A few years ago, some buddies and I decided to go retrace Lewis and Clark’s original trail through the Bitterroot mountains. We were able to get on it at a few different public places, and one in particular near Salmon Idaho was on several thousand acres of BLM land. It was the 200th anniversary of the trail, and we had all read about it and researched it enough to feel confident in navigating. So we loaded the horses and packs, and we took off toward Idaho. We took an extra horse and went through Denver pick up another friend, and I have to say it’s very interesting when you are traveling on the interstate with horses. When you pull in to a rest stop and unload your horses in the doggie exercise area, you get some really strange looks.
We pulled into a trail head near Salmon and made camp early in the afternoon, so we decided to ride out a little ways that evening to exercise the horses and get a feel for the area. As we were riding back toward camp, we came across some bear cubs eating chokecherries along a stream not far from our truck. We always carry guns in our saddle bags in case we get cornered, but these guys were so busy they didn’t even see us. As we got to camp and tied the horses and started supper, we wondered where the momma bear might be; and the conversation kinda went all over the range of possibilities. We were still talking when another group of people came riding out, (day riders who were obviously green horns because the guy leading them had on Tom Mix spurs…). You can a lot about a guy by the kind of spurs he wears.
Parked at trailhead
Ole double rowel Tom (the one with the spurs) came over to our camp and started offering advice on where to ride and what to look for, which we quickly discounted on account of his spurs, and he finally moved on. Then came a couple guys riding nice horses, and they were sure nuff cowboys. They saw the beef plate on the front of our truck and came on over to visit. Come to find out, they were running cows on that land and had been out spotting them to move them off the next day. The pair were father and son, and they were local ranchers. After we talked a while, the father asked if we would be interested in helping him drive the herd. We agreed, and he said he would come for us at 7:00 the next morning to haul us and our horses to another spot closer to the cows. We got the horses fed and camp cleaned up and decided to turn in, cause it was gonna be a busy day tomorrow.
You can’t see it very well in this picture, but my friend Larry has a 12 foot lead tied by his trailer door, and he is about to attach a horse to it. Now I have to tie my horses short 4 feet or so or they will get tangled up in the rope and bang on the trailer until I get up and get them untangled, but not Larry’s horses. We got them all tied between the trailers and crawled up into the nose to sleep. Randy and I were in one trailer, and Larry and Wayne were in the other. Around 3 AM, Socks (Larry’s horse on the long lead) tried to reach some feed in the back of the truck, and he got his mouth on a plastic bucket. He could pick it up with his mouth, but the lead wasn’t quite long enough to let him get it out from under the trailer nose. So he would just pick it up and bang it on the trailer, then drop it and bang it on the truck bed, shaking the whole rig. Well, Wayne woke up in all this commotion and thought the momma bear had wandered into our camp. He was startled and not completly awake, but he managed to grab his pistol and was just fixin’ to throw the door open and start firing in the dark (toward our trailer). Thankfully, Larry woke up and was able to calm him down a little. They found a light and shined it all around, and there was Socks with the feed bucket. Randy and I slept through the whole thing, and we never knew how close we came to dodging bullets.
Jay, the local rancher, showed up on time and we were saddled and ready to go. He brought his cow dog, which was a huge help for getting the cattle out of the brush, and we had a great 12 hour day pushing cows.
That’s Wayne in the foreground, and I’m the one turning them way out to the left.
That’s me on Sport, and there’s Jay’s dog pushing them up the trail.
We had a great big valley as you can see ahead of me there, and all we had to do was keep the cows bunched up and moving in the valley. We saw some of the prettiest country that day, it was awesome.
We went through that gate and another couple miles to a road, and then we went on to Jay’ homeplace.
There are Larry and Socks, keeping them tight on the other side.
That is probably as close as I will ever get to the way a cattle drive was done back in the 1800’s, and it was something I had always wanted to do.
That’s Randy on the good looking paint horse.
He was a young horse, so when they had a long climb Randy would get off and lead him.
At the end of the day, we would tie or hobble the Alpha horse and all the rest would stay put, just like a pack of wild horses will stay with their leader.
We all agree when we go on these rides that God made all this beautiful country to be experienced from the back of a horse, and the experience just can’t be beat!