Cowboys 'R' Us (Part 2)

Alyce Gorter

24 hours after they arrived.
[The first part of this thrilling story appeared in yesterday's edition of The SCOOP.]

By this time, the men had caught up with me on the machines. Now that a live steer had been found, the need for a plan was even more apparent. One suggestion was to rope it and walk it home behind the tractor. Hmmm… let me see… since they had never been taught to lead, I couldn’t see that having a happy ending! Letting it follow us all the way home using grain as a bribe was another idea. Yeah, that has worked well for us so far!!! If I remember correctly, this is the point where the shouting attained and maintained a volume not previously reached.

Just then came the sound of heavy bodies thrashing through the shrubbery at the foot of the hill. BOTH steers were alive and well, having found a narrow path down the cliff and were now crossing patches of ice so they could get up on the road behind us and continue their journey east. A brand-new reason to worry! This area is the wide, deep mouth of the north creek and the ice is thin and treacherous. If one or both animals broke through toward the centre, it would be nearly impossible to save them from the depths! Frantic splashing made me hold my breath as a steer floundered in the water. However, by the time my flashlight found him in the darkness, he had dragged himself back onto dry land. Now they both stood stranded on a narrow spit of land with ice bordering all sides. WE NEED A PLAN NOW.

If a sceptre is a symbol of authority in the hand of a ruler, then a stout stick in the hand of an emboldened woman afraid of losing her livestock is just as good I’ve found. I became a Field Marshal barking commands to her army of two. “We can’t let them out of the swamp until we are ready,” I say forcefully, “or we will never see them again. John, you hold them there with your flashlight on them. Ken, you and I will go to the house, take down the round pen, bring it here, and set it up again. We will have to try to get them into that.” The men aren’t particularly happy with the orders and don’t know how it will work, but I grab a four-wheeler and leave before there can be further argument.

So, in the moonless night, Ken moves along behind me on the tractor as I pull apart 12’ sections of metal round pen and wrestle them up on the forks as frantically as I can move. Once the forks are full, I guide Ken and his wide load down the road between the trees to the cabin. John and the steers haven’t moved! Now we set up the steel panels at the top of the cliff making a small pen at one end next to the shed and leaving the rest of the panels in a straight line down the slope to cut off the animals’ escape through that area. Once the fence is up, it is obvious that we don’t have enough sections to complete what is needed and there are too many gaps offering exit routes. We need more people. And we need them NOW! The steers are getting restless.

A quick trip back to the house. Two phone calls later, and I have rounded up a crew. Cousin Jas, her husband Chris and baby River all from Winnipeg are visiting my uncle just around the corner. Although just sitting down to supper, Chris would be happy to help. My neighbours — Lori and Shawn — are in from Texas and with their son Rob, will meet me back at the cabin. Now, with seven people equipped with flashlights, hefty sticks and/or canoe paddles, we stage a briefing. “We have only one chance to make this work,” I tell them. “These animals are not dangerous or mean, but they are smart and determined to go home. They have long horns and know how to use them. If they come toward you, it’s because they see where you are standing as a route out of their predicament. You CANNOT let them past you. Yell as loudly as you can, hit them on the nose with your stick or paddle hard enough to discourage them. Make yourself as big as you can to fill the space, whatever it takes to turn them back.” I deploy them to their stations.

Ken has parked the tractor to fill one gap and will stand guard there. John, Shawn, Chris, and Rob will push in from the road at the bottom of the cliff to drive the steers back up the path they had previously travelled. Lori and I will fill the large gap between the end of the panels and the lake and, if we are successful, will close up the pen once the steers are in it. We are pumped! Let’s get this done!

Lori and I see the steers coming up the path, looking wild-eyed behind them to see what chance they have to deke out the back way. Not a chance. The bigger steer heads toward Lori. She is superb! With paddle in hand, she lengthens herself like a good goalie filling a cage, yelling loudly, curls bouncing, totally convincing the steer she means business! He realizes there is no option there and leads his companion up the slope and into the pen. Ready hands grab the end panel, and we close the opening, locking the gate behind them. We did it! We hug and cheer, smiling broadly enough to split our faces, any previous acrimony between the three main characters lost in the thrill of success. With their choices now reduced, the steers munch hay. Probably biding their time until the next opportunity arises.

We tie the panels down securely to nearby trees with ratchet straps. There cannot be another escape! John elects to spend the night in the nearby cabin in case of further unrest in the herd. Ken will take him food and tea. I recheck the steers thinking of how glad I am that they have been caught unhurt and how extremely grateful I am to all who played a part in The Great Fifth Lake Roundup on a dark, rainy night.

We have no idea how we will get the round pen back together and the steers moved without risking another breakout. Of course, we will need a plan. Tomorrow.

But today, like I said before, was perfect.