The Lost Prairie Chronicles #28 – Far From Ruby Ridge [Audio]

Dad has never been inclined to discuss Randy Weaver’s interaction with the St. Marie Family, and I’m guessing I was maybe 16 or 17 when all of this happened. I do remember doing the piece in the studio and dating Rachel.

I’m assuming that you all remember Randy Weaver, Ruby Ridge and the death of his wife and 14 year child. They never talk about the baby that was in her mother’s arms when she was shot, but her name is Elisheba, and she’s a beautiful little girl in the custody of her older sister, Sarah. Dad still talks to Sarah once in a while. She’s a very cool Lady

This is a copy of a letter response he sent to some big deal writer who just wouldn’t go away.

Dad is usually not this short and harsh with anyone, but I think the entire affair left him a bit angry with all concerned, particularly when it seemed to have no satisfactory end for Weaver’s Daughters.

If there is a way to post the original, never released song I’ll do it.

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This short narrative concerns the St. Marie Family’s interlude with one Randy Weaver, the supposed folk hero of the Ruby Ridge incident.

I’ll not discuss nor respond to anything as concerns the incident itself. My personal feelings are that he was entrapped with the shotgun idiocy in that the illegality of the weapon could be measured in no more than the width of the hacksaw blade he used to shorten it.

Horiuchi was and is a murderer. The BATF were and are thugs. Weaver’s idiotic intentional failure to appear at a couple of court hearings did not remotely justify the actions of the BATF and the subsequent events, and though he bore a portion of the blame himself, the ATF thugs bear the brunt of it. Any one of these Government paid anti-Constitutional ATF hacks could have arrested him on any one of his frequent trips into town. They didn’t. They opted to create the siege of the family home and the carnage that ended with the blatant, intentional murder of his wife and son. A 14 year old running away from the shooters and gunned down from behind by multiple fusillades in the back? Congratulations to the brave men of the ATF. Enough of that.

Sometime in the spring of 1996 I received a phone call in Lost Prairie. It was Randy Weaver asking if I knew who he was. “of course”, I responded, and the following ensued.

He called because he’d heard of our Family owned recording studio and he was living in Lost Prairie not far from our home. He had recently moved into a ranch house just down the road from us. With him were his three daughters, Sarah, Rachel and the little known or discussed, Elisheba, the baby.

He was interested in having a ballad written, a ballad we eventually named “Far From Ruby Ridge”. I agreed to persue the topic and began a search for any songwriters interested in such a venture. Long story short, after adverstising our intent in a number of industry journals for musicians, we received dozens of tapes and lyric submittals in the mail. Virtually all of them written in a blood & gore, anti-government killers vein, completely unsuitable for any sort of a memorial type ballad and most all of them written in the dreaded 3/4 time. We were discouraged. After weeks of enquiries and responses we were no further ahead than on day one, and I was about to tell Weaver exactly that, then………..

One morning at the Graphics Studio, an elderly lady walked in and asked if we were the ones who knew Randy Weaver. She didn’t have a song, but she had written a poem. A poem that was exceedingly well written with the abilty to rip, not tug, at your heartstrings. A true lump-in-the-throat poem. She asked if we would give it to Mr. Weaver. She had followed the story since day one and had developed a certain empathy for the plight of Weaver’s wife and son. I agreed to pass the poem on to Weaver and she left, but…….

My son Latigo took the poem, read it and stated the not so obvious to me….. “This is our song.” He was right! Perfect, and it metered out into 4/4 time! We had it. Now all we needed was a music composition, and of course I had the Latigo Band right here at home so……

Latigo wrote the music composition, performed both rhythm and lead guitar overdubs, Rosemary did the bass tracks and her ex-boyfriend did both the lead and harmony vocals. Within a week we had it. It couldn’t have been written or performed any better.

The finished piece was never released. I have the final master. Weaver monetarily scammed us along with a number of other businesses in Kalispell and he shuffled off down the road, broke and self consumed. My son Latigo dated his daughter Rachel for a while and Sarah married within another couple of years. Elisheba stayed with Weaver until Sarah finally took her from him. I’ll not explain why, but being with her father at that point in time was the worst possible place for Elisheba. Sarah recognized this and took her.

Many think that Weaver was well off. Not so. Only the three girls received the million apiece awarded by the court, not Weaver himself. He didn’t get a dime. There was a lot of deception and subterfuge involved, but I’ll not discuss it. For us it was enough to know that where we and a few local businesses were concerned, Weaver was a scammer and a liar. We ended up not believing a word he ever told us, and sitting in our control room numerous times, he told us a lot, none of which I will divulge to you. I care not a whit for Weaver himself, but I do value the privacy of his Daughters.

I’ve seen him at gunshows every once in a while, peddling his book. After our experiences with him I never bothered to buy or read it. His word meant nothing to us and I had no reason to believe anything he ever said or wrote. Rachel and Latigo did not date again and she lived in town for some time. We’ve lost track of her but I saw Sarah a few times and spoke with her. She still lives here in town and is a great and perceptive young woman for whom I have a lot of respect.

I will not discuss or divulge anything I know about Weaver or his family beyond that in this narrative, so don’t bother asking. This is intended as background on how the “Far From Ruby Ridge” ballad came to be and nothing more. Your curiosity doesn’t interest me and I’m assuming that I’ll not hear from you again on this matter.

-If this works, this is the original ballad “Far From Ruby Ridge”

http://www.soundclick.com/player/single_player.cfm?songid=7383462&q=hi&newref=1

Makin’ Tracks Sound Studio, St.Marie family owned

The control room.

The Drum isolation room

The Lost Prairie Chronicles #27

Around 1979 I was a dealer for a number of firearms in Montana. I had made a number of acquaintances in the field and we all shared common interests. A number of them enjoyed coming to Lost Prairie simply because of the isolation and a large area in which they could shoot, and that got me thinking. Why not make it more fun that just paper-punching, so…………

I mapped out a shooting course. It’s too many years ago to remember where I got the pamphlet, but I believe it was called “Courses of Fire”. At any rate, it mapped out building entry and room clearing. ……….. all active scenarios, but it didn’t fit what I wanted to do outdoors, but it did get me thinking. I wanted a 200 yard course of fire, but it had to be diverse and fun to run.

I began with “bunkers” place every 25 yards down the course. There is a slash pile of lumber out in the south pasture made of mainly rough cut 2×4’s that were discards from a logging mill that was here sometime in the early 60’s. Ma and I had decided to leave it alone as there were several small birch trees growing from the back side of it. It’s still there today, but now only half as high as when we settled here. The years and weather have eroded the wood, and it’s collapsing inward on itself, but the Birch trees grew strong and tall. (See photo as of this morning) Those 2×4’s were entirely useable with the exception of one side being slightly rounded and therefore …….. tossed aside by the millwright, but they served my purpose perfectly. Removing the top layer of wood revealed 2×4’s that were almost new looking.

The bunkers were built in a triangle with the 2×4’s stacked and nailed as you see in the photo with me on top, and built 4′ high and every 25 yards downrange. I decided to include a pistol faction into the mix, so there were 18″ tall stakes driven into the ground on the right side and 10′ ahead of every bunker. There was a paper plate stapled to the top of each stake with a bullseye in the center and a directive as to the required shooting position for the rifles.

The paper plate required 3 rounds first, and then the stated position required for the rifle shot. 5 rounds were required for the rifles, shot at the 200 yard target downrange. So, the plate with the bullseye, 3 shots and then whichever shooting discipline stated for the rifles……. IE: Prone, Sitting, Kneeling or a braced position from “inside” the bunker. Climb over the 4′ structure and use it to rest your rifle for the shots. The plates were changed after each run just to mix it up.

After the 25 yard bunker, a “SWAPO” dummy (explained later) had to be shot and dropped with the shooter’s sidearm. Once that was accomplished, the shooter ran up to the 200 yard target and rang a brass bell that hung on the Pistol Swing-Away targets that I’ll explain later. that finished the run and stopped the timer carried by the Rangemaster. The Rangemaster followed close behind every shooter making sure of both compliance and safety. Ok….. lotsa fun, but I wanted more.

In the long-lost booklet, it stated that running/movement through the course was designed to tire or stress the shooter, thereby creating something a bit more realistic, so………… I was stumped for the moment until I thought about what I could do besides simply requiring some running. It took a bit of planning, but I decided on a rope bridge and a cable slide before going to the 200 yard bunker.

The rope bridge was comprised of a 1″ diameter rope running between two trees that were 34′ apart. Two 1/2″ ropes ran parallel and 4′ up from the 1″ rope. It was held together by 1/4″ ropes reaved back and forth for the entire length, giving the shooter something to hang on to and stabilize himself. It began 10 feet up in the first tree, accessed by 18″ 2×4’s nailed to the tree as a “ladder”. From there the rope bridge ran slightly uphill to a 2’x2′ platform on the second tree about 18′ up. From there was a 1/4″ steel wound cable that ran from 5 1/2′ above the platform, 60′ downrange where it stopped 5 1/2′ from the ground. The shooter ran the cable on a “T” bar with a steel pulley over the cable. Depending on the shooter’s weight……..It was a fast ride.

From there where it ended at mid-range, the shooter then ran back to the 200 yard bunker and continued the timed run and followed the paper plate instructions. I ran it a number of times just to check both feasibility of the design and safety. It worked!

So….. The SWAPO dummy. Dierk is going to know who they were for sure, but for the rest of us Great Unwashed…. SWAPO was the South West African People’s Organization…… IE: Essentially, terrorists of the worst kind. The dummy is pictured, and any shot to the head or upper torso would cause the dummy to fall to the ground. +See the Illustration+

Once complete, I passed “the word”. It was to be a closed club, available to anyone who passed “muster”…. MY muster as pertains to character and level headedness. I can’t remember how many I turned away for a variety of good reasons, but we ended up with a nominal 26 active members, …. a mixture of both blues and white collar types. The purpose of the club was two-fold. To have fun, test our progressing skills and F&F for those requiring it. F&F is Familiarization and Function of their chosen firearms. I was more than familiar with all legally available military type rifles and (back in those days) the available semi-auto pistols. Today? ……. not so much. Too many new ones out there to know the solid ins and outs of breaking them down for field service. ……yeah, well…….. Age and not being in all the current loops.

So………. with a membership of 26 or so, we set the rules. Nothing in battery until the beginning of a run. While on the bridge, slide and running between bunkers, both rifle and pistol on “safe” with pistol holstered and rifle slung. No exceptions.

First violation is a zero for the course and you leave the range. Second violation means termination of membership.

No Alcohol no smoking, no guests, no children or dogs, no firearms that are not approved. Firearms to be used must be registered on your application. New firearm….. it gets added to the registration.

No ballistic, tracer or armour piercing rounds allowed.

Let the fun begin.

I have individual membership stories to relate later. Some of them are hilarious. Once every 3 months we had a competition shoot. First place won sometimes a Ruger 10/.22, sometimes 1,000 rounds of the winners choice, sometimes things like .45 caliber miniature brass cannons, scopes, binoculars,….. lots of cool schtuff. It was fun and competitive. Scores were a compilation of main target hits, pistol hits, following correct bunker discipline directions and time.

First year was a huge success, and many first timers learned F&F for their pistols and even CC instruction that was approved by the Sheriff. Then………… Sometime in the second summer, along comes this guy from the Daily Interlake. He has somehow heard about us. Despite the signs at the gate, he came down the road up to the house. He wanted to take photos and interview. Absolutely not! He wanted to speak to members. Absolutely not! In fact, a few of the guys had told me they weren’t happy about this situation. Those white collars in particular. I walked him to his car and waited till he drove off.

I didn’t know it then, but this was the end of the shooting club. This reporter waited outside the gate on the county road and attempted to stop cars exiting to ask questions. Nobody stopped and he was pretty angry. I wasn’t feeling very good and so I did one of the things that relaxed me. I sat on one of the bunkers and did some shooting with the .308 Valmet M76. I had not noticed that he had set up a camera on a bipod out on the county road and began taking pictures. He stopped when a neighbor driving by got my attention by repeatedly blowing his truck horn. I looked up, saw the guy hurriedly packing his gear and took off down the county road. I promptly forgot about it.

We have never gotten the Daily Interlake out here, so I was surprised when the phone began ringing, and the message was the same. “Have you seen the two page spread in the Sunday edition of the Interlake?” I hadn’t but I drove the 15 miles to Hilltop in Marion to get a copy. There I was in all my glory shooting after the last meet……………. that sucker had used a telescopic lens and photographed me.

The worst part was a full page written article about the range, the club and me, ALL of it fabricated from conjecture and pure guesswork………… and all of it dead wrong. The story intimation is that I was “training mercs.” LOL yeah……. That’s me alright.

Monday morning I was right there waiting for the then editor, Bob Black to get into his office……… and I was loaded for bear. I read him the riot act, let him know that I was suing the Interlake for defamation and a purely fabricated article along with 4 other members who had decided to join the suit. He claimed that he had no idea that the article had been written and that the next (wednesday) edition would print a full retraction and apology.

Do you have an Obituary section in your newspaper? I’d always heard about retractions for anything being printed there, but until I actually saw the one on me, I’d not have believed it. Essentially it said “The story on Pierre St.Marie and his shooting club published in last Sunday’s Interlake was unauthorized and completely erroneous. The Daily Interlake offers it’s sincere apologies for any unpleasantness it may have caused Mr. St.Marie or his family” That was it. Nothing more, but my attorney told me it was enough to absolve Black of liability.

So…………… with a very unhappy membership, I closed the range. I think that full article is still here somewhere, but it was a very long time ago. I thought it was with the photo, but apparently it got separated. I continued on with instructions for CC candidates, but the club was gone, and I deeply regret that. It was both fun and instructional, but when the Libs get hold of a story with spin potential like that one…….. they will play it to death.

The Lost Prairie Chronicles #26 – Eldon Christianson

Eldon Christianson. I’m pretty sure you kids will remember him. When I met Eldon he and his wife Sue ran the Big Meadows Ranch, up the valley. Eldon was a cowboy’s cowboy. He knew the cow business inside out, was amazing with a lariat and could cut the meanest bull out of a herd. Both he and his wife rode cutting horses, and by gosh they were riders. All those years ago it was those two who convinced me that there was riding a horse and “riding a horse!” Ma and I were lucky that we had a bunch of timber horses and not just saddle horses. A timber horse will make its way through dead fall at a pretty good clip without missing a step. All the rider had to do was give the horse his head and stay in the saddle. He’d put his head down and watch just ahead of his feet knowing just where to step. How the rear feet followed without tripping is to this day a mystery to me. When the dead fall got dense he’d slow down and concentrate on the spaces that wouldn’t jam his hooves. When the dead fall was so dense there was no easy way to place his feet, he’d get right up on top of it and move forward anyway! Most riders on the coast and in middle America have no idea what a good northwest timber horse can do. To this day I appreciate seeing a good timber horse moving through the woods.

(This is Dad on Tye, one of his really great deadfall horses)

Eldon. Cowboy, bronc rider, calf roper and saddlemaker of the highest grade. Eldon never did a rodeo. All of his “events” involved the day to day working of Big Meadows. Sometime in 79 or 80 Eldon was hired on as the roustabout for the movie Heaven’s Gate that was made somewhere hereabouts. Can’t remember exactly where, but somewhere near the Bob I think. I never did see the whole movie, but I do remember turning on a channel where the credits for the movie were scrolling up and sure enough, there was his name. He was about the quietest, most reticent celebrity I ever did see, but then his very nature was that of an unassuming cowboy.

When Eldon called the house he’d open with “This is Eldon”. That was it. If you didn’t begin the conversation there was a long silent wait until you began speaking.. It always took a few minutes for him to get around to what he’d called about. It was almost as if you’d made the call to him yourself. Strange as his nature was, he was always a pleasure to be around. His saddles were second to none but all of the accolades merely brought a smile from him and nothing else. Yep. Eldon was a cowboy’s cowboy.

Lyn and I had returned from Carpenter’s Auction with a year and a half old gelding that morning. Lyn had named the youngster “Twister” and that name bespoke the reason we had him at all. As a colt his mother had stepped on his near side hind foot and thew a slight twist into it. When he walked it was apparent but didn’t seem to bother him at all. He ran and bucked just like any other horse. I had asked Eldon to come over the next day to see about possible corrective shoeing. Sometimes it took an apparatus rather than a shoe if the problem was too severe. Eldon agreed and showed up early the next morning, and thus began an incident that Lyn will never allow to go untold.

(This is Twister. Note the corrective setup on his off-side hind foot. Its the one in the foreground in this shot)

I tied Twister off the the side of the stock-rack on the pickup. I’d given him plenty of slack, enough slack for the 3/4″ nylon tag line to droop on the ground. Eldon didn’t want him to feel too pressed between him and the stock rack. If he spooked he’d need some room to take a couple of steps way from Eldon and not back into him. Lyn standing near me was very close to the tag-line and I told her, “Whatever you do… Don’t step over that line. If he rears or jerks you could get seriously injured.”

Eldon faced Twister’s hindquarters and picked up his foot, stretched the leg toward teh rear, laying it across his slightly bent legs. This is the same position used for trimming hind feet. If the horse kicked he’d pull his hoof from your lap and kick toward the rear, away from you. I knew all of these things. I’d been trimming feet for a number of years. I’d been telling Lyn and the kids about horse’s feet, starting in surprise, head jerking in surprise, bolting, pulling back against tag lines and headstalls and all of the ordinary pitfalls surrounding working with horses. Yep. I was knowledgeable and willing to remind Lyn and the kids at every opportunity.

I was on Twister’s off side, opposite Eldon and holding Twister’s headstall firmly. “Pierre. Come around here for a minute and take a look at this.” I nimbly stepped across Twisters tag-line and I know I remember looking down and seeing the top of that green stockrack. I don’t remember anything until the never before heard sound of Eldon roaring in laughter and standing above me. I remember Lyn was as white as a sheet. Yep. I knowledgeably stepped right across that tag-line as Twister pulled his hoof from Eldon’s lap and jerked back, rearing straight up in the air. Being perfectly centered with one leg on either side of the tag-line, I was flipped straight up, did one roll (so I’m told) and landed flat on my back under Twister.

Lyn and Eldon told me I had instinctively rolled away to the right just as Twister, having been thrown off balance, landed on his side exactly where I first impacted the ground. Why and how I did that with no recollection of anything for a full 30 seconds after impact is beyond me. I actually remembered nothing after seeing the top of the stockrack. Nothing at all.

That’s all I have to say about an occurrence that your Ma insisted I relate in the chronicles. Not one damned thing more.

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This is one of Dad’s colts standing next to that same green stockrack. Pretty high, eh?

And this is some of the deadfall on the place. Imagine running a horse through that.

The Lost Prairie Chronicles #25 – Ma and the Birds

Being just old enough at the time, I’m sure you’ll remember this. Your Mother was a bird lover and a bird keeper. At one time the outbuildings here in Lost Prairie housed some two hundred pairs of breeding birds. Macaws, Dwarf Macaws, Kakarikis, Cockatoos, Giant Indian Parakeets, varieties of Pionus Parrots, different kinds Amazon parrots and a raft of various parrotlets. Over time she became expert in breeding, avian nutrition and diagnosing avian health problems. She incubated her own babies, spoon fed them and raise the friendliest parrots to be found anywhere. It wasn’t an easy thing for her to do. Those baby parrots had to be fed every two hours day and night.

Yep, your Ma was a dedicated Lady, but then again so were you kids. You were up at 5am every morning of the week, cutting up vegetables and fruits, preparing seed dishes and assembling the feed trays for some 24 flights. Most all of them had varying diet requirements, so each bucket and tray was numbered by the flight. Seeds of all kinds were bought by the 100 pound bags, all stacked on a pallet shipped out of Spokane and delivered to town. You and your Ma made the rounds of the grocery stores where the produce managers had set aside still edible fruits and vegetables for the birds. Your Ma had a good reputation in town and after that TV outfit came out and did a special on her aviaries she became a local celebrity.

Remember that darned Mynah bird in the kitchen. He’d say “Are you leaving soon? Are you taking your damned kids with you?” heh…… great bird, that one. Nobody else liked him, but I did. There are probably pages of stories that I could write about your Ma and the parrots, and maybe I will one day, but this is about the Bluebirds.

We have two kinds of bluebirds here in Lost Prairie. The larger Western Bluebird and the smaller and brighter Montana Bluebird. I remember a long time back that your Mother had read an article concerning the raising of Bluebirds. I asked her exactly how the heck she was going to raise wild Bluebirds. Well, she did just that. We had a number of nest boxes around the place, most of them out on fence posts where Bluebirds usually nest. She brought those in, had me clean them out and she painted a blue flower on a number of them. Others had a blue ribbon attached to them. I was wondering what the heck she was doing when she explained that Bluebirds actually are more inclined to use a nest box that has blue on it. Well, that was a new one for me, but it turned out that she was right.

She mounted four of them in the yard. Bluebirds prefer a choice of nestboxes and only one pair will nest within one hundred yards or more of another pair. They’re territorial and aggressive. So back to the question. How is Ma going to help breed Bluebirds. She brought in 10,000 mealworms! She found out that in an average clutch of five babies, only three or four at most survived. By feeding the parents mealworms before they went to nest they became more active, amorous and went to nest sooner. Continuing the feeding of mealworms ended up with all five babies surviving, and they went back to nest another two times! Fifteen babies a year, but the really amazing part is how the parents responded.

To this day, Ma has a feeding station attached to the deck rail in the yard. These Bluebirds return each year, recognize her and sit on the rail waiting for her to feed them. They’re no more than a foot away from her the whole time she’s filling the cup with worms. They impatiently flutter all around her head. When she’s at the sink, I’ve seen them fluttering at the kitchen window to let her know they need more worms. I’ve actually seen a cock land on her knee more than once as she’s sitting in one of the deck chairs watching them feed. Once the babies are hatched it gets very busy with both parents flying back and forth from the feed cup to the nest box.

200 meal worms a day to feed the babies and both parents. Once out of the nest box, the babies take their cue from the parents and sit on the rail right next to Ma while being fed. The yard is filled with flashes of blue the whole summer long. Its a real treat to approach the house from the county road and see all of that blue flashing in the sky around the house.

After all these years Lost Prairie is still filled with Bluebirds every spring. A different pair shows up every so often, but I’m convinced its a pair from one of her clutches. They’re waiting right at the feeding station as soon as they arrive in the valley and just as friendly as can be. Yep. Ma raises Bluebirds.

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The Lost Prairie Chronicles #24 – Shonk and me.

The life of the true cowboy was anything but that of the exciting, flamboyant movie cowboy. It was riding and repairing miles of fence-line summer and winter, routine maintenance of tack, hardware, corrals and outbuildings, all of the everyday dawn to dusk tasks. Assisting cows with birthing, pulling calves, treating scours, inoculations, branding and feeding no matter what the weather. To a small degree it was the same for Lyn and me but without the cattle. Helping the neighboring ranches with their cows kept things in perspective for me and within a very short time-span the romantic thoughts of owning any cattle whatsoever other than milk cows was quickly doused with the reality of it all. With no more than 40 acres and even with the adjoining land being some 7,000 acres of lease land, there was no temptation in the imagined romanticism of day to day working of cattle. If I wanted to truly frustrate myself I had only to go next door to the Louden ranch and get a good dose of cow-reality. It takes both special talents and solid dedication to run a cattle ranch, but here we were with an oasis in the middle of it all. Fence to maintain, horses of our own, milk cows, chickens and plenty of cattle all around us should we feel the need to be cowboys/girls. (Lyn hated working cattle)

There was a definite upside for us. Our lives changed, priorities rearranged themselves, a new appreciation of things as simple as dawn and dusk, a new respect for the land and a realization that the wellbeing of an eventual number of animals depended on our close attention….. and so the “attention” began.

Shonkin. I remember well the first time I saw him. He was green and unbroke……. pretty much like me, come to think of it. Lyn and I went to the Loney ranch to talk about horses. We sat at the kitchen table in that very large room and discussed what we thought we wanted. We were both pretty much set on Morgans, and that worked well since that’s what the Loneys bred. We walked out to the barn and Lyn immediately went up to a young Morgan mare. A beautiful Chestnut, she was and Lyn had made up her mind already. I can’t remember her papered name, but Mischief was a part of it so…… Mischief she was, and the ensuing years would prove her name both fitting and prophetic.

As Mischief was barely a two year old, we’d have to leave her unbroke till next spring. That suited me anyway since I had a lot to learn about the gentle breaking of a horse, and she was a perfect candidate. Gentle but inquisitive to a fault, Mischief was more like a large dog, following Lyn around, nudgeing her from behind, pushing her very soft muzzle into her chest and face and pretty much being a gentle pest. More about Mischief later.

That same day while Lyn was getting acquainted with her chosen Morgan, I asked Laurie, that considering my height if he thought a 15 hand horse was going to work for me. I wasn’t sure, but I definitely wanted a Morgan. He said not a word but motioned me to follow him outside around the back of the barn. There in an enclosure was a tall, well muscled palamino-appaloosa looking horse with a bald face. One look at him moving around that corral was enough to quench whatever desire I’d had for a Morgan. My God he was a beauty. Even with the amazing height he was well put-up and carried himself with a grace that bespoke pure power.

Looking at Laurie, I was at a loss for words. “He’s out of an Appaloosa and a Palomino American Saddler, born of the Shonkin River over east of the Divide. He’s a full sixteen three, pretty tall for a saddlehorse but I reckon you’ll fit him.” My mouth was dry thinking there was no way for me to afford a horse like this. I was afraid to ask, so Laurie volunteered… “He’s still a stallion, unbroke and just come three. If you want him he’ll be $500.00.” Oh man! That was within reach for me. Lyn’s Morgan was going to be $1,000.00 and she certainly wasn’t going to balk at $500. But wait! Unbroke? Not broke. Nobody had yet mounted him. Suddenly that $500 wasn’t meaning much. I’d only been on a few gentle trail horses in my younger years, so how was I going to mount this very tall, intimidating stallion? “We’ll need to break him, right Laurie?” Yep. You’ll need to break him”. He didn’t say “we”. He said “You’ll”. I was quiet, contemplating how many bones this horse was going to cost me, and I don’t mean dollars. Oh man.

Peering more closely at me he said “You don’t want him?” With a dry mouth I admiitted that not having mounted a horse of this caliber, I was definitely intimidated. I knew that at some point I’d be dealing with an un-broke Morgan, but the distance from the saddle to the ground on a Morgan was a lot shorter than that same distance with this horse. Just the word “stallion” brought forth visages of dark stormy nights with a rearing black horse snorting fire. I shook my head. What was wrong with me? He was a horse, not a visage. With his muzzle pushing against my shoulder over the fence he seemed less of a threat. Laurie broke my mental arguement with “It ain’t gonna kill ya. I’ll be there watching if you get in trouble.” He’ll be there watching? I’ll be on the horse, he’ll be on the fence. Somehow there wasn’t a lot of assurance in that picture.

Enough of this. I wanted him. I asked Laurie if he’d guide me through the process and he agreed. It was to be tomorrow morning and Lyn and I left for home, each with a different vison of what tomorrow would bring. Being just down the county road, Mischief would be walked from the Loney’s to our place, and in theory, I’d be riding Shonkin back. That was my hope. That was my prayer. Geez! What had I let myself in for?

Surprisingly enough, I did sleep well that night. I awoke early, cleared my head and remembered what this morning would bring. After breakfast, Lyn and I jumped in the truck and headed for the Loney’s. Emerging from the trees and heading down the drive I saw Shonkin was already saddled and standing quietly, tied to a fencepost. Being under saddle and standing quietly he somehow looked less intimidating, but still damned big! Wilma was at the back door and waved Lyn inside. I wasn’t up to drinking any more coffee anyway and, considering the state of my stomach was beginning to wonder why I’d even eaten breakfast.

I got out of the truck and walked up to Shonkin. I approached him from the front in full view so as not to surprise him. Laurie had come out of the barn and asked “if I was ready for this”. As ready as I’ll ever be. He told me to begin running my hands all over Shonk beginning at the withers. “Let him smell ya. All over him. Yes, legs too, but be careful around his hindquarters.” I spent a full ten minutes rubbing over every square inch of his well muscled body. Oddly enough he particularly seemed to like having his belly rubbed. Without having had my head taken off by a flying hoof, I began feeling more secure about him. “Ok. Untie him and lead him around for a while. I’m going in for coffee”. Untieing him I noted that his bridle wasn’t rigged with a bit. In it’s place was a teardrop shaped affair that was of braided leather, stiff and with a monkey’s fist at the bottom to which the reins were attatched. Having made fifty or more of them, I knew exactly what a monkey’s fist was. At sea they’re made with a chunk of lead in the center, nylon line woven around the lead core in a specific manner and served as a weight at the end of a throwing line, that being attatched to the end of a hawser drawn from the deck to the dock to secure the ship. At that point I didn’t quite grasp the intent of what I came to know was a Bosal, but I was soon to find out.

(This is a Bosal. Latigo)

Forty five minutes later Laurie came out of the house and I approached him with Shonkin. “Not the wild stallion you thought he was at all, is he.” No, he wasn’t… and it dawned on me that having led him around with me in mental meyanderings, he hadn’t started, pulled or done anything other than walk quietly alongside me. I asked Laurie about the rig on his bridle and he responded that the Bosal would allow me to control him without risk of damaging his mouth if “things got exciting”. When handled properly the Bosal could be snapped left, right or straight back with the stiff rawhide loop hitting the “bars”, or bones that ran under his head from jaw to the bottom of his mouth. These were relatively sensitive bones and the snapping action got his attention taking his mind of whatever untoward move he was contemplating.

“Take both reins in your left hand, pull that nearside rein up short and pull his head around so he’s looking right at you. When you swing up into the saddle he’ll only be able to turn into you and not away from you. Ya don’t want him to run out from under you while you’re mounting him.” What happens when I get up there? “Don’t just sit there. Lay those reins against the right side of his neck and squeeze your calves together. That’ll get him moving, and for God’s sake don’t use your heels. If he starts to get away from you don’t pull on those reins. Give ’em a quick snap to the rear and then let them go again. That Bosal will hit his bars and he’ll stop. If ya have to do it twice, then do it, but don’t just pull! He’s a helluva lot stronger than you are and you won’t win the arguement. If he won’t turn use the Bosal with a snap either left or right, but not too hard. Try not to line out for more than a few steps. Keep him turning and stopping. I’ll tell ya when, but you’re going to get on and off of him a few times mounting him just like I told ya. Don’t let him just stand there, but keep him moving. If you’re going to lose him make sure you kick both of your boots free of the stirrups. I don’t want to be chasing him down with you dragging by one foot.”

Oh man! That was an image I hadn’t considered, but there it was. Suddenly all of the confidence I’d acquired walking him around faded. All of these instructions were running through my head as I placed my left foot in the stirrup, then removed it. With a mental image of a wild TV rodeo in my mind I asked…. What if he bucks? “Maybe he will, maybe he wont’. If ya let him think about it he probably will, so keep him moving just like I told ya, and he won’t buck as long as ya don’t let him get his head down. He can’t buck with his head up. If he makes a move to put his head down, don’t wait. Snap that Bosal, get his attention and turn him left.” Ok. I couldn’t justify waiting any longer with more questions. I was proably going to forget most of it anyway once I was up there.

I pulled the nearside rein up short, put my foot in the stirrup, swung up into the saddle and paused. I felt him tremble under me, and I felt the sheer power under the saddle. Shonk began to dip his head and I snapped the Bosal back and then to the left. Up came his head and I immediately went into a turn. “Ok. Ya done made three full circles. Are ya gonna keep going in circles or are ya gonna move that horse?” I eased up on the reins, squeezed him with my calves and he jumped forward about six feet. I snapped the Bosal to the rear and turned him to the right. “Not so damned hard with that Bosal! You’re gonna make him head-shy before ya even get started!” For a good fifteen minutes I turned him left, right, short distances forward and then right into another turn. With a start I realized he hadn’t bucked! He was responding more and more to the pressure of the reins on the sides of his neck. I was using the Bosal less and less.

“Ok. Dismount, and keep that nearside rein a little shorter than the off side.” I dismounted, remounted, moved him all directions with more foward travel each time. Soon I was moving him along the fenceline. turning and returning to Laurie. “Keep working with him for another half hour but try not to use the Bosal unless you have to.” He turned and walked into the house. I was alone. Shonkin snorted and shook his head. No, I wasn’t alone, and the trepidation began fading away. For nearly another hour I worked with Shonkin, and each passing minute strengthend the bond forming between us. This was a horse! Big, powerful and increasingly more responsive. I’d lost track of the time and suddenly Laurie was there again. “Looks like ya got a mount.” Yep. I had a mount, and I was ready to ride him home. “Nope. Leave him here. Come back for the next three days and put some time on him. Once you get him lined out and trotting a good ways ya can take him home, and remember ya haven’t saddled him yet.”

Thus began a very close long-term relationship with what became a very close friend of mine. Shonkin.