Bozeman was a mass of color, waving flags, and eager, excited people. Every street was gaily decorated; half the people had colored silk handkerchiefs loosely knotted around their necks. If there was a man in town without a Stetson he didn't show himself. Roundup was in the air.
Everyone was friendly. Knots of men congregated and dispersed as if by magic. Strangers became friends on a moment's notice, one common topic uniting all. Would Yakima Canutt be able to ride Monkey Wrench?
The big parade, at noon, took over the city. In a letter to our high school friend Vera, back in Howell, we wrote: "Hundreds of cowboys, cowgirls, and Indians rode by in picturesque array. Indian chiefs with flowing headgear, Indian medicine men with grotesque horns, richly dressed Indian women, with their babes on skin stretchers, passed by. Bringing up the rear of the procession walked an old man advertising a local dance. In a loud voice he announced to the populace, all unaware of his grammar, 'Don't fail to miss the big dance tonight at Puncher's Hall. Don't fail to miss it, men!'
The parade was a colorful—yet passive—harbinger of the real action to come. That roundup was an exhibition of the most daring and skillful riders in the West.
Wild steer riding came first. A light wiry Brahma was chosen for this event, because of its quickness and vicious temper. The cowboy, without saddle or bridle, had to ride a wild steer over a specified deadline to win his five dollars. Sometimes a cowboy would succeed in sticking, sometimes an enraged animal would throw a rider. Twice, only the presence of other mounted cowboys saved an unfortunate contestant from the long, goring horns of the steers.
The stagecoach race came next. Hatless drivers stood in their seats and cracked their blacksnakes over the madly racing horses. The pony express race brought back visions of the old days along the Overland Trail when Buffalo Bill was in his youth. The riders would leap from their flying "ponies" and hardly touch the ground as they changed mounts and tore on. The cowgirl and cowboy relay races were much the same, with the exception that the rider had to change saddles with each fresh mount. The saddle had to be thoroughly cinched in place but it had to be done with the flash of a hand. The biggest money of the roundup usually went to the relay riders.
All kinds of fancy and exhibition roping were performed, and to see this art practiced on a wild calf was most interesting. The animal to be roped sped across the arena after being released from a chute. A rider followed in a flash on his flying horse and cast his lariat for the neck or front legs of the calf. The cow pony—trained to his task—immediately stopped and braced himself while the rider jumped off and ran forward. When the calf reached the end of the rope it was flipped into the air by the suddenness of its stop, and the puncher had it tied up before it could rise.
The backbone of the roundup came in the broncbusting contests. Outlaw horses that never could be tamed were secured, and against these devils cowboys and cowgirls matched their skill and daring. A wriggling, twisting, bucking demon with slashing hooves and wicked teeth was the type of horse chosen for the bronc contests. The horse would as soon stand on his head as his feet, as soon crush a man against the arena wall as to topple over backwards on him in the open. A snorting, stiff-legged, wild-eyed, pitching devil is what the humans pitted their puny strength against. And they often won. To see on the program such names as Prairie Rose Henderson on Rawlin's Kid, Bonnie McCarral on Billy Buck, or Joe Wild Bill on Stranger, Mike Hastings on No Name, or Kid Tracy riding Black Diamond, gave us thrills even before the equine fireworks began.
The Bozeman slogan, "She's Wild," surely applied with a vengeance to the bucking bronco events.
Perhaps the most spectacular event of the whole roundup was the steer bulldogging contest. A wild Texas steer, one of the big rangy type with cast-iron legs and a neck like rubber, was set loose from one of the end chutes. The animal raced madly across the open arena. The bulldogger, on his well-trained mount, was two seconds behind. A third rider, or hazer, kept the steer running in a straight line while the bulldogger came alongside, leaped from his flying horse and, while in midair, caught the steer by the horns. He then dragged the animal to a full stop and started to twist that rubber neck. The steer's nose pointed skyward and yet his feet remained firmly planted. It was a question of strength, endurance, and skill. The man won; the steer slowly toppled over. But the second entry in this bulldogging contest was not so lucky. Neither was the steer. Broken horns on the part of the steer, and broken bones on the part of the man resulted when the cowboy miscalculated when leaping for the animal's horns. No headgear or other football equipment was allowed the rider. The need for split second timing and skill, to avoid injury, made bulldogging one of the most thrilling events of the whole roundup.
Perhaps a thousand Indians had journeyed miles from their reservations to attend—and in many cases take part in—the roundup. Dressed in characteristic colorful attire they competed in most of the events, as well as featuring their own special achievements, such as the war dance and peace dance. They were good horsemen and entered into the races with gusto but could not compete with the American cowboys in the bulldogging events when it came to sticking on outlaw buckers. Probably that had not been a part of their reservation life. The Indians added a touch of authentic color. The roundup would not have been complete without them.
Still filled with the excitement of the roundup, Win and I backtracked to Livingston, then—this time on foot—again entered Yellowstone Park. With our parents and the Nash we had spent the nights in tourist camps; on our own, we found a spot in the silent forest to sleep. As we awoke next morning two beautiful deer were grazing close to us. They were wild deer of course but, being protected in the park, had no fear of humans.
Following a camp breakfast of dry bread and raisins, we started walking. The experience opened up for us almost a new Yellowstone Park. Riding in the Nash had provided relaxation. Sauntering on foot provided a chance to see and listen to birds, to follow little paths through the forests, or stop and listen to the rush of streams. We relished the high mountain air and the scent of the pines. All of our senses were alert.
For the first time on our trip we hesitated and nearly said "No" when a large car pulled beside us and the driver asked if we would like a ride. That ride turned out to be a minor miracle.
Perhaps "minor" is the wrong word. The car was a huge black Marmon, the first we had ever ridden in. To this day we have no idea why they stopped to give us a lift. Their car was large—but completely crowded. We soon were making the acquaintance of Mr. and Mrs. Fritz, their two children, and another man—Mrs. Fritz's brother—all on a sight-seeing trip from Texas. Five people—and enough baggage and luggage for a dozen.
"Here, we'll make room for one of you inside," came Mrs. Fritz's pleasant direction. I was selected for the honor.
"Perhaps your brother" (we had already introduced ourselves) "can sit on the trunk. "
Win did. But the trunk she referred to was not inside. It was strapped to the running board. As we started out, Win made himself reasonably comfortable in his trunk-sitting position, while he held onto the door handle for support.
Why did they pick us up? We never found out. We soon made ourselves useful, however, acting as their Yellowstone guides. But they had not known, until we began pointing out various places of interest, that we had ever been in the park before.
They were appreciative, and doubtless learned much about Yellowstone that they otherwise would have missed. Win and I—still overflowing with awe at the marvels of this natural wonderland—were really full of our subject.
Much of this pointing out (of view spots) and explaining (of important sights) fell to me, since I was inside. But Win was actually able to see more from his "open air" running board seat, and often called out sights, or interrupted me if I got facts wrong.
At Madison Junction our ways parted. Giving the Fritzes both an actual and verbal list of things they shouldn't miss, we watched them off as they continued their circle of the park. Win and I headed for the west entrance, where we left the park, then started for Salt Lake City.
Travel was slow. Rides were few. Nearly every car, like that of the Fritzes, was bulging with tourists and luggage. Unlike the Fritzes, they didn't stop, and we couldn't blame them.
Yet, after two days, we did need a sizeable ride. On the third day of slow travel—by this time we had at least made it down toward Rexburg, Idaho—we stopped for a short afternoon nap. Walking since daybreak with little to eat had taken its toll. Win fell asleep. It was my turn to stand guard, to keep an eye out for favorable looking cars, but I, too, had dozed off. A car came bowling toward us from behind. The driver sounded his horn and drew up beside us, startling us awake with a chorus of familiar voices. "All aboard for Salt Lake City."
The Fritzes! As we sped southwest they explained they had completed a hasty survey of the park—made easier with the aid of our directions—and had left for Salt Lake City on the route we had taken. They had passed up other hikers in the hope of overtaking us. We were all old-time friends now, and became even better acquainted. It developed that the Fritzes were but little short of millionaires, Mr. Fritz having speculated advantageously in the oil fields of Texas. Here was real friendship. We were finding that these people, in addition to wealth, had that possession which is the greatest gift of all—they were common folks. The combination made them exceedingly uncommon.
Although the Marmon pushed along at fifty miles an hour much of the time, occasionally swallowing up the road at even a faster clip, it nevertheless took parts of two days to make the 250 miles into the Mormon city. In the middle of the first afternoon it began to rain. The Fritzes insisted that Win ride inside the car. We all squeezed even more tightly together until the rain ceased. The night en route was spent at Pocatello, Idaho.
Coming from the north, we crossed the Utah state line in the early afternoon and from then until we reached the capital we sped along over concrete roads, through a fertile irrigated valley. Fruit everywhere. Peaches, cherries, watermelons, even some oranges. At Brigham we found we were a couple of weeks too early for their annual fruit festival, at which time peaches and watermelons would be distributed free to thousands of tourists.
Sixty miles above the "Mormon City" a body of water came into view off to the right. It was the Great Salt Lake of which we had heard so much, the lake where one floats like a cork, its waters being twenty-two percent salt. We followed it all afternoon, sometimes closely, sometimes at a distance.
And then, Salt Lake City itself! How could we thank the Fritzes? To our surprise, we had ample time to do so. They would not think of dropping us in the middle of the city, but inquired as to the location of the tourist camp and took us directly to its entrance. Our experiences with them gave us new respect for Morman cars, for Texans, and for newly made millionaires. Win and I both decided it might be wise to be one someday.
- Category: Foot By Foot Through the USA
- Written by Grace McKay
- Hits: 1424