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Welcome
to the world of

Chuck and Shirl Woodson

 

Chuck Woodson and his wife Shirl are the owners/operators of the historic Willow Creek Ranch in the high desert county of north-eastern Siskiyou County, California. At Willow Creek, the Woodsons run their own cow/calf operation as well as take in yearlings to run on the meadows and commercial cows for the outside country. The ranch is comprised of over 40,000 acres of deeded and leased ground. The terrain spans from lush meadows, to arid sagebrush and on to pine timber. Willow Creek Ranch and Chuck were featured in David Stoecklein’s books, The California Cowboy, Spirit of the West, and Cattle.

Chuck has been a cowboy his entire life working on ranches from the southern tip of California to the Oregon border, from the California Sierras to the California Coast and into Nevada and Arizona. He is well known for his ability to start colts and rehabilitate spoiled horses. His horse clients can be found from Caliente, California, to Klamath Falls, Oregon, across the pond to Germany and parts in between. Several of the colts Chuck started have made it to the top ten at the National Reined Cow Horse World Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno Nevada. Whether his clients ride reined cow horses, dressage, rodeo, barrel race, three day event, pleasure ride or cowboy - they are willing to endure a long waiting list to have their horses ridden by Chuck.

California bits and spurs have long been a passion for Chuck and his wife Shirl. Each began their own bit collections when they were teenagers. They first met when Shirl was setting up a display of her collection. Although they were raised at opposite ends of California (Chuck in Imperial Valley near the Mexican border, and Shirl in Modoc County near the Oregon border), Chuck and Shirl each featured Grijalvas as some of the earliest bits they owned. Over the years they have continued to buy and use Grijalva bits.

A scholar of early California history, it was only natural that Chuck choose the name Bear State Vaquero to call his business featuring quality cowboy gear. Chuck has long-been dedicated to learning about and preserving the traditions and history of early California bit and spur makers. The Woodsons have an extensive research library devoted to early makers, their techniques and designs. Chuck often taps into these archives when designing bits for the Grijalvas to build. He also has an extensive folder of bit designs that Eduardo Sr. made that he uses when putting together a new order with Juan or Ricardo.

Woodson began making bits and conchos in the 1970’s when he was cowboying on the Samataguma Rancho in San Diego County, California. His first project was building a pair of conchos with friend John Garcia under the shade of a lemon tree. The late Elihu (Granny) Martin of Descanso, California helped Chuck with his early silver and rawhide work. Over the years, he has worked with many masters in these fields of cowboy arts. Woodson not only has created beautiful California bits and spurs using traditional methods, he also became adept at restoring old bits that had succumbed to the ravages of time. He takes special effort to make the restoration work unnoticeable by aging the silver and matching the engraving. He will not however do anything to enhance or alter an existing makers mark. The demands of ranching and an endless stream of colts to ride, have limited Chuck’s time in the work shop.

Chuck understands the importance of the design of the bit complimenting the conformation of the horse it is intended for. He assesses each bit with a horseman’s eye. As a craftsman, he is full of appreciation for the attention to detail and the painstaking efforts the entire Grijalva family puts into constructing their bits and spurs. Grijalva bits have an established reputation for being both pleasing to the eye as well as highly functional. Grijalvas are bits desired by both collectors and horsemen. They rank among the highest in bits produced in Mexico that appreciate quickly in value.

Chuck makes several trips a year to visit his friends the Grijalvas. On these trips, he brings patterns and measurement for the bits he orders. He has a standing order with Ricardo two times a year. When in Mexico he personally goes to both Juan’s and Ricardo’s shops. If time permits, he accompanies Ricardo and his father Antonio Valencia to their cattle ranch where Ricardo has a second shop. With the ever increasing intensity of the drug wars, these trips to Magdalena are becoming increasingly dangerous. Days before Chuck’s visit in February 2010, 7 people were killed just a short distance from Ricardo’s home. Vaqueros riding through the cattle on local ranches have been shot simply because the drug traffickers came through and the vaqueros saw them. Making a trip to Magdalena in this day and age is not for the faint of heart.

The bit and spur enthusiast should be aware that someone is circulating bogus Grijalva bits. If you are familiar with the real thing, the frauds stick out like a sore thumb. Any bits on this website bearing the EG* mark or the L5* mark are genuine. Chuck purchased them from either Juan or Ricardo directly.

If you are interested in ordering any of the items featured at Bear State Vaquero, please call Chuck at 541-891-9664 or shirl@cot.net . California residents add 8.25% sales tax. The items featured on the website are the actual articles for sale. When they are gone they are gone. Bear State Vaquero is a first come first serve business. All sales are final. There is a $15 shipping charge for each article. Payment is restricted to cashier’s check or post office money order.

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A.J. Shell Bit before restoration by Chuck

A.J. Shell Bit after restoration

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Roping in the corral. Photo by David Stoecklein

Tools of the trade. Photo by Laquita Burch

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(top)  Tarzan was a registered Paint horse raised and owned by the legendary Cotton Rosser of the Flying U Rodeo Company in Marysville, California.  When Tarzan was two years old, he was sent to Chuck to start.  Not only did Tarzan become a top ranch horse, he became an important part of Rosser’s rodeo line-up.  Chuck trained Tarzan to become the star of the rodeo as a ‘boot horse’.  The giant cowboy boot made the trip from Marysville to Willow Creek where Tarzan began his schooling on the giant prop.  The ramp leading to the inside of the boot is narrow and steep.  Inside the turntable is cramped.  Horse and rider are raised via a scissor lift to the top of the boot.  There the horse’s feet are approximately 15’ above the ground while the platform rotates 360 degrees.  NO drugs were ever used in training any of Chuck’s horses. Trust and time make them solid .

(right) At Tarzan’s very first rodeo as a boot horse, world famous trick roper Vince Bruce stands atop the Paint colt while spinning a giant loop.  Tarzan went on to perform in the giant boot throughout the Western States for the Flying U until his death from the West Nile Virus.  Tarzan was so well trained, Baxter Black rode him inside the Harris Ranch conference room during a special event.

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This is the last 'boot horse' - Powder River, he was a very troubled reject headed for the kill wagon and a full brother to Tarzan, Chuck restarted him (that's a book in itself-he was a BAD cat), turned him out for a year with our saddle horses to let him detox from his previous life experience, then used him on the ranch for a year before starting him to the boot - Chuck's clients know better than to insist he work within their time frame, he goes at the horse's pace or else they can take the beast home - obviously it works, he's got people who are willing to wait for years for him to work their horse.  Now he's the star boot horse (after the death of Tarzan to West Nile) and a favorite mount at Cotton Rosser's Flying U Ranch.

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Chuck and Sharkey the mustang Photo by David Stoecklein

Cattle at a water hole at Willow Creek

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Willow Creek Ranch

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Chuck is a bit maker in his own right.

Chuck and Bones Photo by David Stoecklein