Archive for January, 2014

IT USED TO BE ABOUT THE HORSES

January 31, 2014

ImageAccording to recent statistics, there are more horses in the United States today than there were at the turn of the 20th Century. While we discussed cows last week, it would be gross neglect to ignore horses in our discussion of frontier life. I would be chastised by family members if I didn’t add a few paragraphs about horses.

Let me say up front, that while horses were important to the family legacy I do not like horses. Several incidents in my childhood left me with fear and loathing regarding the animals. I won’t elaborate other than to note that my uncle was killed by a horse, my sister was nearly killed by a horse, and my last experience on a horse I had ridden hundreds of times belonged in a rodeo performance, not my front yard.

That said let’s talk horses. Without the trusty horse, it would have taken at least twice as long to settle the American West. Horses brought easterners to the west to homestead. Horses were responsible for transporting homesteaders back to “town” for additional supplies and for plowing the ground necessary to “prove up” on their homestead.

When my grandfather and great-grandfather decided on the “cash crop” necessary to finance the homestead; they choose horses. The horses on the Everitt ranch were sold to the Denver-based American Tea and Coffee Company to pull their coffee wagons door-to-door in early Denver. Before the homestead was established, horses, when mules weren’t available, were used to pull freight wagons to Colorado mountain towns delivering meat, fruits (when available), and vegetables.

The men purchased a few head of brood mares and one nasty tempered stallion to expand the herd. Unfortunately they soon discovered that they were on the waning cusp of the horse era. The nasty smoke belching automobile appeared and horse ranching all but disappeared. It was nearly seven decades before the horse replaced cows as a need in rural Colorado.

 

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IT’S ABOUT THE COWS

January 25, 2014

ImageLast week we discussed the National Western Stock Show in Denver and I’d like to continue on in that vein by discussing livestock. Early homesteaders learned early in their experiences on the plains that depending on crops to eek out a proper living was next to impossible. Much like depending on your favorite airline to be “on-time”, depending on rain to grow crops is a real gamble. Much like 2013, some years the land floods, and some years the clouds come but the rain never finds the ground.

If they were to have a “cash crop”, something to pay the bills and keep food on the table, homesteaders learned cows were the way to go. Most cows can tolerate a year of stubby grass and dry watering holes as long as the water tank stays full and the grass can be supplemented with some kind of feed. Cows aren’t picky eaters; in fact some of the most resourceful ones eat yucca tops if the grass is dry.

So the early settlers resorted to fencing their acreage and introducing Hereford cattle to their holdings. Herefords, hailing back to Herefordshire, England, adapted to the bitter winters in the Southwestern United States and became a favored cash crop for homesteaders. They filled out well and were prize winners at the National Western Stock Show for many years.

In more recent times, Angus cattle have surpassed Herefords as a favorite of cattle buyers and the famous cry of “Angus Beef ” has surpassed the reliable Hereford. Angus cattle fatten better and have a square appearance, which makes them the favorite of those showing cattle in competitions like the National Western.

 

STOCK SHOW TIME

January 17, 2014

Yes, it is that time of year again. Time for the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado. A time for ranchers, farmers, and cattlemen to take a brief respite from their winter chores and see what is happening around their world. It’s been that way for the last 108 years.

Perhaps the most popular aspect of the Stock Show isn’t quite as old as the beef, lamb, pig, and horse competitions. Most of the attendees enjoy the rodeo competition, which has only been included in the National Western since 1931.

But the history of rodeo in Colorado is much older than the 1930’s. It harks back to 1864, when two neighboring ranches met to settle the argument of who had the best cowboys in the small town of Deer Trail, Colorado. Events in roping, bronco riding, and steer wrestling solved the dispute, although the winning ranch statistics were lost in history. Now these events are included in nearly every rodeo, and an organization for professional rodeo cowboys has replaced the local ranch hands who were out to let off a little steam and enjoy comparing their skills to other cowboys.

Whether enjoying the professionals do their “thing” or watching children as young as six try their hand at “catch-it calf” and mutton busting competitions, the National Western Stock Show brings back a respect for those who have always worked the land and the livestock.

FRONTIER MEDICINE

January 10, 2014

Flu season seems to be making its yearly appearance, so perhaps it is time to discuss what was and wasn’t available for early pioneers. Most “doctoring” was done at home, so home remedies were the only option if you were sick. Lovers of modern medicine may be throwing up their hands in despair, but many home remedies did work and some worked as well as any new pharmaceuticals.

Although the Spanish Flu resulted in scores of deaths, most flu virus weren’t as deadly and could be treated at home. Perhaps one of the most common results of influenza was the tendency for patients to get pneumonia. An interesting and effective cure for pneumonia was the onion poultice. The pioneer would fry several sliced onions to translucent stage, then wrap them in a dish towel and place them on the patient’s chest. You might smell like onions for a while, but I know several older patients who were saved from death by the trusty onion poultice.

The use of whiskey and honey as a cough syrup worked as well as any patent medicine so pioneers relied heavily on this home remedy for the flu cough and colds or pneumonia.

Later when they became available, lemons added to the mixture made it even more effective.

Most home remedies weren’t as effective as penicillin, but most of them worked as well.

FREEZING WEATHER

January 3, 2014

 

We’ve covered problems of leaking cabins and frozen water in past blogs, but perhaps in view of recent snows in the northeastern parts of the United States, it is time to discuss the pioneer versus the weather. I am constantly surprised that my ancestors managed to survive Colorado’s bitter, cold winters. As I sit in my office with the ambient temperature hovering around 62°, I’m not sure how they managed to keep from freezing to death in their un-insulated, cabins. Granted they came equipped with comforters and quilts and a trusty cookstove, but was that really enough.

Regarding my own family, I can only guess that packing fourteen or fifteen bodies into a space perhaps ten by twenty feet may have helped at least the inner bodies stay warm. Of course, rags and tarpaper were stuffed into the most obvious holes. Still these folks have my greatest admiration.

The matter of winter chores also sets me to wondering. Early February usually brought the onset of calving season. My father would make sure all the cattle were in the lower “close-in” pasture . Most of the older cows wouldn’t have any problems producing a darling, healthy calf, but “the first-calf heifers” were another matter. Some of these heifers simply didn’t have a clue what was happening and would need help. As my father predicted “something about the drop in barometric pressure, and resulting blizzard, would lead to at least one or more of the heifers deciding it was time to have their first calf.” This would lead to family members standing out in the freezing weather for several hours. Farming, ranching, and homesteading was definitely for the most hardy of souls.