Local cowboy legend Johnnie Mutz rides his last

Photo provided

By Michael Ritterhouse — Staff writer

RED RIVER — Local cowboy legend Johnnie Mutz passed away on Tuesday, April 7, 2015, 54 days shy of his 99th birthday.

Mutz, who was the grandson of Moreno Valley settler Herman Mutz, grew up around Elizabethtown and Eagle Nest working the family ranches using horse-drawn wagons, plows, and haying equipment.

“We planted all our grain, like oats and barley and wheat. Raised our own potatoes, our own rutabagas, for wintertime and carrots…” Johnnie said in a 2001 Chronicle interview. “We had pigs, chickens and all that. We had to be kind of self- supportive.” Mutz went on to explain that the family went to Raton in the autumn to buy all the sugar, flour and beans they needed for the year. They raised Hereford cattle, took them to their Forest Service lease during the summer and wintered them on the ranch during the winter months.

Johnnie’s family history stretches back to the late 1800s during the relatively short mining boom that led to the rise, and demise, of Elizabethtown. Today the rocky remains of a structure, popularly known as “The Mutz Hotel,” are about all that remain of the first incorporated town in the New Mexico Territory, the one-time Colfax County seat that once boasted thousands of residents.

“My granddad (Herman Mutz) came from Germany when he was 19 years old… He built the stone building which is still standing over there (in Elizabethtown). That was a hotel and a bar,” Johnnie said in a Jan. 15, 1995 Chronicle interview.

Johnnie (John James Mutz) was born June 1, 1916 in Cimarron, New Mexico. He was the son of Emil and Maggie (Gallagher) Mutz and lived his life in the Moreno and Red River valleys. He had two brothers and three sisters. He would describe going to school in Elizabethtown, where he graduated eighth grade and then on to Moreno Valley and Cimarron, “My dad kept me busy. I never did get to do much schoolin’ after I got big enough to work.’ But he did get to play football for a little while in Cimarron, “I went to Cimarron one time in the fall. Got on the football team. Three weeks before we had our first game they come and got me and said, ‘You got to come home and go to work.’ So that was the end of football! I had a lot of fun though for awhile.”

After school ranching became even more central to his life, “We was always sellin’ hay.”

As a young man Johnnie took part in the filming of the big budget Lucille Ball film “Valley of the Sun” that was released in 1942. They told Mutz “You got to dress up like an Indian,” Mutz went on “…I’d been in Red River all summer and didn’t have any sun tan or nothin’ – I was pretty white. He (an Indian working for the Mutz’s) spread some mud on each side of me and on my back. It was hot that day and I blistered everywhere but where those handprints were. Those handprints stayed with me all winter!”

In August 1944, Mutz met Henrietta “Hank” Jones in Red River who was on a horseback ride with Johnnie’s saddle horse rental outfit. They married January 11, 1945. The newlyweds lived on the Mutz family ranch north of Elizabethtown.

Later, after a brief time in El Paso, the couple bought Aspen Park Guest Ranch on the road to the Upper Red River Valley where they rented rustic cabins. An avid hunter, Johnnie guided bear, lion, and elk hunts, took fishermen on horseback to high mountain lakes and also rented saddle horses in Red River.

Johnnie and Hank had three daughters, Jeannine, Jan and June. When the girls were school age, Johnnie and Hank built a rental cabin in Red River for summer rental and lived there during the winter so the girls could attend school at the Moly Mine (a one-room school with eight grades). After they sold Aspen Park in 1957, they lived in the cabin until their current home was built. After the Moly Mine School closed, Hank drove the girls to Taos for school and school events, ballet lessons and music lessons and Johnnie taught them to be tomboys— ranching, hunting and how to run heavy equipment.

Johnnie continued helping at the family ranch and plowing roads for the highway department during the winter. Using the skills he learned, he and Hank started Mutz Excavating and Grading. He was a fearless and precise heavy equipment operator and did the pioneer work for the Moly Mine, building roads and drill sites as well as building roads, trails and lift tower pads for the beginning of the Red River Ski Area. He also did dozer work for Ernie Blake at Taos Ski Valley. Johnnie worked with the U. S. Forest Service building fire lines for numerous wild fires all over northern New Mexico.

Johnnie worked at the Red River Ski Area with Bob Prunty as the first ski patrollers. Hank worked in ticket sales. Johnnie also taught ski lessons and became a certified ski instructor and managed the ski area for one year.

Johnnie organized the first rodeo in Red River in 1954 and also organized the Red River division of the New Mexico Mounted Patrol made up of men and their horses from Questa and Red River. He was a longtime volunteer with the Red River Fire Department and was also a member of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, the National Rifle Association and a life member of the Raton Elks Lodge.

In 1988, Mutz joined a number of local horse riding enthusiasts to start the Red River Riding Club where he was the “Trail Boss.” Fellow Riding Club member Russell Church says, “I never got tired of listening to his stories or maybe some tall tales!” Another Riding Club member, Billy Donnithorne, says, “where do you start so wonderful and sometimes honery memories. Johnnie you will be missed!”

Mutz liked to help little kids and teach anybody, young or old who wanted to learn how to ride, run heavy equipment, brand a calf and anything else he knew. His daughters all agreed he was a wonderful dad, strict, but patient — all to make sure the girls were hard working and self-reliant.

Johnnie loved the Fourth of July Parade and probably participated in every one since they began in Red River. He would help Hank and the girls decorate a float or “shine” up their horses and enter the parade. Johnnie was always honored to carry the America flag riding his beloved Appaloosa horse, Foxy.

Johnnie was a cowboy and rancher to the end. Mutz’s wife, Hank said in an interview, “I call it his hobby because we sure don’t make any money. That’s his love too.” After Johnnie was no longer able to ride his horse he kept busy at home and could be seen around his property on his riding mower dragging his walker beside him. He said that was in case his mower broke down he would have a way to get back to the house.

Johnnie was preceded in death by his wife of 70 years, Hank, who passed away on January 9, 2015. He is survived by daughters Jeannine and her husband Joe Roy Ray, Jan and June and his faithful dog, Pepe.

No services are scheduled at this time. Donations can be made in memory of Johnnie to the Red River Historical Society or to the Macular Degeneration Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 531313, Henderson, NV 89053.


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