Gritty But Satisfying
- July 10, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
Back in the era of riding bog lines daily it got pretty monotonous. Each day, no matter what else I had going on, that bog line needed ridden. Many times I pulled the same lamb out of the same bog hole for days on end. They weren’t quick studies.
I was about 18 when another summer of riding on pasture cattle and doing all my folks’ riding was going on. It had been a hot, bad bog summer and the days were long. I was riding on the yearlings in a big summer range my folks had, and riding the bog line while I did so. Besides the long and winding creek, there were six dams that had to be checked for bogs too. My rope was ever ready to snare a sheep and pull them to safety. Fortunately, the yearling cattle seldom got bogged.
The night before the event in this story, there had been a terrific thunderstorm with torrential rain, lots of small hail, and plenty of lightning. With the creeks running water, the bog line situation was solved for a little while but I still had to check cattle, and on this day, check for lightning kills. I’d started very early, and as normal, had no water with me. No one carried water with them back then. From the time I was little, I’d drank out of stock tanks, creeks and dams as needed, though by the time summer was well along, they got pretty bad and I quit. The heat and lingering humidity from the storm had my horse and I sweated up, so I stopped at a big, pit dam to water him. I stood beside him after loosening my cinch, watching him drink, and that fresh, muddy runoff water looked pretty good. The dam was brim full and still running over, as it was situated at the low end of a huge hardpan flat. It had been flushed out well and a little muddy water never hurt a ranch girl, so I got down on my hands and knees and drank up. Yep, gritty but satisfying.
When my horse and I were both topped off, I got back on and rode up onto the big mound on the west side of the dam. I’d approached from the southeast side, so needed to check for anything amiss to the northwest. As I rode the length of the mound, I reached the end and viewed the inlet from the hardpan flat. Water was still running slowly into the dam as it oozed out of those flats. There, in the channel, with water running through it, was a sheep carcass. It hadn’t been there before the rain but apparently the torrent of water had washed it along.
I remembered seeing it way up on the hardpan where the old girl had finally found her place to die. She’d been awfully ripe to ride close to in recent days and the flies had found her. Now her carcass was straining water through it as I looked at it. Maggots were feasting on the flesh, and some were falling into the water between the ribs and flowing on through. She was positively nasty.
What was nastier though, was the taste in my mouth as I viewed the water running through her remains and into the dam. The dam I had just drank out of not 40 feet away. My stomach lurched a bit, but the water stayed put.
I needed to move the carcass, so I got off and got my rope around the hind legs and we dragged her away to some higher ground west of the dam. The trail of yuck she left behind didn’t make my mouth taste any better.
What was done was done, so I went on about my riding. I never got so much as a case of heartburn from that dam water. I probably had the toughest gut bacteria in the country too. However, ever after, if I decided to drink out of a newly filled dam, I always rode clear around it to assess what may have run into it besides water, sheep pellets and cow manure.
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....