The Other Side of the Fence: My experience on a 117 year old cattle drive – “The Drift”

Note: This article is written by Haley Lockwood, Communication & Publications Director. Take a look through her eyes as she moves cattle on a 117 year old cattle drive.

The historic Green River Drift started in 1896 with over a century of heritage and legacy packed into the almost 70 mile cattle drive where ranchers, much like my Great Grand Father, Grandpa, neighbors and our family, have used the Drift to move cattle from range allotments. Starting in southern Sublette County by Yellow Point and the Jonah Gas Fields up to the Bridger-Teton National Forest in the Upper Green. A vast change of scenery comprises this drive, and it is one whose history is deeply rooted into Sublette County.

We moved cow/calf pairs, some yearlings and bulls on a beautiful July day.
We moved cow/calf pairs, some yearlings and bulls on a beautiful July day.

Cattle drives are usually only thought of when you think of movies like “Lonesome Dove”, right? Well, we are still driving our cattle, maybe with less action than the movies, but our impact is still huge. Families from the northern part of the Drift located in the Pinedale/Cora area clear down to Big Piney gather to help neighboring ranches as they move to summer allotments. These people are committed to heritage, their livelihood, agriculture and their neighbor where, at any point, someone will come to lend a helping hand.

We let the cows rest a bit to get the calves back with the cows before we pushed on.
We let the cows rest a bit to get the calves back with the cows before we pushed on.

I wanted to share with you a section of an online article written several years ago and photos from this summer as we moved our cattle to summer allotments.

Find the complete article here: http://www.pinedaleonline.com/news/2012/02/GreenRiverDriftnomin.htm

“Twice a year, in the spring and the fall, cattle move to and from area ranches to range allotments on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in the Upper Green.  Portions of the Drift through private property are fenced along leased right of way corridors and other areas on federal land are open range. In the spring, ranchers push the cattle up to the forest allotments. In the fall, the cooling change in the weather and snow cause the cattle to move down out of the mountains on their own and follow the fence line down to the sorting grounds by Trappers Point. Years ago, as many as 22 ranches were involved in the cattle association and participated in the Drift. Although still in use today, the tightening regulations and economics of ranching has reduced the number of participating ranches to ten. Some of the ranchers have dropped out because of increasing loss of cattle on the forest allotments by bears and wolf depredations.”

We start very early in the morning and here, we were almost halfway done and the sun is still trying to peak out over the aspens.
We start very early in the morning and here, we were almost halfway done and the sun is still trying to peak out over the aspens.

“Local rancher/teacher/historian, Jonita Sommers, has been instrumental in pursuing the nomination for the Drift for the past several years. Her family has been involved with the Drift since its beginning. Sommers wrote a book, “The Green River Drift,” about this unique part of ranching in the Upper Green River Valley. The book, now out of print, is only available on the used market and sells for hundreds of dollars. Sommers said that the Drift existed long before the BLM and Forest Service federal agencies that now permit and regulate the grazing process on federal public land. Through the 100+ year history of the Drift, the cattle association has worked with all the various managing agencies that have come along and adjusted their operations to be in compliance with the new regulations that have been put in place affecting their operations.  The Drift is also a tourist attraction as local dude ranches for years have brought their guests along to help ride along on the cattle drives. Some guests come out year after year, from as far away as Germany, for a chance to participate in the two-week cattle drives, brandings, and get the experience of life on a real Wyoming working cattle ranch.” – Green River Drift nomination to the National Register moves forward by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!

Neighbors from near and far came to our aid after the loss of my Uncle Marty who ran our family ranch.
Neighbors from near and far came to our aid after the loss of my Uncle Marty who ran our family ranch.

This year we had a large turnout for help as my Uncle had passed away halfway through taking the cattle to the mountains. It was a humbling experience to realize the importance first hand of ranch succession planning and being in a “bind” not knowing exactly what to do. Luckily, neighbors from near and far came to our aid. While my parents and sister planned the funeral, I took the chance to saddle up and ride. Cathartic and necessary.

Looking through the pairs for "sickies" (cattle that need doctoring) and enjoying a ride.
Looking through the pairs for “sickies” (cattle that need doctoring) and enjoying a ride.

This cattle drive, “The Drift”, isn’t just historical, but necessary to our existence as ranchers and advocates for agriculture. We are traditional in a world of expanding technology, but luckily for us, technology cannot take this over. It can advocate for it though, which is why I shared with you my heritage, my love, my passion, and Sublette Counties historic “Green River Drift.”

Right before this photo was taken, I bailed off my uncle's palomino "Andy" to grab a calf by the back leg before he crawled through the fence. Mack McCormick came to my aid as I scrambled with the calf.
Right before this photo was taken, I bailed off my uncle’s palomino “Andy” to grab a calf by the back leg before he crawled through the fence. Mack McCormick came to my aid as I scrambled with the calf and we shared a good laugh at my reaction.
Sprout Wardell, and his family, has been our neighbor for many years and has been more than willing to lend a helping hand to us.
Sprout Wardell, and his family, has been our neighbor for many years and has been more than willing to lend a helping hand to us.

One thought on “The Other Side of the Fence: My experience on a 117 year old cattle drive – “The Drift”

  1. Thanks for sharing! The ranchers in Sublette County are amazing people. I was honored to spend time at the sorting fence several years ago and visit with these incredibly hard-working, devoted ranchers. They are the salt of the earth and wonderful examples of environmental stewards and animal caretakers. Continued prayers for your family.

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