Stampede - Part 2
See part 1 for the first half of this story
The second “semi-real” stampede I was in was in Montana on the Lott ranch at Twin Bridges, on a spring day. We were trailing a big herd of mama cows and calves up to the summer range. On the second or third day of the drive, we came to a narrow defile, where the hills on both sides came close to each other, leaving an opening or path only 20 feet wide or so at the bottom. It was steep on both sides of this opening, too steep for cattle or horses to negotiate, so it was a first rate “bottleneck”.
Daws, our boss, had explained to all of us that morning, that when we came to that place, it would be necessary to sort of cut the herd in half and push the front half through the narrows and keep them moving at a good speed till we got to the top of the draw. There he said it would be necessary for us to hold that half of the herd, not let them come back looking for their calves, which they would want to do after they had stopped and couldn’t find them. A lot of their calves would be in the drag because they were tired. Daws said we had to hold them and it wouldn’t be easy, he said if we failed to hold them then we would have one big cattle jam down in those narrows and it would take a long time to get everything moving again, especially because the mothers wouldn’t be happy till they found their calves, and if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
With these orders in mind we were determined to carry them out. I was in the lead half of the riders, there was ten or so in all, so about five or six of us were selected to keep the mamas from coming back. We successfully got them through the gap and pushed them hard for about a half mile or maybe more to the top of the draw where it opened up into a nice bowl full of good grass and aspens. At first the cows were content to eat, and get in the shade, seemed pretty easy to me, a snap I thought. But as the minutes passed, slowly the cows began to bellar and hunt their baby’s. A lot of the babies weren’t answerin’ back, which made the mamas really anxious. They started to move downhill in the direction of the narrow gap. We were all mounted and pushed them back as they came. It was pretty easy at first, we’d whoop up a little, wave our arms, slap our chaps a little and they’d go back where they had been. But as the time passed, more and more of them got more “pushy” about goin’ down to the gap, and it became harder and harder to keep them bunched up. They were calling and bellering louder and louder, with more energy and more concern. We were riding back and forth constantly now turning them back, and they were returning quicker and quicker, telling us that their errand was urgent. At a particular point in the goings on- it was as if a “wall” of cattle were facing us, all bellering. The noise was more than loud, it had a threatening tone to it.
Some of the riders had six shooters. They drew their guns and started to shoot at the dirt, just a few feet from their hooves. This held the cows a little better, with an emphasis on “little”. This went on for a short while until the boys were out of bullets. There was a little lull, emphasis on the little again.
All of a sudden, I’ll never forget it, that wall of upset, mad mothers (against drunk drivers) broke into a charge straight at us. It was as if someone gave the command “charge” and it was the cavalry to the rescue. I’d say in number there were about 200 to 300 head coming at us. All we could do was hope there wasn’t any wrecks. That was the good part. Everybody was pretty darn agile, about 200 or so cows had their calves and they were nursing and eating etc., so they weren’t all shook up. But even with that about half of them just wanted to join the action, so here comes the second wave, and off they thundered down the slope, and the ground was definitely shaking. All we could do was ride for the lead and do the best we could to turn them.
There’s a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants that, to me, perfectly describes the feeling I had at that time…it says “as well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the mighty Missouri River, in its decreed course or to turn it upstream”…that describes exactly how I felt. Well it may not have been a full fledge scary, nighttime real stampede, and glad it wasn’t, but it was “some kind” of stampede. “The all shook-up mad mothers” stampede I guess you’d call it.
Well…we didn’t turn ‘em, not even close. When that bawlin’ bellering herd hit that gap in a cloud of dust, they met Daws and the boys trying’ to come through, and it was exactly as Daws said it would be if it happened. A big jumbled up tangle of cattle, horses, cowboys, thick dust, mad men, and beasts. Quite a sight, about six or seven hundred head of cattle going in all directions, bawling and calling for their babies, men shouting and whistling and yelling, horses neighing, calves running to and fro-dust everywhere.
Well it took quite a while for the mothering up, and there wasn’t much progress till that transpired. Needless to say, we were pretty late getting to the bed ground that evening, Daws took it all pretty much in stride, he was a “good” man. I think he pretty well accepted our “alibi” as it were.
But one thing I learned for myself, there is an “amazing” power in a big herd of cattle wanting to go somewhere on a dead run, and guess what, you better get out of their way, because there ain’t nothin’ stoppin’ ‘em.