Highway Crossing Fiasco

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Fall was in the air, calves had been shipped, and this particular bunch of cows needed to go down on the river bottoms for the winter. I was working full time for the outfit and knew this bunch of cows pretty well. They were high horned Herefords and spent every season on the forest permits seeing no one. They were pretty snorty.

This particular fall was the first time they were to be wintered on the river. They had always wintered in a different pasture in the past, but for whatever reason, the owner decided that they were going to the river this time. He was conspicuously absent for this job, which should have rang a soft warning, but he had lined up another couple guys to help me. The problem was that not a one of these snorty ol’ girls had ever crossed the highway. They were already high headed and flighty, so the highway could be quite a challenge. I was sure wishing for more help.

One of my fellow riders was a nice guy who liked to ride, but sure didn’t have his shingle out as a cowboy. He listened to instructions and did the best he could. The other guy thought he was Super Cowboy. He looked like a cowboy, costume wise. If you asked him, he’d say he’s the best that ever lived. But, I’d worked with him before, and boy howdy, he made any job harder. Having him help was like having a pack of yapping town dogs along.

We had gotten the cows gathered up and were trailing them across a pasture that cornered up down along the highway. As soon as we got down within sight of any admirers along the road fence, the dink, who we will call Larry, got his rope down and built a loop so everyone driving by could know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they had seen a real, live cowboy. The other guy, who we will call Sam, just kept doing the job I’d asked him to do.

I rode around wide to get to the gate. I got the one across the highway opened and was sitting in the other one with it open, waiting to start the cows out across the wide road ditch and across. This was a major state highway with a lot of trucks on it, so it wasn’t a great situation if I’d have had five really good hands along. When I could see a mile both ways and no trucks were coming, I let the leaders start through the gate.

One tends to hold their breath during these things, and it paid off. Once they were all out on the highway I had Sam shut the gate then ride to the far end to hold them up. We put a tiny bit of pressure on some of the cows who were looking the right way and they carefully started across. The highway with it’s lines was pretty scary, but, they went. There were only a few left to cross and I was nearly ready to take a breath when one nervous old cow stopped and wouldn’t step across the line. I was certain if given a moment and time to watch the others moving away from her, that she’d brave up and cross. Give her time…

All of a sudden, screeching like a banshee, Larry rushed up behind her and slapped her with his rope. Predictably, he scared the liver out of her and she spun around and headed back where she’d come from. With the gate shut she couldn’t do that, so she pushed past me and jumped the fence back into a huge pasture. She was headed to Montana.

To say I wanted to massacre Larry would be an understatement. Instead of roping him off his horse as I longed to, I opened the other gate, hooked it open and rode hard to catch the cow before she plumb left the country. I jerked my rope down as my horse and I flew, and finally headed her and she turned many times to get past us. She wasn’t turnable, as I had suspected, so I stuck one on her, miraculously catching her around her horns. I can rope like Will Rogers when I’m mad, by the way.

After a little education about being caught, the cow started looking for her friends. As I brought her along as easy as I could, I saw Larry headed in to screw things up at the exact wrong moment, and besides pointing out some general character flaws I’d observed in him, I instructed him to get the heck out of the way! Sam was waiting down the road a ways, just trying to stay out of the way.

When I got close to the road and was going to need to cross it, I looked up to see how many trucks were going to run over us, and bless their hearts, two truckers, one on either end, had stopped crossways on the highway so no one could get by and get in a wreck with my cow, horse and me. This time when the cow got up to the road, she was given a chance to cross it. She paused and then saw the bunch way down across the pasture we were going to. I warned Larry to stay back or I would do what I had been threatening.

Once the cow was across the road and out into the pasture far enough, I gave Sam a chance to heel her, and after a couple tries he did. I rode up to the cow who was about played out, and got my loop off of her horns. When she got up, she trotted out of Sam’s heel loop and headed for the bunch in the distance. I was still smoking mad, as I hated having to handle that cow that way due to Larry’s stupidity.

Larry started spouting off in his whiney voice and I promised him that if I heard one more word out of him, I was going to jerk him off his horse and give him an overhauling. I was darned sure big and mad enough to do it back then too. He remembered that he had to go visit his sick mother or something and headed back to headquarters, pouting over being dressed down in front of Sam and a dozen or so drivers along the highway. They might not have heard the words, but they could see the smoke.

Sam and I drifted the cows on down to the river and let them settle. He was really quiet. As we got back to the highway and the gates, he stepped off and shut the first one. Before he got back on, he looked up at me and asked me if I would have really pounded on ol’ Larry. I just looked at him, didn’t say a word. We crossed the highway and after I opened and shut that gate, we headed for the ranch. Sam looked over at me and grinned. He said “I’d have paid $100 to have seen that.”

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

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....

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