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Roscoe and Tooey Ride the Bootlegger Trail
By Anne M. Shaw
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Anne M. Shaw
All right reserved.
It was nearly eight o'clock in the evening on the fourth of July and the sun was still high in the sky as Tooey and I rode out of Fort Benton, up the Helena Hill and through the viaduct under the Great Northern tracks. Our dog Ruff followed along, taking time here and there to investigate the smells beside the road and then hurrying to catch up before he got too far behind. We were headed out to the Stranahan place in the Teton River Valley, where we would have jobs on an honest to goodness ranch. I looked at Tooey as we reached the top of the hill and the grin on his face showed he was thinking the same thing I was—it really was going to be a good summer after all.
It had only been a few days since we had escaped from that evil no-good snake, Cronkit, in the Little Rocky Mountains. It was our dog Ruff and Cronkit's taste for bootleg whiskey that did him in. Everyone was so glad to have him gone that they gave us a reward and asked us to lead the Fourth of July Parade.
After the parade and all of the speeches were over, we decided to skip the evening fireworks and ride our mares out to the Teton ranch, where we would work for Judge Stranahan's son, Clint, for the summer. It was still only the first week of July and we would have two whole months before school started in September. Then, if we did have to go back to Minneapolis to live with our aunts, we hoped Clint would keep our mares, Princess and Angel, on the ranch until we could come back to Montana next summer.
After our family came to Fort Benton three years ago when our father went into law practice in with the Judge, we met Pete McCall, an old-time cowboy. He helped us raise two orphaned foals and train them. But when our parents were killed in a car accident, we took our fillies and ran away, rather than sell them and go back to the city. We had some great times riding down the river through the White Cliffs of the Missouri Breaks, but we had some really scary ones too. That's why we were looking forward to working on Clint's ranch. After all, when we ran away we were hoping to find work on a ranch somewhere.
It was still daylight as we rode across the prairie between the Teton and the Missouri River valleys even though it was nearly eight o'clock in the evening. As we rode down into the Teton Valley, a cool fresh breeze came up and we could smell the sweet smell of alfalfa ripening in the hayfields.
Clint and Marie Stranahan and their daughter, Lorene, passed us in their pickup as we headed down into the valley, and they were already home by the time we got to the ranch. As we rode up to the corral, Clint opened the gate for us. We unsaddled Princess and Angel and watched as the mares had a good roll in the dirt of the corral, got up, shook themselves and got a drink from the water trough. We put some hay in the manger for them and Clint showed us where to put our saddles and other gear.
That afternoon in Fort Benton after the parade, there had been a huge picnic in the park and we'd eaten fried chicken, potato salad and a lot of other good stuff and all of that was topped off with homemade ice cream. Since no one was very hungry yet, Marie Stranahan fixed us a light supper. After we ate she showed us to our room upstairs in the big house.
The next morning after breakfast, we began to make ourselves useful. This had been a dry year. Clint had already irrigated the hay fields and the garden, but it was hot and the ground had dried out. Everything needed more water, but the river was so low that the intake pipe to the pump was out of the water. If it was going to get suction in order to pump, we would have to dig a deeper sump hole close to the riverbank. That would let the pipe down and back under water again. It was backbreaking work. Clint wore his wading boots and dug down in the river bottom. Then he piled the dirt up as far as he could on the side of the bank. It was our job to move the muddy mess farther back so it didn't slide back down. By suppertime we were exhausted. We thought we had worked hard when we mowed and raked lawns and spaded gardens in Fort Benton last year when we earned enough money to buy our saddles and gear. But now I decided we'd had it easy then, because after lifting shovels full of mud all day, every muscle in my body ached.
"We must of moved a ton of mud today," Tooey said as he carefully got into bed, groaning as he eased his tired body down to rest.
"Yeah, I'll bet I don't move till morning," I said, gingerly lowering myself onto the bed.
"I'll pay you each fifty cents a day." Clint had told us that first morning while we were eating breakfast. "You probably should have more, but that's all I can afford."
"We're just glad to have a place to stay and to keep our horses," I said.
"Yeah, we'd work for nothing to be able to stay here and not have to go back to the city," Tooey added.
"You'll earn all I can pay you and more. There's always plenty of work to be done around here," He said.
Drifting off to sleep that night I thought about it and decided that he'd been right. My body felt like we really would earn our three dollars a week.
Morning came too soon for our sore muscles. After we got the sump hole deep enough, Clint started the pump and it began to pump water up to the flume to send it on to the main ditch. Then we had to get the water onto the fields. Clint showed us how to put a dam across the ditch. The dam was a large piece of canvas with a long, heavy, two-by-six-inch beam threaded through a pocket on one side. You piled shovel fulls of dirt all across the sides and the bottom. When the water came, the dam held it and the water rose higher and higher until it ran out the holes you made in the sides of the ditch. When enough water had run out to irrigate the dry places in the field, you had to close the holes—more shoveling.
Clint got some irrigating boots for us to wear and we each had a shovel. He showed us how to sharpen them by clamping the handles tight in a vise on the workbench in the shop and then how to use a file to put a sharp edge on the working side. It was a lot easier to cut through the hard ground and the tough alfalfa roots and grass if your shovel was sharp.
The Stranahans had asked us to call them by their first names, but usually we used 'Sir' and 'Ma'am' when addressing them. We were, however, beginning to use their first names when referring to them when we talked about them to each other.
"Every animal on the place will eat a ton of hay before spring comes, and if it's late or it's a hard winter they'll eat more," Clint said. "So we'll have to get as much water on that alfalfa as we can."
So, after more shoveling in the first hay field in order to get the water to the dry spots, we'd move the dams to another place farther on in the ditch. It was hard work under the hot sun, and even though it had been a dry year, there were still enough mosquitoes to torment us.
The Judge's garden in Fort Benton seemed pretty big when we had to spade and hoe it for him last summer and earlier this spring, but it was small compared to the one that Clint and Marie put in across the Teton River from the house. Clint always planted seed potatoes on Good Friday if the weather permitted, and in the fall, he sold hundred-pound sacks of potatoes to stores in Fort Benton and in Great Falls. His potato patch was an acre or more and it seemed that the weeds would spring up over night. Then we would have to go after them with the hoes we kept sharp the same way as we did our shovels.
One day we were hoeing the corn and as we got to the end of the first row we were by the potato patch.
"Hey!" Tooey said. "Look over there. Something's eating the potato plants."
As we got closer we could see that several of the plants had the leaves nearly eaten off and could see striped potato bugs munching away.
"You'd better go tell Clint," I told Tooey. "I'll start picking them off and squashing them." We had seen some of the critters in the Judge's garden last year and had picked them off to keep them from eating the plants.
Clint was harnessing Whitey to the cultivator to cultivate the garden. He finished and drove the horse and cultivator across the river to the garden. He plowed down the row taking out the weeds in the middle so we didn't have to hoe as much. When he got to the end of the first row, he stopped the horse and walked over to where we were picking the bugs off by hand.
"Looks like too many to pick off. We'll have to spray them," Clint said.
"What do we do?"
"I'll get the spray gun and the Paris Green. It's arsenic so you need to be careful with it, but it'll take care of the bugs."
Clint went to the barn and got the sprayer ready. We sprayed the Paris Green on the leaves with a sprayer while he finished cultivating the garden. The potato bugs ate the leaves with the poison on them and then they died.
It seemed that it was a constant battle between us and the weeds, the bugs, the weather and the drought. The garden had to be watered too and the process was the same as in the fields, except in the garden the water ran down the ditches that Clint had plowed between the rows.
Along with the corn and potatoes there were lots of other vegetables: cantaloupe, several kinds of squash, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, onions, radishes, peas, carrots, tomatoes, beets, rhubarb, turnips, beans and a few other things. Although the corn and other vegetables didn't have as many pests as the potatoes, there were still weeds and they had to be hoed out before they got too big or it was a lot harder to get them all. There were rows and rows of corn. Tooey and I liked the sweet corn. It was something we really missed while we were running away down the river. Catfish, bacon and beans were good, but we missed the sweet corn and other vegetables. Marie Stranahan was a good cook and she always cooked plenty of meat, homemade bread, potatoes, and fresh vegetables. Also, we always had dessert—pie, cake, fruit or pudding and we would leave the table as full as ticks.
Chapter TwoThere wasn't much time to relax. Something always needed to be done. There were morning and evening chores. Chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, sheep, horses and, of course, the milk cows had to be fed and watered. We were learning what it was like to be a farmer.
Another job we had to help with was milking the cows. Sometimes we only milked one cow for the family's use, but other times there were several that needed to be milked, and Tooey and I learned how. It was hard going at first. We drove the cow in from the pasture, then put her in a stanchion in the barn so she would have to stand still while we milked.
"Some of those old milk cows can be real mean when they want to. But if you put some grain in the trough at the front of the stanchion, the cow you're going to milk will put her head through between the uprights to eat. Once she's in, you lower the bar to close the opening so she can't get her head out," Clint told us.
He showed us how to clean off her udder, that's what they call the bag where the milk is, get the bucket, and the milking stool, and then sit down and squeeze the teats.
"Start at the top using your thumbs and forefingers or make a fist, then squeeze from the top to the bottom to work the milk down, out and into the bucket."
"It looks easy," Tooey said. But when he tried it he only got a little milk into the bucket.
"You'll get on to it. It just takes a little practice," Clint said. "Sometimes it's hard to persuade the cow to let down her milk. She always seems to think she needs to save it for her calf even though there's plenty for him and for us too, since we always give her extra grain to eat."
We found out that even with her head locked in the stanchion, the cow could still kick and sometimes she'd try to kick you, or she'll flick her tail in your face, dirt, manure and all. It's not fun to get a face full of manure while you're milking, especially if it's fresh, and the coarse hair of her tail really stings when it whips across your face.
The first few times we tried to milk, the results were not good. We only got a fraction of the milk and there was dirt and other stuff floating around in it. So at first, Tooey and I only milked when we didn't really need the milk for the house, and the milk in our buckets went to the chickens. But finally we learned how to coax the milk out of the cow and squirt it into the bucket hard and fast enough so that it would foam up. That way any of the stuff that shouldn't be in the milk stayed on top of the foam and out of the milk.
Eventually we got so we could milk the cows just about as well as Clint, and our milk pails went to the house to be strained and run through the separator to separate the milk from the cream. Butter and cream were sold in Fort Benton and Great Falls. Marie would keep enough cream to churn and if Tooey and I didn't have other work to do we'd help. It was fun to see the white cream turn into yellow butter after the paddles of the churn had beat it about a million times.
Most of the time the animals were out in the pasture but sometimes one would be sick and need to be doctored. Clint had gone to the State College at Bozeman and had a degree in Animal Husbandry so he was pretty good at doctoring them. I always thought it was amazing how a person could control an animal that was so much bigger and stronger than he was, but as Clint said, "You've got a bigger brain and you can out-think an animal, no matter how big he is. Also you've got two hands and a thumb that can hold a rope or a halter. People have been figuring out how to control animals for thousands of years. Way back in the early times someone learned how to snub a rope around a post to hold an animal so it couldn't pull away from him. Think of all the tricks that you learned from Pete McCall when you were training your horses."
I guess there were a lot of things we had to learn. Next it was time to put up hay. The alfalfa had grown up high and was just starting to bloom when one night at supper Clint told us, "We'll start haying in the morning. I'll harness Dolly and Queenie to the mower and see if I can get the field next to the barn cut.
"If you boys think you can take care of the chores by yourselves, I can get an early start. It isn't likely to rain for the next few days, but if there's anything that'll bring rain, it's hay on the ground."
By this time we knew what chores had to be done. We had to make sure all the animals had feed and water. Even though there was an electric pump at the river for irrigation, the Montana Power Company wanted the vast sum of three thousand dollars to put up a transformer and the poles to bring the electricity to the house and barn. That sum of money was out of the question.
Fort Benton had electric lights and people had electric stoves, but here on the Teton Ranch we had to make do with kerosene lamps for light and a windmill to pump water for the house and barn. There was a big old wood burning range in the kitchen to cook on. A wind charger generated electricity and powered the radio along with a ceiling light in each room. But they weren't always very bright and you didn't turn them or the radio on unless there was a good charge in the battery. If a light was on and it looked like no one was using it Clint would say, "Turn that light off. We're not hooked up to Montana Power."
Usually, at night, instead of the electric lights, we used Aladdin lamps. These were tall, glass lamps that you filled with kerosene and lit the white, cloth-like mantle. As soon as you put a match to a new mantle, it flamed up and nothing was left but the ash. That ash still kept its original shape and this was what you lit from then on. When you needed light, you lifted off the tall, slim, glass chimney and carefully lit the fragile mantle of ash, and replaced the chimney. You had to be really careful though, for if you touched the mantle with anything, even the match, it would collapse and there would be no way to use it. You would have to put on a new one.
The big old Monarch Range in the kitchen was used for cooking and there was a large wood-burning furnace in the basement to heat the other rooms of the house. We learned to chop wood to keep the cook stove fed and we knew there'd be a lot more chopping before winter.
Excerpted from Roscoe and Tooey Ride the Bootlegger Trail by Anne M. Shaw Copyright © 2011 by Anne M. Shaw. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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