Fort Collins, Colo.
As a young man of 18 years old, having completed my first year in college, and having made the rodeo team, I thought I was pretty well versed in the ways of cowboy culture.
But I longed for the old days of cowboying. So when I got a chance to take a job up on a remote Montana ranch for the summer, I just loaded all my things in a trunk, caught a train and headed for Big Sky Country. Pulling into the little town of Monida, Montana, at daybreak was like stepping back in time.
The first couple of weeks were hard, because the boss (Walter Sperry) was testing me out … but I hung in there and tried to make the best hand I could. Work was hard and we worked from daylight to dark, but the house was comfortable. We didn’t have any running water, and had to haul it up from the river in buckets. Oh, during wash day we had a gasoline pump down by the river and a line up to the house to furnish fresh wash water. For hot water, we had to heat it on the old wood burning cook stove.
The outhouse was down by the corral facing the river, so when you were trying to concentrate on your business you could leave the door open and look out over the valley and river. If you wanted privacy you could shut the door and listen to the blow flies. We did have electricity though … it was a woodshed built just off the kitchen (which was one big room with a dining table). The spare room, filled with auto batteries and a small wind charger (auto generator) on a pole outside, furnished enough 12-volt energy for one light bulb in every room (four in all). We had one battery-powered radio in the kitchen area to listen to music, or on Saturday night to the shows like “The Shadow”, or “Lone Ranger”.
We weren’t ready to start haying yet but were busy moving cows to summer pasture, fixing fence and general ranch work. By now Walt had asked me to help with the work and had hired another hand. His wife was ranch cook who served up some of the best meals I had ever eaten. She also washed our laundry every couple of weeks. I felt right at home in this environment even though the cook’s husband was a big burly guy who beat me up on a regular basis.
Years later, I realized it had made me tough because every time we got cross ways I would try to take him on. When the hay crew came in August, I made friends with them and I think they straightened the guy out.
However, around the end of July the cook set food on the table, put her hands on her hips, looked at us and said; “Okay, boys … This is the last meal you’re going to get until you all take a bath. I can’t stand it any more.”
Boy, did that get our attention. Right after supper, everyone began packing water to put on the stove. We broke out the number three washtubs and pulled out clean clothes to wear. I don’t think she could have made it any plainer than that. The thing I suddenly realized was that we all smelled the same so we didn’t notice the bad odor from the other guy.
As I think back on that time, I compare it to the pioneers in early day. They must have all smelled bad but did not notice the odor from each other. No wonder the Native American Indian made the statement that all white men smelled bad.
Come the end of August or early September, I would have liked to have stayed on the ranch but received my draft notice and wanted to go home for a little while.
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.