By Colin Beal
Colin spent time in Wyoming this year working on ranches. He helped the Hellyer family for a short time before heading off to new adventures. This is his account of his experience gathering cattle.
At 6 a.m., the National Anthem played over the radio at the breakfast table. Like the beginning of a sporting event, “home of the brave” signified the challenge ahead. The words proved to be accurate, as my host and friends would brave the cold for three days to drive cattle roughly 35 miles.
The drive started at the Burnt Ranch on South Pass, located at the intersection of what was the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. The wide open plateau extends beyond the horizon on a good day, and well beyond visibility in blowing snow.
The herd was well-positioned to be gathered and fed at the west end of the Ranch around the cabin for the night. The cattle are accustomed to spending their summers on a mixture of federal and private land. This management strategy with public and private land is critical to the operation.
The Burnt Ranch is the base of summer operations for the Ranch. As summer turns to fall, the cattle are moved to irrigated pastures along the Sweetwater River. When winter approaches, the cattle are fed hay and gathered to begin the drive down to Lander and a friendly climate.
Several inches of snow fell that night and the strong winds made for rough road conditions. As a result, the ranchers’ reinforcements (all neighbors) had to improvise. The five-man crew coming up the mountain from Lander on the second day was forced to park their trucks and horse trailers in Atlantic City and ride the remaining distance up the mountain to meet the herd. This delayed their arrival, and, the four-man crew from the cabin set out alone to begin the drive. Despite the lead tractor getting stuck in a drift and a faulty tire chain that immobilized a truck and trailer, the four-man crew from the cabin was able to get the cattle lined-out and moving across the snow-blown mountain.
With eight riders, progress was steady for the rest of day two. The cattle reached the overnight holding pen, 15 miles from the cabin, and were fed just before dark. After a long day, the crew was ready for a meal and a warm fire to escape the single digit temperatures and strong winds.
On the last day, the cattle were driven off the mountain along highway 28. The riders’ job was to keep the herd moving steadily, keep cattle out of the road, and be careful of oncoming trucks and traffic. Contrary to the dismal weather forecast, winds were mild on the third day and the crew was able to move the herd roughly 20 miles to winter pasture.