In a previous post I mentioned that my newly graduated son, Tell, left home in May to work on a Montana ranch and some have expressed interest in hearing more. Hopefully you won't regret it. I can get a little long-winded at times.
It may seem unusual to send a kid from one ranch to another, but ranches in different parts of the country each have their own way of managing their resources, based on climate, terrain, water, grass, and tradition, and we wanted him to experience that. It must be working, because the first thing he said when he called about two weeks after he got there was, "The first thing you learn is how much you don't know." And it is always good for kids to have to work for someone else besides dad. (Hop in here anytime, Ranchmom, if there's anything you see that needs corrected or clarified.)
He hired on with the branding/cowboy crew consisting of about 12 hands from several different western states. This ranch has 5000 head of momma cows, around 250 bulls and a large cavvy of ranch-raised horses located in or near the Pryor Mountains partly on the Crow Indian Reservation south of Billings. They started out in May rounding up all the cow/calf pairs from winter range to gather them in one place for branding. They started branding the 10th of June and as of last night, they had around 1100 head left to go, so he thought they'd be another week at it and then they'll start pushing the pairs up into the mountains on summer range. They work long days in the saddle but usually have Sundays off to attend church and rest. Otherwise they repair tack, take naps, play card, practice their roping, and do laundry. (Hopefully they shower in there somewhere...) Each hand is cut a string of 5 horses. He talks of horses with names like Boomerang, Clyde, Luther, Sagebrush and Kick-a-Man.
One hand they call Timber was thrown from his horse the first day he arrived and broke his collarbone. Cowboy sympathy only goes so far and since they needed a cook pretty badly right about then, he was nominated. (This was before they had a chuckwagon cook).
He said they've gone to (and participated in) a ranch rodeo, played softball, and took in a street dance in a local small town. He says all of the hands get along fairly well. The one younger kid has a hard time keeping his mouth shut and one day the other guys had had enough, so they tied him to a corner post and left him there to cool his jets for a time. He was only 200 yards from camp and was able to get himself untied and walk in. Tell chuckled and said apparently he's a slow learner, because so far it didn’t seem to make a difference. He tells of wrestling matches and dog piles, throwing rocks (with no mother there warning them they could lose an eye that way!), bucking horses and just plain ol' horsing around. One evening 3 of them had fallen asleep early, so the jigger boss* and his brother snagged some red fingernail polish from headquarters and painted their fingernails. Tell said they only got 3 of his, but the other two had all 10 painted when they woke up. He said it was okay, though, because they retaliated by filling the other guys' shower heads with Kool-Aid…
*a jigger boss is the head wrangler in charge of the horses
He said he kicked Sagebrush into a lope one day and as they made the circle to gather some cattle, Sagebrush bogged his head and went to pitchin’. Tell said he “had a good ride going on him” then looked up to see a hole in the bottom part of a snow fence just big enough for horse and saddle to fit through and Sagebrush making a beeline for it. He was hoping he could just buck right through and he did break off the bottom board (just above the saddle), then "shouldered hard" into the next board, but it was a cross beam and was doubled up, so it didn’t break. He and Sagebrush parted company there. He can usually ride them out, but has bucked down a couple of times. The owner was a bronc rider in his day and he loves to holler advice to the young guys when their horses go to pitchin'.
It sounds like he is having the time of his life and is seeing some pretty country. He tries to describe it and when he does there is wonder and awe in his voice, but I suppose that is just something you have to see to fully appreciate. (This is a kid who hasn't been too far away from his home place, so this is all new to him.) It's not all sunshine and roses. They work hard and some of the days are long and repetitive. It certainly isn't the life for everyone and he's definitely not doing it for the money. He's paid a daily wage and if you figure out by the hour, it is well under minimum, but he's doing what he loves and this is the perfect time in his life to be doing it.
How's that for another book? I apologize for not having anything "quilty" in this post. (He does have a couple of quilts in his bedroll, does that count?)