Thursday, June 15, 2006

Cattle Drive Chow

All In The Family... Another Trip Down Memory Lane... Life in The Nebraska Sandhills...

I recently read a little item about "Cattle-drive Chow"on the Denver Post website, and I immediately thought about my mother's wooden picnic box and the cattle drive chow she served from the tailgate of our pickup truck.

In late May each year, after the last snowstorm had done its worst and the grass had started to grow again, it was time to move the cattle to summer pasture south of the Calamus River in Loup County. This was an all-day cattle drive, and we usually had several such drives in the spring and again in the fall when the cattle came home.

From our ranch (The Diamond Lazy H), we drove the cattle south through several of the neighbor's pastures, and then followed small roads that led cross-country to the bridge over the Calamus near the south headquarters of the Shovel Dot Ranch. In all, it was about 15 miles.

Early in the morning, the men started off with a herd of cattle. Usually we had three riders. My dad had a palomino horse named Tex. My brother and the hired man rode Spade and Keeno, the tall sorrels.

I remember riding along once on Beauty, the little Shetland mare. I had to fight her all day to keep her from running wildly into the herd of cattle to spook them. If you've ever ridden a headstrong, incorrigible little Shetland, you can imagine what a brat she was; otherwise, it's probably beyond your comprehension.

Anyway, my usual part in a cattle drive was helping my mother get lunch there. (I never said I was a cowgirl. I just said that I grew up on a cattle ranch!)

The cattle went willingly once they got the idea that they were moving to fresh pasture. They followed each other peacefully southward down the sandy little two-track roads. A rider went in front to keep the cattle headed in the right direction at the few crossroads, but mostly it was just a day of keeping the cattle moving steadily. An uneventful cattle drive was a good cattle drive.

Meanwhile, my mother was having a crazy morning. She got up early and gave everyone a good breakfast. Then she went to the pasture to help the men round up the cattle and start off.

When they were on their way, she came back home, got the breakfast dishes off the table and fixed a cattle-drive lunch. Usually, she made beef stew or beef and noodles and homemade rolls. There would be side dishes like jello salad, macaroni and cheese, or green beans, carrot and celery sticks, possibly some canned fruit or canned shoestring potatoes, and cake or cookies for dessert.

Mama had a wooden picnic box that my dad had made. It was about 2 feet long and about 15 inches high and wide, and its lid slid off. We packed all the dishes, glasses, napkins, silverware, a tablecloth, and any canned goods and condiments in it.

Then my mom wrapped all the hot dishes in newspapers and bath towels and packed them into cardboard boxes. Cold dishes were packed the same way. Last, we fixed a big Igloo cooler of ice water. Then we loaded everything in the pickup and off we went with Mama driving and the horse trailer in tow .

When we caught up with the cattle drive, we followed along behind the horses until we came to a place where the road was fenced on both sides. There the cattle were contained, and since they were hungry, they grazed the roadsides while we ate lunch.

Everyone was hungry! My mom spread the tablecloth on the tailgate of the pickup, set out the food, and after blessing, we all enjoyed a hearty hot lunch in the sunshine of a spring day. I remember those meals as always delicious.

After lunch, perishable leftovers were discarded, dirty dishes were scraped to be washed later, and everything was packed back up. We followed the herd for the rest of the afternoon with the pickup and trailer until we finally crossed the river and reached the pasture. Then we loaded the horses into the trailer and the people into the pickup as the sun set.

When we got home, Mama fixed supper for us and dealt with the picnic box and the dirty dishes from lunch. She made us girls help, of course, but I realize now that cattle drives must have been a long hard day for her.

To my mother, it was another day on the ranch, doing the work of the season. She was a full partner in making the ranch successful and her work as a ranch wife was vitally important for my family.

The photo below was taken in August of 1995. Mama is playing ball with the grandkids. She passed away on June 14, 1997, nine years ago yesterday.

Grandma at bat


Photos of a cattle drive near Eli, Nebraska, posted by "Soapweed". Here's another set of photos of cattle going to summer pasture. I visit the Rancher's Net Forums every now and then, just to look at Soapweed's beautiful photos of Sandhill ranch life. They remind me so much of where I grew up that sometimes they make me homesick.

An interesting thing about Soapweed is that he was a neighbor to Lloyd and Eileen Morton of Eli, Nebraska, and rented pasture from them for many years (and now rents from their son, I believe.) Lloyd and Eileen introduced my parents to each other back in 1944 when my mom was a schoolteacher at Eli and my dad was a young cowboy from Moon Lake, south of Johnstown. In May of 1945, they stood up with my parents at their wedding.

Soapweed is about my age, so he wasn't born yet in 1944-45. I know all this from exchanging a few e-mails with him, and I'm mentioning it here for my family members who will be interested.

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Trixie said...

It's funny, but I woke up craving beef and noodles this morning. And here I come visit you and you happen to mention all those wonderful meals.

Some days, certain thoughts just seem to follow me around! LOL! I loved this entry.

Wrkinprogress said...

What a lovely description of a very different kind of life than most of us lead. I have no connection personally to cattle ranching, or ranching, period, so this was very interesting to read. Of course, hubby's father's family is from Gordon, NE, but I don't know if they did any ranching like you described. I'm going to have to ask him about that.

Take care, nice lady!


Unknown said...

Hey Gene:

I seem to be a "TV-City Cowboy" having only watched the chuckwagon master ring his triangled bell. Your sweet rememberance of all is even more and better!

Sincere appreciation, KennethF

Genevieve said...

I'm glad y'all enjoyed the nostalgia. :) Be assured though that people still do those kinds of things to this day in ranch country. Some things haven't changed much. This time of the year (or a little earlier) you could even drive down some of the smaller less-traveled highways and come upon a herd of cattle being moved down the blacktop to summer pastures.

Sarabeth said...

That was very nice.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.