From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 30 - October 23, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

The Green River Drift, way back when

by Rhonda Swain

Since back in 1916, ranchers in the Upper Green River Cattle Association have been trailing cattle back and forth between their home ranches and summer range on the Bridger Teton National Forest - what has become known as the Green River Drift.

Some family names remain the same as back then, ownership of some places have changed more than once, but the Drift, and its cattle, are a constant.

The association, with officers and an executive committee, abides by rules and regulations set forth at its inception - a few of those rules have changed, some remain the same, like its members. When the UGRCA first started, it was known as the Upper Green River Cattle and Horse Growers Association. There was only one wagon, and its crew, to care for 11,377 head of cattle grazing on mountain ranges. Association members were charged five cents per head - money intended to raise money for building a drift fence between the Upper Green and the Wind River Range.

Back then, ranchers drove their cattle from P.W. Jenkins' ranch to the cutting grounds near the Charles Hedin place on the Green River, part of what is now known as the Seven Mile River Ranch, formerly owned by Jack Schwabacher. Cattle going past the cutting grounds were gathered at the Sommers' place some six or seven miles downriver, and brought back to the cutting grounds. Ranchers cut their cattle out, by brand, just as they do today, and drove them to the home ranch. Ranchers continued this manner of working cattle for two or three years before they started working their cattle at the present-day Drift Fence near Trapper's Point at the Cora.

Blueprints from that era show association members' ranches stretching for almost 35 miles, with the Sommers' ranch in the middle. Those places north of Sommers were called upper-end ranches and those south of Sommers were lower-end ranches, a designation used to this day.

In 1917, the association had grown to include 23 ranchers, with those members being reimbursed for boarding association cowboys - at a rate of 25 cents per day for hay, the same for meals, and three cents a head for pasture. They agreed to pay $40 per yearling and $50 per two-year-old for beef used to feed the crew trailing cattle for the association. The wagon foreman was in charge of picking beef for his crew.

Most cattle weren't branded at the home place as they are now - instead they were branded at Black Butte near where The Place is now, with ranchers furnishing a man for every 750 head of cattle owned, one saddle horse for each 250 head, plus a 50-cents-per-head association assessment.

In March of 1918, association members decided to hold future meetings in Pinedale on the Saturday preceding Christmas. At a later meeting, it was decided to start the beef roundup on Oct. 1.

In September of 1918, the county commissioners were asked to open the gates on a certain county road, where the association said Billy Hill maintained a trap. It was said that calves were bummed there and cattle were not able to migrate to home ranches. The matter was taken as far as the Department of Lands in Washington, D.C., when the association asked about the status of a driveway that would eliminate locked gates.

At their January 1919 meeting, association members increased their assessment to 60 cents per head, and plans were made to salt cattle at marked salt grounds. An April 1919 meeting saw the association proposing construction of a drift fence across the mouth of Tosi Canyon for a bull pasture to be used between June 16 and July 15.

Due to a lack of snow the previous winter, ranchers took their cattle to summer range early. When Carl Jorgensen and Frank Belknap drove upper-end bulls to the mountains, they could not stay with Billy Hill because of the conflict over his alleged trap on a county road. During that summer, heel flies were so bad that cattle were bunched up during that day and driven at night.

Fish Creek, one of the largest allotments today, was used for the first time in 1919. Ranchers started their fall gather on Sept. 8, with cattle brought to the Ehman Place where everyone worked their own cattle. The payroll for that year showed the foreman earning $125 per month, $75 going to the cook and the buster, and cowboys getting $60 per month.

The last year cattle were driven by Black Butte without an official driveway was 1921, when the present-day Drift Fence at the Cora Y was built with surplus World War I wire. That year the association foreman was paid $75 per month and riders earned $40. After the cattle were gathered at the Petrie Place on the Upper Green, they were brought to the lower country where association ranchers formed a beef drive consisting of several ranchers, and the cattle were driven to the railroad, usually in Opal where the cattle were send to Omaha.

Costs for ranchers to board cowboys on the drive then was $8.76 a day, and cattle were gathered in September. The cost and the early timing were the cause of the beef gathering to be eliminated. All this was in a time when land on the west side of the Green River was in Uinta County, later in Lincoln County. East of the Green was Fremont County.

In 1923, the association formed a committee to look into "excessive loss of cattle on the Green River range." The committee came up with a resolution requesting that the Forest Service make a thorough investigation of the loss of as much as 10 percent of cattle grazing on the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The Forest Service replied on May 18, 1923: "We will be very glad indeed to cooperate with you in every way possible to determine what the losses on the Green River range really are and the cause of them." However, the forest supervisor noted that he could only provide his present personnel for the project, and mentioned that cooperation between the association and the Forest Service in building a Union Pass drift fence.

1924 saw the first year the association had a committee to inspect and count bulls going to summer range. It was agreed that bulls were not be on the range for more than four years, and no bulls under 18 months old were allowed.

The Upper Green River Cattle Association came into being in 1925, with a name change accepted by the U.S. Forest Service that prompted a new constitution and bylaws. Annual dues were $1, but assessments for ranchers grew steadily, a reflection of the cost of new drift fences, bridges and cowboys' wages.

This was a time when the association saw the need to work closely with federal officials, and Secretary K. Luman was instructed to write a letter to the Secretary of the Interior to request that all land in the county be placed with the Evanston Land Office, since it would be more convenient for permit holders and association management. Changing use dates from June 16 to June 1 was also was discussed and Luman also wrote to the Forest Service supervisor in regard to a fee waiver for drought-stricken areas.

By the second decade of 1900, ranchers disallowed cattle drifting along, eating during the day, instead herded cattle at night so none were lost in the dark. Many ranches were fenced, so the herd was stopped at certain ranches for the night, with the host being paid for room and board for cowboys, horses and cattle.

Work conditions in the 1920s were sometimes dramatic - as witnessed by Harry Rahm, who roped a big roan steer one fall to see what its brand was. When the critter was released, it was on the fight and his manner caused Mart Wardell and Rahm's horses to shy away from their riders, jumping the fence and knocking over 20 rotted-off posts.

Wardell yelled, "Harry, get back here and help hold this fence up!" and together they kept the fence upright and the steer inside.

After a time, when Rahm had one post in an upright position, the steer came over and blew snot all over him, to which Wardell said: "Don't move, don't bat an eye. Hold that fence up." Rahm claimed the steer heard him and marched over to blow snot on Wardell as well.

The "Don't move, don't bat an eye. Hold that fence up" advice went back and forth between the two until the steer tired of the game and backed off.

At the April 1926 meeting, association members voted to turn bulls out on July 1, and they went on record opposing changing cattle permits to sheep permits on the BTNF. They also decided to ask Wyoming Game and Fish Department wardens and USFS officials to search vehicles for beef as well as wild game during hunting season.

Association fees for 9,839 head of cattle in 1927 were 45 cents per head. The treasurer's report for 1928-1929 reported a balance of $44.15 at a time when the association was focusing on range improvement.

The year 1928 also saw the first stove moved with the chuckwagon instead of the cook using Dutch ovens. The foreman was paid $100 per month.

A large snowstorm hit that fall, causing difficulty for the cowboys when they were forced to bring most of the cattle out of the mountain all at one time. (Flashback to the falls of 2000 and 2002 for current association members.) In 1929, Mart Wardell was hired as foreman after it was decided to hire someone with no interest in the association.

Bill Todd reportedly said: "Well, you have just eliminated anyone in the county capable of running the wagon. What are you going to do? Send to Monkey Ward's (Montgomery Ward catalog) for a cowboy?"

Ranchers gathered 9,154 cattle that fall and cowboys with the herd earned $50 per month.

(Source: Jonita Sommers' book "Green River Drift.")

See The Archives for past articles.

Copyright © 2002, 2003 Sublette Examiner
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
Sublette Examiner, PO Box 1539, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3203