Herding Cattle

[The Black Hills, South Dakota, Mid 1950's]

It was the first "long trip" Alberta and I took with the three kids, about 8, 6 and 4 years old.

I had two weeks' vacation, and using our "oat money" we planned to go to Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Before this our travels had been confined to New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

I had made a wooden box to attach to the carrier on the roof of our Ford station wagon. After packing it full with our small umbrella tent and other camping equipment, we started west. After five days we pitched our tent under the tall pines in Custer Park in the Black Hills. The campground was of the wilderness type meaning a minimum of conveniences [just an outhouse]. We were later told Custer Park was plentifully populated with rattlesnakes. Whether true or not, we saw none and our kids played around among the trees without a worry.

We toured around the park, watched herds of buffalo, and other wild life, and marveled at the faces of the Presidents on Mt. Rushmore. At that time there was only one very small building used as a museum and visitors' center.

After a few days we had to head back east. We left in midday and were still in pretty wild country when it came time to find a campsite for the night. One of our map books showed a campsite located several miles off our route and we decided to look it up. We drove and drove, and the road became poorer and poorer, with grass growing up between the wheel tracks.

All at once a couple beef cows walked out of the woods and trotted along in the road ahead of us. We slowed to a crawl but couldn't get by them. I blew the horn several times and then down the hill out of the trees a whole herd of whiteface cattle came charging toward us. Soon we were surrounded, front, back and sides in a sea of about fifty cows. We crept along herding those in front of us the others keeping pace. This was open range, and we found out later that it was the practice for ranchers to bring hay out to the cows, and blowing the truck horn was the way of announcing snack time. The more we blew the horn the more cows we acquired in our herd.

Finally we stopped the car, and after a time, the cows realized we had no goodies for them and drifted slowly away. After driving another mile or so back in the wilderness we arrived at the site indicated on the map as being a campsite. It had apparently been abandoned for some years. A small bridge and railing over the stream was moss covered and rotting away. The place was dark, dismal and uninviting.

Well, we just turned around and went back to the main road. In a short time we found a pleasant place to camp for the night.

This was another "unplanned side trip" that yielded an interesting adventure.

Charles E. Page March 1, 2004