November 3, 2010



The face of North Dakota is changing. I guess maybe the small towns are still getting smaller in a big part of the state. And the cities are getting larger. But here in the west, if you have a house that is habitable, someone is wanting to rent it. Even an old house in a small town beats living in a tent when the snow starts blowing. Although, people have made it in tents for thousands of years. But, maybe they were tougher than we are today.
Speaking of tough, I remember an old friend from up in the Blaisdell area. George Olson, who passed away a few years ago, was tough. Even when George was well into his 80s, if you shook his hand, he would have such a strong grip and big smile, it would nearly bring you to your knees. Grandpa Herb used to tell how, when George was young, he was really tough. The traveling carnivals that came around in the old days, always had a professional boxer along. He would take on all comers for a few dollars. Grandpa said George would hear of a carnival, he would saddle up, or hitch up, and go whip that tough guy until they finally just quit coming around.
George came up into Mountrail County at a young age. Wintering a bunch of sheep for a guy from southeastern Montana. At least that’s the way I heard it. They had dried out, which is not unusual, so the boss sent George up into northwest North Dakota with a herd, or flock, or gaggle, or whatever you call a bunch of sheep. George got into the hill country too late to build a cabin, so he just tipped his wagon over and spent his first winter in a turned over wagon box! Now that is tough! He could have traveled the Lewis and Clark trail with the originals.
I followed the Lewis and Clark trail last week. Not all of it. But a pretty good chunk. It started cause I was invited to ride along to a bull sale out in Harrison, Mont. I didn’t bother to look at a map. I’d been to Sidney and Fairview and Miles City before, so I figured it couldn’t be too far. Besides, Shirley could handle chores. I mean, if I didn’t buy bulls, how would she raise calves. You have to admit, I have a point.
If you’re not familiar with Harrison, it’s a long way west. Past Billings a bunch. Past Bozeman a bunch. Past Three  Forks and Big Timber. I can see why Lewis and Clark were worn out after their trip. I was out there three days and it darn near killed me. Even the lady at the motel in Three Forks felt sorry for us. Said she couldn’t charge for a room the little we were in it. We were there three days and two nights, and she charged us for less than a day. Still came out pretty high by the hour. We were really looking at a lot of bulls. And exploring the Lewis and Clark trail.
 Got a lot of chances to visit with ranchers from out in the mountains. Montana and Idaho ranchers. They aren’t that much different from regular human beings. Except they talk a lot about prune heads. Those are people from California. And they are moving into Montana pretty fast. I suppose they are nice-enough people. But they are changing the face of Big Sky country. One of the ranchers from over the hill explained it best. He said the people from California move to Montana to get away from everything in California. And as soon as they move in,they try everything in their power to change Montana to be more like California.
And I met some more of my rodeo heroes. Don Rehm. Don was the national high school steer wrestling champion in the mid-50s. He was on the only team that ever won the whole deal. National championship team. From North Dakota! They had a heck of a team. Trying to remember them all. Angus Fox, Pete Fredericks, Cliff Ferebee, Don… I’m missing a couple. Oh well, you all know them.
Heard a good rodeo story about one of my old heroes. Seems he entered the bronc riding at one of the old-timer deals. As he was getting on his bronc, it started dinging around in the chute and kind of banging the guy up. This guy was over sixty and probably should be thinking about Social Security rather than measuring his rein, but that’s not the kind of guy he is.
Just before he nodded for the gate, he looked over at his gray-haired traveling partner and commented, “This rein don’t feel near as good in my hand as the phone did when I entered from the bar!”