Getting the Jump on Disaster
We started for home on a cow trail, and about halfway in I saw a black bear only yards from the heifers. That was too close. Those new calves would be no match for a bear.
It was too brushy to dismount and shoot. The horses were not aware of the bear, as he was uphill in some brush, and we were not upwind from him.
I pulled out my 30-30 and shot the bear. But instead of falling on the spot, he kept coming at full-speed downhill and passed right behind the two horses I was leading! They panicked and bolted, one to each side of me. With the reins in my left hand and my rifle in my right, there was no time to unwrap the criss-crossed halter ropes. By now they were tightened on the saddle-horn and around my waist. I knew I was in trouble.
My only chance to avoid a pile-up was to outrace those two horses, which were now along both sides of my horse. I lifted the reins and dug my spurless heals into Joe’s ribs. Being an excellent cow pony that he was, he leaped forward into a full gallop, and took the lead.
Range Riding: The Upside of Cowboying
We were riding the grassy hillsides between stands of timber when I saw an animal lying out on the grassy hillside. A dead animal? A bear kill? We approached a Hereford yearling steer lying flat out.
By now the steer was moving his legs in an effort to rise. Good, I thought. He would make it yet. But he was going to need help.
As soon as his trembling legs would hold him, he tried to get away from me, but he needed bracing up. I buried my fingers in his shaggy winter coat and together we traversed that hillside as an inverted V-shape as I leaned into his 500-pound frame to keep him upright while he got his legs under control.
We continued on downrange for another mile to where the main herd was grazing on a bush grass hillside. Along the way, I mused about how lucky that steer was that eagles, coyotes or wolves hadn’t found him in this helpless condition. What a story I had to tell grandpa and the little boys when I got home.
Trailing Dolly’s Horses to Minto
Soon KB reminded Issy to start getting ready because it was almost time for trailing the big horse herd through the South Chilcotin mountains to Issy’s mother, Dolly, which was what Issy had been doing when I met her the summer before.
But first Issy, being a responsible “cow boss”, decided to pack a good supply of salt down-range because we would be gone a week, and without the salt the cows would scatter.
So we loaded three horses with two blocks apiece and rode as far as our range cabin. Early the next morning we packed one horse with two blocks to go further down range to the cattle, leaving the other two horses staked and the four spare blocks stored in the cabin covered with a tarp. We barricaded the door so nothing could get in and we set off, eating the beef sandwiches I had brought from home as we rode.
We left the ranch trailing our herd of two dozen horses. Issy took the lead, as she knew the route. She led the two horses that were packing camping gear, and I hazed the remaining twenty head along.
We camped most nights on the way down, except for one or two when we stayed with friends. We went by way of Big Creek, through Graveyard Valley, and the snow-choked pass out of Graveyard Valley as difficult. We got off to lead our saddle horses, but they were lunging and plunging in the big snowdrift, trying to climb onto us. The snow held me and Issy on foot, but not them. We ran fast out in front to avoid their feet while leading them, with the leaders breaking trail.
On the protected side of the ridge, a huge drift had been built over the winter by fierce winds hurling the snow from the bare south mountainside over the ridge. Eventually we broke over the ridge and saw bare ground and bright yellow sunflowers. The scenery was spectacular. We camped at night at Spruce Lake. Our campfire was cozy, and we kept in burning all night since we were in bear country.