Postcard from the Past – A Tale of Ranching in Wyoming
In the late 1870s, an Englishmen who was a member of the British Parliament, knighted for achievements in the Boar War, became one of Wyoming’s first ranch owners. Henry Seaton-Karr was the major stockholder in the Sand Creek Land and Cattle Co. and authored “My Sporting Holidays,” a book of his hunting exploits around the world.
In his book there are several accounts of hunting and ranching on the Pick Ranch in the early days. Excerpts from that book will be the focus of the “Postcard from the Past,” as the author of this column enjoys the great hunting and fishing now found in the Upper North Platte River Valley.
Sir Seaton-Karr writes:
“It was a hot August day. For many hours the Pick boys had been roping and branding yearlings and calves in the cattleyards about a mile outside Rawlins. The air was thick with alkali dust. Over the sagebrush-covered rolling uplands, through which ran the single line of the Union Pacific Railroad, hung a shimmering western haze beneath the blazing sunshine that poured forth its relentless heat from a deep-blue Wyoming sky, and yet a heat that was tempered by the dry, exhilarating atmosphere of an elevation 6,000 feet above the sea. I sat on the fence of the corral and watched the scene beneath. The wild young cattle were hustled hither and thither, as the rawhide lariat swung by sinewy arm was dropped deftly over the neck or, better still, was hitched round one or both hind legs, of the struggling calf or yearling that till then had never felt the dreaded rope. Two of the best ropers of Carbon County, mounted on handy western cowponies, were at work, and it was a treat to watch them. Chico, the Pick foreman, half Mexican, half westerner, was a trifle slower than his rival, Charley Smith, but he seldom missed the hind leg hitch, which meant lighter work for the boys who threw the calves for the branders at the fire. Charley Smith, a long-legged, powerful rider of the ideal cowboy type, was less particular how he roped his calves. Sometimes by neck and fore leg, or by neck alone, they were dragged reluctant and kicking to their fate, and this meant a prolonged struggle for the boys at the fire before the animal was thrown and the brand and earmark duly applied. It is no light task to throw a stout range six-months bull calf, requiring not only strength but knack.
“Presently Frank Earnest, our manager, climbed up on the eight-foot log-fence beside me.
“‘Charley Smith seems a good hand with the rope,’ I remarked.
“‘There’s not a bronco in Carbon County he won’t ride,’ replied Frank, ‘nor a steer on the range he can’t throw single-handed, I guess. But,’ he continued, after a pause, ‘maybe he’s a bit too well fixed for this outfit.’
“‘What do you mean?’ said I.
“‘Wal,’ drawled Frank, ‘I reckon he owns a brand to draw to, and we’ve no use for that kind of puncher any more. But, say,’ he went on, ‘we’ll talk of that when we get to Sand Creek. I’ve a thirst just now that money won’t buy.’
“No more was said on the subject for the time being. The work of branding was duly finished, and the thirst of manager and cowboys was for the moment quenched.
“A few weeks later found us all at the Sand Creek Ranch, on the eve of the beef roundup.” But, then, that’s a tale for the next Roundup.