A Socratic Rancher 10-4-10 | TheFencePost.com

A Socratic Rancher 10-4-10

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Years ago, I liked to go up to Hereford, Colo., in the fall of the year after harvest and stay at the Hereford Inn, talk to old timers, and bowl a few lines at the town’s unlikely, but congenial bowling alley that, at that time, layed out in the shadow of a cylindrical cement grain elevator.

The hotel mostly served as a residential enterprise, run by, I as best I recall, two very attentive and kitchen-talented sisters who always kept a couple beds available for travelers. “Most of our regulars want to spend their last dollar before they die and have the check to the mortuary bounce,” one sister told me. “But … there’s a few people crazy enough to like this country, so we can usually find a bed for them.”

There is something appealing about that austere country around Crow Creek and the Wyoming line. Carpenter, Wyo., is a good walk from Hereford, so the area has a bit of a split personality, both parts interesting. And the people have a special quality. Unlike many who have a low threshold of pain, the old folks of the Inn were all tendons and hooves, iron willed and strong hearted.

A gentleman resident of the Inn, Eddy, a man who could have stepped out of a Bergman film, told me the tough story of when he first came to the Hereford country back before World War I, and started farming with a proud team of mules. He inadvertently purchased treated seed oats to fuel the beasts and they all died. I remember him laughing sadly and saying, “Well, it wasn’t all bad. After that I had to get a dadgummed iron horse. Farmed big for my day, though I’ll tell ya: if it hails anywhere in the world, it hails here on Crow Creek.”

The hailstorms on Crow Creek are legend among the locals, as everyone I talked to confirmed, and if that wasn’t enough, it hailed pretty good on me one time when I went up in late September, a time you wouldn’t expect it.

Speaking with Eddy, or rather, listening to Eddy, seemed to invite a competition among the other residents for Who Can Tell The Hardest Hardship Story.

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Ellen told about having to burn horse dung to cook rye and beans on the naked wicked prairie during blizzards that lasted weeks on end. Her little fingers were withered. “I had to go out and milk the cows,” she said, “and my pinkie stuck out from the warm teats and always got frostbit. Never did come out of it.”

The worst hardship story, however, went to Herman, a man who listened to all the others, nodding his head as if hearing something out of a Mary Poppins yarn. “Goin down from Flagstaff,” he said ominously.

“Oh, don’t you dare tell that awful story,” several people said, all at once.

“Load of horses in the trailer,” Herman continued. “Goin downhill like a bat outta Hades, when trailer floor fell out, horses fell through. ‘Fore I stopped, you know what happened to their legs”

No one said anything for a while. Finally, one of the sisters who ran the Inn came into the room to ask, “Who needs a piece of pie?”

Everyone did.