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The 'Lower Country'

by C. W. Holliday

 

(as published in The Valley of Youth.  Caxton Printers, Ltd:  Caldwell, Idaho, 1948, pp. 251-253.)


 

Osoyoos is situated at the southern end of the lake of the same name, close to the border, and here was the customs office in a small log cabin, the customs officer being Theodore Kruger who owned a large tract of land here and many head of cattle.  He, Richter (another big rancher), and Tom Ellis were decidedly ‘cattle barons’.  During the mining excitement at Rossland and in the Kootenays when those places contained many thousands of people needing to be fed, these cattlemen drove many bands of cattle over the Anarchist Mountain and two more higher ones on the long trail to Rossland, and I think that must have been a real adventure.

There was also an attempt to go into the sheep business, too, for in 1891, Tom Ellis brought in nine thousand of them from Oregon, much to the disgust of all the cowboys and most of his neighbours.  There was something sporting about cattle and it was a man’s job handling them, but sheep! Hell, they were miserable critters only fit for dirt farmers.  And our horses seemed to have the same opinion too, for they always shied and snorted at them in disgust.

I don’t know what became of all those sheep, because I never saw any in that part of the country, but I fancy the coyotes got many of them and the rest became mutton for the Rossland miners.

The principle objection that cattlemen had to sheep was that they destroyed the bunch grass on the ranges by eating too close to the roots, which was quite true.

There was also another thing that depleted the pasture, and that was the bands of wild horses that roamed over the mountains.  These horses were not originally indigenous to the country; my conjecture is that they originated from horses that the early Spanish settlers had introduced into California and Mexico, some of which had gradually made their way many years ago up here and had been added to by horses that had escaped from captivity.  However that may be, they were wilder than deer, and as active as goats, and there were many hundreds of them on the ranges between Trout Creek and Osoyoos.  I only once saw a band of them up close, for they were so shy they were seldom seen without the aid of glasses.  We were riding over the range and suddenly we came across about a dozen of them; they stood rigid, with necks arched and heads in the air, outlined against the sky on a ridge some three hundred yards away.  They had stopped dead on seeing us; then suddenly they turned, there was a thunder of small hooves; we had a momentary glimpse and they disappeared.  They were beautiful animals, small, but perfectly formed.

Capturing any of them alive seemed an impossibility though it was often suggested that some use might be made of them.  It had been done on a few rare occasions, by dint of break-neck riding a small band had with great difficulty been rounded up and run into a corral but doing anything with them when you got them there was quite a different matter.

Imagine a high log corral full of these terrified creatures, mad with fear, frantically tearing round and attempting to jump the walls on which were seated some half-dozen cowboys endeavoring to throw a noose of a lariat on one of their whirling necks – then some lucky throw is successful, and the captured horse leaps about like a fighting trout and tries to strangle itself.  This was the scene as described to me by a sanguine cowboy who thought he might make some easy money breaking them in and selling them for saddle horses.  He concluded that working for wages was more profitable.

These wild horses finally became such nuisances that they were outlawed and as time went on a great number of them were shot.  It seemed a pity, but if you had well-bred mares running on the range and found them in foal it was not so good.