June 20, 2018



I think maybe the rain we had over the weekend was one for the books. It’s not many times in your life when we get a June rain like this one. Most reports are from one to three inches. And it came straight down! Here in the Dakotas, rain and snow don’t often come straight down.
I know I’ve told you of wet roundups before, but dang, it’s hard not to think of them when you get a rain like this one. Once the roundup had started you went every day. Kind of like the postman. “Neither rain nor sleet nor hail,” you know. Only lack of funding will stop the U.S. Mail. But that’s another story.
On roundups you dress like a cowboy. Hat screwed on tight. Neckerchief on. Slicker tied behind the saddle. Catch rope coiled up and ready to pull down. Copenhagen in your pocket, or maybe a pack of Pall Malls. Shotgun, chinks, or batwing chaps buckled on. Like Gil Favor on Rawhide. “Head ’em up! Move ’em out!” Dang I miss those good shows.
Anyway, once the roundup started, Grandpa Jack wasn’t going to weaken and call a day off. You would meet at daylight, get sent on a circle, and push cattle towards the spot where you would hold herd and cut for brands later that day. Jack would send small groups of riders in each direction. “You and Red head up to the Kennedy Hills. Drop down by the Smith Camp and come down the creek. You three ride the flat above Yellow Wolf’s and bring those cattle down the road. Two of you lope over to the Hills in the Beef pasture and push those cattle north. We’ll hold herd at Doug’s corrals.” And he would line out the dozen or more riders and you would take off at a long trot. Rain or shine.
When the herd was gathered, Grandpa Jack would start cutting the One Bars out. Well, actually Jack would start before the herd was gathered. He and his horse “Joey” would start cutting those One Bars out about a half-mile from the herd. And we had to whip and spur to keep the things kind of gathered up as Jack was cutting pairs off to the side.
Then you would hold herd. Sometimes for hours. And there were times you would sit and hold herd in a rain like this. Your horse would turn his tail to the wind and you didn’t mind at all. Pull your slicker up tight and tilt your hat so the rain dripping off the back didn’t run down your neck. Trot over to another cowboy and see if he has a dry match or some fresh chew. Eventually, the rain would get through that slicker and your gloves would be soaked and you would start to stand up in your stirrups to see if you could see smoke from Uncle Hugh’s dinner fire.
You could usually see it for miles! He had a big old furnace grate welded to four pieces of pipe. He would take a sledge and pound that thing into the ground a little to kind of level it up. Then he would slide a half dozen ash or oak posts underneath it and stick his propane-branding torch into that wood and light her up. In a jiffy, he had a couple big skillets covered with shortening melting and coffee boiling. And he would start making those burgers (we called them Handy Andy burgers cause he never took off his Handy Andy cotton gloves while making patties). And I suppose it maybe wasn’t sanitary, but he had that skillet hot enough it damn sure killed any germs! And if you’ve been sitting holding herd in a cold rain, you will never taste a better meal in your life.
You can tell I’m a good eater. I’ve eaten in some fine restaurants across the country and even in a few other countries. But I can tell you this. There will never be anything as good as cowboy coffee, Handy Andy burgers, pork and beans, pickles, and a Hershey bar for dessert on a cold and rainy day.
I’m going to see if it’s dry enough to cut hay.