The Cowboy’s Perspective
Reading that lofty mutual fund fees are under attack has not been enough to occupy my mind during the last two weeks of my stint as couch potato recovering from my 4-wheeler accident. Wall Street buzz does not tend to be the high priority for ranchers as we contemplate the bank paperwork necessary for operating loan renewals. Before I flung my crutches, I had read every page of the Agri-Newspaper, an assortment of back editions of magazines and the two books I got for last Christmas.
Then my mind started to wander. Back to a ride that Rick and I took with Cort last fall. I’ve wanted to put that experience on paper and this convalescence has given me the time to revel in those rememberings. For those of you who have not met Cort, he is a fine man and a character as well. Cort Strobel, now semi-retired, rides as Rick’s cowboy during summers on the Gallatin Forest grazing permit. Named for his grandfather, Harvey Cort, who built the Cort Hotel in Big Timber and who had the distinction of being the individual owning the largest number of sheep in Montana in his day. Thirty thousand. Harvey had a unique way of keeping his money in circulation. He kept a tab at the bar for his sheepherders. When they got paid in the fall, they tended to come to town on a bender…spend their hard earned money in the bar, stay in the hotel and then when they sobered up…return to the ranch.
Cort spent many an hour working for his granddad as a youngster. He is well acquainted with work. And he knows a lot of things about a lot of things. As we were riding along he noted the squall that was moving in and said this bad weather should be moving the cattle down…if they are still alive. The main bunch of cows had been trucked home from this high mountain pasture the month before when we found we were missing two cows and two calves. We had managed to corral one of the missing calves after several hours of chase. We were looking for tracks…any sign… of the others.
We came upon what could have been mistaken for big cow tracks but Cort pointed out the marks of the dew claws. Moose tracks are readily recognizable in snow. On our ride, we saw more evidence of moose than elk. This is consistent with the data released from the Park Service…elk counts today are just half what they were in 1991. Even the advocates of the 1996 wolf reintroduction see the connection.
Earlier in the week it had warmed enough to turn the first snow into mud. Here and there we would see the wolf tracks in the patches of bare ground--sometimes of a single wolf and then a pack of several wolves. Cort said at the beginning of the summer a big wolf came into the area and then hooked up with a female.
And then we stopped to examine a bear track. Griz. Big ‘un. You can tell by the size and you can see the definition of the claws. I wanted to measure the size of the track but I was afraid to get off my horse. Rick, did you bring your gun? (I noticed Cort never left the cabin without “heat” at his side.) Again Cort laughed, You don’t need a gun…griz prefer elk hunters…not smelly sheepherders! That telling remark speaks more about my heritage than I thought was evident at first glance.
And then the conversation went in different directions. Production agriculture. Ranchers are getting to be a dieing breed. Poaching. Damn criminals are devious but the sum-bitches are not very smart when it comes to poaching. Horses. This mare is mighty fine. She has covered a lot of miles this summer. Jake. I heard that Jake is missing a white mare and a mule from up in this country. They ask us to be on the look out. You going to wait until you are 65 to get Social Security? Hell, no. I’ll sign up next year…no guarantee that I’ll live until I’m 65!
Allison transmission. Never thought I’d like an automatic transmission but the Allison is great. Remember that old 305 six cylinder International with the howling rear end? Had a bent buck rake tooth to hold the door shut. Took a third of a turn on the steering wheel before you make contact. Ya, and I remember the ’62 four-by-four that your dad and Brother Bill were driving one day when the axle broke on the trailer and the wheel fell off. They chained a pole on to hold the axle out of the dirt and drove it home.
Unfortunately we never found any trace of the missing cattle. Cort says he is confident that the poor buggers are wolf or grizzly poop by now. I was darn glad that we found my scotch cap where it had flown off my head during yesterday’s chase. And I was wondering why the heck I had left my long johns in the cabin as it got colder the farther we climbed to higher elevation and hit deeper snow pack. But listening to Rick and Cort talk took my mind off of being cold. We were riding through some White Bark Pine when Cort chuckled…the squirrels do all the work gathering the pine nuts and then the griz come along and to do the harvesting.
And so it continues to unfold… The cowboy’s perspective.