I’ve always enjoyed stories about the river. To me, that would be the Little Missouri River. It begins down in Wyoming and winds its way across the corners of Montana and South Dakota, before entering North Dakota and eventually dumping into Lake Sacajawea on the Missouri River.
It is, most of the time, a slow moving, silt-filled river. Like they say about the Red in Texas, “too thick to drink and too thin to walk on.” It’s pretty much cattle country from the wide gumbo flats on much of its journey, to the buttes and sharp gullies of the badlands in southwest North Dakota.
The Little Missouri badlands can be brutally harsh in the winter. And brutally hot in the summer. When it is wet, the gumbo sticks to wheels, boots, and anything else it touches. When it is dry, a cow walking across a gumbo flat can raise a cloud of fine dust.
I always think of the tough old boys that homesteaded this country. The guys that dug a hole in a side hill, set a couple of posts in that gumbo, and nailed up a shanty along the river.
Which reminds me of a story.
There was this old boy that built a cabin on the river down in the badlands. Neighbors were few and far between. He wasn’t even sure if he had any.
One day he saddled up Old Paint and trotted off to the west. I imagine, trotting along, he could have made it 20 miles or so in a good half day. Lo and behold he came across another homestead shack on the north side of the river.
Damn, he was glad to see someone after a couple months of no conversation except for visiting with his horse and a handful of cattle. They had a good visit. They talked about the hail storm that stripped the leaves from the trees. They talked about the wind, which nearly always came from the northwest, but could be oh so cold, if it blew from the east. They talked about the thunderstorms and how the lightning could light up the sky.
After a couple hours of visiting, the guy pulled the cinch up on old paint and said he’d better be getting back. It was going to be a long trot in the moonlight already.
As he stepped up on Paint, the other guy invited, “come on back on Saturday. I’m having a party.”
“Really! What’s happening?”
“Well,” the homesteader replied, “There’ll be a steak supper. There’ll be a little drinking, a little fighting, a little dancing, and maybe a little loving!”
“Count me in,” the rider replied. “What should I bring?”
“Oh,” the homesteader, “Don’t make too much difference. Just going to be you and me!”