told by Lu Hamilton ’76
Every year as the ice melts off the mountain streams in Wyoming, former Indianapolis bank executive Lu Hamilton ’76 joins a dozen men on horseback to drive a herd of about 300 horses from winter pasture near Gillette, across the high prairie, the Powder River, Crazy Woman Creek, and through the streets of Sheridan, Wyoming to summer pasture at Eaton’s Ranch in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains.
“It’s a sight to see, that herd coming out of the hills, across the railroad tracks, right by the hospital and on in to Sheridan,” Hamilton says. “The cops block off the streets, we take the herd right down Main Street and through town, and people stand in their yards, wave and cheer. It’s a ritual there, the beginning of the summer season.”
Hamilton began spending his own summer seasons at Eaton’s when he was six years old. His family vacationed at the ranch that year and Lu, who’d ridden English saddle since he was three, took to the Western rig like he was born on it. Over the next 10 summers he learned to saddle-break horses and to rope, doctor, de-horn, brand, and herd cattle. When he needed summer employment in high school and college, the ranch was glad to have him.
For two years after his graduation from Wabash, Hamilton, currently huntsman for the Traders Point Fox Hunt in Zionsville, worked on the ranch full time, riding herd on the cattle in the winter, taking care of dudes in the summer and roping in local rodeos.
You might think Lu had more mishaps in the rodeo arena. You’d be wrong:
Every spring on the ranch in late March, early April, the calves start to drop. The weather can be bitter, brutal, and nasty, or it can be warm and beautiful. A Chinook will come around the mountains, wipe all the snow off, and it’ll be 60 degrees. Three days later it can turn 15 below.
So we’d check through the night to make sure the calves were okay, then after they’d gotten up on their feet a little bit, we’d go out during the day on the open plateau and rope ’em. We’d get them down, put de-horning paste on their heads, and if they had scours or another illness, we’d give ’em a shot of antibiotic or a couple sulfur tablets. Then you write down the gender and ear-notch ’em, and that’s how you keep your count. At the end of the day you’d get together and keep a daily count so you’d know how the calves are dropping, whether it’s a good year, or a bad one.
You’re off by yourself a lot. So I’m out my first spring, feeling pretty good about being a big ol’ cowboy way out here. I rope this calf and I’m down on the ground with him, my horse is standing nearby, ground-tied, and I pull out the de-horning paste and get ready to put it on the calf.
The last thing I remember is this loud “snort” in my ear. That mother cow got ticked off and absolutely car-killed me. Ran over the top of me at 100 miles-an-hour. Scattered me, and my horse. She got me on the ground and butted me with her head until her calf got up and wandered off. Then the cow backed off to protect him.
I was in the middle of nowhere, and my horse had run off. Now this was a horse I’d used many times before, and he’d never run off before. But when that cow took off after me, that horse took off at a run to find a smarter cowboy!
So I’m about two or three miles from where I’m supposed to be, and all I could do was start walking.
Fortunately, one of my buddies saw that horse in a draw not too far away, so he gathered her and found me before I got all the way home. He came trotting up about an hour later, and there wasn’t much I could tell him except the embarrassing true story, as I was covered in mud and snow.
Cows on the range don’t spend a lot of time around people, and they’re very protective, always on the alert for predators. These aren’t big old docile milk cows—and if they’ve seen a coyote or wolf around in the last three days or so, they’re on the prod. You’ve got to pay attention.
But that must have been the most quiet-footed cow in the world, because I never heard her coming. I never turned my back on a cow again.Lu Hamilton is project director of Wabash College’s Lilly Endowment Initiative to Promote Opportunity through Small Educational Collaborations. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.orgRead more about this new initiative connecting numerous alumni entrepreneurs and students at WM Online: www.wabash.edu