Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Ft. Robinson Days
Ft. Robinson, in the northwest corner of Nebraska, is one of my favorite places. It is full of history and sits in an area backed up to the Badlands of the southern Black Hills. Thank goodness individuals took it upon themselves to preserve the fort when the military was through with it and began tearing it down.
My family has held several reunions at the fort, and created many great memories there. Buildings, ranging from officer quarters to hospitals, horse barns, blacksmith shops, museum, and the administration building are all open to the public. Summertime sees stagecoach rides, jeep rides, trail rides, evening rodeos, and suppers with live music around a campfire. There are many activities for young and old throughout the days, including many history teaching moments.
Patti and I took our horses there over a Labor Day weekend, and rode up into the hills and cliffs that surround the fort, following the trails used for the fort trail rides and also striking out on our own. We wore out our horses for several days, bedding them down at night in one of the huge horse barns on the fort grounds. It was a good weekend.
Many of my family had not been horseback before, so as part of a family reunion we signed up for a trail ride at the fort. Riders were matched to horses, and then put into a single line with the horses knowing their spot in the line. I ended up bringing up the rear, and ten year old son Matthew was three or four horses in front of me. Matthew’s brothers-in-law always teased him, and they gave him a bad time about his fear of heights as the ride wound it’s way up the bluffs. He took it good naturedly, but was visibly nervous about going up so high on the steep trail. I kept reassuring him that he was doing fine and would be alright.
The trail leveled out and ran along the top of the bluffs, giving us a fantastic view of the fort down below. The horses knew the trail and all was going well until the young girl who was wrangling rode up from the back of the line on a path that ran alongside the main trail. It was about a dozen feet below the trail, and was a way for the wranglers to check on the riders along the way.
Matthew was riding a little grey mare that seemed to fit him perfectly, but she didn’t like the horse the young wrangler was riding, and whenever she would ride along side of Matthew’s mare, the mare would lay her ears back and act aggressive to the horse down below her on the wrangler’s path. I told the wrangler to keep away from Matthew’s horse several times, but she either didn’t hear me or ignored me, until finally one time when she rode close, Matthew’s horse lunged down the embankment a dozen feet and went after the wrangler’s horse, with Matthew sitting up and hanging on. I hollered at the wrangler to get her horse out of there, and when she scrambled to do so, Matthew’s mare climbed back up the bank and into line, satisfied she had taught the wrangler’s horse a lesson.
Matthew’s brothers-in-law were quiet the rest of the ride. I talked to Matthew as we rode back to the fort, telling him how good a job he had done staying in the saddle. When we got back and everyone had dismounted the brothers-in-law all knelt in front of Matthew and praised him as their hero. I think the ride scared Matthew, but it was worth it to have his big brothers cheer him on for his bravery. I found myself shaking my head, wondering how he managed to stay in the middle of that little grey horse. I never told him how scared I was watching him do his imitation of the Man from Snowy River.
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