Posted 9/12/12 (Wed)
You know, it is a dry son-of-a-gun. We were building some fence last week, and were digging holes three and a half to four foot deep. Not by hand, mind you, but we didn’t hit one bit of moisture. And it seems, that most years, we could count on some rain over Labor Day weekend. It usually rained out picnics, roping, and rodeos. Today it is forecast to be in the mid-90s and windy. Fire warnings are up all over the western part of the state. And I had a dream about rain last night! I hated to wake up.
Got me to thinking about a fall roundup from years ago. We were on the Fort Berthold reservation and it was roundup time in the fall. The leaves were pretty well off the trees, grass had dried up, leases were running out, and we had been gathering and sorting for several days.
Grandpa Jack was the roundup boss, so the days were long and hard. You’d start from home before daylight, meet at Doug’s Corrals, the turn-off to Eagles’ Nest, Surveyor’s Crossing, the hill above Yellow Wolf’s or some other known point.
This particular day, we had ridden upper Moccasin Creek, and shortly after we got sent on circle, the rain set in. It started out with a few drops and a brisk southeast wind and just kept getting heavier and heavier. By noon, cowboys and horses were soaked to the skin.
Uncle Hugh had prepared noon lunch at the Smith Camp. Hugh’s dinners were always the same, hamburgers fried in a big glob of lard, strong coffee boiling in a big, black pot that hadn’t been cleaned in years, a big old Dutch oven full of boiling beans, jar of pickles from Jerry’s grocery store, and a bunch of candy bars for dessert. The burgers would be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. And you were always hungry enough that they seemed perfect!
The Smith Camp was on the north side of the Kennedy Hills, by a great spring that fed down into Squaw Creek. There was a falling-down old log barn, remnants of a once great set of corrals, and an old log cabin that had once been home to a hopeful family, but now was occupied by mice and birds. But “any port in a storm.”
Horses were tied to the pens that were sheltered from the blowing rain by some old oak trees. They turned their butts to what wind there was, put their heads down, and appreciated a little respite from the miles they had been ridden that day. Saddles were soaked and the rain was pelting down.
Hungry, wet cowboys crowded into the old log cabin and started drinking hot coffee and telling of the cow they lost in the brush, the big buck they had spotted, or that they had got a glimpse of the belted cow heading for the washout.
Most of us were young and foolish and knowing that with this heavy rain, roundup was going to be over, at least for the day. We were only a few miles from our outfits back by the county line, so plans were being quickly put together.
After dinner, we could trot back to the highway, run home and put on dry clothes, and meet at Killdeer in a couple of hours. You know. Kind of like the cowboys of yesteryear. Where you spent the few dollars you made riding on whiskey and girls. The rest you just wasted.
As we gobbled those burgers down and argued over the candy bars, Grandpa Jack kept looking out of that leaky cabin at his horse, Joey. The rain was pouring down and you couldn’t see for a quarter of a mile. We were all soaked to the skin, even our socks were wet. Red’s horse had fallen crossing the creek and he couldn’t have been wetter.
But Grandpa Jack had been listening to our plans for the afternoon and evening. And I guess maybe he was a wiser man than we gave him credit for. Knowing that if we made it into Killdeer, the roundup was over for a day or two.
“Let’s roll boys,” he said.
We were all smiles as we ducked our heads, stuck a candy bar in our pocket, and ducked out the door into the pouring rain. We would be to our outfits in a short bit!
By the time we got to our horses, Jack was already mounted. And the smiles were quickly wiped from our faces as he turned Joey to the northeast, glanced up at a sun that couldn’t be seen, and said we had time to gather the creek as far as Yellow Wolf’s before dark.
If you had listened closely, you might have heard a few cuss words as we quickly followed Joey at a trot down the draw towards the creek.
Waiting for rain,