Volume 103, Number 16 - December 21, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
part 1 of 3
by Helena Linn
Imagine that it is 1928 and a rancher says to his neighbor, “I’ll be goin’ to the road on the 15th. How about we throw in together?” In those days a rancher might very well have said something like that to another rancher. Ranchers in Sublette County had to plan a cattle drive to Opal or Winton, Wyoming to take their cattle to sell them.
“Going to the road” was the common way of saying they would be driving their herd of cattle to the railroad. For the west side of Green River and the southern end of the county, the nearest railroad went through Opal, about 60 miles south of Big Piney. For most people on the northern end of the county and the east side of Green River and New Fork, they would drive their cattle to Winton. If they went to the nearest railroad, they would have had to drive the herd through the town of Rock Springs. However, they too “went to the road”, meaning the railroad.
It was also a common thing in the early years of the 1900s to go to the road to get groceries and supplies. They went with a team and wagon in the spring and again in the fall to prepare for the coming season. Thanks to Jonita Sommers, who recorded stories of going to the road by talking to many of the ranchers who are no longer living, and to Carrie Anderson who allowed me to listen to the tapes that are stored now at the Green River Valley Museum, we can learn about those real life cattle drives that probably weren’t exactly like the movie versions.
There are some cowboys still around that will tell us what it was like to go to the road. There were some harrowing experiences along the trail and since the cattle were taken to market in the fall, sometimes, as Bill Budd said, he and others walked most of the way because it was so cold. Mardell Fear will tell us what happened the day a blizzard hit the Fear ranches cattle drive.
Plans had to be made with the ranches who provided food, a place to stay, a field for the cattle, and hay to feed the cattle over the two, three, or four day trip to the road. Clarence Vickrey, who lives south of LaBarge now, was a young fellow at the time but old enough to drive the team of horses while his dad, Walter Vickrey, unloaded and scattered hay for the herds that would be staying overnight at their place. Walter Vickrey leased the Haddenham Ranch from his father-in-law, Jack Haddenham, at Midway. (Midway was so called because it was about halfway between Big Piney and LaBarge, known as
Tulsa in the early days. Midway was also about half way between Opal and Pinedale.)
Mr. Vickrey had three fields so he could take care of three herds at one time. Each field or feed lot had a water gap on the Green River so the cattle always had plenty of water. If the herds were from three different ranches, the rancher would take his turn at leaving the field so the herds didn’t get mixed up. Often two or three ranchers took their herds together but some traveled alone. The Haddenham Ranch could accommodate about eight men since there was a large bedroom with three double beds and another with a double bed they could use. The Vickreys provided meals and a place to stay for the cowboys. The cattle drives from Big Piney, Daniel, or Pinedale stopped overnight at one of three locations around Midway – the Bailey Place, Haddendams, or the Yose Ranch.
About the middle of the century, ranchers began hiring trucks to take their cattle to the railroad and then the men would drive home at night but the cattle would still be fed and watered at Midway or along the other stops on the way to Opal. The Haddenham Ranch was close to the trail and the Vickreys provided a good service for the ranchers. Mr. Vickrey would scatter enough hay then ride out to meet the herd and show the cowboys which field to use. The ranchers told Mr. Vickrey that sometimes their cattle gained weight on the drive to Opal where the cattle were weighed before going on east, so those who fed and watered cattle on the way were a big part of ‘going to the road’.
The trail went south from Midway to Name’s Hill where it turned west through a draw then on around the west side of the Riverside Ranch, (where the Jones’ families live now), over a bridge, and into the Aaron McGinnis Ranch for the next stop. There was another overnight stop at Craven Creek before the cattle drive reached Opal. Weather, a good or bad year for hay, and other factors made a difference in a rancher’s profit for the year. They liked to have a cattle buyer receive the cattle at the railroad where the buyer would pay the rancher, but sometimes the owner had to go on the train with the cattle to sell his herd in Omaha and the freight bill might take most of the check for the sale of his cattle.
Clarence Vickrey told me that he and his sister used to ride the trail after a herd came through to look for whiskey bottles which they could sell to the Eagle Bar in LaBarge for 5˘ to 25˘ - good money for kids in those days. The Eagle Bar would wash the bottles and refill them with whiskey. Clarence remembers Jim Mickelson, Jim Greenwood, Bob Thompson, Johnny Curtis, and Buzz Wassenberg were among some of the cowboys that came through their place. He also recalls one cowboy, Charley Shennett, who rode with different outfits but was one of a kind. He only had one leg, used one crutch, and somehow was able to jump up onto the saddle then fasten his crutch in something like a gun scabbard.
Craven Creek was the last stop before a herd reached the stock yards at Opal. It was not uncommon for a herd to approach the yards only to have a train come in and the train whistle caused a stampede back to Craven Creek, where the cattle had been kept overnight and fed last. Clarence said his dad had a white horse he called Dan and one time he left Dan in one of the corrals at Opal. When he went out to get his horse, Mr. Vickrey discovered that Dan hadjumped the fence when the train whistle scared him. The saddle horses didn’t like that whistle any better than the cattle did.
Ranchers and cowboys stayed at the hotel in Opal which was above the store there. If they had a truck or car to take them back home, someone still had to ride a horse and drive the saddle horses back to the ranch. Sometimes a rancher’s wife would bring meals to the men along the trail and there are more stories to tell about that. There were some funny stories like the one where a teenager was riding the drag while his bosses were in the lead – at least they were in the lead until they stopped at the bar in LaBarge. The kid had the scattered cattle heading down the trail by the time the ranchers caught up with the herd. The era has passed and many of the ranchers and cowboys who made those cattle drives have passed away by now but there are some still living who rode on these cattle drives as young fellows and next week I’ll tell you what they have to say about “going to the road”.
Continued next week...
See The Archives for past articles.
Copyright © 2006 Pinedale Roundup
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
Pinedale Roundup, PO Box 100, Pinedale, WY 82941 Phone 307-367-2123