Tony Vagneur: Here’s to making unforgettable memories on the range to save for posterity
It’s that time again and as I’m riding through the mountains, either moving cattle or packing salt for them, I wonder if the old-timers really ever knew how great they had it. I mean, it was all mostly right out the back door for them.
In today’s world, it seems there is always a need to haul horses from here to there to start the day, or to haul horses from there to here to end the day. Don’t get me wrong — we did our fair share of hauling horses to get where we needed to go, but a lot of days, we just saddled up in the corral near the house and headed to the mountains.
Al Senna, the range rider, would sometimes come by the house and pick me up and off we’d go up Collins Creek, pushing cows out of the river bottom and on to higher ground. What a philosopher he was — spend days and weeks alone in the mountains, living in a small cabin by yourself and there isn’t a lot of recreation other than reading, at least for a guy like Al. He could converse intelligently about anything.
And there was the tiny, round scar on the side of his nose, where somehow it was related to the military and the hot sun. And the stories about the malaria he contracted in the Pacific, a plague that occasionally came back to remind him that he was human. Later on, he surmised that the tick fever he caught in Woody Creek might have been worse than malaria, but he only mentioned it once.
Al would reach into his shirt pocket and pull out the fixins’ with one hand, in the order needed, while hanging onto the reins of his horse with the other, and all without stopping. The papers, the sack of Bull Durham with the yellow string on top, using his teeth to help, the index finger finesse as he laid the tobacco out smoothly, followed by tongued spit-lacing of the edges of the paper as they came together. And then the unmistakable sound of a wooden kitchen match fired off his thumbnail as it became a satisfying, finished product. All this he did with one hand.
At one time, we ran about 1,200 head of cattle on our Red Canyon range, and it was spread out fairly well between Sloan’s Peak and Mount Yeckel, including land on the Fryingpan side. There were five Vagneur ranches participating in the permit¸ and while not yet a teenager, I became part of the crew.
We took about 100 head on a two-day drive from Woody Creek to a spot just above the Cap K Ranch on the Fryingpan. After a rest on the third day, they were then pushed up the mountain toward the Woody Creek side of the ridge. The drive included a jaunt on Highway 82 from Old Snowmass to Basalt. Try that today. Naturally, we needed a ride home for the horses when that was done, so stock trucks were employed. We didn’t have a horse on the ranch that would load into a horse trailer — some of them didn’t like getting aboard a stock truck.
Occasionally, I’d be dispatched to ride with my great-uncle, Sullivan Vagneur, up Red Canyon. He was an excellent guide and we pushed cows past points not on a map, such as Half-Moon Canyon, Twin Oaks, Indian Playground, most of them on the northern or northeast side of the ubiquitous Triangle Peak. We’d invariably get caught in an afternoon rainstorm, which would prompt Uncle Sullivan to mutter that we’d better hurry up and get our work done — fishing was always very good in the muddied evening waters of Woody Creek after a thunderstorm. Sullivan’s given birth name was Sylvain. Years later, our Heli-ski guide in Canada was a great guy named Sylvain.
My grandson Cash came with us on a cattle drive last week, turning his parent’s cattle out on summer grazing. It was the third time for him. His younger sister Charli came with us for the first time, riding her own horse. Soon, Cash will be big enough to go with me on some salt packing expeditions, and shortly after that, Charli will get initiated into that aspect of cattle ranching. We’ll be making unforgettable memories to save for posterity.
The future looks good for them, and me.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What am I going to do? I’m going to learn a lot about you, us, myself. I’m going to learn about our grit, our character, our very souls as only such tests can reach.
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