The Long Trail West
By Lorern Stubbs
Took a notion to ride west, Phil and me,
In the early spring of two thousand and three.
Joe Davis from Port Hardy was our back-up man,
He hauled spare horses with the Rambulance van.
Three Arabians and a quarter horse
Ready to run that long distance course.
Drove to Manitoba, Joe, Phil and me.
Planning to ride back to the coast of B.C.
North of Mafeking, on the 14th of May,
Saddled the horses and we’re on our way.
The Birch River Riders gathered around.
Was good to be starting on familiar ground.
Rode the old rail bed south on down
To Bowsman that was my home town.
I had left there forty years ago
To avoid mosquitoes and the winter snow.
A liquid lunch in the old saloon
Best way to spend the afternoon.
Two young riders joined us in haste
South to Swan River the horses raced.
At Maple Grove Ranch we checked our tack
Preparing it for the long ride back.
Over the Duck Mountains past so many lakes
Ten miles off course was our first mistake.
Minus four in the morning, the call of the loon
Rising so early we could still see the moon.
Melting ice for our coffee we started the day.
Alfalfa and clover grew wild for hay.
Forty miles at a stretch, a regular ride.
Toughened our butts just like rawhide.
Grandview cemetery, where my ancestors rest
Paid our respects then continued on west.
Sixty miles next day thru Riding Mountain Park.
No camp until midnight, we rode in the dark
At Rossburn we found the Trans Canada Trail.
Said the locals “Ride west, you cannot fail.”
Just a barb-wired path, with no gates we could muscle.
Using fence cutters we made it to Russell.
The horses loved flat land and went a bit crazy.
A long day in the saddle we made Esterhazy
Phil’s hometown is Grayson, in Saskatchewan.
Two days there, and we had to move on.
His relatives came from miles around,
To see these two riders loping along.
“Why are you riding”, they wanted to know?
“We’re too lazy to walk with so far to go.”
“Are you really cowboys?” the children would ask.
We would grin at each other and then answer yes.
“Well where are your cattle?” they wanted to know.
“They’ve stampeded west and we’re following slow.”
Sunrise at our backs, sunsets straight ahead,
A saddle for a pillow, saddle pads for a bed.
We hit the sacks tired right after a bite,
Up each day ready at dawn’s early light.
Meadow larks, song birds and a mockingbird twill,
Five timber wolves stood eating their kill.
Yellow beaked blackbirds hide in the swamps,
Jackrabbits abound as a coyote romps.
Mosquitoes so thick, we didn’t need lunch,
When horses hooves landed we could hear the bugs crunch.
Qu’Appelle Valley was so pretty in the spring,
Hundreds of wood ticks to our horses did cling.
Thunder and lighting appeared without warning.
Took refuge on a farm, just outside of Corning.
Thirty-eight people, the total population,
The Wild Horse Inn, their watering station.
When the wind howls, mosquitoes take flight.
So did my hat, I discovered one night.
Wind burned and blistered, the sky a pale rose,
My glasses felt welded right to my nose.
The air gets toxic when farmers are spraying,
Had to seek shelter to hear what we’re saying.
Joe Davis made camp on that we could count.
Our spare horses grazing, we’d have a fresh mount.
Phil Jakubowski at Govenlock
Govenlock is gone – No breakfast here.
Prairie towns have disappeared.
Rancher Greg Eddy rode with us a ways.
Loaned me a ball cap to fend off the rays.
Bought a wide brim in Weyburn, had a short rest.
A beer and a burger then we rode on to the west.
Rode into Trossachs for coffee and toast.
Saw not a body, not even a ghost.
In Horizon, two families, we found with delight.
Marian Zerie cooked us a fine meal that night.
On June first, Assiniboia, bitten and seared.
Two weeks in the saddle, we both had a beard.
Phil and I laughed and sometimes we cursed,
Figured by now we’d come thru the worst.
At Wood Mountain we camped where Sitting Bull did,
After wiping out Custer he came up and hid.
Rings of stone remain on a land quite bare,
Tales are legend of his visit there.
Cowboys shod our horses seeking no pay,
Insisting we visit and rest for a day.
They know about long rides and the toll that it takes
On horsemen and horses, and muscles that ache.
In buffalo wallows we watched the antelope play,
While black and brown bears around us did stray.
Riding for three days not seeing a soul.
Time seemed to roll back to long, long ago.
A lone hawk hunted in the big blue sky,
A red fox quivered in bunch grass nearby.
Too parched to speak, too brittle to smile,
Ten miles to camp, we can rest for awhile.
A cruel wind blowing, with a driving rain.
Horses’ heads hanging, avoiding the pain.
Water gathered in the coulees, creating ravines,
Wind breaks on farmland were no longer seen.
Feet wet and cold, hands swollen and sore,
South of Mankota, found shelter once more.
At Allen Smith’s ranch we stayed up too late,
Hearing new stories of old cowboys’ fate.
Early next morning, thanking our hosts,
Rode into the storm, like vanishing ghosts.
Hadn’t seen Joe for a few days you see.
Caught up with him next in old Val Marie.
Breakfast in Frontier then to Clayden straight west.
Folks celebrating summer made us their guests.
Slow-pitch ball, dinner, drinks, and a dance.
They invited us to ride thru their buffalo ranch.
Peter Butala, a man of much stature,
Donated his land for buffalo pasture.
A month on the trail, our horses were fit.
Each day a new wonder, we just couldn’t quit.
While cantering across the wide open plain,
A badger hole gave Phil’s horse quite a sprain.
Arriving at Consul at the end of a day,
Bone weary and wet, we decided to stay.
Studying the map we broke out in smiles,
We had already ridden one thousand miles.
C.B.C. radio asked for some details
Of our adventures on long lonesome horse trails.
Joe and Joan Saville own the Lodge Creek spread,
Talked on their phone and stayed to get fed.
He had left Duncan over fifty years back,
With fifty bucks in his pocket, he made his own track.
Sixty-eight thousand acres, I can’t comprehend,
The size of their ranch, a land without end.
Avoiding the badlands below Cypress Hills,
Met up with some cowboys honing their skills.
Lamenting sad stories how their women leave home.
Working twenty-four seven, they are always alone.
The Rockies appeared in the distant west.
Where we were riding was simply the best.
On Alberta grasslands the horses did fare.
Mile after mile we rode without care.
The winding Milk River, so cool it flowed.
Slept under the stars and a heaven that glowed.
A cowboy’s breakfast could always be found,
That’s just a piss and a look around.
A new born fawn on the fresh morning dew,
A golden eagle’s nest like a wooden igloo.
A tangled up calf bawling for help,
Nearby, a wolf hunting food for her whelp.
The Rockies were looming larger each day.
The coast of B.C. was still far away.
Near Del Bonita we rested at last,
On a ranch with friends, from out of the past.
The Hoyts showed us signs of an Indian war
And skeletal remains of a huge dinosaur.
Arriving in Cardston as dry as the land.
Nary a cold beer to wash down the sand.
Phil and I suffered thru it okay,
But Joe was a little put out that day.
Phil (left) and Lorern ride through the pouring rain in the Flathead Indian reservation.
On the sixteenth of June thru Waterton Parks,
Snow too deep in the pass, we returned in the dark.
On a rock face so steep my horse took a slide,
I felt for sure, over the cliff, we would glide.
On hands and knees I crawled to the ledge,
And lead him safely away from the edge.
Next morning we loaded our packs in the rain,
Said good-bye to Joe and rode off again.
Found a new route thru Akamina Pass.
Now we have entered B.C. at last.
Over Flathead land on rocky terrain,
Grizzlies took shelter in the pouring rain.
Couldn’t get warm for the next ten days,
Everything got soaked and stayed that way.
Joe had to take the long way around.
Our muscled up mounts appeared to be sound.
But Rebel lost a shoe on the rocky shale,
And following slow, brought up the tail.
For days we rode thru a continuous storm,
Built big campfires at night just to get warm.
Met a young man cutting slate from the rock,
Must have been lonely and wanted to talk.
He arrived at our camp, roast chicken in hand.
On a cold Sunday night we fared mighty grand.
A cow moose with her calf, a sow bear and her cub,
Wildlife was all around and about.
As we rounded a bend our hair stood on end,
A grizzly was blocking our route.
Elko at last, a sight for sore eyes,
We had a real roof overhead.
Rebel got a new shoe on his hoof
And we slept the sleep of the dead.
Met a horse thief there, name of old Jack Cutz,
And the Blackmores of Bountiful, too.
Such colourful folks you’ll only meet on a trail,
Riding west with nothing to do.
Trails were gentler on gas pipe lines
And Rebel’s limp faded away.
Then Rascali got maimed when she stepped on her rein,
Things took a bad turn that day.
Her fistula swelled, we coaxed her and yelled,
Praying the grizzlies won’t get her.
But Rascali had heart and we did our part,
Hand feeding her ‘til we could vet her.
We arrived at a ranch and she had a chance,
Turns out she’s a real survivor.
Saddling her again would cause too much pain.
A year passed before I could ride her.
Horses wanted to race so we picked up our pace,
Skies cleared as we rode into Creston.
We had no place to go as we waited for Joe,
So we found us some hay we could rest on.
We settled down in that Kokanee town,
At the Rockin R Appaloosa for two days.
Joe finally showed up, he’d been parked in the truck,
Waiting back on the trail quite aways.
July 1st started well, like a ride out of hell,
Broke a heel off my boot on the crest.
But the views that we saw were of heavenly awe,
As Phil and I continued on west.
In our hearts was a song as we followed along
The Salmo River near the Washington border.
Picking fruit from a tree, a grizzly cub we did see
And thought it was best to ignore her.
We rode into Trail where folks heard our tale
On the airwaves and came out to greet us.
As they guided us thru, the crowd following grew.
I guess they were happy to meet us.
Cracked my skull on a limb and my vision went dim,
Broke my glasses and bloodied my hat.
But Warfield was nice, we got cold beer and ice
Richie Manns and his friends saw to that.
With our horses re-shod, on the Dewdney we trod
To a very steep climb up the Rosa.
I’m down to one horse and careful of course,
It’s still a long way to the coasta.
The Kettle Valley ahead, and the trail a nice bed,
At the river there was not a vessel.
Silently we prayed as the lumber was laid,
There weren’t any sides on the trestle.
The Long Riders carefully lead their horses across a newly laid bridge
At Grand Forks we could boast that Phil’s saddle was toast.
It was nearly brand new when we started.
He phoned for another so we stayed with his brother
And two days later we parted.
Forded the river at Midway, along about midday
Keeping our word to drop by a spread.
Way back at Lodge Creek we happened to meet
Their daughter when we stopped to get fed.
Rock Creek was hot but the locals were not,
The coolness of the river their veil.
On the air waves we stated how we were elated
With our progress, so far, on the trail.
But very next morning, disaster struck without warning,
A horse rolled over on Phil.
The doctor said “Well, you must rest a spell.
It appears you could’ve been killed”.
Rested a day, which was always Phil’s way,
He was as anxious as I to be riding.
Forest fires were raging just to the north,
And the sun appeared to be hiding.
So hot in the smoke, it seemed we would choke,
Waiting for the evening to cool.
There wasn’t much light in Keremeos that night,
And the trail was indeed fairly cruel.
Coffee next morning with Cayote Jack’s warning
“It will keep you awake for a week.”
With Eric Falcanberg as guide, thru the reserve we did ride,
A most picturesque route he did seek.
In Hedley the hub was the Gold Dust Pub.
It caused a hang-over ride to Princeton.
But we needed a rest and decided it best
To camp where the horses were fenced in.
Phil’s sternum was hurtin’ that was for certain
Some joy went out of the ride.
It was hard to rest with a pain in his chest
That he tried in vain to hide.
Up the Whipsaw we climbed to the flowered alpine,
I had ridden those mountains before.
At Willis cabin we camped but our plans were revamped,
An early night just wasn’t in store.
As we laid down to sleep, a truck gave a beep,
Roy Harker came to visit a spell.
Through the long evening light, stories told with delight,
And our plans for a rest went to hell.
To Pat Wright’s cabin he drove us in order to show us
The graves of two cowboys long gone.
In the saddle by five, feeling very alive,
We were ready and raring to move on.
On the Dewdney trail with it’s historic tales,
Found Jim M’Crae’s camp by noon.
Our buddy, Bill Boardman, was visiting there.
Said he didn’t expect us so soon.
Met Joe Hoffman and his three-pack train.
He gave us some sound advice.
“If you wish to make it home safely, boys,
Keep your horses away from the ice.”
Thru Manning Park, on trails well marked,
Then onto the Silver Mine Road.
At thirty degrees in the blazing sun
Your brain strikes a thirsty mode.
But Blane Hill found us by circling around us,
We were glad he figured it out.
A few cool beers and sundown at last,
We continued west on our route.
We loped into Hope in the middle of the night
Trying to discover Joe‘s track.
Our mounts were neighing just like they were praying.
Two horses with Joe answered back.
Over Paleface Pass we were pacing at last,
Riding to the end of our dream.
Back into traffic, fumes making us half sick
While thinking of where all we’d been.
Space got too narrow as we rode into Yarrow.
This would be the end of the trail.
We bought us a six pack and sat down to yak,
While we waited for Joe to avail.
We toasted our horses, those incredible forces!
And our wives who said, “You should go,”
And the people who best aided our quest,
Then we raised our beer cans to Joe.
Close friends came to greet us with pizzas to treat us,
Knowing that we had come far.
The coast was in sight as we said good night
Enjoyed our last camp at the J-Bar.
Would we do it again, we are asked now and then.
Our reply is, “We never say never”.
We were partners awhile, riding two thousand miles,
And now we are friends forever.
End of the Trail - Riding into the J- Bar Ranch in British Columbia
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