cattle. So he started raising his own [cattle], but he still continued to work with Theron at the time.”
“From 1992 to 2000, I was riding more and more with him and he was teaching me how to do this and that about cattle ranching, but I already kind of knew because he always told me what he had done or what he was going to do with the cattle,” said Antone. “He would show me a lot of stuff, like shoeing horses, castrating bull calves to turn into a steer, branding them, roping when you’re by yourself and cutting ears.
In 2000, Antone’s father passed away. In the three years prior to his passing, father and son were very close. They would go out riding and taking care of the cattle they had out at Red Mountain. Antone would help his dad round up his cattle to sell.
Antone explained, “Two weeks prior to his passing, dad asked me to help on a round-up for Thursday with Theron Andreas and his Nephew, Herman Loma. We started about six in the morning and we pushed the cattle around Red Mountain and took them to a corral near the Verde River. We spent the whole day sorting them, cutting them, branding them. The following day I was going out of town, and when I came back on Monday, I had a phone message saying dad was in the hospital. By the end of that week, they found cancer, and then he passed. I remember thinking, “he
left doing what he loved,’ which was riding and cattle work.”
After his passing, Antone’s mother told him that she and her husband had talked and that he wanted Antone to continue with the cattle ranching and keep the Antone herd.
Twelve years later, Antone still takes care of the cattle, although he admits he never realized it could cost so much.
“I spent a lot on my horses, fuel, trucks, stock trailers, tires, feed, veterinarian bills; I save some by shoeing my own horses and sometimes doctoring them myself.
His herd used to be with the Andreas’s herd near the Verde River, but after his father passed away, Antone decided to move the herd over between Gilbert Road and the Granite Reef Dam. In 2001, he bought a portable corral and does round-up near Gilbert Road.
Antone couldn’t put a specific number on his herd because the cows have calves once a year and from time to time coyotes kill the calves, and another problem has been the increase in wild dogs from people abandoning them. He has also found some of his cattle with gunshot wounds. “I found one of my cows near Gilbert Road,” said Antone. “Someone shot it and they used a chainsaw to cut off the quarters (legs) so there was just the body and no legs. Sometimes people go out there and they don’t know and they will take whatever’s there.”
The job of a cattle rancher can be tough, not only financially, but physically as well.
“I was chasing a steer near the dam and my horse ran into a bunch of barbed wire that was buried in the ground. The back legs got tangled up and we went down, and he rolled over me,” said Antone. “I broke three of my ribs and punctured my lung; I ended up in the hospital for six days.”
But Antone continues to ride because he likes it. His father once told him that “one of the best days you’ll ever have is on the back of a good horse,” and it’s true, Antone said.
He has had many horses through the years; the first was the one his father let him ride, which was named Bear. Antone rode for a while and then rode other horses: Shorty, Dillon, Felix, Boss, and Chacho. Unfortunately, he recently lost a horse from a rattlesnake bite. He currently has three horses, Deak, Marteo and Cinco.
Antone continues to keep his grandfather and father’s cattle ranching tradition alive with his 7A brand, which is registered through the Arizona Department of Agriculture. Antone’s brand is similar to what his grandfather and father had, which was “7/A.” when Antone’s father passed away, he had to file for a new brand but tried to keep it similar.
“To me it’s a lifestyle; it’s not so much a business. I do take my cattle to market or sell to friends, but I just enjoy doing it, I’ll do it till I can’t get on a horse anymore,” said Antone.