(Grandpa Bob in 1953)
The other day my Grandpa Bob was retelling one of the many stories from his youth. His narratives are riveting for a variety of reasons, and makes you wonder if you know what toughness really is!
(Grandpa Bob on the far right in the early 1940's)
Anyways, this story happened sometime in the late 1940's- putting Grandpa Bob in his late teens. On this particular day, the McCafferty Ranch crew had moved a herd of cattle to the Giesey Place. The Giesey Place is beautiful mountain pasture at the mouth of Monarch Canyon, and is a long ways from the home place. The picture below is the Giesey place, and the home place is on the other side of the tallest mountain (the blue mountain, not green hill) in the distance (upper right corner).
We still go on this cattle drive- so I can attest that this is a looonnnng uphill cattle drive. The mornings start extremely early at 3 am or earlier to beat the heat. All day long you fight cattle up a never ending hill. And contrary to popular belief, the day does not simply end at your destination. Much like a mother accidentally loses her kid in Walmart, cows lose their calves over the course of the day. So, like in the picture above, you have to crowd them in a tight bunch for hours... and hours... until they find one another. If you do not- chaos ensues. Calves will break away, and run back to the last spot they were with their mother (usually the pasture you started in- 20 miles away). Being the good cowboys we are this has never happened to us..... but speaking from experience this is the WORST thing ever!
If everything goes good, the Giesey drive ends around 6-7 pm when we can load our horses in the trailer and go home. You feel like a real man (or woman) after putting in a hard 16+ hours. But then Grandpa gets talkin'.......
His story starts where our day ends, and sort of separates the boys from the men.
Late 1940's Montana did not have trucks that could pull trailers. Somebody had to lead all the horses home! In all the stories I hear, Grandpa seems to draw the short stick, and get stuck with the worst jobs.
Waving goodbye to the whole crew 15-18 year old Bob sets out leading 7-8 horses. Leading one horse can prove to be a challenge. Leading eight horses, in the dark, by yourself, as a teenager- you are a man my friends.
(Grandpa in the early to mid 1940's)
As he retells, it was probably around midnight (at about halfway home), when he heard something that stopped him dead in his tracks. There are very few things that can bring out such a reaction in a cowboy like Bob. Number one being- rattle snakes.
In every rattlesnake incident I have every seen- the same visceral reaction occurs. Man, woman, child, animal- all identical.
First- one is frozen by fear.
Next- a noise formulates from deep in your bowels. It starts out really low, and escalates to a high pitch scream. "Ay, yi, yi, yi, yiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!"
As the last notes sing from your lips you jump higher than would normally be possible. They really should stick a rattlesnake under a high jump pit.
Finally- you take off in the opposite direction like your life depended on it.
Horses respond much the same way- so imagine yourself leading eight horses, in the dark, right on top of a snake. Many would prefer death.
But, not young Bob. He whips out his buckshot pistol and starts blasting away. At the time he was on a narrow grade with a steep drop off on the other side. With nowhere to go he unloaded that pistol as fast as he could, and then carried on. He is still alive today, so he must have did the old snake in.
If that doesn't make you cool, I don't know what does.
Now, if you have never had an encounter with a rattlesnake before, you might not understand the significance of this story. Just take my word for it, and believe that it is darn impressive.
If we were in his shoes I would have dropped the horses, probably fallen off my horse, got bit, and died!