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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.”

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.

The Wyoming Department of Employment, Division of Labor Standards, claimed a small rancher was not paying proper wages to his help and sent an agent out to investigate him.
    GOV’T AGENT: “I need a list of your employees and how much you pay them.”
    RANCHER: “Well, there’s my hired hand who’s been with me for three years. I pay him $200 a week plus free board and room.
    “Then there’s the mentally challenged guy. He works about 18 hours every day and does about 90 percent of all the work around here.
    “He makes about $10 per week, pays his own room and board, and I buy him a bottle of bourbon every Saturday night so he can cope with life.
    “He also sleeps with my wife occasionally.”
    GOV’T AGENT: “That’s the guy I want to talk to – the mentally challenged one.”
    RANCHER: “That would be me.”
    (Yes, I know it’s an old one, but with all the new rules and regulations being forced on us, it could well happen. Anyway, let’s hope things will improve in 2012. May you all have a Happy New Year! – Dick Perue)
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

This poem was written by a Marine stationed in Okinawa during World War II and is being submitted in memory of Pearl Harbor and to remember what Christmas is really all about.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, he live all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney with presents to give,
And to see just who in this home did live.
I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stockings my mantel, just boots filled with sand,
On the wall hung pictures of far distant lands.
With medals and badges, awards of all kinds,
A sober thought came through my mind.
For this house was different, it was dark and dreary,
I found the home of a soldier, once I could see clearly.
The soldier lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in this one bedroom home.
The face was so gentle, the room in such disorder,
Not how I pictured a United States soldier.
Was this hero of whom I’d just read?
Curled up on the floor for a bed?
I realized the families that I saw this night,
Owed their lives to these soldiers who were willing to fight.
Soon round the world the children would play,
And grownup would celebrate a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom each month of the year,
Because of the soldiers, like the one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve in a land far from home.
The very though brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.
The soldier awakened and I heard a rough voice,
“Santa don’t cry, this life is my choice.
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more,
My life is my God, my Country, my Corps.”
The soldier rolled over and drifted to sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I kept watch for hours, so silent and still,
And we both shivered from the cold night’s chill.
I didn’t want to leave on that cold, dark night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.
Then the soldier rolled over, with a voice soft and pure,
Whispered, “Carry on Santa, it’s Christmas Day all is secure.”
One look at my watch, and I knew he was right
“Merry Christmas my friend, and to all a Good Night.”