Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: In a different time
My father would occasionally tell stories about the old timers in this part of the country. One of the great benefits of all the years I worked with him was when he would talk about the local history and some of the colorful people he had known. He often spoke of Marion Wolf, who was an early day cowboy christened with the nickname of “Molly” because the other cowboys thought that Marion sounded like a girl’s name. One of our prized family heirlooms is Molly Wolf’s Meana saddle. My dad bought the saddle from him during the Depression when Molly was getting up in years. The saddle was made in 1885. Molly said he was making top wages as a cowboy and paid 60 dollars for the saddle – a month’s pay. F.A. Meana called the saddle a number one extra fancy. Wyoming cowboys considered a Meana saddle the ultimate tool of their trade.
Molly was famous for an incident that happened when he was working for the Ogallala ranch. In those days after the steers were shipped in the fall, most of the cowboys were let go until the next roundup in the spring. The best men were kept on to look after the saddle horses and take care of the ranch during the winter. The cows had to fend for themselves.
Molly and another cowboy named Bill Rodgers stayed out in the hills all winter until they had a chance to ride 60 miles to Douglas, Wyoming. Near Fort Fetterman they would have to cross the Platte River and in those days, before any damns were built, the river flooded every spring.
When they reached the north bank of the river, there was a man who operated a ferry and he lived on the south side. The cowboys shouted across the river and the ferryman started pulling himself across to pick them up. As the ferryman struggled along, the impatient cowboys started to cuss him for his slowness. By the time the ferryman had reached the middle of the river he had had enough of their abuse and he turned back. The cowboys were not to be denied and they spurred their horses into the flood and swam the river.
A few days later, after the cowboys had blown all their money, Molly and Rodgers headed back for the ranch. When they once again arrived at the flooding river, the ferryman was still mad at them and wasn’t at all interested in taking broke cowboys across. The cowboys had no choice but to swim the river again and dry off on the long ride back to the ranch.
You have to admire the cowboy’s courage and endurance but with a little diplomacy I guess there would not have been a story.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News