Rescue on the range | TSLN.com

Rescue on the range

Photo by Heather Smith ThomasDon Hatch moving cattle with his dogs prior to the accident.

Ranchers lead a hazardous life. When accidents happen, the nice thing about living in a rural community is friends and neighbors who come to the aid of someone who’s been hurt.

On a cold, windy day in early June, Don Hatch, age 59, was riding a young horse to check cattle on one of his range allotments near Salmon, ID. “I wanted to put some miles on him and check cattle at the same time,” says Don.

He trailered the colt several miles, parked the trailer on a wide spot along the road, and had ridden about a mile and half upcountry. Something spooked the colt and it turned downhill and started running.

“I was in a bad place when he wheeled and headed downhill,” said Don. “I didn’t dare try to spin him, because I was afraid he’d fall on me. It was too steep. I figured I could ride it out down the hill and then spin him to stop him. But it went from a run downhill to a buck downhill and I didn’t ride out the buck.”

The colt bucked him off and kept going. It was 3:30 in the afternoon.

“I landed on my arm and I got suspicious that I’d hurt it pretty bad,” he said. “When I went to roll over, my arm wouldn’t follow me. When I did pull that arm over, I could feel the bones crunching.”

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The dogs followed the horse, then realized Don wasn’t with it and came back to him.

His wife Kathy works at the Post Office in Salmon. She got home from work about 5 p.m. and wondered why Don wasn’t home yet. By 7 o’clock she was worried.

“He told me he was going out on the hill, but I didn’t know exactly when he left,” said Kathy. “He probably changed water, and was going to put two shoes on my horse before he rode. We’d all tried to talk him out of riding this colt since he’d only had a few rides in the corral. But he’s been so gentle and so good, Don was going to ride him that day.”

By 8 p.m. she was extremely worried, because she knew they needed daylight to find him. She called Michael and Carolyn Thomas (friends who run cattle on the same range allotment) and told them she was going to drive to where Don parked the trailer, in case he was coming down to it. Michael and Carolyn met her there.

“We got to the trailer and he wasn’t there,” says Kathy. “Michael said let’s go get horses and I said we don’t have time. So Michael started up the mountain in his vehicle and Carolyn and I drove back to get a 4-wheeler.”

They knew they had to find him before dark. Weather was cold and windy, and an injured person spending a night out there wouldn’t fare well. Another worry was wolves. “We’d had a calf killed 10 days earlier – only a half mile below where we found him. With his dogs there, wolves would be attracted to him,” says Michael.

As Kathy and Carolyn went back to get a 4-wheeler they saw another neighbor, Bill Andrews, on his 4-wheeler irrigating. Bill offered to help search. Kathy told him to follow the water troughs, in case Don had been checking them.

“Michael’s vehicle soon overheated and he couldn’t go any farther. We met him up there and he took our 4-wheeler,” says Kathy. Bill and Michael drove 4-wheelers along parallel ridges across the canyon from one another, and Bill saw Don’s horse down in the draw.

“I saw Bill stop and get off his 4-wheeler and start walking down into that draw,” says Michael. “The draw was deep enough that I couldn’t see the bottom so I drove down toward him, and when I got down on a little bench across from him I could see the horse down there.”

While hollering back and forth to Bill, Michael turned off his 4-wheeler because he couldn’t hear him. The wind was just right that Michael was then able to hear a faint yell, farther up the canyon. Don had seen Michael on the 4-wheeler on the skyline heading off into the draw, and Don started yelling.

The wind direction was a miracle. “If it had been blowing the other way I never would have heard him,” says Michael. “Bill couldn’t hear Don at all. Don couldn’t see Bill and didn’t even know he was there.”

It was extreme luck to be in the right place at the right time, with his motor turned off. One of the dogs actually saved Don. She snuggled up against him, trying to keep him warm.

“Between the shock, pain and cold, I was shivering and shaking so bad that she came over and laid against me,” said Don. “For some reason she knew I needed body heat. But every time I’d start groaning because of the pain, she’d lick my face. With the wind blowing, that sure made my face cold! So I tried not to groan.”

Don is hard of hearing and couldn’t hear the 4-wheeler on the ridge.

“The dog was laying against me, and she heard Michael,” says Don. “When she raised her head up quick to look at something, I raised up, too, on my good elbow, and looked, and I saw a 4-wheeler go by on the ridge about 300 yards away.

“I was sure happy to see Mike! It was about 9 o’clock when he found me. He talked to me for a minute then took off to tell Bill Andrews where I was, then went back to the top of the hill to try to get cell service – to call Carolyn.”

Michael told Carolyn to send an ambulance, that he’d found Don. Kathy was with Carolyn when he called, and then his cell phone quit working.

“All he told us was that he’d found Don, and to send an ambulance. And that’s all we heard. For the next half hour I was in a panic, not knowing how bad he was hurt!” says Kathy.

Michael says it was truly a miracle that they found Don that night so quickly. He wouldn’t have survived the night. He’d spent six hours on the ground and was cold from wind and rain, and going into shock.

The search and rescue people came after the accident was called in, and got there at dark. They brought a 4-wheeler that pulled a cart with springs, with a gurney on it. They put Don on a backboard and onto that cart (with people on each side holding him) to take him about 300 yards up the draw to a Jeep track where they met the ambulance. It was a 4-wheel drive ambulance and the driver was able to bring it along a jeep track all the way up to the ridge above the draw where Don was found.

The ambulance crew called for a helicopter to transport him to a hospital in Missoula, MT. The helicopter got there about midnight. EMTs had located a flat spot on the ridge and set out glowing lights to mark the landing spot.

“The pilot brought the helicopter right in above us, then hovered and bounced it a few times on the sagebrush to mash it down so he could land,” explained Kathy.

It was a windy night and the flight was a choppy, but much easier on Don than riding out of the hills in an ambulance. He was very grateful for the helicopter and said, “It’s not everybody that goes up the mountain on a $500 horse and comes off on a $500,000 helicopter!”

When he got to the hospital the doctors discovered that he’d broken his arm in 10 places.

“I split my pelvis while I was still on the horse, trying to ride out the bucking,” says Don. “The doctor says it will heal on its own. If a split is over 2.5 centimeters they have to operate, but mine was 2.3. My walking is improving every day. But they had to use plates and pins to fix the arm and shoulder and I have to be really careful with it. The doctor said he didn’t like having ranchers for patients because they always want to go back to work too soon.”

When word about the accident got around, neighbors pitched in to help with Don’s irrigating and offered to do the haying. Kathy’s co-workers at the Post Office covered for her the next two weeks so she could stay home and take care of Don. Michael and Carolyn and their daughter helped Kathy move cows and Kathy’s son-in-law packed salt. Don hired Michael’s teenage son to change water through the rest of the summer, and other neighbors will be helping with haying and whatever else needs to be done.

Ranchers lead a hazardous life. When accidents happen, the nice thing about living in a rural community is friends and neighbors who come to the aid of someone who’s been hurt.

On a cold, windy day in early June, Don Hatch, age 59, was riding a young horse to check cattle on one of his range allotments near Salmon, ID. “I wanted to put some miles on him and check cattle at the same time,” says Don.

He trailered the colt several miles, parked the trailer on a wide spot along the road, and had ridden about a mile and half upcountry. Something spooked the colt and it turned downhill and started running.

“I was in a bad place when he wheeled and headed downhill,” said Don. “I didn’t dare try to spin him, because I was afraid he’d fall on me. It was too steep. I figured I could ride it out down the hill and then spin him to stop him. But it went from a run downhill to a buck downhill and I didn’t ride out the buck.”

The colt bucked him off and kept going. It was 3:30 in the afternoon.

“I landed on my arm and I got suspicious that I’d hurt it pretty bad,” he said. “When I went to roll over, my arm wouldn’t follow me. When I did pull that arm over, I could feel the bones crunching.”

The dogs followed the horse, then realized Don wasn’t with it and came back to him.

His wife Kathy works at the Post Office in Salmon. She got home from work about 5 p.m. and wondered why Don wasn’t home yet. By 7 o’clock she was worried.

“He told me he was going out on the hill, but I didn’t know exactly when he left,” said Kathy. “He probably changed water, and was going to put two shoes on my horse before he rode. We’d all tried to talk him out of riding this colt since he’d only had a few rides in the corral. But he’s been so gentle and so good, Don was going to ride him that day.”

By 8 p.m. she was extremely worried, because she knew they needed daylight to find him. She called Michael and Carolyn Thomas (friends who run cattle on the same range allotment) and told them she was going to drive to where Don parked the trailer, in case he was coming down to it. Michael and Carolyn met her there.

“We got to the trailer and he wasn’t there,” says Kathy. “Michael said let’s go get horses and I said we don’t have time. So Michael started up the mountain in his vehicle and Carolyn and I drove back to get a 4-wheeler.”

They knew they had to find him before dark. Weather was cold and windy, and an injured person spending a night out there wouldn’t fare well. Another worry was wolves. “We’d had a calf killed 10 days earlier – only a half mile below where we found him. With his dogs there, wolves would be attracted to him,” says Michael.

As Kathy and Carolyn went back to get a 4-wheeler they saw another neighbor, Bill Andrews, on his 4-wheeler irrigating. Bill offered to help search. Kathy told him to follow the water troughs, in case Don had been checking them.

“Michael’s vehicle soon overheated and he couldn’t go any farther. We met him up there and he took our 4-wheeler,” says Kathy. Bill and Michael drove 4-wheelers along parallel ridges across the canyon from one another, and Bill saw Don’s horse down in the draw.

“I saw Bill stop and get off his 4-wheeler and start walking down into that draw,” says Michael. “The draw was deep enough that I couldn’t see the bottom so I drove down toward him, and when I got down on a little bench across from him I could see the horse down there.”

While hollering back and forth to Bill, Michael turned off his 4-wheeler because he couldn’t hear him. The wind was just right that Michael was then able to hear a faint yell, farther up the canyon. Don had seen Michael on the 4-wheeler on the skyline heading off into the draw, and Don started yelling.

The wind direction was a miracle. “If it had been blowing the other way I never would have heard him,” says Michael. “Bill couldn’t hear Don at all. Don couldn’t see Bill and didn’t even know he was there.”

It was extreme luck to be in the right place at the right time, with his motor turned off. One of the dogs actually saved Don. She snuggled up against him, trying to keep him warm.

“Between the shock, pain and cold, I was shivering and shaking so bad that she came over and laid against me,” said Don. “For some reason she knew I needed body heat. But every time I’d start groaning because of the pain, she’d lick my face. With the wind blowing, that sure made my face cold! So I tried not to groan.”

Don is hard of hearing and couldn’t hear the 4-wheeler on the ridge.

“The dog was laying against me, and she heard Michael,” says Don. “When she raised her head up quick to look at something, I raised up, too, on my good elbow, and looked, and I saw a 4-wheeler go by on the ridge about 300 yards away.

“I was sure happy to see Mike! It was about 9 o’clock when he found me. He talked to me for a minute then took off to tell Bill Andrews where I was, then went back to the top of the hill to try to get cell service – to call Carolyn.”

Michael told Carolyn to send an ambulance, that he’d found Don. Kathy was with Carolyn when he called, and then his cell phone quit working.

“All he told us was that he’d found Don, and to send an ambulance. And that’s all we heard. For the next half hour I was in a panic, not knowing how bad he was hurt!” says Kathy.

Michael says it was truly a miracle that they found Don that night so quickly. He wouldn’t have survived the night. He’d spent six hours on the ground and was cold from wind and rain, and going into shock.

The search and rescue people came after the accident was called in, and got there at dark. They brought a 4-wheeler that pulled a cart with springs, with a gurney on it. They put Don on a backboard and onto that cart (with people on each side holding him) to take him about 300 yards up the draw to a Jeep track where they met the ambulance. It was a 4-wheel drive ambulance and the driver was able to bring it along a jeep track all the way up to the ridge above the draw where Don was found.

The ambulance crew called for a helicopter to transport him to a hospital in Missoula, MT. The helicopter got there about midnight. EMTs had located a flat spot on the ridge and set out glowing lights to mark the landing spot.

“The pilot brought the helicopter right in above us, then hovered and bounced it a few times on the sagebrush to mash it down so he could land,” explained Kathy.

It was a windy night and the flight was a choppy, but much easier on Don than riding out of the hills in an ambulance. He was very grateful for the helicopter and said, “It’s not everybody that goes up the mountain on a $500 horse and comes off on a $500,000 helicopter!”

When he got to the hospital the doctors discovered that he’d broken his arm in 10 places.

“I split my pelvis while I was still on the horse, trying to ride out the bucking,” says Don. “The doctor says it will heal on its own. If a split is over 2.5 centimeters they have to operate, but mine was 2.3. My walking is improving every day. But they had to use plates and pins to fix the arm and shoulder and I have to be really careful with it. The doctor said he didn’t like having ranchers for patients because they always want to go back to work too soon.”

When word about the accident got around, neighbors pitched in to help with Don’s irrigating and offered to do the haying. Kathy’s co-workers at the Post Office covered for her the next two weeks so she could stay home and take care of Don. Michael and Carolyn and their daughter helped Kathy move cows and Kathy’s son-in-law packed salt. Don hired Michael’s teenage son to change water through the rest of the summer, and other neighbors will be helping with haying and whatever else needs to be done.

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