WHISTLE IN THE WIND
by Carol Tescher Obrigewitch
When Bill told that story to me, it took my breath away. I knew Dad was in Heaven, because Heaven to Dad was being with the wild horses and to get the attention of those beautiful bands of wild horse flesh.......... Dad would whistle!
Dad loved the wild horses; they were his passion. From the early 40's until his death, he kept meticulous records on the wild ones in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. When Dad was in the nursing home, he still wanted to go see the wild horses. Up until two weeks before he left us, I would take him on a drive every chance I got to look at the feral horses.
To get the thousands of pictures I took for him, I walked miles, sank in the mud to my knees in Paddock Creek, side-stepped rattlesnakes, climbed buttes, went through washouts, slipped on sodden gumbo, tripped in Prairie Dog holes, and faced the big roan stud that was snorting and pawing because I was bothering his harem. But, it was worth every moment to see Dad smile at the images of the horses. When he couldn't walk any more, I took pictures and showed them to him on the digital camera. When he couldn't see well anymore, I bought a laptop to show him a bigger picture. When he couldn't write any more, he would dictate to me, and when he couldn't talk any more, I would describe to him what I saw. It tickled him to hear about High Star fighting with and running off another stud that was trying to steal his band of mares; he would "humph" and smile. One time he got so excited about seeing the "young guns" (young studs) that he opened the door of the van because he thought he could still walk and wanted to get a closer look. At the end of the day, a highlight for him was when we tallied up how many horses we had seen that day. Some days it would be two and some days it would be over 50 head.
Nothing compared to the feeling of watching Dad's eyes twinkle when the old pinto stud walked down the road right beside Dad's open van window; Dad could almost touch him. I think the old pinto knew Dad's time watching him was almost over.
In gathering the herds for culling, Dad went from setting rope traps in box canyons to riding in a helicopter. The rush he got from roping a wild horse at a roundup was beyond his description. Dad spent many hours in the Park and he knew where each band claimed their territory. He would say, "Gary and his bunch stays south of the spring, close to the interstate." or "Keep an eye out for the big roan stud and his band; they like to stay around lower Talkington Creek." and "I'll bet we see the J bunch across the wash near Setting Chicken Butte." Dad's knowledge was immense and sot after. His mind was sharp up until the end. Until he couldn't talk any more, he could tell you which horses came from which studs and mares and the years they were all born. It amazed everyone who talked to him. He had his favorites and remembered when they were sold or how they died. His horse record books could be interpreted by anyone. He identified each band with a letter, starting with the A Bunch.
Because of his knowledge, he earned a lifetime pass with the Park. He helped college students with their thesis with his insight on the wild horses. He helped authors with their research on the wild ones, for their books. The governor of North Dakota called him after the wild horses were chosen as the state horse. The governor wondered why he hadn't talked to Dad sooner, as Dad knew the horses weren't ancestors to Sitting Bull's horses, as some had claimed. Dad knew the horses were turned out by ranchers and farmers during the Depression, when they couldn't afford to feed them. He knew several were turned loose in the Park by individuals.
Dad's excitement over the horses was contagious. I learned to love them almost as much as he did, but it wasn't always a thrill for me to go see the horses. For a while, every Mother's Day, Dad would take Mom out for dinner and then take her for a ride...................to see the horses. For some reason, my husband, Val, and I always seemed to be with them. One Mother's Day, Mom and I were sitting in the back seat of the car "discussing" what we thought of what we were doing on Mother's Day. Mom thought we should be doing something mothers like to do. I told Dad what Mom said........................he didn't get it! He couldn't imagine anyone wanting to do anything else.
So, don't be surprised when you visit TRNP and see the wild horses pick up their ears listening to a spirited whistle echoing in the North Dakota Badlands. It is just my Dad, doing what he loves.
The day Tom Tescher was laid to rest, we were in the Park, assigned to help Whit try a low stress roundup of the horses. We painfully discussed what we should do. Should we go to Tom's funeral or keep our commitment to Whit and help him find horses to bring in? It was a dilemma until I thought, "what would Tom want us to do; he would tell us to go out there and bring in those horses!" I think I could hear Tom whistling to the horses that day!