IF A LITTLE SECLUDED MEADOW COULD TALK
By Steve Moreland, December 31, 2017
A little secluded meadow is in the Sandhills about three miles west and slightly north of the ETV tower, which is 18 miles south of Merriman, Nebraska. This meadow isn’t very big and no longer has a fence around it. Recent reports are that it is mostly covered in water since the water table has risen in recent years. I have not been to this meadow for over thirty years, but there have been a few noteworthy events and memories that come to mind as having happened on or near there.
This small meadow is now owned by Steve and Carol Balius, and it is part of their summer range. For many years in the past, it was owned by Bill Annett of Gordon, Nebraska. After my dad, Bob Moreland, purchased pasture land from Fred Fuchser in 1961, we passed through this little meadow often while trailing cattle. It was a thirty mile cattle drive between this Fuchser land and Dad’s home ranch, which was eight miles northeast of Merriman. Dad’s brother, Stan Moreland, had bought an adjoining pasture down south. We traded help, so with two drives down in the spring and two back in the fall, we passed through the little meadow quite often.
In the spring of 1963, on Uncle Stan’s cattle drive we camped in the meadow and put our horses in the stack yard so they would be easier to catch the next day. John Burton and his kids, Velvet and Mitch, rode horses the six miles from their ranch to join the camp-out. John’s wife Ardith drove down in their yellow Ford pickup to bring camping supplies, and to stay the night with the rest of the crew. I would have been 11 at the time, and felt like a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy riding my nice little brown mare, Nickolena. There were about a dozen of us who enjoyed a campfire breakfast the next morning. Then it was quite a project getting my saddle on my mare, as I was small and skinny and my saddle was full-sized and quite heavy.
This land was owned by Bill Annett at the time. John Burton took care of Annett’s cattle during the summers for seven years, from 1957 through 1963, on this summer range consisting of more than 8,000 acres. John tells that one of those years Annetts had 375 yearling and two-year-old heifers running together in a six-section (six square miles) pasture. They wanted the 125 two-year-olds separated from the 250 yearlings, so that bulls could be turned with the older heifers. John tells the story of how he accomplished this task. Here are his words:
“I left the house on my best traveling horse leading the kids’ horse. When I got to the pasture I tied him up and then started gathering the cattle.
“I traveled mostly on a lope on the north, east, and south side of the pasture pushing the cattle out of the hills onto the little meadow area where the windmills were. When I was on the southwest corner, my first horse was pretty well worn out. I was about a mile from the Annett camp where I had two more horses. I turned the tired one loose and took the two others. I tied one to a windmill while I pushed the cattle together. Most of the time I was riding at a lope. When one horse was winded, I would switch to the other. I finally got the cattle pushed into a trap that was wider on the back side and it narrowed in the front. “Ardith drove down and left the kids in the pickup. She got on the kids’ horse and held the cattle in the trap while I sorted out the 125 two-year-olds. I rode in at a lope and brought the heifers out on a trot. I figured I rode 35 miles in the cutting pen. By the time I got the 125 cut out they had scattered over a section. I had to round them up and put them in the pasture where they belonged. I figured I rode well over 100 miles that day, having started riding at 5 o’clock that morning and riding until 7 o’clock that evening, a lot of it at a lope.”
John went on to say, “Years later we were coming into that pasture from a different direction. I didn’t know if Ardith knew where we were. I pointed over into the corner where we had done the sorting, and told her that’s where she had one of the worst days of her life, and I had one of my best.”
John Burton put up some hay down in the Annett meadow in the summer of 1961. That winter he fed the hay to Annett’s cows. He fed with a two-horse team and a small four-wheeled hay sled. He would feed cattle with the team at his home in the morning, and then drive the team and lead a saddle horse six miles to the Annett meadow in the afternoon. He would feed cows there, then unharness and leave the team in the stack yard overnight, and ride his saddle horse back home. The next morning the process would be reversed. He’d ride to the Annett meadow, feed, and drive the team home for dinner. After dinner he’d feed his own cattle. This process lasted for about four months. Anytime during the winter of early 1962, when my own dad was having trouble getting cattle fed on account of lots of snow, all he would have to do was call John and compare notes. Then my dad didn’t feel quite so overworked after all.
Buck Buckles tells of a happening on this same little Annett meadow, which is many miles from any inhabited house. Buck was taking care of cattle on these pastures and was driving a 1956 pickup putting out salt. He had with him his young son Jerry, who was eight or nine years old. Near a salt bunk, the pickup stalled out and refused to start. It was looking like a long walk would be the next order of theday. Inquisitive yearlings were arriving to check out the fresh salt in the bunk. There happened to be a lariat rope in the pickup, and Buck had an inspiration. He tied the tail end of the rope onto the front bumper of the pickup and waited for his opportunity. Soon a yearling got close enough, and Buck made a perfect shot that captured the critter around the neck. Buck’s son Jerry was growing up with Miles Hare, and both of the boys had been playing bullfighter in Dean Hare’s arena. With the yearling bovine on the end of a rope being none too happy and getting madder by the moment, Buck told Jerry to go tantalize the critter to see if it would chase him. This plan worked like a charm, and the critter had enough power to pull the pickup about ten feet. Buck let out the clutch just right, and the pickup started. He held his foot on the brake until Jerry could get back in the pickup. Then Jerry held the brake until Buck got the rope off of the yearling. Buck drove the pickup back to civilization with no further mechanical failures. A long walk was avoided, and as the saying goes, “All is well that ends well.”
In 1979, my wife Carol and I moved onto the old Lester Leach ranch that my dad had purchased in 1967. We lived in a pretty nice trailer house and were enjoying ranching on our own. While checking pastures one day in the early 1980’s, I got a count on our yearling heifers and realized we were short six head. The next morning Carol and I took off riding looking for the missing heifers. We were both on good horses, and our dogs Jake and Shadow came along for the excitement. It turned out to be a hot June day, and the dogs took advantage of every puddle to submerge themselves to cool off.
While riding through the same little meadow previously mentioned, the dog Shadow went completely berserk. She started racing in small circles full speed around our horses. It was a very hot humid day, and she had earlier appeared to be completely exhausted. Now she had plenty of exuberance, but was acting very peculiar and frothing at the mouth. I dismounted from my horse, and took the fencing pliers out of the leather scabbard, ready to try to put the dog out of its misery if it got close. It dashed by several times, but not that close. Shadow was slobbering like she had Rabies, and I was thinking that might be her ailment. She continued running in a frenzy at full speed. The last we saw of her, she was careening full tilt over the hills to the west. Since our ranch was to the east, we thought we’d seen the last of her.
Carol and I continued riding, looking for the lost heifers. We didn’t find them that day, but when we arrived back home, Shadow was laying on the front porch acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. We decided to give her another chance, and she was with us for several more years after that. I have seen Shadow on two different occasions catch a grouse on the fly, just when it came off the ground out of tall grass. She was speedy. It is still a mystery why she went berserk while crossing the little meadow. Postscript, the six missing heifers turned up a few days later in Minor’s pasture to the south. Chester Brownlow notified me that he had seen them, so I rode down, sorted them out, and drove them home.
On our fall cattle drive in 1963, a left-handed cross-eyed young man by the name of Skeeter was horseback enjoying the trip. He had a new nine-shot High Standard pistol that he was quite proud of. Gerald Goodwin had made a fine hand-tooled left-handed belt and holster to carry the pistol. Skeeter rode up to Dad looking quite crest-fallen. His holster was empty, as the pistol had fallen out back up the trail a ways. Dad gave permission for Skeeter to ride back and try to find his gun. No luck. The next Sunday Skeeter took a couple friends, and they drove down to the pasture in his car to look for the pistol. Alas, it was not to be found then either. Skeeter offered a five dollar reward to anyone who could find and return his pistol. The reward remained uncollected.
Each time we trailed cattle through Annett’s pasture we would keep our eyes open for the lost pistol. Fast forward to the spring of 1968. I was in the lead on my horse, scouting for any cattle we would need to move out of the way for our herd to pass. While riding along rather nonchalantly, I noticed a sparkle on a distant hill. When I rode to the shining object, darned if it wasn’t Skeeter’s pistol. I was pretty proud to have been the finder. The pistol was in remarkably good shape considering that it had laid out in the weather for the past four and a half years. It didn’t take me long to write a letter to Skeeter in Butte, Montana stating that the lost had been found. The only trouble was you could no longer send a gun in the U.S. mail. Skeeter wrote back telling me to keep it until delivery could be arranged, but he did send me the five dollar reward.
Many years went by and soon it was 1995. I finally traded Skeeter one of my dad’s autobiography books and some cash to get full title to the pistol. Then I gave it to my son, Will, and he is now its proud owner.
Other memories of Annett’s little meadow include being lost there on a dark rainy late October night when it was too dark to see my horse’s ears. My sister Sybil and I were trying to find our way up to John Burton’s place. Our plan was to spend the night there and help John Fairhead trail his cattle from Burton’s to the Fairhead Ranch north of Merriman. I was leading an extra horse for another rider to use on the next day’s cattle drive. We finally stumbled upon the windmill road going north, and eventually arrived at the Burton Ranch, which was six miles up the trail. By the time we arrived, it was snowing quite heavily. We spent the night with John and Ardith, and by morning a full-fledged blizzard was in progress. An early morning phone call from John Fairhead postponed the cattle drive until the following day. Sybil and I rode back to our place in the snow storm. It let up that afternoon, and we made sure to allow enough daylight for our ride back to the Burton Ranch late in the afternoon. The cattle drive went as planned on the following day.
Another memory of that little meadow is of a rattlesnake hanging off of the wooden windmill tower. It was dead, and I’m not sure if it had climbed the tower and got its tail caught in the bracing, or if a hawk had captured it and left it hanging. It was there nonetheless.
It is just a small meadow miles from anywhere, but at least for me it conjures up many memories and thoughts of the happenings that have occurred there.