Once in a while, on a summer morning, I awaken to what sounds like cattle in the living room.
There aren’t really cattle in the living room. The first time I heard this, however, I did leap out of bed to check.
It was just the clamor of cattle complaining loudly as they were being driven down the highway in front of the house, from a pasture uphill to the valley below. When one wandered onto our driveway, a cowboy rode over to steer it back.
Cattle trucks drive down the highway past the house all the time. But for a city girl, my first sight of these cowboys at work was pretty thrilling.
One afternoon last week, I came home to the sound of whoops, whistles, and loud mooing in the valley. I ran over to take this picture.
They were driving these cattle into a corral from which they would be urged into a cattle truck, which would drive them elsewhere by other means.
I feel silly about it, having absolutely no personal experience about the life of a cowboy. But I still get excited at this sight.
This is an entirely different process than the one that inspired the term “cattle drive,” of course. This is a mere morning’s effort for these cowboys.
The original cattle drives, as anyone who has seen “Rawhide” will understand, were brutal and grueling months-long endeavors that somehow led to the idealized nostalgia that the term “cowboy” evokes today.
Recounted in the book Recollections of the Upper Wind River Valley, tales from the first cowboy in the area, Andy Manseau, make clear what it meant to be a cowboy in the old days. “In the fall of 98 I ran the J.K. Moore cattle,” he recalled. “… We were through rounding up and night herding them to be ready the next morning to drive them to the railroad at Casper.”
Two horses got away from one of the wranglers, and Manseau went after them. His horse tripped on a loose rope and Andy fell off, landing on his head and shoulders.
“I was unconscious for 24 hours. No one expected me to live….The doctor couldn’t do anything for me. My left arm was paralyzed and I had hurt my spine and lost my equilibrium. But I got over it!”
More recently, cowboys, Boyd told me, cowboys drove the cattle all the way to Hudson, where they’d be loaded onto cattle cars on the train. The cowboys had to return afterwards on horseback, of course.
But there were compensations: A string of bars at regular intervals along the highway once offered a place where cowboys could stop en route home. They’re all vacant now, obviously long since gone out of business. These days, the cattle truck drivers pass right on through to the next town.
Evidently I’m not the only person here to be excited at the sight of cowboys driving cattle. When I told Sandy about the tiny roundup next door to our house, she recalled the days before the cattle trucks, when the ranchers used to drive the cattle right through town in the fall and on down-county.
It was very exciting for the school children, she recalled, but the streets were very messy afterwards.
My friend Mary Ellen remembers that St. Thomas Church would halt services so the parishioners could go outside and watch the cattle drive through town. No doubt the cattle were so loud that they would have made the service inaudible anyway.
This brought back to her mind a tourist, an older woman driving a little sports car, whose progress was also halted by the cattle drive. Mary Ellen recalls that she was wearing white sneakers.
She leaped out of the car, all excited, and began taking photographs. After the cattle had passed, there was no way to keep her sneakers clean when she returned to the car.
The cowboys are enchanting, but I often find the cattle an irritation. They might break through a fence and cause trouble. They sometimes get slow my progress on hikes.
© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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