Spring brings snowmelt and rain which flows (and floods) down the old creek bed known as Dry Creek in central Johnson County. It is a misnomer to call it a “dry creek” as springs, seeps and standing water fill the channel, sometimes running underground into North Fork. Trying to negotiate this annual tide can be challenging.
Once ice melts, we have to wear very tall boots or find another way around. Our daily walks are part of the routine, whether in rain, snow or shine. We also find it difficult to drive or operate equipment with a moat running through our property. Ducks, wild geese and birds love it, but the larger critters run into problems. Feedlot, our 1,000+ pound steer sinks into the mud and if he gets stuck, we have our hands full, literally.
A pile of refuse (really?– on this place?) revealed a sturdy cast-off telephone pole, saved for some nebulous future use and when the creek dried up in September we drug it into place next to the fence. The water has come close, but has not run over this makeshift bridge, which I am determined to traverse each day without hanging onto the fence. Maud does it, I can do it, but Michael’s size 13 shoes just don’t want to hang on and he grabs the fence for balance.
In a wider, shallower section of the creek, we dumped rock in to make a bridge on the road leading to the lower pasture. The water matriculates through the stones and travels on its way down the creek. This crossing is pretty easy to negotiate until it freezes up and coats the rocks with ice.
We installed a culvert just above the pond and filled in with dirt and rock to create a road across the creek. It is a rough ride, but we can drive across it most of the year. Right now it is pretty soggy and our steer leaves deep tracks in the mud. Water is backed up on both sides of the road and the culvert is completely submerged, but so far it has not run over the road.
These 16-ft. planed pine logs were part of the Nine Mile homestead cabin which was moved to the ranch headquarters in the late 1950’s. When we took the cabin down, we saved all the logs that were in good shape and used the rest in a variety of ways. These two are sturdy, even though they were milled over 100 years ago at the Mayoworth sawmill, and they make an excellent walking surface.
Frustrated that part of the walking path was submerged in water, I drug up some old corral poles and a long timber and anchored them on a downed tree trunk that protruded into the water. It was shaky, unreliable and dumped more than one traveler. Maud and I negotiated fairly well (you had to tip your toes down and lean a little to keep the long timber from teetering out from under you) but again, Michael’s size 13 shoes failed to make the journey. A few others with smaller shoes failed as well. Something had to be done!
Previous mention of “refuse” needs an explanation. Dad and other area ranchers utilized oil field surplus of all kinds — pipe, sucker rod, pumps, scrap of all kinds, as well as wooden walking beams leftover from the days of wooden derricks in the Salt Creek field. Made of oak, they were meant to last a very long time. Two of the walking beams had migrated under the fence and out of sight until Michael asked for my help in hauling them down to the creek bottom.
We drug them from the barn yard down into the bottom and lined them out, taking measure to see if they were long enough to span the water in the creek. Amazing that they were sound after laying in the sun and wind for 40-odd years! Now the question looming large was “how do we get them across the creek?” Driving was out of the question – if we got the four-wheeler buried in mud, we would have to get the tractor to pull it out. Then we could get the tractor buried as well.
Michael had an idea we could move the beams with straps, which we have used successfully on many occasions, but this looked dubious. Somebody has to lead and somebody has to follow. Who is going to wade into the creek strapped to oak beams that weigh a ton?
At this stage of the operation, the camera crew (me) has to engage in the action at hand, which was quite complicated. We should have had a videographer! We began by sliding one of the beams in the water alongside my old, shaky bridge. Then I crossed to the other side and was able to reach the tip of the beam, dragging it out of the creek and up on the bank. With a strap, I was able to move my end up to the bridge site. Michael carried his end up to the site on the opposite side of the creek. He then shoved the second beam into the water, and I crossed to the other side to drag it up on the bank. Once we had them in place, we moved the long timber from my old bridge, laid it alongside the walking beams, wired the bundle together in a couple places and voila! A bridge that even Feed Lot can cross on (we have not witnessed him trying, but he has been as inconvenienced as we are with all our routes covered in water.)
In all, we have five crossings that are rude, crude and ugly but work to transport us across the water in “Dry Creek.”
My earliest memories are of trees and I have been fortunate to surround myself with them wherever I lived. I selected apartments and houses to reside in that were as near to trees as I could manage, unwilling to live in barren places where I could not shelter under the leaves and limbs and shade of trees. The cottonwood tree pictured above is outside the windows of my childhood home here on Dry Creek. After a lifetime of living across the United States, coming home in 2003 was for me a return to my beloved trees.
Ancient lilacs planted so long ago have endured and our memories are filled with them. When the family ranch headquarters was moved to Dry Creek in 1948, the lilacs were here.
This giant elm, believed to be 100 years old, was likely planted when the first homestead was established here on Dry Creek circa 1920. Commonly referred to as “Chinese” elms, they are not native to Wyoming and were planted by early settlers. We grew up here with this old giant, and to finally have to bring it down was like killing a friend. It was becoming dangerous after shedding some huge limbs and causing quite a bit of damage and excitement. It was situated too close to our home and other structures and extensive trimming in recent years did not alleviate our fears. Interestingly, the firms we engaged to trim it stated they had never seen such a giant elm.
The view from below the pond captures some of the autumn color which stretches up and down the old creek bottom. Cottonwoods have grown along Dry Creek forever, sending their tap roots down to water in what we believe is an underground river that flows south to North Fork of the Powder River. Seeps and springs are present in many locations and the water runs in the early months of February through May, enhanced with snow melt and rain.
Spring floods are common in February and March and the willows welcome the water. Unfortunately for the willows, the deer and cows love to eat the young saplings and many of the old growth have died out over a long period of time, unable to regenerate. We welcome the deer and occasional antelope that reside in the area. Very few domestic livestock have grazed the 15-acre tract we call home for the past 20-odd years and it is disheartening to see the loss of trees.
This giant cottonwood towers over any tree for miles. I don’t believe I could bear to ever see it come down, so I have decided I have to go first. It sheltered me with a playhouse in its gnarled roots down along its base, and a childhood swing on a branch that finally fell gave me endless hours of joy pumping the wind to fly high.
I began to take stock last spring as I readied an order for new trees to plant and came up with some astonishing numbers. I divided the cottonwoods into three categories: 1) small -12 inches in diameter; 2) medium- 50 inches in diameter; and 3) BIG. My final tally down in the creek bed was 45 of the BIG cottonwoods; 82 medium sized cottonwoods; 138 small cottonwoods; indeterminate number of willows and 2 silver-leaf poplars. The cottonwoods are both narrow-leaf and plains, which are my favorite. Many more trees are planted around the house, in the orchard, at the barn, and along the entrance from the highway; Ponderosa pine, spruce, aspen, silver leaf poplar, elm, choke cherry, Canadian cherry, boxelder, cedar, lilac, caragana, willow, and a variety of bushes and shrubs.
Of all the things that trees provide, perhaps my favorite is shelter for the birds. Living in a home with lots of windows and trees, I am blessed with a view of birds that change with the seasons. I try to document all the variety of birds that move through the area in migration and those who choose to stay for part of the year (see blog “Birds of Dry Creek.”)
To live among trees, you must be willing to not only care for them but clean up after them (not unlike having a house full of children). Our daily walks include picking up branches and limbs the wind blows down with great regularity. In spring it is usually more intense and requires major cleanup, followed by a bonfire. We cut firewood from the larger trees that fall, split the logs and burn it in our fireplace in colder months.
Baby black birds are a recurring springtime event and I am thankful to the tree that shelters them each year. We have many bird houses, but it seems they are largely vacant. The birds love the trees and seek out their homes in hollows or build their nests in the branches, braving the elements to live high in the tree tops.
Could not count the trips down this lane coming home from whatever far flung place I have traveled or resided in. For me, the sight of the old trees was like a warm embrace, welcoming me back. As I strive to save them and replace them with new trees, I feel I am saving a place that is sacred to me. Hopefully those who follow me will love the trees and all the creatures living within them.
Our Longhorn/Angus steer who we fondly refer to as “Feedlot” will be turning 10 years of age soon, and it has been an interesting decade to say the least. We acquired him as a weanling at the same time we took delivery on a foal we had invested in and the two became bunkmates in a round pen. We figured they could keep each other company while they sorted out the loss of their mothers and maternal love.
Officiallly named Abraham, many other monikers took over, including Rib Eye, Meat Loaf and of course, Feedlot. I am probably missing a few as well as many epithets hurled his way as he found myriad ways to get into mischief.
Feedlot’s curiosity about anything unusual or different in his range of vision requires him to investigate, test and terminate. Young trees, new fences, containers of all types, nothing misses his attention. Growing trees in Wyoming is one of the most difficult endeavors one can imagine,and trying to give them a real chance of survival means overcoming Feedlot’s determination to break branches, chomp leaves and strip the bark with his horns.
Caught in the act of invading a small chicken pen next to the garden, he contents himself with eating the remains of a bale of straw he dug out of the shed, broke open and scattered about. NIce going, Feedlot!
Tru Tahlequah Miss arrived at Penrose, CO on Mother’s Day. We bred one of my niece Sue’s mares, a sorrel with enough splash to qualify as a registered paint to a handsome registered black and white paint, Sugs Tru Luck and our lives took on a whole new dimension.
My dog Rosie is curious about these new additions to the family. She is cautious around them but very interested in staying close. Feedlot stopped crying and wailing for his mama when Tilly arrived. After Tilly overcame her trauma of traveling from Colorado in a trailer, she seemed to be getting along reasonably well. With Tilly, I have learned you never know her real attitude until she unwinds in an explosion of bucking, kicking and stomping. She will be 10 on Mother’s Day, 2022 and it has been a decade of fun and fury.
Draining the bird bath was a minor nuisance from this pair. What one did not think of,the other did. And when they were apart, they were always on the lookout for each other. When Tilly had to go to the vet, Feedlot became agitated and would follow the horse trailer to the cattle guard. He was always on hand for her return to check in with her.
Feedlot does not have a “full rack” of horns that his Longhorn mother has. One horn grows up, the other down near his cheek. It became apparent something had to be done so a trip to the vet ended in a chunk being sawed off. It was a pretty gruesome experience and he is being bandaged to stop the bleeding. He was so happy to be home again and I am certain Tilly was sympathetic to his plight.
When it came time to put Tilly under saddle, Feedlot was bad news. A maiden voyage with me on her back and my trainer leading her around the pasture created tension between Tilly and her possessive friend Feedlot. When we managed to elude him and traveled through a gate that contained him, he threw a fit, running along the fence snorting and raking his horns along the fence. When we drew out of sight, Tilly was agitated. At first she seemed to calm down, but shortly did what I have learned is her modus operandi. She bucked me off. Ord, my trainer took her back to the barn, while I trailed along with severe lower back pain. He took her out and made her follow the trail we had outlined for our ride. She gave him no trouble, but that was small comfort to me.
Tilly expresses irritation and frustration with loading in the horse trailer. It took quite a while and many rodeos to convince her.
A tree collapsed in a storm and we piled up branches for days to be burned. This pair could not contain their curiosity, checking to see if there were any remaining leaves to chew on. Typical of their behavior. We decided to build a fence to separate them and see if we could produce a foal to keep Tilly company. Plans to breed Tilly began in earnest and consumed two summers and a small fortune in vet fees and stud fees. To no avail. The vet reasoned that since she was an “old maid” she might be difficult. I question that assessment and am debating whether to try again. Perhaps if we found a real nice guy instead of doing artificial insemination, she would cooperate?
Feedlot was thrilled this past autumn when we invited his mother for an extended visit to help graze the pastures along with a couple other cows. They nuzzled and loved on each other while Tilly had to just watch from afar. Hmmm. She needs a friend without horns!
Feedlot was Panda the Longhorn cow’s last calf and she lives next door where she can keep an eye on him. Their bond is truly heartwarming – a mother never forgets. It is almost as great a friendship as Tilly and Feedlot share.
I have described Wyoming as a terrible beauty. It is a state of dramatic mountains, sagebrush steppes, sweeping prairies, and desert. I have attempted in many conversations to separate the “Terrible” from the “Beauty.” I was reminded of this distinction in May,2021 as we explored a part of Wyoming we had not seen.
As a Wyoming native, most of my life has been spent in the nearby Big Horn Mountains where we hunted, camped and ran livestock in the summer months. A state known for its iconic national parks–Teton and Yellowstone–which we have visited many times, it is also a state with a great desert which we had not visited. Our search for new terrain led us to the Red Desert, a wild, largely roadless area that is one of the last unfenced landscapes in the United States.
The Red Desert in Southwest Wyoming is a special place that rarely appears in state tourism information. Known for mining, mineral and oil and gas development, it is easy to overlook the natural beauty of a place that is intersected by Interstate 80, with endless streams of semi-trucks headed coast-to-coast. Fierce windstorms toss the trucks around like straws and close the highway frequently in winter. The Union Pacific, the nation’s first transcontinental railroad passed through the desert, as well as riders for the Pony Express.
The desert is also intersected by the Continental Divide, the summit between eastern and western United States, where the waters flow east and west from these heights, except for the Great Divide Basin. There is no flow of water from inside the basin (2.5 million acres) to the outside either on the surface or through groundwater interflow, leaving only by evaporation in this windswept region.
As we began our trek into the desert, our eyes were drawn to the snow-capped peaks of the Wind River range to the west. We rarely lost sight of these mountains that rim the western edge of the desert and helped us maintain our bearing. The landscape gradually descends into sagebrush steppes seen in the foreground of this photograph. This pristine stretch of rolling sagebrush sea is known for exceptional wildlife habitat, supporting the world’s longest mule deer migration corridor, huge herds of elk that summer in the Wind Rivers, plus pronghorn, golden eagles, red fox, Greater sage grouse and hundreds of other sagebrush-dependent species. Wyoming big sagebrush is most common but other sage varieties exist in the Red Desert: basin big sagebrush; mountain big sagebrush; silver sagebrush; black sagebrush; and alkali sagebrush. At least 50 species of perennial grasses occur in sagebrush-dominated habitats of the Red Desert.
The Red Desert is informally divided between the north desert and the south. In total, it encompasses a 10-million-acre expanse that includes Native American petroglyphs and fascinating geological formations of a volcanic field estimated between 1-3 million years old. The California/Oregon and Mormon Trails carved deep ruts into the landscape as thousands of wagon trains carrying European and American immigrants headed west and the deep impressions are still visible across the prairie. The Red Desert covers a vast swath of southwestern Wyoming and beyond, past the Utah and Colorado borders.
Our research into a visit to the desert cautions visitors to have spare tires, extra gasoline, and forget cell phone coverage. Great distances between road signs (with and without bullet holes) leave travelers wondering if they have made a wrong turn (which we did) and wondering if we were lost (we were). Willy, our Jeep can cover a lot of miles on a tank of gasoline, but we nearly ran out, which was a scary experience. Driving over washboard gravel roads left Willy with rattles we have yet to eliminate and at times it felt like I could walk faster than we were traveling. The dust we raised discouraged me of that notion.
Over the last century, unbranded and unclaimed horses were left to graze on public tracts of land in the Red Desert and are protected by the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manage the horses and when an over-population occurs, excess animals are gathered, removed and offered to the general public for adoption.
Horses in North America became extinct about 10,000 years ago, which remains an unsolved mystery, but were re-introduced by Spaniard Hernando Cortez in the 1500’s. The horse became re-established in Wyoming sometime in the 1600-1700’s and became vital to the transportation of Plains Indians, fur trappers and mountain men, immigrants, Pony Express riders and cattle and sheep ranchers.
According to the BLM, most of the wild horses in southwest Wyoming are descended from domestic stock, including Thoroughbred; Morgan, Arabian, Bashkir Curly, Pinto, Appaloosa; Quarter Horse and Paint.
Large volumes of sand accumulated on the banks of the Big Sandy and Little Sandy Rivers northeast of Rock Springs and during the glacial melting from the Wind River Mountains, westerly winds over the past 20,000 years have moved the sand eastward across the Continental Divide and into the Great Divide Basin. The Killpecker Sand Dunes stretch 100 miles, 75 miles or 50 miles, depending on the sources on the subject and cover approximately 109,000 acres. It can safely be stated they range from one to three miles in width. These living dunes are one of North America’s largest fields and perform a vital function of storing snowmelt and rain which support vegetation and wildlife.
Tire tracks at the lower right corner were made by three black SUV’s loaded with photographic equipment. When I approached on foot, a man was lying on his back on the dune, apparently napping. The vehicles were pulled off to the side of the road, doors flung open and a group of people were milling around. The napping fellow stood when he saw me and explained, in a crisp British accent, they were traveling to the dunes’ wilderness study area when they got mired in the sand and had to dig out. He advised against trying it, emphatic that if we got stuck, “who you gonna call?” Not to mention no cell phone coverage. I explained I was only trying to get a close-up of the dunes and walked, leaving our jeep and trailer behind because we felt driving to it was risky. The shifting sands can make travel an uncertain enterprise!
Dune beetles and other insects as well as small mammals such as shrews, white-footed mice and kangaroo rats inhabit the dunes and provide food for owls, eagles, bobcats and other predators. Short-lived summer ponds at the base of the dunes support migratory shore birds and waders, as well as habitat for salamanders and freshwater shrimp.
We were surprised to learn that an area of the dunes is open to dune buggies for recreation. A sign is posted along the road stating off-road vehicles should not be operated “in a manner to cause damage or disturbance to soil, wildlife and habitat or vegetative resources.” This seems like a contradiction, as joy riding across the dunes clearly does not meet this standard.
Remnant of an ancient volcanic eruption, The Boar’s Tusk rises approximatey 400 feet above the valley floor. The Red Desert’s northern, southern and eastern bounding ranges are made up of concentrated zones of thrust of chrystalline rocks into sharp-margined uplifts through the earth’s crust. “Every age of earth is represented and practically every kind of rock known on earth is found there, from commoners like granite and sandstone, to oddball sodic evaporites of the Green River Basin, primoridial taconites of the Wind Rivers, and the weird and wonderful Wyomingites of the Leucite Hills.” Charles Ferguson, Geologist
“The Red Desert is exceptional in that it is the only place in the western and northern hemispheres where Archean (ancient) crust figures so prominently in mountain building. Ancient granites of the Wind River Mountains form the northern boundary of the desert and are the only rocks in this part of the world so old to be thrust so high. In fact, until very recently Gannett Peak at 4,207 meters would have easily qualified as the planet’s highest Archean rock. You have to go deep into the heart of darkest Africa to find a more extreme situation.” Charles Ferguson, Geologist
The Red Desert is the ancestral land of a number of Native American tribes, including Shoshone, Yamparika Comanches, Utes, Crow and Bannocks. It is believed that humans first lived in the area sometime before 12,000 BP, or during the transitional period at the end of the last ice age. The Rocky Mountain west and nearby portions of the Great Plains and Great Basin hold abundant rock art features that represent a diversity of ethnic influences, including petroglyphs cut or ground into rock surfaces and pictographs painted onto rock.
White Mountain has images of bison, elk and horse-mounted warriors. Patinated surface includes totem figures, bear paws and turtles.
Unfortunately, White Mountain has suffered from vandalism in recent years, which is a cost of “wreckreation.” People visiting the sites don’t seem to understand the value of these images to the historic record.
The intense blue of the sky and wide-open vistas are magnified by the flatness of the land. Much of Wyoming is hilly or mountainous with something to see on the horizon. On the desert, the earth seems to stretch into endless curvature. The light is bright, making photography difficult as the colors fade and contours flatten out. We hope to revisit the desert and make allowances to be there at dawn and sunset to capture the beauty which is magnified at that time of day.
Many travelers would find little of interest in the desert–hot in summer, cold in winter, and dry, windy, and dusty all the time. Erosion comes not from water, for the most part, but from the wind. We watched this dust devil do its dance across the alkali flat.
The Red Desert is a 15,000 square mile basin filled with sediments from the Paleocene and later eras. The Green River is the western boundary and drains an area of desert but imagine an ancient lake teeming with millions of fish, alligators and large turtles in a lush, tropical forest. The ancient Lake Gosiute flooded the Red Desert entirely and extended into Utah and Colorado. Called the Methuselah of lakes, it existed for 4 million years, filling, spilling, rising and falling. As it retreated and fell below its outlet, constant evaporation caused salinity to increase.
After periods of driving through flat desert topography, the sight of sage-covered hills was refreshing. Finally, something else on the horizon! The Red Desert has such a varied topography, from fields of rock hoodoos to mountain forests, towering buttes and badlands but is predominantly covered by a variety of sagebrush.
Cannot help but wonder where these lovely periwinkle-colored flowers found enough water to subsist. Surprising to learn that when the Union Pacific came across the Red Desert, 173 species were documented in a botanical survey. Since then over 900 additional species and varieties were recorded. Although surpassed by Yellowstone, the Absaroka and Big Horn ranges, the Red Desert has a larger flora than most of Wyoming’s other mountain ranges, grasslands and desert basins due to the varied topography, geology and geographic location.
This ruin is located on the map and described as “rock cabin.” We drove past it on County Road 21 and no interpretation signs explain it. It does not appear to be a remnant of the Native American presence on the desert, so it must have been home to a wandering wayfarer, homesteader, rancher or desert rat.
The thunder clouds seemed to gather quickly and we kept a wary eye on the development. While the roadway was graveled, there is no way to ascertain what the surface becomes when wet. Tracks in the dried mud along the bank of the road were an indication of a battle between a vehicle and the elements that still looked recent. We decided to cut our evening short, much to my chagrin, because I was hoping for sunset for some interesting photographs. The clouds were going to prevent that, so we made a hasty departure for civilization in Rock Springs.
Traveling south in the desert into the White Mountains, we arrive at Pilot Butte. At 7,932 feet in elevation, it is the highest point in the White Mountains and is visible for 30 miles in all directions. It is an imposing sight used as a marker by people traveling through the area since prehistoric times. In the 1920’s mail planes used the Butte to mark their course. The route we followed began with the wild horse scenic tour along a high rim with great views eastward.
The view to the west of Pilot Butte was sagebrush steppe interspersed with Indian Paint Brush as far as we could see. I have never seen such a large area of this Wyoming state flower, which grows wherever sagebrush proliferate.
We traveled on to Green River and found the topography between Rock Springs and Green River to be fascinating. All the trips passing through this area on I-80 don’t do justice to the terrain in the back country and we have many more sites to see in the Red Desert. Next time.
This black and white Brahma with feathered feet and legs was one of my favorites and I named her Henrietta. She was a giant of a hen, with a gentle disposition and the funniest running gait of the flock. According to my chicken reference book, the Brahma hails from the Brahmaputra region of India, although that has been disputed. Some argue that the Brahma was developed in the U.S. by crossing Cochin and the Malay breeds. Matters not to me.
When I went last evening to feed and gather eggs, I found her in a nesting box, dead. No trace of wounds or injury, although sharp teeth can penetrate leaving little observable damage behind in all the feathers. We looked for tracks in the snow and Michael believes he saw a trail most likely of a fox from the direction of the creek. It had to have approached in the late afternoon and the snow and cold kept most of the chickens inside the coop. Poor Henrietta, she just happened to have wandered out for a bit of fresh air and after being attacked, made it back inside and hopped up into a nesting box where she died.
All eight of these young chickens were chicks purchased in the spring of 2021. After spending their first few months in the brooder house together they continue to hang out apart from the older hens, which I find quite amusing. Henrietta in the foreground, will be missed by the gang. Mother Goose Ethel wants to supervise the group and adds her two cents worth. After encountering a contest between her and Rocky, the sneaky rooster in the background (an unplanned for male interloper) I am beginning to think he had something to do with Henrietta’s demise. Ethel won the challenge with him, for now, but if he persists in being cruel to the hens or to me, heaven forbid, he will face severe consequences.
In the spring, I will expand my order to three or four of the Brahmas to add to the flock.
Homestead at Nine Mile – home in foreground was Ernest and Clara Ullery’s built in 1921
This two-room cabin, circa 1921, was built of pine logs from the Mayoworth sawmill west of Kaycee, Wyoming. The old-growth logs were planed so that cedar shingles could be nailed on the outside walls rather than leaving them rounded, which was an unusual design that I have always attributed to my great grandfather Samuel. He retired from a career as a builder in the Midwest and followed his son Ernest’s footsteps to a homestead in Wyoming. The logs were notched, nailed together with large spikes and chinked like most of the historic log structures of that era, but then the cedar shingles covered the exterior.
A screened porch extended the length of the cabin on the east side. The group in the photo is unidentified, however I believe the two gentlemen on the left are Samuel and Ernest.
Built in two 15 foot sections joined by a partition in the middle, the east end has been removed in this photo. First the shingles are removed, then using crow bars and saws the laws are pried off and laid aside.
These photos, taken a few years ago, illustrate the fate that had befallen the old cabin. A microburst windstorm tore the roof and porch off, blowing boards across the road and up the hillside. My hopes of someday restoring the cabin were dashed. When it was relocated from the homestead to ranch headquarters in the 1950’s, it was left standing on wooden blocks for a foundation, which ultimately failed, causing the floor to collapse.
One at a time, the logs are removed and stacked in the trailer for re-use.
Scraping off the old shingles was not a pleasant task, but had to be done to proceed with pulling the logs down.
Easy does it, as the west wall starts to come down. The final solution was to tear it down, salvage the logs that were still in good enough condition to be re-purposed and clean up the site. Our friend Rick, a preservation architect, volunteered to assist Michael and I with a hazardous, difficult job. Stacking and storing the logs required hours of pulling nails and required an assembly line on sawhorses. The logs were stored in a shed and covered with tarpaulins to keep them clean and dry. Next step? Stay tuned.
I don’t recall when I became attracted to all the artifacts and memorabilia that my father’s family had accumulated over the years here on the ranch. Some of it came on the train from Mishawaka, Indiana in 1919 when my grandparents and great grandparents decided to sell out, pack up and head west. The rest was acquired over a few lifetimes of homesteading and ranching here on Dry Creek.
Over the years I found myself attracted to books, photographs and detritus left in musty trunks or outbuildings. When I discovered this old lawyer’s bookcase that had been stacked in a pile in the bunkhouse, which had formerly served as lodging for a number of hired hands and in later years as a great place to pitch all the excess baggage from the main house, I was thrilled. I was surprised to find it there, covered in dust. I could remember seeing it in the main house many years earlier. I assumed one of my siblings would covet the antique, which bore a stamp on the face of the top shelf that read “Gunn Sectional Bookcase, Dec. 5, 1899 – Jan. 1, 1901 – The Gunn Furniture Co., Cedar Rapids, MI, USA.” But I knew I had to have it.
That was almost twenty years ago. I decided to bargain with my father to acquire the book case, offering to paint the house which was badly in need of it. I hated coming home to see things getting shabby and by that time my parents were not able to undertake such a project. I took a week of my vacation, bought the paint at Sears, and worked from dawn to dusk to transform the old house from a peeling, scruffy apple green (which I hated) to a pale gold called “Cactus” with dark green trim. When I finished up on a Sunday afternoon, I asked if I could load up the book case, which stored nicely in the trunk of my car. Dad came out to thank me for all the hard work on the house, then said, “you know, you didn’t have to do this. I would have given you the book case if you had asked for it.”
As time passed, I filled the shelves of the old case with my collection of family junk which nobody seemed interested in but me. And what a bunch of dandies! The task of identifying all of it for the purposes of my blog seemed daunting, so I decided to take apart each of the four shelves, make a few notes about the contents, and take my time.
Case Study I
A complimentary packet of needles from Belger Furniture Company of Mishawaka, Indiana inscribed with a promotional gem–“We will let you do the sticking. We’ll not stick you;” a Jews harp ( I have no idea how it was named such); my father’s infant silver spoon engraved with his initials, “WJU;” a couple old keys; an eye glass that my grandmother wore when working as a young woman in the watch factory in South Bend, Indiana; a pocket magnifying glass; and a sterling silver salt and pepper set featuring a Japanese man carrying two buckets (one for salt, one for pepper). This was a gift to my grandmother from my Great Aunt Ellen, who traveled the globe and sent her sister gifts from around the world.
A selection of old postcards accumulated by my grandfather Ernest Ullery during his time in the U. S. Army. The card on top is from the Culver Military Academy he attended in Indiana. The card in the middle is the soft ball team from Mishawaka sent from a friend to my grandfather. The bottom card is dated 9/28/1908 and is a photograph of the Presidio, San Francisco where grandfather was stationed for maneuvers before being sent to the Philippine Islands.
A commemorative book on Japan and the Philippine Islands was one of my grandfather’s mementos he brought home after serving in the U. S. Army. there are a couple large volumes badly in need of restoration that I hope to get rebound. I am not clear where his travels took him besides the far east. Below it is a program of the Christmas 1906 holiday celebration at the Presidio.
The pipe collection is a curiosity. I believe the plain round bowl wooden pipe was Dad’s, as he smoked a pipe when I was a child. The other two are collectibles that arrived from who knows where?
The two small journals above recorded daily weather and events by my great grandfather, Samuel Ullery. The five-year diaries are his also, and are dated 1936 (red one) and 1932, Renohill, Wyoming. The Ullery family homestead was just west of Renohill, where Samuel served as postmaster for a period of time.
Two pocket watches, a thimble, a tie bar with agate boot, a lapel pen promoting Stubbs Mercantile Company, Kaycee, Wyoming, headquarters for Peters Diamond Brand Shoes. My Great Aunt Alice was married to Bill Stubbs, a sheep rancher who decided to acquire the Kaycee Mercantile about 1920. They employed my grandfather as manager until a severe drouth upended the agricultural economy and the store was sold. Samuel and Ernest decided to take up homesteads nine miles northeast of Kaycee. The Masonic pendant would have belonged to my great grandfather, who was a Mason. During his career as a building contractor in South Bend, Indiana he constructed the Masonic Lodge.
This well-worn old Bible is inscribed “given to E. S. Ullery, May 1st, 1915 by Samuel Ullery.” Below is written “this Bible was the property of Louisa Ullery for many years. E. U. ” Louisa Benner Ullery was the wife of Jesse, parents of Samuel.
An assortment of cameras were handed down from one generation to the next. In the background is a Eastman Kodak Co. printing frame.
My grandmother Clara’s handwriting is on the background of the leaf she collected and saved. She always loved her Indiana home but fate led her to migrate to the West as a young bride. I am sure she treasured this reminder of her former home.
A Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog from 1875 looked dramatically different from the catalogs of my youth, which weighed five pounds and served as door stops, paper weights and reading material for the outhouse. An ivory cribbage game was likely a gift from Great Aunt Ellen, the globetrotter and the little plastic elephant came from a collection belonging to Michael’s mother.
Case Study Two
A pair of blue boots I added to accompany the catalog of the Western Boot Company. Dad ordered custom boots from this catalog in the 1940’s or thereabouts – date uncertain. I still have the boots, Style No. 425, “Classy and stylish tulip and leaf inlaid design with three or more rows stitching. Price $34.50.” Also in this group, a wool sack needle; leather key holder; silver snuff box (a gift to Dad from someone); a mouth harp and box of sharpening sticks.
A wooden barrel bung, silver napkin ring, and memento from the Pan American games, 1901, most likely my grandfather’s. An ancient pair of child’s scissors and a lapel pin missing the stick pin; pocket knife from Sloan Realty Company and a lock stitch sewing awl from the C. A. Myers Co., Chicago, Illinois.
My grandmother’s button jar, which I explored in an earlier blog is a treasure trove of interesting little items she collected over the years. The Brand book has receipts for sale of cattle bearing the Ullery brand, which identifies the brand and location on the animal. The Grange Initiative, dated 1943, certifies E. S. Ullery (my grandfather) as a member of Powder River Grange, No. 68. The Grange was a farm organization and at that time was the “oldest and strongest” farmers’ fraternity in the world.
Case Study Three
Books, more books . . . .
Bartlett’s History of Wyoming (volumes I – IV) and the Encyclopedia of Wyoming (volumes I and II) have some family history enclosed. The hand tooled wallet was Dad’s and doesn’t look like it got much wear. The various bones, skulls, etc. are things I have a fascination for, don’t ask me why?
‘dem bones . . . .
My great grandfather, Samuel Ullery was a building contractor and these books were his. “Encyclopedia of Architecture, Carpentry and Building” Vols. I – X have instructions and illustrations for building everything from a complicated church steeple to a large or small building. More from my bone collection, and a wooden rhinoceros of unknown origin. But what about the leg?
The mysterious leg . . . .
The tiny red book is “Reeds Lilliput Dictionary,” Maori-English, English-Maori. Publisher is A. H. & A. W. Reed, 182 Wakefield Street, Wellington and includes Proverbial Sayings. Must be another gift from Great Aunt Ellen? The small block of wood with reversed Indian Pipe brand was a letter stamp used by my father and grandfather. The pink leg was pinned in between the shelf and back wall of the book case. I had to pry it out and do not recall ever seeing it before. It is a promotional letter opener from a manufacturing company, S & S. Mfg. and says “Shape Up Your Sales With.” Hmmm.
Volume II of the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry likely belonged to my great grandfather, Samuel. I have searched high and low for Volume I, to no avail.
The large book on bottom is the Ullery family Bible with entries from the late 1800’s. I had the bindings redone and it is holding up fairly well. The book directly above it was also re-bound and was Samuel’s, as well as the leather-bound “Spaldings Treatise.”
Most of these I presume belonged to my great grandfather’s extensive library. I must confess, I have not read any of them and don’t know that I possess the intellectual capability (or patience) to try to absorb them. There is more.
Case Study Four
Postcard from the edge . . . .
This tattered album contains a wonderful collection of post cards collected by the Ullery family in early times. Some are delightful.
Ernest send this upon arriving in Manila, Philippine Islands December 3, 1909. He still had a sense of humor after traveling by ship for 27 days.
This, and all the other postcards in this old album are truly family treasurers. A previous blog on my grandfather’s time in the Philippines details his experience in more detail.
Cards for holidays, and just whimsy are included. Ernest wrote to my grandmother Clara using a mirror to write backwards and I guess he wanted his messages to her to be a secret. They are simply delightful.
Heavy reading for bedtime. These, along with a group of hymnals, rounds out the fourth shelf, reserved for the most “weighty” of subjects. Also of interest are two bookkeeping journals dating from around 1921. In them are names and sums of purchases, which must have been customers in the Kaycee Mercantile. Ernie managed the general merchandise store for the owner, Bill Stubbs. I know I have overlooked some of the treasurers in the old book case, but I don’t believe there are any more surprises quite as interesting as the pink letter opener!
There are many beautiful places in the Big Horn Mountains, but my favorite is the south end. This view looks northwest, and the peaks in the background are beautiful, but the broad shoulders and high mountain plateaus with open prairie stretch before us in a grandeur that is only found in the south mountain range.
Grazing paradise . . . .
A few Angus cattle graze below and what a pasture they enjoy! In the early 1900’s more sheep than cattle could be found here and now it is a mixture of both. This is private land, not national forest. The ranchers that have grazed their livestock over the past 100 years have, for the most part, been good stewards. Earlier homesteads in the late 1800’s gradually evolved into larger parcels to provide a livelihood.
Evening . . . .
As dusk approaches the light changes from golden to a muted color. Rugged country, it seems empty to some who feel the need to be surrounded by settlement or ranch houses.
Life on the range . . . .
An old camp tender’s cabin is flanked by a more modern version, a camper trailer. Star filled skies here are quiet except for an occasional coyote.
Where sheep may safely graze . . . .
Once the predominant herds on the mountains, sheep are now far fewer in number, replaced by cattle.
Clouds . . . .
That old refrain, “where the skies are not cloudy all day” could not have been about Wyoming. The clear blue skies are usually a combination of impressionistic cloud formations that can lure the observer into daydreaming.
Fixer-upper . . . .
A more primitive living quarters for the camp tender. This old sheep wagon has seen better days but serves as a reminder of what life was like before the more modern mobile home or camper trailer arrived on the scene.
Prairie chicken . . . .
Many parts of the Big Horns are heavily covered with sage, which is where these sage grouse call home. Wyoming has the greatest population of these birds of any state, and we go to great lengths to preserve them.
Transportation . . . .
Steep slopes and rugged terrain dictate the terms of transportation. The horse is still seen as a vital partner in the gathering of sheep and cattle on the mountain.
The Red Wall . . . .
The drive down the face of the Big Horns on the Slip Road affords a view of the red wall country and a stop for a cold beer, seated on a flat rock we favor. The view differs from season to season and due to changes in the weather but is always magnificent. The grandeur of the open west never ceases to fill me with wonder. I hope it stays that way.
We are suffering from what the “experts” describe as “severe drought.” The last rains came the end of June, with one inch over a week and nothing since. We watch each day as clouds build, threaten, and move on. Scattered thunder storms have brought some relief around us, along with hazardous lightning which starts grass fires that have burned in all directions. Most recently a fire started just a half mile away and fortunately the highway served as a barrier to keep it from moving toward us.
Stunted bunch grass . . . .
Tilly’s paddock will usually support 1-2 horses throughout the summer with grasses so tall and coarse that I try to mow some sections so she will graze the shorter, finer grass. This summer she is subsisting on hay and while we have creek bottoms with grass up to my chin, she won’t partake when I turn her out. But that is another story.
Fuel for fire . . . .
After a very wet early spring (March/April) grass in some areas took off. Now it stands waiting to burn and is fueling the fires all around. The volunteer crews working the blazes are nearing exhaustion as they try to put up hay and keep up with the routine operations of managing their ranches. The more serious fires have required planes to drop fire retardant but persistent winds have made it difficult to put out the flames. One has to wonder what lies ahead for fall and winter weather.
A little shade . . . .
We planted cottonwood trees on the west border of Tilly’s paddock. These, along with others we have planted, are surviving on drip systems which use very little water and keep the trees alive through the drought. A fast-growing tree, these will bring shade and shelter in the coming years.
Someday a shady lane . . . .
These cottonwood trees (right) were planted several years ago and suffered many disasters: the local deer population eating the leaves and smaller branches; Feed Lot, the longhorn steer tearing up fences and breaking branches just for fun; and grasshoppers stripping them bare, robbing them of nutrients for the winter. The drip system we installed needs annual maintenance and new emitters because any extended loss of water to these trees in a drought means losing them and starting all over again. But I won’t give up. My family began this shelter belt 60 years ago and many trees were lost in dry years. Russian Olive trees (not pictured) made it through, barely, but they are now quite old and I want to be rid of them. They are invasive and no longer desirable.
Babies . . . .
Twenty new chokecherry trees are slowly putting on growth and will need new fencing to protect them from the deer in spring. The older chokecherry trees in the background were part of the shelter belt we planted back in the 1960’s but many have died off due to little rain and too many deer foraging for the new growth each year. They have been included in the drip system and hopefully will continue to flourish. Growing trees in Wyoming isn’t for the faint of heart.
Dry Creek is dry! . . . .
After flooding and then running continuously from February to June 1, Dry Creek has all but dried up. Lots of flood debris waits to be cleaned up when we can safely get vehicles into the area without sinking in the mud.
Pond scum . . . .
The last remaining section of the creek that holds water is now ripe with algae and not a very pleasant sight. It too will likely be dry by the end of August. Good-bye to the mosquitoes that have plagued us all summer. That is the only positive development that will come with the current drought.
Walking from the barn this morning, I rambled down into the lower pasture and directly in front of me was this low-hanging limb with shimmering, golden leaves. It jolted me as a reminder of the date, August 11, and the reality of the end of summer approaching. The weather has been intensely hot and dry for several weeks. Not the kind of weather I look forward to each year as I anticipate autumn, which is my favorite season.
Cottonwood eye candy . . .
After autumn, spring is my favorite, followed by summer. Then I try to forget that August actually exists, as it brings heat, grasshoppers, and the Big Dry when very little rain falls. I am usually desperate for September to arrive with crisp lovely days, cool nights and fall colors. For now, we are actually in what I call “deep summer” as the equinox is yet to arrive. But these golden leaves are telling us what Mother Nature has decided and our determination of the autumnal equinox is a construct based on daylight and dark being equally divided on September 22nd when the sun crosses the celestial equator.
Soon to be many . . . .
More small patches of golden leaves will begin to show in the coming days. It grows dark earlier now and as sunshine diminishes, so does the deep green chlorophyll pigment in leaves diminish. Autumn will bring with it a little sadness as the season closes and another year winds down. People the world over have found ways to celebrate the passing of seasons and I shall celebrate too as my favorite season arrives.