Saturday, 29 August 2015


My grandfather was an avid rancher. He may have dabbled in politics, serving on the State Legislature and then for ten years, after he moved to Canada, as MLA for Alberta, but his passion was cattle and horses, and he was very successful. He began down in Southeastern Utah, in the somewhat green valleys of Teasdale. For years his herd would graze the lush meadows then in the fall, Grandpa would drive the herd over the southern mountains to the desert where they spent the winter. With the coming of spring, Grandpa would drive them back to Teasdale and the cycle would start all over again. That is until the spring of 1910 when Grandpa heard of wonderful ranching opportunities to be had north of the International Boundary into Canada.

Grandpa loaded up Grandma, two kids and one baby and headed north to the promised land. Well, sort of promised land. When Grandpa checked things out a couple of years before, a Chinook had blown into the region and it was warmer in southern Alberta than it was in Salt Lake when he boarded the train.

Ranching turned out to be somewhat different than it was in the Four Corners region. Rain could fall all year long and so could the snow, even in July. One could see an eighty degree temperature change in just one day; it could be thirty below in the morning and a Chinook could blow in raising the temperature to fifty above in a very short time. Of course the opposite could also happen too. But one of the most significant changes in ranching between southern Utah and southern Alberta was the need to put up feed for the winter months.

Back in the states, Grandpa had plenty of grass for the cattle during the spring and summer months. The desert actually offered some good forage for the winter but I have to admit that I'm at somewhat of a loss as to where it actually was. Hay production went on but not at the level that Grandpa was soon to find out. Simply put, in Alberta, one could count on spending the summers mowing, raking and stacking hay for the winter. It just went with the territory.

Grandpa was a progressive rancher too. He could see the importance of plowing up the native prairie grass and seeding it to tame grass which yielded a lot more for summer grazing and hay production. Trouble was, there was still some medicinal value to native prairie grass so making hay out of that was important as well.

Now Grandpa found a lot of meadows that yielded some good grass and he (and the older boys) spent a lot of time gathering in the crops but things simply got too busy. The alternative was to possibly buy some native hay from the locals which would benefit everyone.

Grandpa's first operation bordered the Indian Reservation to the east. He actually rented land from the Reserve and used it for feed crops and pasture. But, as mentioned before, the time factor, which turned out not to be that big of a problem after all.

There was a lot of native prairie grass on the reservation and some of the Indians were willing to put it up to sell off to the local ranchers. Grandpa, always eager to get along with them, was willing to do business.

It would start when a couple of guys would ride up to the ranch to tell Grandpa that they were putting up hay and they would deliver it for so much per ton. That was fine with Grandpa. The boys would head back and the next day, they returned with a wagon heaped with 'prairie wool.' They'd pull up on the scale, get weighed, then head over to the stack yard and, using large pitchforks, would unload it in fairly good time.

Grandpa would watch them from time to time. One day he was sure he counted only two of them driving the load but then noticed three of them stacking the hay. Then another day there were four busy pitching off the load. Then, not surprisingly, there were five.

Well, you've got to hand it to the Indians, they knew how to add extra weight to the load without having to actually sell it.

Finally Grandpa got wise. They would pull the wagon onto the scale then Grandpa would grab a pitchfork and start probing the load, not shoving the fork in too far because he wasn't actually trying to stab anyone. 'Who's in there?' he'd demand, and almost always two or more of them would come crawling out of the load.

But it didn't take long before the vendors got a little wiser. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that there is always a way around an obstacle. The two men pulled the wagon onto the scale and Grandpa probed the load with the fork handle. He got no response so finally concluded that there weren't any stowaways. The two men unloaded the wagon then brought it around to weigh empty to figure out the tare. Grandpa paid for the load and everyone parted company, satisfied.

For a spell.

Grandpa would send the boys to load up some hay and take it to the barn. When the task was done, one of them would inevitably ask about that huge rock that was next to the haystack.

Grandpa was always good natured about the whole episode. He simply joked that he bought a lot of
Indians... and maybe a few rocks...


  1. I never heard this story! Priceless! That Grampa. Always ahead of his time...

    1. Grandpa was always so philosophical about things. He seldom got upset about them; he just came up with something witty to lighten the situation. And he kept dealing with them, albeit cautioning them that he already had too many rocks in the stack yard.