Serious cowboy work starts with a giant breakfast . . . and Celine Dion?
By Jessica Warren
Elwood Clark points out to his cattle-drive companions a place in the trees in Cub River Canyon, near Preston, Idaho, where he spotted part of the herd the previous day. See story below. / Photo by Jessica Warren
PRESTON, Idaho -- "I remember one year we was drivin' 'em down off the ridge, and those dirty buggars wouldn't go."
Tom Petersburgh laughs and adjusts his denim jacket.
The first day of October started out cold, but by now, 1:30 p.m., the sun was hot above, and layers were being shed.
The "dirty buggars" he refers to are, of course, cattle -- beef cattle being driven on and off the Forest Service land as the seasons change.
This time, we headed directly for the hills to gather the herd and drive them back to headquarters for the different owners to take them home for the winter.
That day began at 5 a.m. With the summer over, it was pitch black outside, and cold, too.
Although a morning person, I hadn't been up before sunrise in a long time.
Collecting my gear, (backpack, camera, two sweatshirts and boots) I headed out the door at 6 a.m. to meet my grandpa and 13-year-old brother, Stuart, at the Denim Diner for breakfast.
Now, my grandpa grew up on a farm, and occasions such as this one required a big breakfast: eggs, pancakes, sausage and a large milk.
Arriving in Preston at 6:30, it was still dark, and I walked into the diner to see old cowboys in sheep wool-lined denim coats and worn jeans.
Some of the men had greasy baseball hats to the side of their cups of coffee.
Two men sat at the bar, talking to the waitress behind the counter, refilling their brown speckled mugs. The radio played Celine Dion, and I couldn't help but laugh at the song so completely out of place.
On the other side of the restaurant sat Grandpa and Stuart at a table set for six with a blue checkered plastic table cloth. I sat down and picked up a menu that said "Breakfast served anytime" in large, old-fashioned letters at the top.
We ordered and they proceeded to tell me of the previous day. See, the cattle drive is a three-day event.
Thursday and Friday are for gathering the cattle off the land to the corrals, and Saturday, they are separated (called cutting) according to owner, and then taken home.
They picked up quite a few, but it was a pain trying to head 'em; these particular cattle don't like to herd for some reason, they explained to me. Both told the story at the same time, each giving his two-cents about what happened.
When we finished our breakfast, we picked up the horses at a friend's, and headed up the canyon.
By this time, of course, the sun had come up and it was bright on the autumn leaves, bold and red and orange. We reached the base camp in about 10 to15 minutes, and found a place to park in Albert Moser campground, just beyond the Cub River.
We saddled the horses and bundled up because even with the sun, there was still the morning bite in the air, and the clouds were starting to cover overhead.
Along with three other riders, we headed up through the trees onto the grazing land, me on Jemeco, Stuart on Image and Grandpa on Mack.
As we came to a clearing, we saw some riders who had gotten an earlier start. They were coming down with four head, the three of them spread out behind them, guiding them to the right spot -- a gate in the barbed wire fence to the corral.
As we got more into the trees, we spotted a wayward one. All conversation stopped except for the hollering like "He's coming your way," "Head him off," and "Follow me." That last one from Grandpa directed to me, an order to stay close as this was my first "cow gathering" experience.
Running through the trees, cutting corners and listening for the awkward steps of the animal was quite exciting. The seriousness is real, however.
Although its a day of fun, and enjoying the landscape of mountainous fall, this is business.
If the ranchers don't have their cattle off the property in time, they can lose their permit. And these days, with all the issues regarding grazing, permits can be hard to come by.
On this day, things started off on a good note, but that was most of it. The day turned out to be more of a parade of horse and rider, rather than the usual tree dodging, cow-heading, game of hid-n-seek.
Despite this, we were all in high spirits, enjoying the outdoors. The sky was overcast, but that only emphasized the brilliant colors of the leaves and earth.
I spent most of the day with my camera in hand. I wanted to remember the other riders, the beautiful country we were in and, of course, the cattle.
We found eight and brought them down, meeting up with some other riders with six more.
On the way down, it was steep, and my saddle started sliding forward until the back tipped up off Jemeco's back. Bailing off, luckily avoiding the stream about two feet away, the saddle ended up on her neck and withers, or shoulders.
It took a few adjustments and tightening of straps, but we were then on our way again.
The day was quieter than usual as I was told by the regulars. Most
of the cattle had been brought down the day before. But for me, it was
a fascinating day of new experiences and beautiful scenery, as well
as great company.
Archived Months:September 1998