by Terry Nash
Morning’s pale sun gave way to thick clouds
As we all saddled our mounts.
Ridin’ from camp, our mission today
Is needin’ to fill the count.
Three hundred ten was gathered last month,
The tally was sixteen shy.
We rode the breaks and benches for sign;
No tellin’ how they’d got by.
Two solid weeks we searched the JU,
Combin’ the brush for eight pair,
With little to show for our ridin’
‘Cept that the stragglers weren’t there.
Those cattle were nowhere on our range;
They’d maybe returned to Hell’s Hole;
High country grass they’d grazed since July,
Till fall’s storms started to roll.
We’d gathered three pair and one hunter
A-hoofin’ it into town,
But we’re still ten head out today and
The next big storm’s blowin’ down.
We’re buckin’ a head-wind this morning,
Five riders watchin’ for sign.
The Lasalles are fadin’ from our view;
The wind’s beginnin’ to whine.
We wallered deep drifts t’ward the 2V
Followin’ Old Raley’s hunch:
“This new storm’ll bring ‘em down,” he said,
“We’ll likely find the whole bunch.”
Gates were left open all through the range
So stragglers could pass on through.
Veteran cows will know to move down
When winter dictates they do.
The clouds were hangin’ level and dark,
Raley was settin’ the pace.
We topped out above Luster Basin,
The first flakes hittin’ my face.
Jackson pulled up his horse and pointed
At our stragglers, single file,
Tails to the wind and stringin’ our way
Down the draw a quarter mile.
Wild old Snort was a-leadin’ the bunch.
We split and got out of sight.
We’ll swing in behind and then flank ‘em
Providin’ our timing’s right.
The cattle filed past and we stepped out
Snort threw her head flingin’ snot.
Jess was ready when she quit the trail;
He turned her back at a trot.
The old rip knew where she’s goin’.
She and the rest reached the pines,
She led ‘em through and out on the road
With us just ridin’ behind.
The storm at our backs now, we’re ridin’;
Wet heavy flakes flyin’ past.
Sllckers drippin’, our horses are soaked,
We’re hopin’ our luck will last.
Past Mountain Island, down off Black Hill,
She struck the trail to the north
Where the Beiser corrals stood waitin’.
Two flank riders sashayed forth
To get in position to turn ‘em,
But Ol’ Snort just walked on in.
We backed in the trucks and trailered ‘em
Just as the light’s gettin’ thin.
It’s usually never that easy,
You mostly earn what you bring.
We got lucky – our stragglers found us
In winter’s cold icy sting.
© 2012, Terry Nash, used with permission
Colorado rancher and poet told us about the poem’s inspiration, “We summer our cattle on private ground, pooling them with several other herds at Glade Park and Pinon Mesa, high country situated a few miles west of Grand Junction, in Western Colorado. We throw the cattle on the mountain in early June and usually gather and bring ’em back to the valley in November, when the weather dictates we do. It usually takes three or four ‘sweeps’ a-horseback to clean the 6000 acre pasture, and there’s always a few stragglers reluctant to leave. Riding the pasture looking for those last few head isn’t always in the best of weather. ‘December Stragglers’ came from a ride like that.”
Terry Nash also shared this photograph, which was a part of Picture the West, photos of “gathering cattle at 9800 feet and trailing the herd twelve miles down to 7,000 feet, from Pinon Mesa to Glade Park, Colorado.” See all the photos here.
“December Stragglers” is the title poem of Terry’s 2013 CD. Find a video interview with him here. Terry Nash appears at events across the West.