June, 1977 and it is time for the annual cattle drive into the Big Horn Mountains. Trailing the herd of Hereford cattle into the high country for the summer meant the grass on the range down below would grow, cure and be forage for the winter months ahead. The sheep wagon hauled provisions and provided sleeping quarters, along with a small camper trailer which served as the cook shack.
The old sheep wagon also afforded a place to nap, rest or just heckle your little brother. Their first cattle drive, Royce and Eric are like most little boys who are experiencing something for the first time–they can’t get enough and don’t know what to do next! Two of the cowgirls, Lisa and Sue would like to be rid of them.
The stock trail is open to all ranches and timing of herds moving up the trail requires a little choreography. Cattle and sheep are easy to sort, as this herder is doing. Cows mixed in with cows can be difficult and time consuming, relying upon brands and ear tags to sort it out. Our destination is about 65 miles from home range to the summer cow camp. Some of the distance is covered hauling livestock in trucks to the base of the mountain and then trailing on from there with riders on horseback. That is when the fun begins.
A memorial shrine to the unfortunate traveler who failed to close the gate and allowed livestock to wander away from their designated pasture. A fitting reminder that gates are serious business! Nobody wants to spend the summer and early autumn trying to locate lost cows and sheep once they are turned out to pasture.
After a few days on the trail, destination is reached. One of the finest springs on the south end of the Big Horns is adjacent to this old cabin, which became headquarters for summer camp. The cows are tired and thirsty, the crew is dusty and hungry and it is time for a little relaxation and a cold beer.
I drove the pickup which hauled the camp trailer up the mountain. Mom rode alongside of me and helped guide me and calm my nerves, which were clearly frayed due to the steep inclines and rough, rocky road that would jar the fillings from your teeth! Once we were parked for the day, she baked the best biscuits and fed us wonderful meals from a tiny kitchen that you could barely turn around in. Most of us laughed at my two boys, ages 6 and 8 who were forever into mischief. I say MOST of us. Dad left a six-pack of beer submerged in a pool of water rushing out of the spring, and the boys decided to haul it up and have a look. Unfortunately the cardboard carton disintegrated and the glass bottles of beer crashed on the rocks and broke. It’s a long hard drive down mountain for more beer! In deference to his grandsons, Dad showed considerable restraint–if it had been me or my siblings who dumped his beer he would have roared like a bear and gone for his belt.
Royce gets his first ride on a horse, thanks to a forgiving grandpa. It was a highlight of the trip for the boys to be able to say they had actually ridden a horse. City boys are pretty easy to please, and these are city boys.
Mama is not a city girl. She grew up riding any horse that could be caught with a bucket of oats and a halter. She still has not outgrown her love of horses.
The trail dust was too much for me to cope with and I made the boys get in the mountain stream for a bath along the way. The water was melting right out of snow banks so little wonder they were turning blue from the cold. Mom thought I was being ridiculous, making little boys wash on the trail, but they survived it and still like to brag about how cold it was!
Eric has his turn at a bath and complained that the slippery rocks were too hard to stand on. Much easier to stay dirty!
The following school year, Royce decided to enter a competition and write a story about his experience on the cattle drive. To improve his chances of winning, he convinced me to type it for him. The following is his tale.