Horsin’ Around: April Fool any day
by Roger Thompson
Fort Collins, Colo.
As a young boy I grew up watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry on the silver screen every Saturday afternoon. We didn’t have TV back then so I grew up wanting to be a singing cowboy like my heroes.
My singing ability and music study did not progress nearly as well as my horseback riding did; but, as usual, I was the last to know. Therefore I continued attempting to sing and strum the guitar through my adolescence into my adult life. After graduation from high school I got a summer job with the National Park service in Yellowstone National Park. My badge said “Fireguard,” since being only 19 years old I could not be a seasonal ranger, but my title was “smoke chaser and packer.” We spent two weeks in fire school learning how to fight fires, repair phone lines and pack mules before receiving our assignments. Then I rode my assigned horse and lead two mules on a 12-mile trail that had been pointed out on a map to the lower corrals I was to use for the summer.
The next day, my district ranger, a seasonal ranger, and myself packed up the tent and equipment that were to be my home for the next three months and headed up the trail for summer camp. Camp was 6 miles up Winter Creek Trail and half way between the road and the fire lookout station I was to keep supplied with food, water, and wood.
I had visions of a log cabin to live in but when we got there, I understood all the equipment we had hauled. The cabin was 12 by 12, built out of 2- by- 4 studs, and sided up about 4 feet with 1- by-12 boards; very much a military barracks. Then we pulled the tent over the frame and set a sheet metal stove in the sandbox, with a smoke pipe out through the roof. But the floor was wood like the sides and there was a bunk bed at the end. The door was made out of the same 1-by- 12s, like the sides and floor. I could tell that if a grizzly bear wanted in, I should keep my knife handy to cut an escape hole out the back.
I packed water from the creek in a bucket and hung food in a screened-in box from a tree limb. I was told this would keep the bears out of my groceries. There were plenty of dead tree limbs in the forest that surrounded a large meadow where I was to stake my horse and mules with leg hobbles.
As we put it all together I became excited about my stay in this summer camp. After packing in the young man who was about my age to his fire lookout station 10,000 feet up on top of Mount Holmes and getting him settled in, I rode back to my camp and began learning about living alone in the mountains with my horses and mules for company. This was quite a lesson for a young man from the prairie land of Texas and I learned a lot about being a mountain man, down to catching a few brook trout in the stream for morning breakfast.
But I was alone and practiced being a singing cowboy whenever I felt like it. The only thing I could not figure out was how they sang an even note while riding a horse at a trot. But with the warm sunshine, whispering pines, and gurgling stream for accompaniment, my horse and mules didn’t seem to complain. I was a singing cowboy just waiting for some talent scout to step out of the timber and sign me up for the silver screen.
Then one day I was contacted on the old fashion, crank telephone, and told that because of the low fire danger, I could come to town on weekends. This news excited me because now I could make a few rodeos at the end of the week. So, Friday afternoon found me saddling up and heading for the lower corral where my pickup truck waited to take me to town.
I had a song in my heart that soon came forth as we plodded down the trail. The song was “Cattle Call” and sung by Eddy Arnold. It had a lot of yodeling in the words that I thought was just right so I belted it out.
We were traveling in a valley lined with timber that made acoustics sound great as they traveled up and down the valley. We had just rounded a bend in the trail when my horse stopped short in his tracks, causing the mules to bump into his rear end. Looking up at the trail ahead, I saw that I had just called up a whole pack of coyotes.
That day sadly ended my career as a singing cowboy.
Roger Thompson is a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.