Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 5

            Our crews worked five and half days a week. During the week the men all lived in the bunk house and ate at the family table. The men always ate first and the family ate after the men had left. Saturday at noon, the local men would leave to go home for Sunday. Some of the hands would get together and go to Evanston or some other place to carouse [party]. Many of the single men would just stay around the ranch. This often presented a problem of boredom and so many hobbies were developed to take up the spare time.

            Sometimes they would start a baseball team and even play against some of the other ranches. Sometimes they would round up a bunch of low grazing steers and calves and have a rodeo. In my young days, these were the greatest. I would climb up the pole end to the top of the barn and have a straw-cushioned seat for a good show. Some of the work horses hadn’t been broken to ride would be ridden or tried, the bull dodged, or rode the steers and rope the calves. Dad didn’t mind at all because it was here the cowhands developed their skills for later serious use. But in these affairs, nothing was serious. The greatest sport was in getting one of the greenhorns to ride a steer or a less vicious horse. Then the other hands will laugh like fools when they were thrown. Sometimes it was funny.

I remember one greenhorn named Randy, a quite pleasant lad that stuttered badly, was persuaded to ride a rather wild steer. The other hands roped and held the steer as best as they could while Randy got the rope around the middle and himself mostly on top. The steer bucked straight down the north fence and Randy did a good job staying on top. But when the steer reached the East fence it stopped short, but Randy didn’t. Over the fence into a hay rake parked up against the fence. Poor Randy was stuck upside down with his feet straight up kicking clean air and everyone laughing so hard they couldn’t get him loose.

Another of the ranch hands favorite past times was chasing coyotes on horseback. The coyote is a crafty little animal but no match for a good horse in the open field. Three or four of the hands would go for a horseback ride together, to the reservoir to swim or whatever, but if they should see a coyote out in one of the hayfields, all other plans were off. They would divide and get on opposite sides of the field then start toward the middle. The little dog would first hide, then when he saw they were after him, he would break for the nearest brush or rocks, or any means of escape. Of course, the riders would try to anticipate his moves and have a rider in his path. As soon as they could get him in a straight run, it was all over for the poor pup. Some times they would get long willow poles as they prepared for the chase or if no clubs were available, their lariats were just as deadly. The horses loved the chase as much as the men and soon leaned to follow the darting varmint as they did a cow. In one chase, my brother Otis claimed Old Chick jumped a ditch and landed on a coyote’s tail and stood there until he clubbed it to death. Of course, he would never say how long from the horse’s hooves hit until his club hit. I do know the horse loved to chase coyotes so much, he would never chase a cow after that and became useless as a cow horse, much to Father’s anger.

One time I remember the folks had gone to town and left my sisters and me home one Sunday afternoon. During the afternoon the boys brought on of the many coyotes they roped home on the rope like a dog on a leash. No big deal until two of my sisters when down to the privy, then the boys took the coyote and tied to it to the front door of the little house so the girls couldn’t get out. This was good for a thousand laughs as the girls screamed and tried to get out, until Dad came home. There was a dead coyote, some well-instructed hands, and a very angry father, which was no way to have Dave Bryson.

Close after the end of haying season came round up. The company cattle had been put on summer range as soon as the snow left the ground and the cattle worked higher and higher as the snow melted. But the snow soon returned to the high country and so the cattle had to be brought down before the first snow. The cattle belonged to Deseret Live Stock and so they only affected us incidentally. Because of Dad’s knowledge of the ranch and his friendship for the ranch manager, Dad always went on the round-up. So there was always a two or three week time when Dad would be absent  and sometimes at the end of the round-up, Mother would bake cookies and make lemonade and take to the crew at the cutout corral as an excuse to see Dad. I sometimes would be taken along, although the corrals were on the property we leased, it was far enough away to be off limits to me, especially when the cattle were in the field.

The cattle would come down from the hill all mixed together. The men then had to separate them into the right herds and they would be then put to pasture on the meadows from which the hay had been cut earlier. The marketable steers would be separated into one group to be fattened for market. The bulls would be cut out and taken to a special bull pasture where they would be held until the next breeding season. The cows and calves were divided into manageable sized herds and assigned to the various ranches. Our spread nearly always received a large herd of cattle and Dad and/or my older brothers would be hired to haul the hay back from the stack and spread out on the snow for the cattle to eat in the winter. But before the cows and calves left the corrals they must be branded and cut. This was tough, dirty job that required maximum effort to get the cows back out on pasture. The central section of the cutout corral was the round corral where the action took place. Outside the corral, a fire was started and several brands were starting to heat.

Two riders, the best ropers on the place would enter the corral and a group of cows would be driven into the round corral. There, one of the ropers or the other would catch each calf and drag him to the edge of the corral near the fire. Two other hands would throw the calf down on his side and a third hand, the brander, would apply the hot iron. Another hand would make the motion to convert all the young bulls into young steers and the calf would be released. As soon as one calf was released, the other roper would drag another calf into position and on and on. Dad would always be one of the ropers and generally the ranch manager’s son, Ralph, would be the other. These two men must have been nearly the best ropers in the whole world—certainly no rodeo calf roper was ever better. By actual count on day, the two together roped five hundred and two head of calves and each roper missed only one throw. And that had to be some kind of record. The exercise went on for days because the ranch had about 5,000 cows plus bulls and the young stuff. When a bunch of calves had been all branded, they would be turned into the adjoining meadow and when a manageable herd had been assembled, they would be driven to the appropriate ranch for winter feeding.

Although the work was done quickly and without fanfare, it was a highly exciting operation. First a two or three hundred pound bull-calf can be a handful, itself. A kick could knock a man down or break a leg, but the real excitement was provided by the mothers. As soon as the rope tightened on a calf’s neck, it would start bawling for it’s mother and she would generally come running. A twelve hundred pound cow with daggers on her head can be a formidable foe for anyone. Many a hand was saved a bad goring by a quick brander and many a cow wore a brand on her nose. The experienced riders could tell which cows were dangerous from the past history or by their actions and these all received special attention. All the mean ones were named and identified year after year as the men warned each other about this cow or that one. The men had an interesting sense of humor and would name the various cows after the local or contemporary famous characters they knew. Once a cow was accredited a name, she was remembered for her past actions and would be recognized wherever she was as a bad actor.

Besides the cows having personalities, so did the horses—only more so. Many times a horse would develop a habit of bucking each morning. Working around the stock with a large number of hands, at least one hand would get dumped most every day. Some would buck so hard that no one would ride the horse. Occasionally a horse would develop other mean streaks, such as bucking, biting, or striking at a thrown rider. Every once in awhile, a rider would get hurt real badly as a result. Then there was always a possibility of an accident with the equipment. A broken rope or cinch would always be a minor catastrophe. One time, Father wrapped his little finger in the rope when the took his dally and took off the end of his finger off. He couldn’t get the smashed end of the finger out of his glove so he could continue working.

After the round-up was over or maybe even before, the threshing had to start. The grain would be cut with a binder when it was the right degree of ripeness. The grain sheaths would be stacked (or placed in small groups with each sheath on it’s butt end so the grain would dry). After it was thoroughly dry, the sheaths would be placed on hay racks on wagons with the grain end in so the grain would not be knocked off and hauled by teams to a central point where it would be stacked in rectangular stacks. The stacks would be pointed on top to shed water which often came at this time of year. Hopefully, before the snow came, the threshers would be towed in by the old iron wheel tractor and threshing would begin. Since grain was a minor product on the ranch, this was only a two or three day job. And it left a huge stack of straw for small boys to play in, till Dad stopped me. The grain on our ranch would be wormed out of the thresher into an open wagon and hauled to the grainary. On our ranch there was no grainary so the older boys would move back into the kitchen and the grain would be put into the old bunk house. Barley and oats were the only grains that would grow in that high country.

Before winter set in, several trips had to be made to Almy for coal and to Evanston for the winter supplies. These were two day trips—one day for going and one day for loading and returning home.

The teams knew the way home and generally it left the driver with nothing much to do. Sometimes they would carry a rifle in hopes of getting a shot at a passing coyote or maybe a deer, but more often a few sage hens. A rifle would make a mess of a chicken if it was shot in the body. So it became a matter of pride and shooting prowess for shooting sage hens only in the head. And sage hens were a delightful change from beef and mutton.

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