The ranch was an isolated place but that didn't mean we lived in total isolation while I grew up ranch. We had many visitors from far and near who enriched our lives in many ways.
Often it was a family who came bringing with them the whole family including kids. Our Fox cousins from Denver were particularly fun to entertain. They, of course, wanted to ride the horses and ponies. After an hour or so of that, a nice cool off in the creek was in order. If you were small enough you might be able to swim a little, but mostly it was sand castles and catching minnows in a tea strainer. An old board with some sticks for masts and sheet scraps for sails made for a fine ship to push around the creek chasing pirates, and other bad guys.
Another set of visitors was somewhat different. One of Dad's boyhood friends brought his family out west for a family vacation. These were some pretty spoiled kids who liked to press the rules every way possible. They started with Grandma Ruth. She served hamburgers for lunch one day. Since the faster you ate the sooner you could be excused to play, they managed to poke an entire burger and bun into their mouth at once, then mumbled around this blockage came "May I be excused" Not only was "Please" missing, but the mouth full of burger was totally unacceptable.
At supper, the hamburgers were back. This time however they were cut into tiny bites. Each bite had to be chewed twenty times before being swallowed and then the next bite could be taken. Point taken: meal times became orderly.
These family visits could be part of our summer work. The Bishop family stayed the entire summer and we became pony ride operators. There were five or so of them and each had to take turns on the two ponies we had available.
This worked fine for awhile and then came the arguments:
"It's still my turn. I'm not getting off!"
"Oh yes, you are! I'm in charge here."
"But Billy had a longer ride than I did!"
"Ok, we'll see what Grandma has to say."
Grandma not only removed the rider from the pony, she put them inside at the kitchen table in time out! She also gave me a watch so I could be sure each ride was the same length.
Other visits came from people who wanted to camp and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the ranch. On many summer days, it was not unusual to have thirty or more visitors. Cabin visitors were off limits unless they came over to Grandma Ruth's. Campers were different. We boys would visit each campsite until we often became a nuisance and had to be told to stay away.
Having a blue ribbon trout stream flowing through the ranch made for even more visitor traffic. Granddad's idea of land owner ship was more of stewardship than ownership. So long as you asked permission, didn't litter, left gates the way you found them and didn't exceed your limit, you were welcome to fish. We had native Rainbow trout year round. In the fall the Brown trout would migrate up from the Platte river. Most were "stick fish", all head and no body but if a full strength one got hooked you had a fight on your hands.
Fisherman normally didn't require guides, but if somebody came in who wanted to fish for Brook Trout that was different. These were found only up in the upper reaches of the backcountry streams. The main place to catch one over six inches was the Elk Meadows. There were a series of beaver dams here where some twelve incher's could be found. The isolation and crystal clear water meant a full GI low crawl approach, then a gentle cast to disturb fish as little as possible.
Being even more isolated in the winter it was rare to have any company at all. When they come there were sometimes extra invisible hitchhikers as well. One such visit was by a professional photographer who wanted to get some snow scenery pictures. We were snowed in tight, so It took a snowmobile to get him into the ranch.
He had a wonderful time and it was nice to have someone from outside to talk to and get current news from. One item of current news he didn't mention, but we all caught, was the Hong Cong flu which was making the rounds of everywhere but the ranch. Thanks to him we got to participate in this small scale epidemic as well.
I can remember burning up with fever and unable to move. The only relief was the vaporizer and Vicks chest rags. Dad, just as sick as I, was still up and about feeding livestock, chopping wood, carrying water etc. Dad was tough!
More often our winter visits were either with neighbors who came down to the ranch for a drop in or visits of our family to other places. Regular trips were made for groceries and supplies of course. However work in Cheyenne, meetings, and conferences, as well as visiting family and friends, made for many difficult winter trips. Not only were roads normally impassible for a month or two at a time, there was no guarantee that a sunny morning in thaw wouldn't be a white out blizzard by late afternoon.
Other visitors were more a part of the ranch's work than just visitors. In order to bring in some much-needed cash, we became a hunting camp each fall. Our ranch had several small cabins that served as bunk rooms. Hunters could cook there for themselves, or eat up at Granddad and Grandma's for an extra fee. We had hunters from all over but mostly from back East. States like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, all these states and more.
This was really the only time we used the various fire arms kept on the ranch. I was personally fascinated by the rifles and the marksmanship each of our hunters demonstrated. We had a shooting range setup as a one hundred yard length. this rifle range allowed us to be sure each hunter's weapon was ready to go and properly sighted in. I have just a couple short tales to tell here.
I was allowed to lay belly down under the shooting bench while the sighting in went on. One hunter had come up with his friend to sight in and I overheard this conversation.
"Nice rifle, aren't you going run a patch through first and get the condensation out?"
"Would you believe that a few seconds...BOOM...there won't be any moisture in that barrel?"
The only answer he got was silence!
Another time I learned what muzzle blast was. I was in my usual position under the table. As one particular shooter fired round after round downrange I scooted forward a little with each shot. Suddenly as the next BOOM sounded my ears got boxed. At the same time, my eyes bugged out, pushed out from the inside. My chest thumped and my belly even flip- flopped! I promptly scooted back fully under the shooting table again!
Often our hunters were simply regular folks, steel workers from Pennsylvania, etc. However, we were graced with a hunting group which included US Senator William Saxbe. We couldn't guarantee a trophy for each hunter but we almost never had a hunter leave empty handed.
To provide this quality hunting experience the whole ranch had to work from dark to dark. We boys didn't get to participate in many hunts, though we sometimes got to be drivers for our hunters on stands. At any rate, these guided hunts were pretty much off-limits to youngsters wanting to tag-along. However, kind of late in the season, a special hunt for elk by some hunters who were more on a vacation than a serious hunt came up. We departed dark and early for the Squaw Peaks the next morning.
Well, elk were pretty scarce in those days, and not easy to find. As the day wore on and no elk; eight years old me became progressively more bored. By afternoon I was tagging along, but hunting was definitely not my prime focus.
We came at last to a small rock face, which my more experienced self now knows was a bedding place, complete with a shallow wallow. I was paying no attention to any of this and started playing with some small rocks and pebbles while Dad stepped forward to survey the small aspen grove below.
Quietly, Dad jacked a shell into the chamber and started to sight on the elk below. That, of course, did grab my attention! Not thinking at all about elk, I chimed out "Oh Daddy, Is it an elk!?" The crash, crash, crash of the departing elk answered that question!
Dad didn't explode or yell, but I knew he was angry. I never got the "I told you so", but I did get told I couldn't go on anymore hunts until I had learned how to be quiet on the hunt.
More often we boys were helpers, as we butchered out the harvested deer and antelope. Our main job was to take the bones and scrape every last scrap of meat off and tossed into the hamburger bowl. Sometimes we got a chance to help do the skinning out; particularly as we got grown enough to do this pretty physical job.
Eventually, time marched on and I reached the magic age of fourteen. This was when Wyoming determined you were of age to go hunting for real. Running a hunting camp made my hunting a bit awkward since our hunters had first call. Finally, toward the middle of the season, we set up a hunt in which I was to drive a long ridge toward where we had two hunters on stand.
Since I was on drive, I wasn't being particularly quiet. But, I was being very alert. Suddenly I topped a small rise that overlooked a pass across the ridge. I was being cautious, so I spotted the small herd of deer before they spotted me. I could hardly believe my eyes! There were at least four big bucks and a handful of does grazing peacefully about one hundred yards away!
It was almost unfair; there was a boulder shaped like a seat and bench rest. I settled in and sighted on what was not the biggest buck but the one standing broadside making this the easiest shot. BOOM. Down he went, but only half way. The shot had broken his back among other things but his adrenalin was so high he was trying to run away with the rest of the herd. Dad's pistol finished him off. The ancient ritual of field dressing and dragging him out was accomplished. As it turned out this was almost the biggest trophy taken that year.
Not all hunts were so easy or certain. I recall an antelope hunt in which we hunted long and hard all day. Either too far away, spooked and ran, or just no antelope. As we headed home, the sun was just setting and in the distance, antelope were spotted. Climbing up on a small pile of rocks, the shooting began. Blam...whizz... plow. A trick of atmosphere allowed us to hear the bullet making its way to the target. The plow meant it missed and hit the ground. Blam...whizz...pling. Another miss. Blam...whizz...Plomp. A solid hit! We paced off the distance and found it was over seven hundred yards. It was also almost dark.
Having such a broad variety of visitors, which we were given open access to, changed our lives. A TV Crew from the German version of BBC, Our Governor for a conference concerning wilderness and environmental issues. A guided tour of our pocket wilderness including high officials from the US Forest Service, Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Isaac Walton League, etc. all these were exposures to people and points of view that I would never have had without growing up ranch.