Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: The Cheyenne River Bridge
Yesterday, for the first time in the decade I have been married, we were unable to take the cows the short way home to calve.
The Cheyenne River proved too treacherous with large slabs of ice on the edge, mostly under the flowing water. I took one look at the tractor navigating in several feet of water while attempting to break up the ice, and promptly decided I would not be following any cows across. Come to find out, my father-in-law was simultaneously mentioning to my husband that maybe this wasn’t the year for our kids to attempt crossing it, either.
The cows took a swiping glance at our ice breaking efforts and gave a resounding, “No thanks,” to our attempts to get them to even dip a toe in the murky, high flowing water.
So, up the river breaks we went, then nine miles down and around versus a straight three-mile jaunt home had we gotten them to cross.
We made it to within a quarter mile of the calving pasture last night, and had to stop. All that stood between the cows and home was the same river.
Our hope was they would cross during the night.
They declined to entertain our thought process.
Which we discovered this morning when we peeked over the edge, and saw the first calf of the year stumbling around on the river’s edge.
My husband reluctantly asked if we – himself, myself, our hired man, and an enthusiastic five and seven-year-old – should dive in and finish the job of taking them across the river via the highway bridge.
He was understandably a bit skeptical. Our cows have never been on a highway, let alone a highway bridge. Plus, it is a fairly busy highway, and people don’t usually slow down or show much respect for farm equipment or livestock on the road. We needed cattle working people, highway flagging people, and nearly half our crew was under ten.
But, we made the decision to get it done, said a prayer, saddled both kid’s horses, and headed out.
Come to find out, cow cake bounces very enticingly, and is quite visible on a highway. The ol’ girls never hesitated coming out the gate and onto the road behind the feed pickup. Our hired man and kids were right behind them, and I went ahead with the pickup, horse trailer and my husband’s horse, to shut down traffic when they reached the bridge.
Everything meandered in and out of the ditch as traffic flowed by, then converged on the bridge. I got oncoming traffic to stop. Then the cows encountered the transition onto the bridge, and half opted to jump the guard rail into the road ditch instead of walking across the scary, shiny metal zig zagging metal trap of death.
The guys shoved the half that didn’t bail across the bridge, where I met them with my husband’s horse. We got them in the right pasture, unrolled a little hay, and headed back to the rest.
While we all did that, our five and seven-year-old gathered the rest of the cows back up, and were patiently waiting with them tucked into a corner at the base of the bridge, off the road, and out of the way. Right where we needed them. They also talked to what they guessed was a paint crew, and were both quite proud of the compliments they received on their horses.
We came back, threw some hay over the scary spots, and got all but two on attempt two. Those two decided they would, in fact, rather wade across than transition to a motorized way of travel.
What a great life we live. Even on the years it is particularly challenging there are blessedly bright spots. Like today, when we adults didn’t have to chase our cattle up and down the Highway 44 corridor in a full-blown wreck, but our kids got to drive cattle up and down the highway on their magically fast cow horses, gaining an exponential amount of storytelling fodder for weeks to come. And, we all added to the lifetime memory bank with the time we had to take the cows around in the spring of 2023.
As my husband somewhat dumbfoundedly said afterward, not only did the kids gather all those cows back up and hold them, but no one even cried. I’m pretty sure he was referencing the kids…