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Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

Stuff  

By Dan Pence, Dillon , MT

 

November 2013 issue  

 

[Below is an RMR classic article from Dan Pence who grew up in Mackay, Idaho, during the 1940s and 1950s.]

 

 

     “Py Got, but she ist one leedle stuff,” Steve Kranovich observed the first time he laid eyes on the little bay filly.

     The name stuck. Stuff was a good horse but, like all horses, she had a few vices of her own.

     She was mostly Quarter horse, quick as a cat and easy to ride — if you could catch her. She didn’t exhibit much of a herd instinct. Just seeing a person sent her running for the brush, especially if that person appeared to be carrying a pan of oats and anything resembling a rope.

     The other horses and mules would normally head for the person with the oats. Stuff would head the other way. All too often, she took the rest of the animals with her, so catching her could be a bit of a problem.

     Saddling, riding, and the rest was easy, unless you wanted to load her into a truck or trailer to haul her some place. She didn’t like that. I could usually get her loaded with help.

     We could ride hard all day doing what needed to be done. Things would go great until we got back to the rig. Stuff and I would both be tired from a hard day, and then she wouldn’t load for the trip home. I think it was her way of getting even for making her do something like work. It was an aggravating trait.

 

     Stuff belonged to my Uncle Leo, who had married my dad’s sister. Leo was a professional bootlegger. At least that’s how he made his living during Prohibition. He made enough money to pursue other vices, like ranching, after the act was repealed.

     Don’t get me wrong. Bootlegging was regarded as a reasonably honorable profession in Idaho ’s Big Lost River Valley during Prohibition. It beat starving to death on the other available occupations in that high country.

     And Uncle Leo reportedly had the best recipe. Dad claimed that the revenue agents out of Idaho Falls were his best customers. They even tipped him off when there was going to be a raid!

     His brew must have been good. Several complete strangers accosted me at Leo’s funeral in the 1970’s, asking if I had managed to get “the recipe.”

     Leo enjoyed telling about how Steve Kranovich came up with Stuff’s name. Steve could make about anything you needed out of steel. Tell him what you wanted, and he would light up his torch and welder and there it would be.

     Steve reportedly left a wife in Czechoslovakia to accompany two brothers to the copper mines in Mackay , Idaho . They ran a sawmill on Wet Creek until one of the brothers followed a log through the head rig. He lost a leg to the saw and died before the wagon even got started for the doctor.

     Steve decided that being a blacksmith was a safer occupation. His English could have been better. I only understood about every second word he said, and it usually involved four letters. Steve sure could swear.

     When Leo married Dad’s younger sister, it was reportedly over the objections of my grandmother. Leo’s folks had been freighters, hauling supplies from the railroad in Utah to the mines in the Salmon River country. They normally spent the night with their stock and wagons just below Grandpa’s ranch and stage station as they passed through the country.

     On one of their trips, when they found out that Grandpa wasn’t home, they advised Grandma that the feed was too short on the outside of the fence, so they were turning their animals into her hay field.

     Grandma suggested that was not a good idea. They told her they really didn’t care.

 

     Grandma met them at the gate with a 45-70 rifle while her small children hid behind her skirts. She dropped the first horse through the gate, then turned the rifle on the freighters.

     “Now git yer critters back to yer wagons,” she advised. “And take that dead sonuvabitch with you. I don’t want the stink this close to the house.” They did.

     Grandma tended to hold a grudge. But love prevailed and Leo and Elvira got married some years later, anyway.

 

     Leo got Stuff to keep their daughter, Frances , entertained. It worked until she grew up, fell in love, and got married. Life seems to work like that. Frances did a good job of breaking Stuff, except for the catching and loading bit. But then a girl could catch Stuff easier than a guy could. Since Frances rarely needed to load her in a trailer, that hadn’t been in the original training program, either.

     Frances chewed gum and would always snap it just before she gave Stuff a kick. Snap something and Stuff would bolt and hit full speed in about two jumps.

 

     Anyway, my Uncle Glen ended up providing Stuff with pasture, and my four brothers and I got to use Stuff by default. There was another advantage to having her in Uncle Glen’s pasture. We kept brother Lew’s bronc colt, Buster, as a stud until he was two years old. Stuff and Buster produced a colt named Stormy.

 

     I got permission to use Stuff on a summer job on the Clayton Ranger District of the Challis National Forest in 1958. I think it was mostly to wean Stormy. It was a good summer.

     I rode Stuff hard checking on livestock use and doing trail work. She had black hooves and had never been shod. The district packer assured me her feet wouldn’t hold up in that rugged country, but she never did need shoes.

     Catching and loading remained a problem, but we got by most of the time. I just had to start early and I frequently finished later than I had planned. Stuff never missed being away from other horses all day. She only whinnied once that I recall … and that was at some bears.

     The Forest Service was trying a new grazing system on the Squaw Creek cattle allotment, and I spent quite a bit of time checking forage utilization and livestock distribution that summer.

     One of the ranchers owned a big Hereford cow that only had one eye. She would charge anything that came up on her blind side. I suspect that the last time she did so was on a bear.

 

     The cow had been dead for several very hot days when Stuff and I rode up on her. Seven bears had found her first. She was very ripe and not hard to find. Two sow bears and four small cubs of the year sat a respectful distance away, watching a big boar eat lunch.

     He was setting on the bloated carcass. He would reach up under her tail as far as he could, rake out a great big paw full of maggots and other interesting looking goodies, lick them off and go back for more. (I haven’t been able to eat bear meat since.)

     Stuff obviously didn’t like the idea either, so she whinnied. The sows and cubs left immediately. I suspect the cowboys had shot at them on occasion. The boar enjoyed a couple of more paw fulls of lunch and departed, as well.

 

     Stuff enjoyed working cows. We helped move them between pastures on several occasions. The biggest problems during the moves involved dogs. One of the ranchers usually brought along about a dozen totally untrained dogs of various descriptions.

     We’d just get the cattle lined out, and a dog would rush a calf and mama cow would charge the dog. The rest of the dogs would rush in to see what damage they could do, which would cause the other cows to charge and scatter.

     The rancher would crack a big bull whip he carried and scream obscenities at the dogs and cows in Italian. Things would go crazy for a while. We’d just get the cows lined out again and a dog would chase another calf.

     One of the dogs tried to heel Stuff once. She kicked it in the head so hard that it just lay there and twitched like a fish out of water. We figured the dog was dead and rode on after the cows. The rancher didn’t seem to mind. He had lots of dogs. The dog caught up about an hour later. It must have just been knocked out. It wasn’t a whole lot smarter, although it never tried to heel Stuff again.

     On another long day later in the summer, Stuff and I had to check work done by a trail maintenance contractor on Warm Springs Creek. I think the contractor had actually done a very good job. Unfortunately a major storm had torn through the country just before I checked the trail. Stuff and I spent most of the day jumping newly fallen trees and climbing over rocks.

     Just before dark, we got back to the truck, which was parked at Robinson Bar Guest Ranch. Stuff refused to load. And we had been getting along so well.

     I think she knew my social life wasn’t all that hot. Several very good-looking college girls worked at the ranch. They all came out to help. I got unusually brave (for me) and asked one of the young ladies for a date.

 

     We had things all set for a big night at the Stanley Stomp (a big dance and mostly an opportunity to get drunk) at Stanley , Idaho , the next Saturday night.

     Unfortunately, I got sent on a forest fire without a chance to call and cancel the date. The young lady was left all dressed up with no place to go. She wouldn’t answer the phone after I got back from the fire. But all of that wasn’t Stuff’s fault. She did a fine job of getting us some attention.

     I lost track of Stuff shortly after that summer. Frances had a couple of boys who were getting old enough to get into horses. Her family picked up some property and Stuff went back to them. But Stuff was mine for a summer. It was a good summer.

And we still had her colt, Stormy.

 

     Freelance writer, Dan Pence, grew up in central Idaho and spent 35 years working for the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho , Nevada and Montana . He has authored two books, “Horses, Mules, Men & Mountains,” and “The Fellowship of Fire.” For copies, contact the author at 406-683-4669; dlpence@bresnan.net.

 

Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

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