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Cover of Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shenanigans
 

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OPEN THE BOOK . . .

1 Stirrups, Sage and Shenanigans

Trailing into the Blizzard

Trailing in a blizzard
Even trailing in a blizzard, the lead cow strings them out as she heads toward home and winter feed.

 

Snow hit our faces in sharp little pellets as the wind swirled around us. The horses turned their heads sideways into the storm and the cattle bunched up tight, balking as we urged them forward. We’d been on the trail four days, and planned this one to be our last. We had expected to get the cows home before dark, but we didn’t know a blizzard was coming.
Light snow started falling before noon and increased in intensity to heavy snow as the afternoon progressed. The temperature dropped and occasionally Francie and I got off our horses and walked to warm our feet. We were stiff with cold, and the bottoms of our feet stung with a thousand needle pricks when we eased out of the stirrups and hit the ground.
The storm continued to worsen. The snow hit in icy flakes and the wind swirled it up with the ground snow and slammed it in our faces.
When our lead cow turned tail to the wind, we knew we were in trouble. We had to find somewhere to hold the cattle till the blizzard blew itself out, however long that took.
“I’ve got to get you girls out of the cold.” Dad said.
He told us to get in the truck to warm up while he took one of the horses and kept moving the cattle against the wind. Truck heaters in those days weren’t very warm, but it was good getting out of the storm. It was hard to make ourselves get back out in the blizzard when Dad returned.
He thought that in a couple of miles we’d reach a pasture where we might leave the herd for the night. “That ranch is up ahead,” he called out. “I’m going up there and make arrangements for a place to hold up until this blows over.”
Dad wasn’t gone long, but when he came back we could see he was angry. He told us that while talking to the rancher, Mr. X was sitting beside his stove warming his stocking feet.
“No,” he said, “you can’t leave your cattle here. I know it’s storming and your daughters are out there, but you’ll just have to keep going.”
An amusing ending to this adventure . . . .
read the rest of this story in Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shennanigans

Excerpted from Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shenanigans: Western Ranch Life in a Forgotten Era by Francie Brink Berg, Anne Brink Sallgren Krickel and Jeanie Brink Thiessen. Copyright 2012 by Flying Diamond Books. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part prohibited without publisher’s written permission.

 


Contents

Introduction

1.Stirrups, Sage and Shenanigans
Trailing into the Blizzard 11
Powder River Romeo 15
Lunch for Lawrence 19
First Hunt 22
Riding the Ditcher 25
The Goose That Stayed 29
Move to Brink Ranch 34

2. Horses We Knew
Rider Over Backwards 39
Facing the Fast Freight 42
Buck—Mr. Personality 46
Hung Up in the Stirrup 52
Corralling Spooky Horses 57
Loading Horses on the Range 60
Horses We Knew and Loved
—Most of the Time 61
Wild Horses 66

3. Trailing Cattle
First Time Trailing 73
Finding the Way 79
Spring Creek Canyon 83
String ‘Em Out 86
Trailing Troubles 91
Third Horse High Jinks 97
Sleeping in the Open 99
Jerky and Beans 105

4. Creating Ranch Fun
Fishing the Yellowstone 108
My How Hot 113
Taxidermy Aromas 119
Prairie Dog Pets 121
Tight Fit 128
Feedlot Rodeo 130
Cutting the Christmas Tree 134
How We Celebrated Christmas 137

5. Riding Summer Ranges
Comet Runaway 141
Snake Bite 144
Chuckwagon Camp 147
Riding the Wide Open 151
Stallion Attack 157
Prairie Fire 162

6. Hunting—Rancher Style
Roadkill on the Rez 169
Elk Firing Line 172
Lucky Shots 178
Game Warden Dilemma 181
Rangeland Hunting Ethics 187
Crow Rock Antelope Flight 188
Lively Skunks 192
Two-Fifty Savage 195
Seven Deer in Seven Days 200

7. On the Home Front
Amazing Cherry Pie 203
For the War Effort 206
Garden Bountiful 208
Frog Egg Breakfast 212
Saved by a Whirling Dervish 215
Echoes in the Kitchen 218
Three-Legged Kitchen Help 224
The Gutsy Bug 226
Gathering ‘Round the Piano 229
Rangeland Hospitality Code 230
Pioneer Storytelling 236
Running the Tumbleweeds 243

8. Working Livestock
Wild Heifer 246
Working Cattle 248
Coyote Attacks 250
Purple Coyote Carcasses 255
Bringing Home the Cows 258
Branding 260
Milking Antics 263
Cream Separator Do’s and Don’ts 268
Patrolman Thomas, Always Vigilant 272
Feeding in Winter 274
Bloated Livestock 276
Sally Was No Lady 282
Mangled by the Greyhound Bus 285

9. Rural School
Long Walk Home 289
Playground Creativity 293
The School Trek 299
Horseback to School 304
Intensive Learning at Tusler 307
Three Students on Deadman Road 314
Nothing as Fearful 319

10. Field Work
Wheatfield Fire 323
Prisoners of War on our Ranch 326
Overturned John Deere 332
Child Truck Drivers 335
Hayfield Highs 337
Bee City 341
Rattlesnake Risks 344
Tractor Driving Beats Milking 351
Rat Trap Harvest 355
Blowing the Spring 357

11. Neighbors
Matchmaking Horseplay 362
Yellowstone Ice Jam 364
Red Ribboned Skunk 369
Neighborhood Fun 373

Brink Ranch Legacy
A Good Place for Cattle Ranching 380
Our Ranch House 382
Ranch Ownership 385
Major Roads and Trails
across our Ranch 386
Celebrating Travelers, Events and
Routes through this Land 391
Historical Timeline 392

Ranch maps

Tribute

About the Authors

 

 


We came to believe the Face marked the entrance to the Buford Trail for stage drivers and weary soldiers. Carved three or four times larger than a human face and three inches deep on a sandstone point of rock just east of our fresh water spring, it has been disfigured by vandals.

 

 


'Breaking horses'
Dad's method
Haltered and tied, a two-year-old mare, half-wild, just off the range and still in her long winter hair, shies and jerks away from the gunny sack Dad holds for her inspection.
Francie spends a few days, with soft rope halter looped over the mare's neck, 'sacking her out' with saddle blanket until she stands quietly, allowing the blanket to be flipped and dragged over her back, tail and under her stomach.
Days later Dad introduces bridle and bit, while the horse objects and pulls to the end of her rope. Dad prevails, forcing the bit between her teeth and slipping the headstall over her ears. He cinches the saddle in place and she is ready for her first ride.

2 Horses We Knew

Rider over Backwards


Buck with his great endurance was a sound horse for any job and Dad's favorite.

 

Flexi felt frisky that morning. Prancing sideways instead of heading out, her front hooves slipped on the ice. A perfect excuse to pitch down her head and come up bucking. I pulled in the reins hoping to stop her before I lost a stirrup.
As I had slid the saddle blanket onto her back that frosty March morning, Flexi humped up and snorted, so I tied up the left front foot to get the saddle on and when she relaxed, cinched it up tight. She didn’t like it, but no time to spare—I had to bring in the milk cows and get ready for school.
Pushing open the gate, I jumped on, released her foot and set both boots in the stirrups before we cleared the open gate.
Flexi reared up on her hind legs, skidded on the ice, went over backwards on top of me, then scrambled to her feet just as I grabbed for the reins. I missed and away she galloped, reins flying, her head high and turned to the side to avoid stepping on them.
I struggled to rise, but couldn’t.
Just my breath knocked out of me. It’ll come back if I lie still a minute.
I lay back, waiting. But still couldn’t catch my breath. Couldn’t shout for help. Couldn’t move. And an awful pain roiled around my stomach.
(Anne) I was eating breakfast when Jeanie came downstairs and into the kitchen.
“Where’s Francie? I saw Flexi galloping up the road. She’s saddled, but no one is on her,” she said. “She was holding her head to the side with the reins flying loose.” 
Just then Dad came running to the house yelling that he found Francie hurt. Mom and I dashed around the truck to where Francie lay still and white on the ground.
Dad had thrown his coat over Francie as he ran to the house to tell us and then brought the car. They carefully placed Francie’s still form on the backseat of our gray Plymouth and covered her with blankets.
I cowered in the front seat, terrified to see her so white and quiet. I knew my folks didn’t want me to cry and tried hard not to. But I was so scared. There was no blood.
After a long time at the hospital, Mom came to school and told me that when Flexi slipped and reared over backwards on the ice, the saddle horn had caught Francie in her right kidney, splitting it open. She lost a lot of blood internally. Dr. Garberson, the surgeon, removed the injured kidney through a front incision and called for blood transfusions.
They were desperate for blood because Francie had lost so much and was weak. Dad went to every business he knew asking for help. Calls went out over the radio for blood donors. People started coming to the hospital to see if their blood matched Francie’s. Dr. Garberson said they had never seen so many people as came that day to donate blood.
When Mom and Dad came home from the hospital that first day, they brought Francie’s cowboy boots and set them by the kitchen stove.
Our dog Jimmy went over to them, sniffed, and then lay down with his nose on them and whimpered.
We all felt like crying . . . .
read the rest of this story in Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shennanigans

Excerpted from Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shenanigans: Western Ranch Life in a Forgotten Era by Francie Brink Berg, Anne Brink Sallgren Krickel and Jeanie Brink Thiessen. Copyright 2012 by Flying Diamond Books. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part prohibited without publisher’s written permission.

4 Creating Ranch Fun

My How Hot


Anne catches grasshoppers that cling and chew on Mom's flowers during a bad grasshopper summer.

 

Riding down off the rimrocks that day, Jeanie's eyes narrowed as she studied the controversial hotel sign.
“Hmm. What do you think we could do with that?” she wondered with that certain gleam in her eye.
Francie and I knew instantly what she was thinking. Words could be altered to give an unintended message.
The imposing Miles Howard Hotel billboard, standing possessively on a big highway curve of our pasture, nagged like a festering sore in our family. As tourists swept around the last hill down into the valley, it told them of the newest and largest hotel in town.
Mom and Dad didn’t want signs littering their pastures, but money was tough to come by in those days and the annual lease agreement promised to ease their hardship a little. The only problem: years passed and we didn’t get paid.
Simplicity itself, the billboard gave a powerful message—even as it defaced our natural sagebrush bluff where it stood. ‘MILES HOWARD HOTEL’ it spelled out in big wooden nailed-on block letters. To the right a brilliant red-orange circle, four feet in diameter, said, ‘Room Rates $2.50 to $3.50.’ For the grandest hotel in Miles City.
The hotel was a great success. The billboard undoubtedly effective.
Then Jeanie began laughing, her eyes merry.
“Look! If we pried off the last letters of MILES HOWARD HOTEL, it would read HOW HOT.”
“Or even MY HOW HOT!!” Francie put in. “With two exclamation points. And paint the circle as a big red sun with heat waves radiating out.”
“Yeah. MY HOW HOT!! And there’s the huge sun to prove it! Nothing more on that big sign—it’s perfect!”
Fortunately we couldn’t see the sign from the house.
“What plans do you girls have for this morning?” Dad asked Francie and me at breakfast one fateful morning a few weeks later.
This was a loaded question. We hurriedly conjured up some work ideas we needed to catch up on. But soon we went down the driveway on Dad’s errand.
Across the highway we noticed the sign company’s truck parked in our pasture with two men working on the hotel billboard.
“Look at them painting, fixing it up! We should just march up there and tell them to pay up or get out.” I said, mindful that when Dad tried to collect from the owner, he said the sign company would pay.
We laughed. It felt good to say it, but of course we’d never do such a thing. Our folks insisted on politeness and respect for adults. But Mom was angry too, that the sign people continued to repaint and update that sign, knowing we’d never been paid.
Francie and I seethed with the humiliation of it all.
We knew exactly what we wanted to do.
But with Jeanie gone to college, will we be able to carry it off? We best to do it now before we lose our nerve . . . .
read the rest of this story in Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shennanigans

Excerpted from Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shenanigans: Western Ranch Life in a Forgotten Era by Francie Brink Berg, Anne Brink Sallgren Krickel and Jeanie Brink Thiessen. Copyright 2012 by Flying Diamond Books. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part prohibited without publisher’s written permission.

 
 

 

10 Field Work

Prisoners of War on our Ranch


Jeanie and Francie drove our truck with sides dropped for loading sugar beet tops,
shown here with load of sand.

 

“Oh no! Here they come! Hurry up, Francie, run!” 
“I can’t! I can’t run!” Francie shot back. She carried two nearly full three-gallon buckets of milk and so did I.
Heavy army trucks roared into the ranch yard, loaded with captured Nazi soldiers standing in the back. They stopped under the cottonwood trees near the shop.
Comments in a strange language flew at us like barbs.
We were embarrassed by the German taunts—as we perceived them—and scared, too. War movies taught us something of the atrocities they committed across Europe. We knew about their ruthlessness.
These were Rommels’ crack troops, Hitler’s Master Race. As prisoners of war they swept in to harvest our beets. Even while prisoners, these tall, vigorous German men planned to win the war. England was battered by their bombs. The Allied countries were fighting back but Hitler continued conquering more countries in his quest to control the world. Nazi U-boats lapped our shores.
Sugar beets, raised during the war years, a main ingredient in explosives, required a lot of hand work. Since all our available beet workers entered the military, the government brought us prisoners the Allies captured when we engaged Rommel’s army in North Africa. Our sugar beets made the gunpowder for bullets that captured them.
Several U.S. guards jumped out of the trucks, long bayonets fixed on the ends of their rifles. The prisoners came to attention but stayed in the trucks while the American officer in charge conferred with Dad about the day’s work.
More than a hundred POWs with six or eight armed guards swarmed over our fields.
For us, even as kids, World War II was no distant drumbeat, it was here and it included us. We saw the urgency of war every day as the long freight trains rumbled by with their ominous shipments of khaki-camouflaged tanks, jeeps and anti-aircraft guns. We counted the cars, a hundred or more.
One night a prisoner escaped. The local radio warned people to lock their doors and take keys from their cars. Everyone reacted in alarm. Even in Miles City, most people left their houses and cars unlocked, with keys in the ignition. But not this night. The town was on lock-down. Few ventured outside . . . .
read the rest of this story in Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shennanigans

Excerpted from Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shenanigans: Western Ranch Life in a Forgotten Era by Francie Brink Berg, Anne Brink Sallgren Krickel and Jeanie Brink Thiessen. Copyright 2012 by Flying Diamond Books. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part prohibited without publisher’s written permission.

 

 

12 Brink Ranch Legacy

A Good Place for Cattle Ranching


Travelers had three choices west: they came up the Yellowstone River, in the background, or after 1881 traveled on the adjacent road, or followed trails and roads down through our ranch.

From the time the first cattlemen came into this valley, the place that became the Brink ranch was recognized as a prime location for ranching.
Only ten miles from Miles City, the ranch provided a ready supply of beef for townspeople and the military base at Fort Keogh, built in 1876.
Along the northwestern side of the ranch runs the Yellowstone River. In open range days it provided water for livestock grazing in that area, but was inaccessible to us because of the two railroads between.
Five important roads and trails cut across our ranch, each of them seeking the easiest and fastest route onto the high plateau from the fertile irrigated farmlands of our valley.
First came the military road of 1876, the Ft. Buford and Lincoln Trails, likely following an old Indian trail. They connected Ft. Keogh with two other military forts farther downstream—Ft. Buford and Ft. Lincoln at Bismarck. The Yellowstone Trail, first interstate road across the northern tier of states, was built by local people in a grassroots movement beginning around 1913. Remnants of these early roads can still be seen. The Yellowstone Trail cut through the middle of our ranch, as did old U.S. Highway 10, new Highway 10 and Interstate 94.
Thus our hills saw extended travel across the centuries, and still do.
We moved to the ranch ten miles east of Miles City early in the spring of 1939 when patches of green grass were just starting to show under the snow. How wonderful the land looked to Mom and Dad who so recently left the dry, depression-parched land of the Missouri Breaks.
This new ranch was to be ours for the next thirty-three years and, as kids, we wasted no time picking out which of the ten rooms were to be our bedrooms. We could get lost in this big house with its two stairways.
For the first time we had running water—piped from a free-flowing spring up in the hills above the buildings—and a real bathroom. In 1939, this was one of a very few ranch houses with indoor plumbing.  I remember Mom explaining that we had to use real toilet paper, because catalog pages would plug up the plumbing. I was only six, but quite alarmed by the extravagance of having to buy rolls of toilet paper for this purpose . . . .
read the rest of this story in Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shennanigans

Excerpted from Montana Stirrups, Sage and Shenanigans: Western Ranch Life in a Forgotten Era by Francie Brink Berg, Anne Brink Sallgren Krickel and Jeanie Brink Thiessen. Copyright 2012 by Flying Diamond Books. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part prohibited without publisher’s written permission.