Big Sky Equine Marketing Services

Kris Kohl
406-579-5654

Rattlesnakes, Wagon trains, and Rocky Mountain Oysters

Submitted by Kristy Kohl on Tue, 08/25/2009 - 16:47.

The Abel Ranch to the North of us has been in the family for over 100 years. Every spring they brand several times throughout the spring. My favorite time to come and lend a hand is when we go all out, old style. We meet in the brightness of the noon sun, saddle our horses and load up two wagons, a chuck wagon and all of our gear in the next. We head out trailing behind the wagons in fresh anticipation, following wagon tracks having etched out thier story on the land over time. We are derailed only once as a rattling sagebrush hides a large rattlesnake which soon becomes silent as the head of a rope coil ends his fury. Several hours and pastures later we arrive in "Camp". An open pasture with an old homestead clinging to life in the background and paddocks for the horses at night. No modern day gear is thrown from the wagon, its all teepee tents and bedrolls for all. The firepit is dug and wood is collected while the camp tent is erected off of the cookwagon. The horses meander contently as they hop from patch to patch of grass in their array of leather and rawhide hobbles. Supper smells steep out from the two large dutch ovens heated over the coals. The bittersweet aroma of cowboy coffee lingers above the fire as we grab our chairs to relax and catch up with old friends. The warmth of the sun is fading and the fire and delicious steaming dinner warm the body and soul. Dishes are washed and the cook tent is deserted for the warmth of the crackling fire where the laughs and flask travel the circle equally fast. We retire to our tents, checking the bedroll for snakes looking for a warm nights sleep. The lingering scent of coffee again fill the air with the morning call of far off coyotes while we saddle and return to the fire to unthaw as the sun begins to climb the horizon. We saddle up, offer our horses a morning drink from the solar powered stock tank nearby, and long trot towards the climbing sun. Laughter and talk fill the air as we arrive to the pasture and split off to round up the cows and their unsuspecting calves. Rock cliffs and Buttes once etched out by the likes of General Custer and Lewis and Clark surround us. Petroglyphs and even settlers left their mark on the spongy walls of rock. One by one the others come into view with straggling groups of cattle as we head into the branding pen. The cows are sorted off as they beller for their calves while the branding pit is dug and stocked with wood and glowing branding irons. Jobs are assigned and we are all squirming inside for the chance to swing our ropes and praying our aims are fast and true. We brand, vaccinate, and castrate as our horses await hobbled patiently nearby. We are like children on Christmas morning trying to patiently await our turn in the pen. While we wait we cannot help watching in awe as the masters drag out calf after calf. It is like watching a beautiful play on a stage unfold, artistry in their swings and beauty in the grace as they quietly catch and drag. The true masters are so quiet and graceful you rarely see them swing a rope, it magically latches onto a calf and glides him to the branding pit. Finally one by one we each get our chance to try our hand in the pen, each of us showing unique swing and style (and some like me just happy to be on a horse and practice!) When the last calf was hurrying off to his mama, we welcomed cold sandwhiches, chips and soda. Then we tracked our way back to camp, took care of the horses and let them graze as we sat in the cool shade of the cook tent and watched the boys practice their fancy houlihans. After supper we settled around the fire and listened to the sweet sound of old tunes sung out and serenaded with the guitar, violin, and accordian. Life couldn't get any sweeter with the simplest things in life bringing us the greatest pleasure and longing for the weekend to last forever. Morning came and went again as we traveled out to the next pasture and the day began to play over again, just as exciting though as the last. This was our last day and a heavy sadness hung over us as we rode back to camp again. No luxury of relaxation though today- we had to break down camp and head home before sunset. We traveled home fulfilled, quenching the thirst for living the simple life and a certain sadness for the weekend was over. If only we all could enjoy these simple pleasures.