Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hunting Strays Story by Denzlo Hancock

 “When the ranch north of Wickenburg Arizona was purchased in the fall of 1972, the sale contract included three wild steers which the previous owner had not been successful in rounding up. These were large crossbred animals which had been on the loose for a few years. They were shy, skittish, and athletic. They could climb and jump like mountain goats and run like mule deer. Dad and I went out one day in the spring of 1973 to see if we could locate them to bring them in. Signs had told us they were in the rough north east range of the ranch. The north eastern border of the ranch ran the length of a high mountain ridge until it came to the northern border which was also a natural border of cliffs, ridges and canyons. Dad was on Bonnie, a young, quick, surefooted, black Arabian mare inhibiting a number of characteristics and features similar to thoroughbreds and I was riding on Clyde, an older, stout, chestnut colored, gelding we had received from Aunt Mildred and Uncle Bill Anderson. Through the day we traveled up and down slopes and through and around a seemingly never ending landscape of obstacles including Silver Cholla, Saguaro, Catclaw, Yucca, Palo Verde trees, Mesquite thickets, Joshua trees, Ocotillo, Prickly Pear, rock slides, ravines, cliffs and boulders. As we moved further into the progressively steeper terrain the forbidding vegetation thinned out but only because it had fewer spots available to take root a midst the rocks. We rode down one very steep ravine and near the bottom we came to a drop off and saw the floor of the ravine about four feet down. Looking at this drop and the steep incline on both sides of this chasm I felt sure if we dropped to the floor of this gorge we would not get the horses back out.

I was an otherwise bold 13 year old at the time but we had only been on the ranch for a few months and most of my prior riding experience had been primarily on level ground with almost no rocks in Utah’s Uintah Basin. As I looked down into this hole, I questioned the wisdom of proceeding into this trap, as it appeared to me and I inquired, “Are you sure you want to go down there; what if there is no way out?” Dad told me to go ahead and assured me we would be fine and wanted me to jump the chestnut down into the bottom but I was happy when Clyde refused to go. Clyde simply sensed my reluctance and answered my lack of confidence with his own refusal. Dad then went ahead on Bonnie and she just hopped almost effortlessly to the bottom and then my horse willingly followed. We were now at the base of this ravine with no space for a running start to jump the horses back out so there was nowhere to go but down. We continued on down the ravine where we came to another drop off and again my heart sank as we prodded our horses down and continued further into the unknown. Eventually we came to a place where the only exit from the crevice was down a steep incline of a shale rock slide. Dad dismounted and tightened up the cinch to his saddle and seeing I was not following his example, he inquired; “Don’t you want to tighten your cinch?” His question was also a suggestion but I was already numb with trepidation and was afraid to get off the horse in this rugged terrain and at this slope. I simply said “No, I’ll be fine”. Dad made no reply but finished tightening his saddle and mounted up and proceeded down the steep mountainside. I followed and was leaning back ‘til I was almost lying on the rump of my horse to keep upright. I soon noticed the neck of my mount disappearing under the saddle and very soon I knew I was in trouble as my saddle was about to slide over the horses head. I called out to Dad for help. As if anticipated, he quickly turned Bonnie sideways on the slope as Clyde and I slid into them which stopped our decent. I don’t know how Bonnie managed to keep her footing but she was sure footed and held firm while I stepped off and adjusted the saddle and tightened the cinch. This was accomplished while Clyde sat on his rump. With the saddle secured we continued on down the mountain and I thought about and rehearsed in my mind the importance of carefully heeding not only the commands but also Dad’s example and quiet suggestions. I now realize there were many lessons; taught to us by permitting us to experience things for ourselves as long as we or someone else was not in serious danger.

It was late in the day and the sun was going down as we reached easier traveling and started on our way back home. It seemed like we did a lot in the dark in those days. The miles we had to travel were still new to us and as I followed along behind Dad I tried to dodge the obstacles we encountered. I would carefully listen for and then take whatever action I could to avoid whatever Dad would encounter on the trail ahead of me. It was scary riding along in the dark thinking of all the cactus, thorns and Catclaw we had passed earlier in the day. I pulled up to a stop when I heard a brushing and scraping of something and then Dad exclaimed “Wow! That nearly took my head off”. Dad had caught the limb of a thorny Ocotillo under his chin and its thorns had sawed their way through the front of Dad’s neck as his passing drug the spiked branch across his throat. For the duration of our trip home in the dark I vigilantly tried to avoid all of the passing obstacles and was largely successful. Dad was left with the bloody torn flesh, then scabs and finally scars as a reminder of our night ride together.

Later we were successful in rounding up those strays by getting them to mingle in with other cattle we had brought to the range.”

No comments:

Post a Comment