This is a true story as told by Mr. McDaniel to JS Morgan, July 25, 2007 Copyright by JS Morgan.
In early September of 1992, I was hired as a wrangler for a cattle ranch near Cooke, Montana. Assigned to deliver some bulls to a breeding station near Yellowstone and as a cattle wrangler for a roundup in the mountains nearby the ranch. My job was, along with many other people, to bring cattle back down the mountain from their summer feeding areas to the ranch for their own protection from the elements and wildlife.
Arriving in Sherman, Wyoming, I had to wait for the 20 or so ranch hands to arrive with the other bulls. So those of us arriving early, holed up in a nice hotel/motel & casino, while the bulls were corralled out back. It’s not every hotel that has a cattle corral but this one could claim just that. During the wait, the weather started to turn from balmy summer evenings into cool and then downright chilly evenings. An early snow storm in the nearby mountains brought cold nights to the motel, cold enough that it required the trucks be winterized earlier then was usually necessary.
After all the hands had arrived, the group headed up to the ranch to begin the process of searching for and herding the cattle back from the range. This was a typical wrangling job, horses, tack, rifles, etc. About all that was lacking was the chuck wagon and the attending cook. We all carried our own campsacks and enough food for 3-4 days.
The ranch staff had been organizing the roundup for the first week of September for decades so when the weather broke & began warming up again, they felt safe in sending 20-30 ranch hands up into the mountains for the cattle roundup with the job of returning them to the safety of the ranch. Everyone loaded up in the trucks along with their horses and were delivered with the gear into the foothills.
We split up into many groups, and in my group were myself, two greenhorn cowboys, Morgan & Blaine, and a cowgirl, Sharri, a roughneck as tough as the country we were in. I was the acting trail boss. We headed off on horseback into our assigned area looking for cattle. The first day we gained nearly 2,000 feet elevation enjoying fair weather and sunshine, and an easy ride. We collected some cattle as the hours passed and by the third day, we had nearly 150 head under our protection.
Late in the afternoon of the third day, while taking a break, I’m sitting on a rock enjoying the scenery along with Sharri when I smell something familiar. I ask Sherri if she smells it, “Smell what?”, she responds. “The snow”, I ask her, “can’t you smell the snow?”. Twenty minutes later, off in the distance forms a wall of clouds, hanging low over the landscape and darkly threatening, completely smothering the lofty peaks in the distance. I quickly get everyone on horseback and order Morgan and Blaine down the hill looking for any place to hold up. Sherri and I round up the cattle and begin pushing down the mountain, intent on getting lower before the approaching storm, fully aware that we probably didn’t have the time to make it all the way to safety. We had climbed the mountain on the easterly flank, but now we were hurrying down the southerly slope miles from our original track so the territory was new to us. Meanwhile, Morgan & Blaine had stumbled onto a large cave and were heading back to let us know of their find when we ran into them. We gathered up the cattle and all made our way down to the cave nearly 1/2 mile away and began preparing for a winter storm.
The cave was large enough for all of us, our gear, and the horses. And the storm clouds looked threatening enough that I felt we might have to hole up here for quite awhile. So the first order of business was for everyone to head out to gather as much feed for the horses as possible. And to locate firewood. We left the cattle to their own resources in the sloped meadow in front of the cave. After we had enough feed for the horses, everyone gathered wood for the fire we’d need to ward off the cold that was already blowing our way. By twilight, we were ready as the cold wind picked up and the snow flakes began to fall, slowly at first, but increasing as the night progressed. With our kit rations we had enough food for a meager couple days and besides, we didn’t really expect the storm to last very long as it was so early in the season.
The next morning the snow was still coming down and was approaching nearly two feet. The wind was blowing cold into the cave so we began to pile up snow at the entrance, leaving a pathway and a way for smoke from the fire to escape. The wind driven snowfall increased in intensity all during the day and soon we were working hard to keep the cold air out of the cave as it swirled around the mountain, eventually piling the deep snow up as much as we could in front of the cave nearly blocking the entrance and filling the rest of the opening with a camp tent. The horses were hobbled in the back of the cave, we did not want to be trapped after the storm without horses, but the cattle were left to themselves and had moved on like fallen leaves as the storm rushed through the valley. On the third day, the snow was still coming down and we were seriously low of food, but one source of food, the cattle, were now lost to us and nowhere to be found. Water was not a problem since there was a natural spring inside the cave providing all the water we needed.
Late in the afternoon, we spotted a bull elk grazing in the meadow nearly 60 yards from the cave. A quick shot in the forehead gave us food for several days. Without the elk, we would have been seriously weakened, and at the time we had no idea how long the storm was going to last, as it showed no signs of letting up until the morning of the sixth day. If there was going to be a search party, because of the random nature of a cattle roundup, there was no way of knowing if we would ever be found since no one on earth, other then ourselves, knew where we were.
The sixth day dawned bright, sunny and hopeful so we packed up our gear, removed the ropes that hobbled the horses, saddled up and headed down the mountain. Most of the day was spent slogging through horse belly high snow and near dusk we arrived at a rescue camp set up by the state. They had been easy to spot as we came down the mountain because of the helicopters arriving and departing nearly all day. There were almost 40 people missing up in the mountains because of the storm.
After a rest, food, and a good night sleep we volunteered to help search for the other wranglers and lost cattle caught by the storm. We saddled up and headed off into the forest. It didn’t take long for Sherri to spot a grizzly about a hundred yards away, intent on feeding. We approached out of curiosity. Eventually, Sherri put a bullet in it’s hind end to scare it off. When we got to where it had been, we found what it was feeding on was the frozen body of one of the wranglers, and nearby another. We loaded the frozen bodies on the horses and headed off back down the mountains to the rescue camp.
Most of the cattle made it down the mountain on their own, but many of the people that found themselves caught out in the open nearly didn’t. Several died and some bodies were never recovered.
Seattle’s Finest – a true story by Annie D. as told to J S Morgan, July 2009, all rights reserved
After a long flight my friend and I stumbled into one of the many nice bars in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle. After having had to drag my luggage far to far, I was looking forward to a nice refreshing adult beverage to help swamp the uneasy queasy feeling that comes from flying. The bartender sauntered over and in a thick European accent, German or Austrian, asks to see our drivers licenses. At age 26, nearly 27, that wasn’t all that uncommon. In this case he had no trouble with my friends Washington state license but wrinkled his nose as he inspected my Alaskan license. He shook his head a little but served us our first drink.
Then something must have clicked in his head as he headed back to our table and requested to see my license again. At this point, holding my license, he decides it’s a fake and asks us to leave. Since it isn’t fake, I politely ask for it back, since he has indicated he was going to keep it. He refuses. Without my license, I am stuck, and an entrance interview for the job I’d come to start the next morning makes having it a necessity! I deny that it is in any way fake. During the ensuing argument I call the police. He insists it’s fake, refusing to return it, implying that the signature of the state official on the back of the drivers license does not look like the one in the bar book of licenses, and cares little about the approaching police sirens. Temper rising, I ask him how stupid he is if he doesn’t realize that state officials do occasionally retire or quit. In any case, the rest of the license matches the one shown in the book perfectly. He responds with some choice words of his own.
At this point we were having what would be called a scene, with raised voices and vitriol filled conversation. In the right, filled with righteous indignation, I cared little about his supposed ‘authority’‘ as the bar tender. And his ridiculous accent did nothing to improve his standing. He’s a foreigner, how dare he doubt my license! How stupid is he to think that the state official’s signature wouldn’t change occasionally! Give me back my license!
By this time the police are making their way towards us through the bar and see him push me. Although I have been ‘in his face’ during the final stages of the argument, I’ve not touched him in any way. He gets cuffed while I keep yelling at him, “Let me see your visa! I want to see your visa! Can you legally be here?!”, I ask the cops to demand to see his visa (to no avail, they can’t do that, only INS can).
Eventually, the police calm the situation, insist that he return my license, he is released and returns to behind the bar, and I go on to my apartment.
It turns out that back then, (12 years ago) they paid bar tenders in Washington for each and every license they turned in…as some sort of reward for keeping drunks off the street. There didn’t seem to be any accounting as to whether they were obtained honestly or not, so I think mine would have disappeared in a bureaucratic nightmare of red tape. The cops were helpful to have reclaimed mine and returned it so my interview at my new job the next morning went without a hitch.