This is a great story, I felt every uneven step, could smell the pines and hear the bawling calves. Now I'm hoping we'll get the name of the woman who wrote it.....
My wife owns the horse Blue Allen rides (Whiskeys Starlight).
I grew up on the western slope of Colorado and my grandad was a rider for the Taylor Park Cattle Pool riding cows in the high country.
A friend of mines dad owned one of the ranches that belonged to the pool, she has started writing down some of her memories of when she was a little girl riding up in the high country with her sisters and dad.
I think her stories are good and I think people need to read some of them.If you like it and it is not to long maybe it will work for Mouthy Monday.
Let me know what you think.
The Cattle Drives
Operating a ranch in the Gunnison valley had advantages and disadvantages.
One of the advantages was the premium hay that grew with proper management in the irrigated meadows of the high mountain valleys.
One of the disadvantages was the ONE chance, ONE crop to supply the entire winters feed for your cattle. In order for the hay to grow, livestock had to be moved to the hills and surrounding mountains to government permits.
As a youth, I spent more time in a saddle behind cattle the most will see in a lifetime. My sisters and I would saddle up and head to the hills to push cattle. Sometimes we trucked in and sometimes we rode to the starting point of the drive. We were always excited and took great pride in our duty, even when it meant getting a tongue lashing for dropping our reins, or forgetting the lunches..ha ha!
We were way too small to reach up and grab a dropped rein and there was never a rock tall enough to lead the old horse up to and climb on! So it usually meant waiting for Dad to hunt us up and help us out.
He usually wasn’t in the best mood by the time he found us, out of worry and stress. Usually a potty break was the real cause to get off and not be able to get back on. Then the reins would be dropped, the whip and anything else we might have been packing along, left behind. He must have had the patience of Jobe!
I recall having to retrace my steps more than once, trying to find the lost whip or gloves! I’m not sure how many we lost, but it was several. Yes, I admit, there were more even after we could get on and off by ourselves! I recall being really disappointed about going to kindergarten, because I wouldn’t be home to ride old “Patches” every day, play with “Speck” the dog and help grandma make homemade tapioca pudding.
I was however, pretty pleased because my feet had FINALLY reached the bottom of my saddle blanket…meaning I still wasn’t making contact when I’d kick my old horse! It was a milestone for me though! Ha Ha. At that time, your age was measured by your stirrup length and I was definitely getting bigger!
We had the drives on BLM and the mountain drives on Forest permit. My favorite drives were the Forest permit drives. I still loved the dusty trail through the sage brush and the happiness of riding up on the lonely patch of trees and the watering hole on the BLM ground.
My favorite of all was the “early morning drive”. Always the third week in June and most likely encompassed my birthday. The drive was termed early morning for a reason as the morning wake- up call came at 2:30 am. Sometimes we pushed poor Dad to his limit trying to “come to life” at such an hour!
The cattle had a long drive on and hot day and didn’t move well in the heat. It was also important to get the herd past poison patches before they wanted to graze. Dad would have breakfast cooked and ready. While we ate breakfast with blurred eyes, Dad was busy saddling and loading the horses for his “crew”. Lunches would be made the night before and we would head out to the old stock truck with our lunches coats, gloves and yes, sometimes winter boots in tow. YOU NEVER FORGOT THE LUNCHES! I only did that ONCE!
My sisters and I would generally be asleep before we reached the three miles into Gunnison and might wake up to finding us turning up “Guerrieri lane” to the Lost Canyon turnoff. I always knew I had a little time to sleep from that turn before we got onto the gravel road up through Lost Canyon. I’d hear the old stock truck gear way down and I knew we were close to Cabin Creek and close to stepping out into the cold, morning, mountain air.
Keep in mind it was June and a frost at Cabin Creek was not out of the ordinary. When you ride, your fingertips and toes don’t get much movement and on little people they would be throbbing cold within a short time. More than once we’d tough it out as long as we could, then Dad would stop and build a little fire to get us warmed up again.
It was still dark when we started out from the corrals at Cabin Creek and my sisters and I would have get our morning doses of hard times from Mark, Dan or Joe Vader. Mark would always try and strike a deal to buy my old horse and I was simply not going to sell!
We could hear the coyotes as they barked and yipped in the trees on the nearby hills and timbers crack as cows were rustled up out of the beds in the trees. The horses would snort and rattle, anxious at the start of the cold morning ride.
You could hear the saddles creak and the packed saddle bags rub with each stride of the horses down the trail. Glendenning was beautiful, open bright green pasture, surrounded by groves of “quakies” or aspens. We would be passing through just as the sun would begin to peek over the mountain and down through the trees. The wonderful smell of heavy dew on the mountain grasses and damp bark from nearby timber was second to none.
You could hear the forest coming to life as the sun warmed the chilled landscape. The youngest crew and oldest crew always got the “Drag”. That was the tail end of a cattle drive, back with the slow, newer, baby calves and a few old cows and bulls. When we were little, it was the best place for us little “cowboys” as there was always someone close and usually the safest.
We would ride along and listen to the low mooing of the cows to their calves and the bawling of the separated calf from its mother. The old horse’s feet would rhythmically hit the ground with the sounds of the rocks clinking on the horses’ shoes.
Sometimes we would lie back over our saddles and let our heads bounce along the top of the horses’ rump. It was a great view to see the trees and scenery through an upside down view! We would move along until we got to the top of the mountain that dropped off into Hall’s Crossing.
This was a high point as the herd would hit a trot and so did we, down through the trees, whooping and hollering the whole way down. The thick dust would rise and sparkle in the air as the morning sun broke through its curtain. The old cows seemed to know a break was ahead and there would be time to pair up and rest.
One of the hills dropping down into Hall’s Crossing, usually had a black bear that my father felt compelled to chase down the hill! Yes, with me in tow! I wasn’t sure whether to fear loping down the timbered mountain side or the bear we were tailing! He was much more worried about us I’m sure.
If we didn’t see the bear, we could always smell what he’d been feeding on – usually a cow that had died from poison, mountain lupine. When in bloom, it was deadly to cattle. The only way to avoid the inevitable upcoming “gag” was to hold the old horse up until the “drag” was well beyond the carcass, then lope by holding your breath!
There it was, Hall’s Crossing. Hall’s Crossing was wonderful, beautiful mountain valley with a couple of old mining cabins at the mouth of the pasture. As kids, we had reached a magical destination, two old cabins to explore and play in, chipmunks to pester as they warmed themselves in the morning sun and a quick break for a snack and juice!
By the time we’d reached Halls Crossing, the horses were lathered white with sweat and the smell of the sweat soaked leather filled the mountain air. Cows would call to their calves and once paired would begin to graze, the calves would nurse and soon would be bedded down in the cool grass, for a short rest. You could tell when the herd was paired when the bawling of calves had ceased and all was content.
When it was time to move on, the herd would be gathered and crossed at the creek and headed up the steep rocky pull ahead. The crossing was usually a little tense until all the calves had either leaped or tiptoed with their tails in the air, through the water to the other side. The next hour or so was pretty hard work as there was a steep rock face on the right and the thickest willow patch ever and bog holes to the left. Perfect spot for a cow or bull looking for a great place to hide or escape and a terrible place to get into and out of with a horse. Usually it took a good cow dog to win the battle. I
t was here one point just past the willow patch we had a young coyote join ranks with the dogs. He trailed behind the horses with the dogs, panting with the rest of the pack. He followed for quite some time until he figured out he wasn’t in his “place”. We didn’t bother him and neither did the dogs, he moved on when he was ready and was no threat to any livestock at the time. I think he was just looking for a little company.
This part of the trail was full of large granite boulders, some as large as a vehicle, just peeking out of the ground. You could hear the slipping hooves of the cattle scraping and sliding as they worked up the trail. Everyone was alert to the sound of a shod hoof loosing grip on the hard granite surface, it was always a relief to see a horse regain footing. Going completely down with his rider could lead to tragedy pretty quick. Everyone was aware and many times would ride with their feet out of their stirrups to be able to free themselves in case of such an event. I remember watching for sparks from the horses shoes against the rock. Definitely not a place for goofing around and everyone and everything took their time.
Once you had reached the top of this long hard pull you were at the top and the rest was down hill. Some of the most incredible views were to be had at the vantage point on top this hill. You could look out across and see the entire northern Gunnison valley.
What a scene, the mountains on the other side of the valley, the lush green meadows below, mirrored with the irrigation water on top them and the crystal blue sky. There you were on top of it all, taking it all in. You were in the high country now. More pines and less aspens. The blue spruce announced the high country with their pungent smell of pine needles and bark.
If you listened carefully above the sounds of hooves against rocks you could hear the variety of birds and squirrels announcing your arrival as well. Their chirps and calls echoed through the pines and rocky terrain as you dropped down into One Mile canyon. The sounds of the cattle, the rider’s whoops and whistles resonated between the granite walls as you headed down the trail towards Taylor Canyon.
The rock walls grew narrower and the dust was so thick you could barely see the ears of the horse you rode. This is truly when the “wild rags” and bandannas came in handy but it was only short lived and a wonderful reminder you had reached your destination, Taylor Canyon.
What a day’s work and it would only be around 10:00 am. The horses were exhausted and whoever was mounted on something full of vim and vinegar at the start was riding a finished horse at the end.
We’d hop off, tie our horses and dig into our beat up lunches and well shook sodas! Joe Vader was always good for a candy bar and we were always thankful to be on the receiving end! It was the end of a long day and one that was going to happen all over again in a short while! We’d be sound to sleep in a matter of minutes, once we loaded up and headed towards Almont. We might make it passed Harmel’s Dude ranch before complete exhaustion took its toll. As hard as it was to wake that early and work that hard- we were still game for doing it all over the next day!