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In our neck of the woods this year’s weather is exceptionally warm and nice compared to last year’s record snowfall or the weather of more than 100 years ago.
    An article in the Jan. 30, 1903 issue of the Grand Encampment Herald notes, “Along the Continental Divide in southern Wyoming the depth of the snow fall has been increased to about eight feet on the average. The snow, being light, rapidly settles into a solid mass, almost solid ice, and it is generally estimated that ten feet of new snow will settle into one foot of solid.
    “By wrapping the big mountain range (Sierra Madres) in such an icy mantle, which often gets to be several feet thick before the winter is over, nature has provided a storehouse for irrigation which defies all the devices of man. Rivulets, ten thousand strong, flow out from under these icy banks to bless the crops in the valleys below, which planted in an arid country, would neither sprout or grow were it not for Nature’s generous assistance from the snowcapped peaks above.”
    The story continues, “When the sun shines bright upon the snow in the spring, many victims are tortured with a dose of ‘snow blind,’ which is certainly one of the features of dwelling in snow land that is not coveted.
    “Snow blind is treacherous and lasting and victims seldom fully recover. It is well to take every possible precaution against this calamity, and the man who is jeered because he puts on the black veil for the day’s trip is not so much a fool as the man who trusts his precious eyesight to the elements.”
    Story reprinted courtesy of Grandma’s Cabin, Encampment – “preserving history – serving the community.”

Following is the first of a two-part series portraying the life of a 13-year-old boy on a ranch in the 1880s. Material is taken from the book “Range Rider” by Bud Cowan, in which he relates the founding of the Big Creek Ranch in south central Carbon County Wyoming and North Park Colorado.

That winter, in 1883, all of the neighbors got together and built a block house up at Pinkhamton, about three miles from our home ranch. Jimmie and I went up in the timber and cut logs for the block house, as well as dead logs for winter wood. 

We camped in a cabin up there and hauled up hay for the oxen and brought up what provisions we needed. We used bulls for parking the timber; that is, after cutting it, we would drag it out to the side of the road where it was easy to load it on the sled and take it down to where it could be used. 

We cut all the logs to build the block house and about eight loads of dead timber for the winter wood, and then it was our job to get the logs down to the ranch. After we hauled everything down with the bull team Father started us to sawing up the wood. 

All Jimmy and I had to do that winter was saw wood, milk cows, attend to the horses and a few other chores, because Father had taken Mother and the girls to Denver, after we had done our share of building the block house. 

Jimmie and I figured out a way to cut our wood, which worked even better than we thought it would. We had an old Buck Eye mowing machine that Father had discarded and set over against the back of the barn. We conceived the idea of making a sawmill out of it. We wouldn’t have dared even to mention the idea if Father had been home, but we were our own bosses for the time being, and we went ahead with our plans.

This story will be continued in the next “Postcard,” to run March 9. 

For reasons unknown to me, my 11-year-old granddaughter has been asking me about how, and mostly where, we went to the bathroom in the olden days. She just doesn’t seem to understand the necessity of a chamber pot or outhouse.
    Since I am old enough to have used both on the ranch, I must “pass” along some of the “potty” stories of my youth. Old-timers will no doubt reminisce, while hopefully, younger readers will expand their knowledge of those “good old days.”
    Below is a postcard from the 1920s explaining the “thundermug.” Just a warning, the next couple of Postcards from the Past will be about outhouses. Better save this newspaper for use in the “two-holer.”

The Passing of the Pot
As far back in childhood
As memory may go
One household vessel greets me
That wasn’t meant for show.

Beneath the bed ‘twas anchored
Where only few could see
But served the entire family
With equal privacy.

Some called the critter “Peggy”
And some the “Thundermug”
And others called it “Badger”
A few called it “Jug.”

To bring it in at evening
Was bad enough, no doubt,
But heave help the person
Who had to tote it out.

A big one was enormous
And would accommodate
A watermelon party
Composed of six or eight.

When nights were dark and rainy
It was a useful urn.
On icy winter mornings
The cold rim seemed to burn.

At times when things were rushing,
And business extra good,
Each took his turn awaiting
Or did the best he could.

Sometimes when in a hurry
To our disgust and shame
We fumbled in the darkness
And slightly missed our aim.

The special one for company
Was decorated well.
But just the same it rendered
That old familiar smell.

Today this modernism
Relieves me a lot.
And only in my vision
I see that homely pot.

Stories of harsh winters on Wyoming ranches have been spun at the kitchen table over coffee, around the campfire and in the bunkhouse for years. A few that prevail in this area concern the winter of 1893-‘94.
    Newspaper articles report that, prior to that winter, thousands of cattle roamed free year round on the grass along Pass and Lake creeks above Sheep Rock. One story notes that in the fall of that year 30,000 head of cattle grazed in the area, with only 300 head surviving the harsh winter. Another article puts the number closer to 3,000 with less than 300 surviving.
    Cowboys related tales of that winter of being able to step from carcass to carcass without touching the ground during the spring roundup. Choose the story you want to believe.
    One truth of the incident was that free roaming cattle herds of this area were wiped out and that ranchers would have had to start over, plus being forced to put up native hay to feed their livestock during the winter months.
    Also, rural mail routes were never the same following the winter of 1893-‘94. The snow was very deep that winter across the hills, so mail contractor drivers drove their teams and buggies or sleds on the frozen river all the way from Saratoga to the mouth of Brush Creek, nearly 20 miles. The frozen river made a most excellent road for teams.
    Winter was just as harsh for women of the valley, with isolation a major problem. A ranch woman wrote, “Margaret rode miles on horseback to visit her neighbor… and remembered once dismounting and crawling on her hands and knees on the icy trail. (The neighbor woman) was a valued friend and offered great help and strength. She showed Margaret how to make bread, but by the time Margaret got home the yeast foam was frozen, so the effort was a failure.”

    It is not often that the Upper North Platte River is frozen solid, especially at its swift-flowing headwaters near the Wyoming/Colorado border in south central Carbon County. When it does freeze over, it’s worth a photograph such as this one provided by Chuck Sanger, a fifth generation rancher in the Saratoga/Encampment area. No date is provided for the picture. This photo and over 150 more are being preserved in a pictorial publication entitled “Historic A Cross Ranch – Conserving the Future… Preserving the Past” compiled by Dick Perue of Historical Reproductions by Perue. The motto of Perue’s retirement project is “Preserving local history… one picture at a time.”

Wyoming Gates
    As I searched my files for information on a ranch history I’m working on, I came across this great poem printed in the June 1973 Wyoming Rural Electric News, now called WREN. The author was not listed, but whoever penned it knew Wyoming gates.

There’s one thing in this western land
That I thoroughly hate, I cannot stand.
It holds me up, it makes me late –
The dreadful thing is a Wyoming gate.
When I’m tired and worn and my temper’s hot,
When I’m after a stray that’s needing caught,
You can be sure, and I’m not a liar,
That that blinking gate will be tangled wire.
It tears my clothes and burns my brain,
And the way to open it is never the same.
At times when I’m tired and I want to climb through,
Then I’m sure to get stuck and my head is bruised blue.
I hate it, I hate it, it ruins my life,
And it punctures my pride when it falls for my wife.
I never can open it, yet steers knock it down,
And the only good wire will be miles into town.
I kick it, I cuss it, it tears up my clothes,
That Wyoming gate is number one of my woes.
I try to forget it, get disgusted, pull out hair –
But no matter what happens that gate is still there.
I could leave the country, ship out on a freight,
Or finish it all and go on to my fate.
But, sure as I’m breathing, if it’s Heaven I rate,
The door won’t be pearly, but a Wyoming gate!

 Gates have been a thorn in a cowboy’s life since the West was settled. However, as bad as opening gates is for guys, it’s 10 times as tough for ladies. A case in point was my stepmother, who was, as they say, “well endowed.” Every time she tried to open a barbed wire gate she was poked in a delicate place. My dad was a fence contractor who built tight gates, which mom hated. Every time she attempted to open a gate the wire poked her in the chest. After a few attempts she would get in the pickup, back up and ram the gate with the grill. Just to loosen it up. Of course she usually broke a post or two. Dad finally got the message and made it easier for the gals to open gates by putting an extended opener on the post. It was easy to use, locked shut, fit all types of gates and let the person open and close a gate without touching the “pokey” wire. And it could be made from parts and pieces found around the shop or in the scrap pile. Photo by Dick Perue