Another profile of a man I was lucky to know…
Welcome back. This week after all the comments I received about my story regarding the passing of Paul Kelly, I thought I’d start off with a profile of the man who was Paul’s boss and the overall all manager of both the farming operation and cattle production on the Cross Bell Ranch back in 1970.
I tracked Dale Kurht down in 2007 when he was living in retirement and training stock dogs in Arkansas. After I had visited with him several times, out of the blue he produced a large cardboard box filled with files and photographs documenting the time he had spent on the Mullendores’ ranch.
As we looked through all of these materials, Dale told me that he had been hired in 1969 by E.C. Mullendore to help run the ranch. From the way he described it he had plenty of experience for the job. He came from four generations of farmers and ranchers and his great-grandfather had homesteaded the land Dale was born on. Dale was also a member of the American Hereford Association and a long time 4-H judge. He was managing the Codding Cattle Research Station near Foraker, Oklahoma when E.C. contacted him about the position. He said that when he was hired he thought nothing could touch the Cross Bell Ranch where he had heard the Mullendores themselves were not even sure how much land they controlled. Dale had been moving up the ladder, managing one large ranch after another, each one bigger than the one before. He had also worked at several big spreads outside of Oklahoma including the Milky Way Hereford Ranch in Phoenix,the Lucky Ranch in Loyalton, California and the Baca Grant Ranch in Moffat, Colorado.
In his line of work Dale told me this was the ultimate-the top of the heap- and he jumped at the chance to go to work for the Mullendores.
Dale’s records indicated that there were thousands of head of cattle, hundreds of pigs and over fourteen hundred horses, a herd of Texas longhorns and several dozen free roaming bison on the Cross Bell. Another twenty-three race horses were stables in Louisiana. It took sixteen feed trucks, eighteen full time men and a string of day laborers to work on all the different parts of the ranch. There were ongoing improvements being made to all areas of the operation including the construction of two Honegger houses for birthing pigs. Each house could hold 480 pigs, tripling the size of the hog operation. New shipping pens were being built along with fifteen miles of new fencing each year, a new fed lot, six new barns and an irrigation system that took care of four hundred and fifty acres where alfalfa would be planted. With over a thousand miles of fencing and cross fencing to be maintained and constant repairs to ranch vehicles, dozens of tractors and other ranch equipment I was surprised to find out how big the operation really was even though I had heard about the Cross Bell Ranch my whole life.
Paul Kelly and Dale had stayed in contact in the years following the tragic murder of E.C. Mullendore in 1970. Although they lived in different states I would often drive to both places in the same day to visit with both men to confirm details about their time on the Cross Bell while fresh in my mind.
I mentioned in last week’s column that Paul had recently been questioned about E.C.’s murder and Dale was also interviewed by Osage County investigators the same week.
During a phone conversation which he allowed me to record as usual, Dale told me that the investigators had driven to his home in Arkansas twice and conducted several phone interviews as well. The questions they asked him were similar to the ones they had asked Paul and they indicated to Dale that the Mullendore murder was indeed solved. Unfortunately Dale died of heart failure not long after this conversation. Will this mystery ever be solved and why has it taken so long? The answers to these questions rest with Osage County District Attorney Rex Duncan, a man with a reputation for seeing justice served.
Till next week I’ll see you down the road…..