From Pipi’s Pasture: Remembering nights in the cow camp cabin
Some of my fondest memories of growing up on the ranch at Morapos were getting to spend nights in the cow camp cabin. It was up on the White River National Forest where the cattle pastured over the summer months.
When I was a kid, the ranchers in the Morapos/Deer Creek community had a lease agreement to pasture their cattle on the forest land. The ranchers put all of their cattle together, and then someone had to routinely check the cattle, put out salt when needed, and move the cattle to better feed or move them off land where the larkspur was plentiful since the plant is poisonous to livestock. Some years the ranchers hired a rider who would stay up on the forest; other years they took turns riding themselves, which was mostly what I remember. Riding was more than a one-day job so the ranchers had to stay overnight.
In early years the ranchers had built a one-room log cabin on the forest ground and fenced a little corral beside it for their horses. The cabin had a wood stove, a big bed, extra mattresses on the floor, a table and chairs, and shelves for keeping canned foods and basic kitchen utensils.
Each spring the men hauled canned goods up to the cabin with the help of pack horses. Food items that weren’t in cans, like flour and cornmeal, were put in jars with lids to prevent mice from getting into it. The cabin was cleaned and the beds were made up with laundered blankets. Lamps were filled with some sort of fuel. Sometimes the men took some kind of reading material, but I mostly remember the same magazines and books, one poisonous plant book in particular.
Sometimes we kids got to go along when it was Dad’s turn to ride. We got to see some of the cattle, and Dad always took time to show us bird nests and tracks and other wonders of nature. After a day of riding, we headed for the cow camp cabin — our favorite part of the trip.
We watered the horses and got them settled into their pen. Then we carried water for drinking, cooking, and washing dishes. If there was time we went fishing with makeshift fishing poles. If we were lucky enough to catch a few little fish, Dad cleaned them, rolled them in cornmeal, and fried them in a skillet for supper. Mom usually sent along some meat, which Dad fried up and served with his favorite milk gravy, made with canned milk.
We kids were intrigued with the supply of canned goods on the shelf since we didn’t have them at home — spaghetti and meatballs, stew, and Spam! Dad usually let us choose a can to have with our supper.
Finally, when it was dark, we cuddled down on one of the mattresses and listened for the sounds of elk bugling. In those days the elk were up high, not down at the ranch as they are today. To be able to hear elk bugle was a real treat.
In later years the ranchers were not allowed to graze cattle on the forest. Dad got permission to bring the cow camp down to the ranch. He numbered the logs so that it could be put back together exactly as it was on the forest. The cow camp still stands on the ranch today.