Winter is coming and many of us are stuck indoors dodging the coronavirus. Sounds like a good time for an inside joke. Isolating is causing me to stress-eat so much my shirt buttons are social distancing. And, speaking of eating, how are we going to have holiday gatherings during Covid? Treat everyone like turkeys and avoid from them all instead of just Uncle Cranky? I might as well mention the job losses caused by Covid. I’d make a joke about unemployment—but none of them work.
Though my attempt at humor may be fairly lame, the tough times coming this winter are no laughing matter.
The pandemic has already caused a great deal of suffering–but is this really the worst, hard time?
I was ruminating about our pandemic problem when I recently visited a rancher who lives in cowboy country just south of our farm. Dave wanted to tell me some stories about his ancestors settling the west in the 1800’s, and the kind of winters his family endured in the early days.
“We don’t understand bad times,” Dave said shaking his head. “Winter was a real trial back then. Oh, we get bad winters now. In 1990 we had a cold snap. Forty below in some places. I remember I had to bring the cows in to feed. And, 2017 we got dumped on (with several feet of snow). But my great-grandpa’s family—they couldn’t jump in a warm pickup and haul hay to their cows. At least we’ve got good transportation now.”
Dave showed me a book his Uncle Chet wrote about his ancestors. His great-grandfather was a teacher from Delaware who came west to stake a land claim. I leafed through the book and read about the first rock house his great-grandfather built in the high desert near Grasmere, Idaho.
The roof was made of willows, hay, and mud.
Inside the home, coarse muslin cloth was tacked to the ceiling to prevent dirt from drifting down on people’s heads. Lacking trees in the desert, his great-grandparents burned sagebrush and manure in the fireplace. Town was forty miles away.
“Life wasn’t easy, but they were young and had dreams,” Dave looked thoughtful. “If you live off the land though, you can’t ever forget that Mother Nature’s the boss.”
Dave said his ancestors learned to expect the unexpected. In the winter of 1919 a mangy coyote wandered into Dave’s grandparent’s yard and fought the family dog in the snow, spewing blood everywhere. Dave’s father, Billy, was just a little boy and loved their cow dog: Doggone.
Doggone earned his name because anytime there was a mess or something was missing that “doggone dog” was involved.
Dave’s grandmother tried to shoo away the coyote and separate the two animals, but to no avail. When his grandfather came home, he told Billy they might have to shoot Doggone because the coyote likely was rabid. Then they learned Doggone had nipped both Billy and several cows in the pasture after his coyote battle. The doctor in Bruneau had to send away to San Francisco for rabies vaccine, and though Billy survived, Doggone and all the cows that were bit, went mad and died.
“That happened—but that wasn’t the worst winter,” Dave said. The worst winter, Dave told me, was in the 1930’s during the Depression when his Great-Uncle Arthur, who ranched at Wickahoney, Idaho, had no money to buy feed for his cows. He finally went to the Bruneau bank to borrow money, but the bank refused him a loan. Banks were struggling as much as everyone else during the Depression. Not willing to stand by and watch his cows starve, the next day, Dave’s great-uncle hung himself.
“But my dad’s cousin, Rosella, Arthur’s daughter, she survived. I think those hard times toughened her up, because she lived a good long life after that, well into her 80’s I believe.”
When my visit with Dave ended, I went in my house and walked around marveling at the comfortable and safe environment I live in. The family room felt a little chilly so I turned up the wall thermostat. Then, with a flick of a switch, I brewed some coffee. As I sipped my coffee I thought about my particular story of oppression: the 2020 Covid Pandemic. We may not be living in the best of times, but we’re certainly not living in the worst–not even close.
Image Credit: Cowboy in snow. Image Credit: Dave’s ancestral home 1900’s (courtesy Tindall family). Image Credit: Amos the cowdog (courtesy Christine Collett). Image Credit: Cattle in winter (courtesy Christine Collett).
2 thoughts on “Bad Times and Hard Luck”
Thanks for posting this wonderful story. I think the worst winter I ever spent was in st. Maries Idaho. Got to 69 below zero. We had a deer in the basement , where I slept. Fed her hay. It’s a story unto itself.
The deer in the basement sounds like a story all right. Thanks for reading and sharing, Mike!