A True Story from The Lost Prairie Chronicles
These are true stories of my children growing up in Lost Prairie Montana.
My son, Latigo transcribed and assembled these stories for me as my wrists are almost unuseable now from some 45 years of chisel and mallet mural carving. Latigo added phots here and there. Maybe someday he'll publish these Chronicles.
I hope you enjoy them.
The Lost Prairie Chronicles #21 "A Necessary Hunt"
Laying in bed, from under the covers I could still tell that the outside temperature had dropped. Resisting the urge to stay there keeping warm with Lyn, I gently rolled to the side and out of bed. Gathering my boots and pants I quietly eased through the door and into the hallway. Listening at each door, I assured myself that the kids were asleep. Down the hall to the kitchen, turning on the counter light, starting the coffee pot, looking out the kitchen window into the barnyard I then dressed quietly and stoked the firebox. Sid Hartha raised his head from his bed beside the firebox, but made no move to disentangle himself from the blanket. It was cold and he's no fool. Head back down on his paws and a soft sigh.
The screen door reminded me it needed it's hinges oiled and squeaked a quiet protest as I gathered three more Larch logs from the porch for the fire. Even the firebox doors made a noise that seemed louder than it was as if to point out how quiet the rest of the world was at that hour. Opening the flu and getting the old girl putting out some heat, I dressed and poured the coffee. Pulling the curtain by the door aside just enough to let the light illuminate the outside thermometer I could see the mercury hovering at 32 degrees. Not really all that cold for an early morning in May. One cup of coffee, more in a thermos and Lyn's dried fruit in a small package, I pulled on my down coat, took the 30-30 from the rack, stuck the .41 magnum revolver in the holster behind my right hip, shut down the flu, turned off the light and headed for the barn.
It was cold enough for me to see my own breath in the light over the barn doors. Entering the dimly lit barn I heard Shonkin utter a low nicker at my approach. A few of the other horses that were in the barn stuck their heads out of their stalls and watched me with ears forward and keen interest. *What the heck is he doing here this early?* No time for grain or alfalfa for the rest of them, but I poured a gallon can of Molasses Oats into Shonk's crib along with a couple handfuls of alfalfa. He ate as I slid his saddle blanket over his back, swung the high-cantle saddle into place and reached under his chest for the cinch. Knowing his favourite trick, I waited for him to exhale and quickly pulled the cinch tight. I loosely hooked up the rear circingle and checked the cinch for tightness. He swung his head to the rear, looking at me he paused in mid-chew and shook his head in appreciation as I relented and loosened the cinch by one notch. If a rider can't stay on a horse with other than a overly tight cinch he doesn't belong on the horse.Waiting for him to finish eating, I slipped the 30-30 into the leather scabbard, tied it to the off side with the saddle strings and straps, put Lyn's dried food package into the saddle bag, tied my older lariat to the saddle, attatched Shonk's breast strap to the D rings and sat on a bale till he had eaten all of the oats he could find in the crib. I could tell he was faking it when he began pushing the hay around. He was loathe to leave that semi-warm barn, but I slid his bridle over his ears and the low-port spade bit into his mouth. Shonkin did not need a spade bit at all, but he actually enjoyed fooling with the spade wheel with his tongue so I allowed it. Tightening the headstraps, I turned him around and swung the barn door open.
By this time is was barely breaking day and we could just see the fences, the gate and the trail heading north. I paused looking at the treeline, swung up into the saddle and squeezed Shonk's ribcage with my calves. We began at a slow walk in the awakening daylight with Shonk blowing clouds of warm air from his nostrils. He was anxious to move at a brisker pace, but we were on a mission that dictated patience and awareness. We were after a very large coyote or, hopefully not..... a wolf.
I'm well aware of the sensitvity of this topic, but when you've seen a half eaten calf that was literally dragged from it's mother during the birth process you gain a slightly different perspective on things......particularly when it happens three times in a row over a three night period. This is what was happening to my neighbor, and as he had quite a few years on me, I volunteered to solve the situation one way or another. Turning up the down collar on my coat, I patted Shonk on the neck and allowed him to pick up the pace a bit. Stopping at the gate that opened to the lane road, I dismounted, opened the gate and led Shonk through. Closing the gate, I swung back up into the saddle and followed our own fenceline a couple hundred yards before turning north along the Louden's fenceline. We'd be passing through the reservoir area and then north to the ridge above the Louden Ranch. It was nearing full dawn by the time we reached the reservoir and so far we'd seen no sign at all. I say "we" because a good saddlehorse will alert on things we can't see or hear, and Shonk was good at it. I've been on the trail up to Bear Springs when Shonkin suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, ears forward and snorting. Far up ahead was a barely seen black bear. (Did I really say that?) We turned off the trail and gave that bear a wide berth. Yep. Shonk was a great trail companion.
The sun was rising and birds were beginning to appear in force. I scanned both sides of the trail and up ahead as we moved at an easy pace. Crossing the ACM Road, I lined out for the spring I knew was at the base of the mountain leading up to the ridge. The ACM Road, built originally by the Anaconda Copper and Mining Company as a 55 mile truck thoroughfare from the old mines near Marion to the rails near the Thompson River Road. It still exists today and is now used as a logging road connecting various logging areas to the main highway far from where Shonk and I stopped for a break.I dismounted, slipped Shonk's bridle and attatched a tag line to his headstall allowing him to graze a bit at the spring. I ate some of Lyn's goodies, had a short cup of coffee and sat down to double check my firearms. I gave Shonk 20 minutes to graze and drink and we were back on our way toward the ridge.
The day was clear and we took out time moving ever upward, stopping often for me to scan around us for any sign of a carcass or scavengers. We were well into the area where coyotes seem to gather and run down to Lost Prairie, but truth be told there was always a chance that often being holed up during the daylight hours we'd miss them anyway. I was primarily looking for a calf carcass. The chance that one had been carried to the area where the coyotes had this spring's litters was pretty good, and that's exactly where we were. I spent a good three hours scouring the immediate area and found nothing whatsoever. I headed Shonkin to the top of the ridge and we arrived an hour later. At the very top is a huge, flat rock that affords an incredible view of Lost Prairie and Meadow Peak across the valley. I unsaddled Shonk, slipped his bridle and hooked the tag line on his headstall. While he grazed, I had the last of Lyn's dried fruits, the rest of the coffee and sat on top of the rock in the warm sun looking at the view.
I must have dozed a bit because I awoke to a soft, wet muzzle in my face. Shonk had had enough of the scenery and grazing on that mountain grass... nothing like our pasture grass. It was beginning to get on toward sunset and we made steady progress, much faster than the trip up. Nearing the ACM Road I decided to go home through the back end of the Louden ranch and bypass the reservoir......... and I'm glad I did. We were just at the edge of the treeline with an open area some two hundred yards distance between us and the fence. We had just emerged from the treeline when I saw it some seventyfive yards ahead of us, and damm....... he was big! I dismounted and slowly drew my rifle from the scabbard. Cycling the lever action, gently....gently, I ran a round into battery. Kneeling down, I laid the rifle across a stump and lined up on him as he trotted dead away from us toward the fence.
Just enough daylight and a slow, easy squeeze and the rifle barked and jumped. So did Shonkin!..... but he stood his ground, not spooking. The coyote dropped right where he was. I immediately both sensed and saw movement to my left at the treeline. Coyotes! Four of them running as fast as only coyotes can. I mounted Shonk and trotted to where they had been and......... of course. A calf carcass. I had gone the wrong way up to the ridge. It had been a newborn for sure. The sac was still there in pieces. I rode to where the big one lay and confirmed that it was indeed a coyote and not a wolf. I'd never seen one that large and from any distance it would have been an easy mistake to make. I dismounted, led Shonkin to a nearby tree, loosely tying him off. Like most horses, Shonk didn't like the smell of blood. Pack horses can eventually become accustomed to it, but it takes time. I dragged the coyote the last few yards to the fence and, with some difficulty, draped him over a stout fencepost. Distasteful as it may seem, this is done for a reason. Other coyotes will stay completely clear of an area thus adorned. Far enough away from the ranch building to not be an odor problem, it assures a good chance of the cattle in the immediate area being left alone. I'd done this same procedure on our own fences a few times over the years, and it always worked.
Remembering that after the first shot I had, of habit, immediately cylced another round into the 30-30, I drew it from the scabbard and cleared the action. It had been a long day and I mounted Shonk and headed across the Louden pastures and home. Shonkin was ready for some alfalfa, so I unsaddled him and let him feed as I vigorously brushed him down in his stall. I was tired and definitely needed a shower. Lyn had Supper waiting by the time I was dried off. Latigo, Amanda and Rosemary wanted to hear the story so I told it between mouthfuls of roast beef, gravy and vegetables. I phoned a thankful Bob Louden and we all called it a day. And........ in case you're wondering how Shonk came by his name, he's a very tall Appaloosa/Palomino American Saddler born on the Shonkin River over east of the divide, and though he's long since passed away, I'm eternally thankful he and I had those years together.
Dad on Shonkin. Note the 30-30 in the scabbard, it's the one he shot that coyote with.