In 1989, Montana was 100 years old. The event was marked by a major drive — the Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive — and I was there. The cattle were driven from Roundup (after they’d been rounded up, I guess) to Billings. There were all kinds of events along with the cattle drive and two of my students, both Swiss, came up from California to join in on some of them — one of them turned out to be Montana Fondue which is bull gonads fried in hot oil on the end of a pitchfork. All of it was a lot of fun and I picked up a horse shoe from the biggest horse I never saw, but the evidence was irrefutable.
There were cowboy poets reciting around campfires. There were men in old-style slickers (sweating underneath?) riding their “ponies,” women in carriages, and me in my then brand new pair of c’boy boots. My Uncle Hank — who’d worked on oil rigs in Oklahoma but who had never been a cowboy — had so much respect for cowboys that he never let his own boys buy boots. “You’re not a cowboy,” he’d told them. “You have no right to those boots.” But he didn’t say anything like that to me about mine. “They suit you,” he said. They turned out to be surprisingly comfortable and I wore them as a fashion choice for years, resoled them three times and had countless new heels put on them.
Of course the Great Centennial Montana Cattle Drive was fraught with drama and almost didn’t come off. It was months long in its planning and a corporation was founded to organize and raise funds for the event. Rules existed regarding the authenticity of equipment, forbidding baseball caps and running shoes and recommending sunscreen and bug spray.
I’m pretty sure that Larry McMurtry’s GREAT novel, Lonesome Dove, had an inspiring influence on the whole thing. It came out in 1985. Everyone I knew in Montana read it and loved it. It was a standing joke in my family (among which there were retired cowboys and farmers) that once in a while a man likes “haul off and kick a pig.” Then the mini-series came out in 1989…
I also got my second (of four so far and that’d better be it) speeding ticket. “I didn’t think Montana had a speed limit,” I said to the officer when he told me I’d been driving 82.
“There’s a thing called good sense,” he replied. I remember looking around and seeing a warm, sunny day, not a car anywhere around, no hazards anywhere, nothing that would influence my good sense. My two students and my ex-husband decided it was just a money-making opportunity for the constabulary.
During that weekend the tiny town of Reed Point, Montana, decided to get in on the action. Its school needed a new roof and being a tiny town, the money wasn’t going to be easy to raise. They held a sheep drive. Lots of people went and stood on the main street. Concessions were situated on the side streets. Mostly it was sheep. Sheep driven by kids on bikes, sheep organized by border collies and Australian shepherds, sheep driven by ATVS, sheep driven by men on horseback — pretty much ever permutation of sheep driving possible at the time. There were sheep wagons — some old and restored, some new — with big signs saying “Norwegian Bachelor Sheep Herder” on the sides, the suspendered sheep-herders were sitting on the backs hooting and hollering at some of the town’s women who came along dressed up as “lady’s of the evening.” The only bad thing about the Reed Point Sheep Drive was that it only lasted five minutes. That was such a let down for people, who really liked it, that they decided to bring it back around a second time. It took a little while to reassemble the sheep, but when they managed it and came back through town, a huge cheer went up. It is really indescribable especially now by me since the main figure in my memory is that it was hilarious good fun and the town made enough money to roof two schools.
It was voted the best one day event of that Labor Day weekend in Montana. Take that, cattle.
This video tells you more than I can about an event that started that late summer day and has been going on every year since.
At the airport as we waited for the plane, I heard a couple of cowboys standing at the big window that looked out toward the Bull Mountains where the Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive started. One of them said, “You ride in that thing?”
“Hell no. Why would I pay $150 to chase a cow? I can do that any day.”
I had a great time that Labor Day Weekend, and I’ll never part with these boots. They mean something to me and they’re still comfortable but a little fragile at this point. They’ve been resoled so often, that the leather on the outside toe area is thin and could rip easily. I’ve even worn them while riding a horse and not just this one time.