The canyon pasture has been enjoyed by generations | TheFencePost.com

The canyon pasture has been enjoyed by generations

Maxine Isackson
Brady, Neb.

Richard Isackson stands by the cottonwood with relatives from Idaho.

Our valley community is bordered by sandhills on three sides with steep, cedar-infested canyons to the east. I can gaze out our west windows to an endless roll of sandhills or tramp east over a hill to the canyons. The valley fields produce corn, wheat, beans and alfalfa – a smorgasbord for the herds of deer and flocks of turkeys that dwell in those hills and canyons. Our summer pasture is to the east in the canyon area.

When my husband’s grandfather first came to the area in 1885, he purchased the rights to a homestead just west of what eventually became our summer pasture. At that time it was owned by the railroad. No one ever filed on this land that we know of, though the Isacksons bought it later on. A fellow back in those early years did plow up a narrow area on a slope that to this day is the dickens to drive across, but if he planted it or raised a crop, no one knows.

When my father-in-law was a youngster it was common practice for the younger children of homestead families to take their cattle out each day in the summer to graze the unfenced railroad lands. There was no windmill on this open land, only a few ponds after a rain. The cattle generally had to wait for water until they got back home in the evening.

The young herders carried a jug of water and some food to eat at mid-day. As his mother was noted for the cheese she made and sold, I expect their lunch was often cheese sandwiches and homemade cookies

If you had to herd alone, the task would have become quite boring. I recall reading in the book ‘No Time On My Hands’ how Grace Snyder, as a child, would take quilt blocks with her to stitch while she kept watch on her parent’s cattle.

At times, some of the neighbor children would be herding their stock near enough to another herd that the youngsters could eat lunch together and play if they kept an eye peeled. There was the dickens to pay, if the stock mixed. The strange cattle were apt to shove and fight one another creating a rumpus and it was difficult at best to separate the two herds. If they failed to get them separated, no one wanted to hike home and report this to disgruntled parents.

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Getting together with other young herders was not an everyday occurrence. For the most part, the Isackson youngsters entertained themselves with guessing games, telling stories, and sometimes singing. My father-in-law told of a time when one of his sisters went along. The boys had each taken one of her hands and the trio ran down a bank for fun dashing right over the top of a rattlesnake. The startled snake didn’t have a chance to strike.

Another pastime, if the cattle were grazing in that area, was to dig in a tall clay bank where arrowheads could be found. Why there were arrowheads in that particular cliff is a mystery. Their prize find at this location was an old weathered cavalry saddle. Why it was there is lost in time, also. My imagination comes up with all types of scenarios. Might there have been a fight on that hill? Was a soldier ambushed there? Was it simply an old saddle an Indian had acquired in a trade? There is no way of knowing, but it is fun to think about.

I often did this type of imagining when we would be out hiking the fence lines. It is so beautiful. The sky a bright blue, a hawk floating high overhead giving his lonely cry. Not an electric pole or road in sight. One can almost see a cluster of tepees down on the canyon floor, perhaps some brown-skinned women picking wild fruit from the thickets that grow along old washouts at the edge of the canyons. It would have been a paradise in the summer.

It is still a paradise. Town relatives love to take a ride in the pickup out past the windmill and down the steep trail to the widest canyon that runs the length of the pasture. Here they dig in the old cliff hoping to find an arrowhead. This is not likely for the clay has continued to wash down through the years covering up whatever once lay near the surface. The clay, however, is filled with the minute snail shells attesting to the fact that this area was once under a sea.

At the end of the canyon a giant cottonwood grows. It was there when my father-in-law was young and is still hale and hearty. Our goal when fencing was to reach it by noon and eat in its shade. It is also a goal for our visitors and often times we take a picnic lunch to be shared with them there.

There have been changes in our canyons as there have been in other areas of the state. Now the steep sides are filling with cedars. With the great herds of buffalo gone and the fires that would burn for miles, the cedars are taking over much of the grazing areas. The wild game that was nearly wiped out by the settlers in the early days has returned. Herds of deer populate the canyons, as do flocks of wild turkeys. Even an occasional cougar is sighted draped over a tree limb snoozing in the sun or skulking along a cow trail. From the silt-covered bottom of a sea to the paradise of first the Indian and then the white man the canyons have spun their magic. I’m grateful I’ve been one of those privileged to share in their beauty.

Our valley community is bordered by sandhills on three sides with steep, cedar-infested canyons to the east. I can gaze out our west windows to an endless roll of sandhills or tramp east over a hill to the canyons. The valley fields produce corn, wheat, beans and alfalfa – a smorgasbord for the herds of deer and flocks of turkeys that dwell in those hills and canyons. Our summer pasture is to the east in the canyon area.

When my husband’s grandfather first came to the area in 1885, he purchased the rights to a homestead just west of what eventually became our summer pasture. At that time it was owned by the railroad. No one ever filed on this land that we know of, though the Isacksons bought it later on. A fellow back in those early years did plow up a narrow area on a slope that to this day is the dickens to drive across, but if he planted it or raised a crop, no one knows.

When my father-in-law was a youngster it was common practice for the younger children of homestead families to take their cattle out each day in the summer to graze the unfenced railroad lands. There was no windmill on this open land, only a few ponds after a rain. The cattle generally had to wait for water until they got back home in the evening.

The young herders carried a jug of water and some food to eat at mid-day. As his mother was noted for the cheese she made and sold, I expect their lunch was often cheese sandwiches and homemade cookies

If you had to herd alone, the task would have become quite boring. I recall reading in the book ‘No Time On My Hands’ how Grace Snyder, as a child, would take quilt blocks with her to stitch while she kept watch on her parent’s cattle.

At times, some of the neighbor children would be herding their stock near enough to another herd that the youngsters could eat lunch together and play if they kept an eye peeled. There was the dickens to pay, if the stock mixed. The strange cattle were apt to shove and fight one another creating a rumpus and it was difficult at best to separate the two herds. If they failed to get them separated, no one wanted to hike home and report this to disgruntled parents.

Getting together with other young herders was not an everyday occurrence. For the most part, the Isackson youngsters entertained themselves with guessing games, telling stories, and sometimes singing. My father-in-law told of a time when one of his sisters went along. The boys had each taken one of her hands and the trio ran down a bank for fun dashing right over the top of a rattlesnake. The startled snake didn’t have a chance to strike.

Another pastime, if the cattle were grazing in that area, was to dig in a tall clay bank where arrowheads could be found. Why there were arrowheads in that particular cliff is a mystery. Their prize find at this location was an old weathered cavalry saddle. Why it was there is lost in time, also. My imagination comes up with all types of scenarios. Might there have been a fight on that hill? Was a soldier ambushed there? Was it simply an old saddle an Indian had acquired in a trade? There is no way of knowing, but it is fun to think about.

I often did this type of imagining when we would be out hiking the fence lines. It is so beautiful. The sky a bright blue, a hawk floating high overhead giving his lonely cry. Not an electric pole or road in sight. One can almost see a cluster of tepees down on the canyon floor, perhaps some brown-skinned women picking wild fruit from the thickets that grow along old washouts at the edge of the canyons. It would have been a paradise in the summer.

It is still a paradise. Town relatives love to take a ride in the pickup out past the windmill and down the steep trail to the widest canyon that runs the length of the pasture. Here they dig in the old cliff hoping to find an arrowhead. This is not likely for the clay has continued to wash down through the years covering up whatever once lay near the surface. The clay, however, is filled with the minute snail shells attesting to the fact that this area was once under a sea.

At the end of the canyon a giant cottonwood grows. It was there when my father-in-law was young and is still hale and hearty. Our goal when fencing was to reach it by noon and eat in its shade. It is also a goal for our visitors and often times we take a picnic lunch to be shared with them there.

There have been changes in our canyons as there have been in other areas of the state. Now the steep sides are filling with cedars. With the great herds of buffalo gone and the fires that would burn for miles, the cedars are taking over much of the grazing areas. The wild game that was nearly wiped out by the settlers in the early days has returned. Herds of deer populate the canyons, as do flocks of wild turkeys. Even an occasional cougar is sighted draped over a tree limb snoozing in the sun or skulking along a cow trail. From the silt-covered bottom of a sea to the paradise of first the Indian and then the white man the canyons have spun their magic. I’m grateful I’ve been one of those privileged to share in their beauty.