Notes for Sam Elliott Bridges, Jr.: Letter written in 1954
Horse Lover's Magazine Box 1432 Richmond, Calif.
Enclosed, please find the $5 I squeezed from my wife for the fifteen pen and ink sketches by Charles Russel advertized in your July issue.
Born--and deep--freezed--in Montana for 25 years, and living in Oregon for the past 15 years, I have thawed out enough to appreciate fine art such as done by Charles Russell, Will James, Bill Standing and other Montana boys.
In 1933-1934 I worked for the CK and NBarN ranches, both owned by the same Company, Chappel Bros. They ran the last roundup wagon in Montana, I think. There were sixteen cowboys in the outfit, with 200 head of saddle horses in the remuda. There was no rough string. Each cowboy rode all of his horses, three per day. We ate in a mess tent, slept in a bed tent, until one of the boy's horses bucked through it---then we slept in the open.
We went from the first of June until sometime in October without eating at a table or sleeping on anything but the ground. We worked from dawn (that is as early as you can see well enough to pick one of your horses' head out of 200 milling others) until we finished working the herd in the evening. Then we each took 2 hour guard at night over the day herd.
Horses were held out for future use, usually to ship east. I forgot to mention that this was strictly a horse outfit. I believe the tally the year that I worked for them was 12,000 head.
The wages were $40 per month and $50 for about four of the top hands. We worked 7 days a week, the only break coming was the middle of July, when we went to Wolf Point for the Stampede or Rodeo as some called it. It lasted 3 days. One year when we got back from the Stampede, the three cowboys that had stayed at camp had bought a gallon of whiskey from a nearby combination rancher-moonshiner, and had had a celebration of their own. The remuda that we had been corralling in a rope corral (one long rope stretched in a cirle from the bed wagon) was so wild that they would go in through the opening on one side and right over the other side. The boys had made a saddle blanket out of horse hair in the mess tent and had eaten all of the cook's goodies, such as raisins and cocoanut. The shredded cocoanut mixed with horse hair on the ground in the vicinity of the cooks territory made the cook's blood boil.
This, plus the wild saddle horses, plus the job of rounding up a dozen cowboys from the rodeo to bring back to camp left such an impression on the Boss, the next year, a couple of weeks before Stampede, word got around that we were not going. I could see my girl friend (now my wife) celebrating for three days without me. Even though I trusted her implicitely, this kept bothering me. I was sent along with about 600 head of horses to be auctioned at Miles City. The next few days gave me a rather bitter look on Cowboy life.
We left our happy home (the roundup wagon as I have described it) and headed up the "Little Dry" toward Miles City. There were five of us cowboys with this 600 head and the Boss was to meet us at noon with our luch and a night with our beds. The first day's lunch was about 3 PM.; Vienna sausage, potted ham, cheese, peas, and bread. We had no tools to eat with (he had forgotten them) but wouldn't admit it----instead he tried to convince us that a good cowboy should rough it. Just try to keep peas on a piece of bread.
This went on for about three days.
We crossed the divide between the Yellowstone and the Missouri and went down another creek until we reach the Yellowstone across from old Fort Keogh. There was an abandoned bridge about a quarter of a mile long and about 75 feet above water, as the bank on the north side is quite high. The bridge was marked condemned but was still decked solid and except for the approach being sunk a couple of feet, it looked usable. It was about 5 miles down to the new bridge and would mean trailing the horses around the town of Miles City so we decided to cross the bridge, a little bunch at a time. My lot happened to be the first on the bridge, to coax the horses on and to hold them back so they would just walk and not jar the bridge. Another cowboy was with me but I can't recall his name. Everything went fine and they pushed a small bunch up behind us, but the main band saw this and followed so closely that the first thing we knew, we had about an hundred head behind us and the bridge was bucking and swaying something awful. We looked down at the water some 70 feet below and it looked more like 500 feet.
As neither of us had been off the ground any higher than the top of a horse before, we kicked our horses into a lope in order to string that herd of horses out behind us. Those cowboys on the other end just let them keep coming and crossed that river in time that would set a record a Las Alamitas in spite of the fact our horses could hardly standup. The sensation was something like I have heard people describe an earthquake. We stopped on the other side and let the horses graze until just about dark. Then we corralled them in the yards of Fort Keogh and went into Miles City, in the Boss's car for supper--- our first meal in 3 or 4 days.
Everything was closed for the night except the Hotel where we ate so we went back and rolled our beds on a level spot and went to sleep. Sometime during the night I was awakened by a terrific noise that brought us all completely out of bed.
It was a train. The first we had heard for a couple of months. I'll swear it ran right over the foot of my bed, actually it was about a hundred feet away.
The next morning we went back into town at daylight for breakfast and there was frost on the bridge across Tongue River and it was the 4th of July! I had let my whiskers grow, figuring on getting a barber shop shave, haircut and a bath. Instead we spent two days there and I was kept on day herd from dawn to dusk and then started back with about 100 head of horses that didn't sell. We stopped at a sheep wagon and even though the sheepherder was not at home, we borrowed the herder's razor and soap to shave. I would have liked to have thanked him. We took a bath in the first water hole we came to. It was called the "Little Dry" and was about 3 feet deep.
Frank Kincaid, who was about 65 years old and looked exactly like Will Rogers, had been more fortunate than I. He had been into town during the day and bought a new hat, shirt, pants, and boots but had a little piece of rope about the size of a piggin' string for a belt.
When we came to this water hole, he was the last to undress. We all wore what we called "three season" long handled light weight underwear. Frank, being somewhat of a pioneer, had bought a pair of BVD's.
He was afraid we would make fun of him. He told me real quietly, "I feel like a ------------- undressing in front of you guys."
That was my last cowboying. I got back to the wagon and caught my private horse and headed for the main ranch, the CK and went to the rodeo. That was in 1934 and I hadn't touched a horse since.
I have raised three boys. The oldest one was 19 when he asked me what color a gelding was. It jarred me so hard that I bought a mare for them to ride as I felt that I was robbing them of something. Then I couldn't resist wanting a colt and decided to breed her and another I had bought because of a bargain. Well the first Stud I saw was the prettiest horse I have ever seen. I wound up buying him, Joe Lewis Jr. P. 21,719 three more registered quarter horse mares and am now looking all over the State of Oregon for pasture to keep them.
The boys are learning though and I am finding that I have missed a lot in the twenty five years I have been twisting nuts (I became a heavy-duty mechanic) instead of broncs.
I hope I can watch this little bunch grow into a herd of top quality quarter horses.
Sam Bridges Lyons, Oregon
P.S. If you like this I will fill in the two years that I didn't tell about.
More About Sam Elliott Bridges, Jr. and Bernice Kathern Geisen: Marriage: June 22, 1935, Wolf Point, Montana.
Children of Sam Elliott Bridges, Jr. and Bernice Kathern Geisen are: