Agriculture & Livestock: A ranch-style Fourth of July

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Diane Prather

The Fourth of July is just a few days away, and I’ve been trying to remember how we celebrated the holiday years ago, when my siblings and I were growing up on the ranch.

I even called my brother, Duane, and sisters, Charlotte and Darlene. We all agree that it was rare for us to take the day off to celebrate the Fourth. It’s not that we weren’t patriotic, but the holiday fell during a very busy time for the ranch.

First of all, it was likely that the cattle were being moved to summer range.

Our ranch and those of my uncles and neighbors had permits to run cattle at White River National Forest from July until fall. So around July 1, depending on the condition of the forest grass, the ranchers started moving their cattle. The ranchers helped one another, and one ranch herd was moved each day, taking several days to get all of the cattle moved.

During those days, people didn’t use stock trailers as they do now, so the cattle were trailed.

Our ranch was closest to the forest, but it was still about four miles to the forest boundary. The drive began on the gravel road that ran right past our house. The cattle had been gathered into the corral the day before, and everyone gathered early on the morning of the drive. Our uncles, some neighbors, we kids and cow dogs were ready to go.

The early start was necessary because when it gets hot cows want to shade up, and there was plenty of shade available along the county road. To this day, serviceberry, chokecherry and oak brush grows thick along the road, so thick that riders had to get off their horses and walk through it to make sure a cow or calf didn’t get left back, a nightmare if that happened, indeed.

Moving the cattle was one way we might have spent the Fourth, but we were usually home in the early afternoon. Dad often spent the rest of the day working on haying machinery because haying was the next ranch job.

In fact, haying started the very day after all of the cattle were moved.

It was likely that some Fourth of July days were spent cutting hay. It was important to put up hay before it got too mature.

Besides, there was always the risk of rain so haying went on every dry day possible.

Also, the cattle weren’t just taken to their range and left for the summer — they had to be checked. So if it was a year when the cattle got moved a little early, and hay had been cut and wasn’t dry enough to stack, Dad might have been riding with the cattle on the Fourth.

Cattle had to be checked all summer long, moved to better grass or off poisonous larkspur, and salt had to be put out. July was a busy time.

Because the daytime hours of Fourth were spent working, it was likely that any celebration was an evening picnic.

We didn’t have fireworks in those early days (not until later, when our brother Duane was a young man and he ordered fireworks from a catalog).

So, our Fourth of July memories are centered around food, such as fried chicken and homemade ice cream.

The Fourth that stands out for me was a hot day when I was about 9.

Mom said that if we girls would help weed the garden, she’d make homemade ice cream for supper, topped with strawberries from our strawberry bed.

So, we worked all day, hoeing and pulling weeds in rows that seemed to go on for miles. All the time we thought about our promised evening treat.

Chore time arrived, and we put away our hoes. Mom went in to start supper, but before she could begin making the ice cream, company arrived.

In those days, there were no telephones so there was no way for this family to let us know they were coming. It was a big family, too, and Mom had to figure out what to feed them.

The promise of ice cream disappeared, but Mom sent me out to pick the strawberries to serve with shortcake.

It was a Fourth of July disappointment.

Here’s hoping no such disappointments happen for all you this year. Have a safe and memorable Fourth of July.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2011

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